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Smart Growth America picks Atmore for economic program

The city of Atmore is one of six communities in the United States that is partnering with Smart Growth America this month as part of a free, grant-funded technical assistance program, according to officials.

The two-day workshop, which begins on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. with an introductory public presentation at Escambia County High School auditorium, will help provide local officials and community leaders with strategies to help position Atmore for long-term economic growth.

“This is a first for Atmore and I’m excited about the long term benefits we will receive from the workshop,” Mayor Jim Staff said. “I encourage our citizens to participate in the community meeting on Feb. 19, and learn how this effort will help us grow in both short term and long term projects.”

Jerry Gehman, who helped spear head the project to bring representatives from Smart Growth America to Atmore, said in a press conference Monday that the workshop boils down to doing an economic and health analysis of the projects the city is working on now, any already completed and those that are in the works for the future.

“This is just to see if it makes sense fiscally,” Gehman said. “This is a benefit to the city. It costs the city nothing.”

Gehman said three people from Smart Growth will be in Atmore on Feb. 19, taking a walking and driving tour of the city’s hot and cold spots. He said they’ll be taking in every facility in the city, including eateries, retail, manufacturing plants, the Poarch Creek Indian reservation and others.

“They’ll get a first-hand tour of the city,” he said. “Then, in the afternoon, we have a series of interviews set up with them that will cover the spectrum of community, from healthcare, retail, industry, education and community leaders.”

Gehman said the interviews will be held at the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce.

Then, on Feb. 20, an all-day workshop is going to be held at Atmore Public Library, Gehman said.

The workshop draws on successful private and public sector lessons to help local leaders foster development patterns that cost Atmore’s taxpayers less to build, run and maintain, according to a news release. During the workshop, invited participants will talk about how development decisions can save money for local governments, make money for businesses and support the city’s long-term fiscal and economic health.

“Receiving this workshop is a testament to Atmore’s forward thinking and visionary leadership,” Smart Growth America Senior Policy Advisor John Robert Smith said in a statement. “Atmore should be very proud to be included as one of just six communities across the country participating in the program. We’re excited to help them examine their economic and fiscal choices to make sound decisions for the future.”

Gehman said he approached Staff about the idea to bring Smart Growth to the city, and added that City Clerk Becca Smith and Executive Assistant Celia Lambert have been working on this since last September.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us,” Gehman said.

The program, which was made possible through a Rural Community Development Initiative Grant awarded to Smart Growth America by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) office of rural development, helps to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses, while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place, according to a news release.