Home » OPINION » Columns » BILL CRAWFORD: May Day shows rural communities can succeed

BILL CRAWFORD: May Day shows rural communities can succeed


Rural communities in the South can succeed. 

Thomasville, a small town in Alabama’s poor “Black Belt,” has thrived under the leadership of Mayor Sheldon Day. Indeed, Day has his folks believing it is “cool to be rural.”
Census data shows Thomasville with 4,209 residents and a low family poverty rate of 13% compared to 25% for the whole of Clarke County and 19 percent for Alabama. The town’s poverty rate has been in steep decline since 2010 as median household income jumped 28 percent from $28,234 to $36,146. 
The 500 student Thomasville High School, with 48 percent minority students and 63 percent who qualify for free and reduced lunches, boasts a stellar graduation rate of 95 percent.
During his 20 years as mayor, Day has attracted over $700 million in capital investments and increased the number of industrial parks from one to five. He estimated 50 percent of the businesses along the Highway 43 by-pass in Thomasville have opened during his tenure and sales tax collections have tripled.
In 2013, Thomasville beat 62 other sites to secure the $100 million Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tubing facility, the first major manufacturer from China to locate in Alabama. 
Day is especially proud of the partnership he built among the high school, Alabama Southern Community College, and industries. The dual enrollment program he championed in welding 14 years ago now includes industrial maintenance, information technology, pre-engineering, pre-nursing and sports medicine. 
“Today there are more dual enrollment high school students at the Thomasville campus than regular students on Alabama Southern’s main campus in Monroeville,” Day said. Coupled with an intensive work-based learning program at the high school, the dual enrollment program, Day says, has been a “major catalyst to attract industry.”
Fascinated by his success, Betsy Rowell, executive director of the Stone County Economic Development Partnership, invited Day to tour her county and speak at her annual meeting. “He has obviously had great success with partnerships in his area.  Our local leadership needed to hear his message.” 
How is Thomasville succeeding in an area where most rural towns struggle?
Day said when he was first elected mayor in 1996 he spent time searching out the best models for rural development. He found that model in Tupelo. He studied Tupelo and became a disciple of Vaughn Grisham, director emeritus of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi.
Day points to several similarities. One is the broad cooperative spirit he has nurtured. “In Thomasville, the school, chamber, industry, and city are all partners,” he says. “Everybody talks to each other to get things done.” Another has been his intense focus on developing the local workforce. And, like Tupelo did with Toyota, he collaborated with an adjacent county, Wilcox, to create an industrial park to locate a major industry. Now, he is copying Tupelo’s healthcare model and will soon build a new regional hospital.
No longer the student, he now lectures on how to succeed in rural communities at Auburn’s Economic Development Institute.

“His insight was invaluable,” said Rowell.

» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About For the MBJ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *