Members of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee met recently with board of commission members, Senator Frank Ginn and others to discuss the county’s economic future.
Economic development committee member Bruce Azevedo, who also chairs the Industrial Development Authority board, said he hoped this was the first of continued meetings between county leaders.
“In the absence of a county economic development committee, we want to step up and pull all of us together as one community,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re all going in the same direction so we’ll be ready when an opportunity (for growth) comes along.”
The committee identified some basic issues holding back growth – citing primarily infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities, and the lack of easy access to a main travel corridor, such as I-85.
The group discussed the upcoming continuation of the four-laning of Hwy. 72. They also discussed that four-laning Hwy. 98 to connect with Hwy. 441 and I-85 are also future possibilities, increasing the county’s viability for commercial and agricultural businesses.
“We are looking for an anchor industry to support sewer infrastructure (on Hwy. 72),” economic development committee chair Phil Munro said.
Azevedo said it might be too much to expect a Walmart to come into the county in the near future, at least. “We may have to settle for a ‘middle box’ business, we’re a small business community,” he said, adding that the county must have a retail tax base that the citizens can live with to help offset property taxes.
The group also discussed the county’s strengths, which includes primarily agriculture, especially poultry, but also beef and other farming businesses, as well as the upcoming career academy at the high school.
“Education in the county has taken a huge leap forward,” District 1 commissioner Stanley Thomas.
As to the agricultural side, several members discussed the feasibility of attracting a beef slaughterhouse to the county.
But District five commissioner Jim Escoe advised leaders not to focus on agriculture exclusively.
“We (also) need to concentrate on industry that produces a product that we can sell and ship elsewhere,” he said.
Leaders discussed developing an “on the ground” assessment of the county’s assets and establishing an overall plan for growth.
“What does Madison County want to look like?” Azevedo said. “That’s the question.”