A perspective on gambling and development

Published 1:24 am Wednesday, December 8, 2004

By Staff
John Markl
Atmore, Alabama and Durant, Oklahoma are two rural communities that likely don't know the existences of each other. Yet, these two communities share much in common. Both are traditional Main Street communities with economies that are generally agriculture-based. Both towns have access to strong vocational training programs, municipal airports, major highways, and quality rail service.
Atmore and Durant are also alike in their thrust to grow their new industrial parks. It is hoped that these industrial parks will provide stable jobs and lasting prosperity to their respective regions, supplementing their existing traditional industrial parks.
They are also both home to active Native American tribes. The Choctaw Nation is based in Durant, while the Creeks call Atmore (Poarch) home. This is where it gets interesting.
Both tribes have operated successful tourist enterprises for several years and both are in the process of expansion. Expansion that just happens to be taking place next door to their respective cities' new industrial parks.
To the causal observer, it would appear an expanding tribal enterprise and a new industrial park might not make good neighbors. Hotels and restaurants next door to smokestacks don't make sense. Yet, the city and tribal leadership in Durant has made this unlikely marriage work-and work well.
Atmore appears poised to do the same. By taking advantage of the existing traditional industrial park, new traditional industry is able to locate in the community without creating neighborhood concern. If clean industry is recruited to the new industrial park, a win-win situation is created for the city and tribal interests.
In Durant, Cardinal Glass has recently opened a new $122 million manufacturing facility that would be considered traditional by most. This plant was built on a traditional plant site, far away from the new industrial park and tribal enterprise. This new facility, in operation barely a year, now employs 265 people.
Meanwhile, city leadership convinced Big Lots! to make Durant home to a new $70 million state-of-the-art distribution facility. This facility employs over 250 people and is built right next to the expanding Choctaw tribal enterprise. Hotels, restaurants, and modern industry can exist side-by-side. Success is merely a matter of cooperation between city and tribal leadership.
Since 1998, Durant and Bryan County, Oklahoma can boast of over $400 million of new development and nearly 5000 new jobs. The population of Durant increased seven per cent (over 1000 people) in the 2000-2003 time frame.
This industrial growth has spawned new retail growth as well. A recently opened shopping center boasts 12 retail stores and two restaurants. Chili's (Restaurant) has just announced they will be locating there. Although Wal-Mart has recently opened a new SuperCenter, Durant's Main Street continues to thrive. This growth has resulted in Durant being dubbed "The Fastest Growing Rural City in Oklahoma."
With a proven "Blueprint for Success" and the many parallels between Atmore and Durant, including similar population figures, the opportunity for Atmore to soon be called "The Fastest Growing Rural City in Alabama" is real.
Former Atmore resident, John Markl, attended Escambia County Schools from 1973-77. He has recently completed four terms as a city council member in his current home of Sherman, Texas, where he resides with his wife and two sons. Their plans of returning to Atmore include a recent purchase of property on McRae Street.

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