Fayard: City positioned for growth
By By Paul Keane
Native son Gary Fayard says Atmore is positioned well for economic growth, but that the area and the state as a whole has to do better in the field of education in order to realize explosive growth in the years and generations to come.
Fayard will be the keynote speaker at this year's Chamber of Commerce Banquet. That event – which will also be highlighted by the naming of the 2002 Citizen of the Year – will be held on Jan. 7 in the Atmore Lions Club Community Center. Tickets are available at the Chamber offices.
Fayard, who was born and raised in Atmore and graduated from Escambia County High School, currently serves as a senior vice president and Chief Financial Officer for Coca-Cola. From that position, he's seen plenty of growth in numerous communities, and he likes what he is seeing happen in his hometown.
"The city has set itself up well for future growth," Fayard said. "They have the land, the transportation with the railways, they are close to a major port, and they have access to two interstates. They also have the utilities and the infrastructure available. They are in a great position to take advantage of any growth and industry that comes to South Alabama."
Fayard was quick to point out, though, that much more in the area of training and education is needed if the growth is to truly benefit the area.
"Everyone, but particularly the State of Alabama, has got to provide more money for education, not only for the children but for the workforce as well," he said. "The state has been kicking this issue around like a political football for far too long.
"And education is all about money, something Alabama has not provided enough of for quite some time. Putting money into education is not so much a current expense, but a long-term investment. Leaders in the state have to start looking at it that way."
With his mother, Sarah Fayard, and brother, Wayne Fayard, still in town – along with the Howard Shell family as in-laws – Fayard said he still travels back to the area on a regular basis. He added that not much as changed since his younger days, which provides a double-edged sword at times.
"For better or worse, not much as changed in Atmore over the years," Fayard said. "Yes, there has been changes in the way downtown looks and in providing services, but much of the area has remained the same.
"In a way, that's good because it's great to be able to come back to familiar surroundings and to meet with family and friends that are still there. There's some comfort in coming back to an area that is much the same as you remember it. But it's also disappointing because there has been no economic development. But most of that goes full circle right back to the education issue.
"I've said it for a long time that the State of Alabama has got to do something to reform the way it funds education, and the time for that reform has come."