Thursday, March 10, 2016

Darrio Melton: Paving the Black Belt's road to success

  It’s no secret that the Black Belt is behind the times. Just take a drive south of Montgomery and you’ll experience a time and place very different than the rest of Alabama. Families find ways to get by with little means, businesses struggle to provide sustainability for the community, the roads and bridges are dilapidated, and many of the communities look as if they’re stuck in time.

  Many people have wondered for a long time what we can do to help the Black Belt, including myself. Requests to the governor to bring more industry into the area have fallen on deaf ears. Pleas with the legislature to fully fund education for every child have been repeatedly voted down, and attempts to expand I-85 all the way across to Jackson have been fruitless.

  With each “no,” myself and many others who call the Black Belt home are left wondering what we can do to help revitalize the community and boost economic activity for the region.

  Right now, there are two major projects that could be great economic stimuli for the region and could provide a stronger foundation from which to build in the future.

  First, Dr. David Bronner and RSA have teamed up with Alabama Black Belt Adventures to promote the region’s diverse, natural habitat for hunters and fishermen. While many sportsmen travel out of state for hunting and fishing, it’s important that people in Alabama know we have 11 million acres of wildlife in our own backyard.

  As people travel to the Black Belt for hunting and fishing, they’ll eat here, buy gasoline here, and do their shopping here, which will help boost our local economies.

  The second project that would be critical for the Black Belt is the Historic Tax Credit program, which is up for consideration in the Alabama Legislature now. These tax credits provide incentives for investors who want to restore historic buildings. If you’ve been to Birmingham, the improvements to the Lyric Theater are a result of these incentives.

  When we look at the Black Belt, Alabama's history is on each and every corner. From historic churches to historic hotels, houses, and downtown squares, these revitalization dollars can help put a new, renovated face on these communities to make it easier for businesses and industries to move into the area.

  I understand that Selma won’t become Birmingham overnight, and I know that I don’t want Selma to abandon the small-town charm and appeal we all love. I’m sure many people throughout the Black Belt feel the same way about their towns.

  But I also know that I can’t stand by and watch Black Belt families struggle to make ends meet because the state sends all of our economic development projects to North Alabama.

  These projects can help lay the groundwork for building a bigger future for the Black Belt, and I’m hopeful that paving the road to success will ultimately yield results for our communities.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus:

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