CHEROKEE — Joe Sumners has helped create numerous strategic plans for Alabama communities, but said he’s especially impressed with the enthusiasm shown by western Colbert County residents.
Sumners, director of the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University, is helping the western Colbert community develop its own plan for the future at the request of Colbert County Extension Coordinator Danny McWilliams.
“We’re going to help the folks there sort of decide the strategy they want to take to improve their community,” Sumners said.
Through a series of public meetings, Sumners said residents will decide where the community is, where they want to go and how they plan to get there. The ultimate goal of the process is to improve the quality of life in western Colbert County.
McWilliams said the Economic and Community Development Institute is part of the Extension Service, which offers the services free of charge.
A preliminary meeting took place in October, and recently the second of two information gathering sessions was completed. Meetings will be held about every two weeks until the process is finished some time in April.
McWilliams said 63 people attended the last meeting.
“We’re very enthused with the support and the turnout,” Sumners said. “I’ve been doing this 20 years and this is one of the best reactions I’ve seen.”
McWilliams said participants ranged from residents in their 80s and 90s to young couples in their 20s.
“It’s a wide range of people,” McWilliams said.
There were Tennessee Valley Authority employees, SCA Tissue employees, elected officials, Cherokee’s new mayor, local businessmen, farmers and two pastors, McWilliams said.
“We had some people from Muscle Shoals who were there that have ties to Cherokee,” McWilliams said. “They love the community and want to help it.”
He said there will be three more meetings like the one held Monday.
“The next meeting will concern where do we want to go and crafting a vision for western Colbert County,” McWilliams said.
He stressed the strategic plan is not simply for Cherokee or Barton, but all of western Colbert County.
Sumners said the plan will focus more on improving the community than on economic development.
“It’s about improving the quality of life, improving education and improving the workforce,” Sumners said. “Danny got a great group of people that has come out. I can’t remember a community that size that had that many people come out.”
Once the necessary information has been gathered, Sumners and his staff will put together the strategy that will include goals and a “road map” to getting the community where the residents want it to go. Much of the last meeting was spent determining the communities strengths and weaknesses.
The next meeting is 6 p.m. Feb. 18 at the First Baptist Church in Cherokee.
McWilliams said a meal will be provided, and anyone planning to attend is encouraged to call the extension office at 256-386-8571 or email McWilliams at email@example.com.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.