By Rep. Darrio Melton
There has been a great deal of talk in the past weeks about racism, about equality, about opportunity. As we come on the heels of Independence Day, there’s no better time to discuss what we should be doing–239 years after our Declaration of Independence–to form a more perfect union each day.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about expanding access to high-speed Internet and why that was so important for our communities, especially low-income communities. It provides opportunities for education and job growth that will pay dividends for many years to come.
But for many communities, particularly in Alabama, high-speed Internet access is only one component of what it takes to give the community an opportunity to grow.
When you look at a region like the Black Belt or anywhere else in rural Alabama, you see fertile farm lands and communities that appear to be stuck since reconstruction. These communities have little by way of infrastructure to attract businesses, and accordingly have little by way of education to develop a trained workforce.
In many ways, when we look at economic development, we’re stuck in a “chicken or egg” mentality–some people say you have to have businesses to grow the community, infrastructure and education, and others say that if you build it, they will come. The truth is, we could argue the age-old question–“which came first, the chicken or the egg?”–all day long and we wouldn’t be any closer to economic development in these regions.
But take Selma, for example. My hometown is brimming with history and opportunity for growth. But for a business to consider moving to Selma, Interstate 85 needs to run past Montgomery. Our cell-phone services need to be top-notch. Our hospital needs to be open and operating. Our workforce needs to be trained and ready for the job at hand. Then when businesses look to expand, they see a community ripe for growth and development.
Once business moves in and pays fair wages, the quality of life around Selma would go up, local businesses will prosper and our education system will meet ever-growing standards. Then, more businesses will look towards Selma and the cycle of opportunity will continue.
But first, we have to lay the foundation. The people of Selma are doing their part to clean up the community, to create a strong education system and create an environment welcoming to businesses. Now we need to look to our leadership to help open Selma for business. We need Washington to provide the funding to complete I-85. We need our Governor to point businesses and industries to the Black Belt. We need to continue talking to Internet and cell phone providers to get our digital connectivity strengthened.
This isn’t a chicken-or-egg situation. It’s a “We’ll handle the chicken. You handle the eggs” type of situation. It’s not either-or, its both together.
I’m ready to grow the Black Belt and expand opportunities in Rural Alabama, and I hope our leadership will stand beside me. Our time is now, Alabama–we can build a better state and grow into the 21st century.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.