58 Inc. talks economic development at chamber luncheon

COLUMBIANA – Members of the county’s business community gathered at Columbiana First Baptist Church to learn about economic development in the area from 58 Inc. Managing Director Yvonne Murray and 58 Inc. Director of Development Melody Whitten during the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, June 14.

Murray said 58 Inc. has been in operation for about seven months and is collaborating with several cities on different projects.

According to Murray, some of the main focuses of 58 Inc. include being intentional about the future of the organization and its programs, bringing sustainable growth to the county and helping businesses and people adapt to technological advancements and a changing economy.

Murray likened economic development experts to gardeners, in that they have to know how the economy works. She said the rules to successfully navigating the economy involve knowing the climate of the economy, knowing consumer patterns, helping existing businesses flourish, maintaining those businesses and focusing on economic problems in the community.

Murray said 58 Inc. is working to increase internet access throughout Shelby County, especially in places like Columbiana and Harpersville, for educational purposes.

“That connectivity is what allows our students to be competitive in the workforce and understand technologies across international borders,” Murray said. “Broadband is an area that we’re weak.”

Murray said 58 Inc. is also focusing on telehealth, which means that healthcare providers can bring services to patients.

“All of a sudden, it brings down transportation costs. It brings down costs for things like ClasTran, and it creates an accessibility that just wasn’t there before,” Murray said.

Lastly, Murray said economic development in terms of broadband is “extremely important” to 58 Inc.

“When we are recruiting projects to this region, broadband is like water. It’s a utility at this point,” Murray said. “Working through broadband at the countywide level is extremely critical to what we do every day.”

Whitten said retail development in Shelby County oftentimes involve municipalities and communities actively seeking out businesses, and many cities depend on sales tax revenue.

“Most cities need retail in order to have a healthy budget,” Whitten said.

Whitten said the components of retail development include different types of data involving the demographics of a community.

“You have to know the demographic requirements of the retail that you’re chasing,” Whitten said. “The data points are very important. You have to know that data, and it really impacts your communication with that retailer when you go into meetings knowing that information in advance.”

Whitten said retail development involves an extensive amount of relationship building and patience.

“It can be done, you just have to know what they’re looking for and have to deliver what they’re looking for,” Whitten said.

Lastly, Whitten said 58 Inc. is focusing on workforce development by encouraging high school graduates to explore skilled trade jobs instead of pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

“We graduate 50,000 people from our high schools in the state of Alabama every year,” Whitten said. “If we could just capture them in a way that they’re learning a skill and they’re able to go to work in a manner that supports our business and helps them support their families, I think that’s a win.”