Infrastructure improvements helped attract retail

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 31, 2009

When asked what changes made the most impact in his city, without a pause to reflect, Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson quickly answered “infrastructure.”

“By that I mean streets, sidewalks and our utilities system,” Johnson said. “The emphasis the city has placed on cleaning up the community —addressing unsightly buildings and lots and pieces of property.”

Johnson pointed to East Three Notch Street, improvements at the court square, and the planned changes on River Falls Street.

But infrastructure changes have also impacted the entire county.

“I think the greatest long-term impact will be provided by the U.S. Hwy. 84 four-laning,” said Greg White, former commission chairman. “This major transportation artery provides for greater mobility to good-paying jobs, no matter where folks live. And, it enhances our economic development potential county wide.”

Opp also has been impacted by major highway changes.

“The development of the bypass around Opp — in preparation for the four-laning of Hwy 331 — has been a major development for the eastern part of the county,” White said.


Infrastructure changes, Mayor Johnson said, have helped foster retail growth in Andalusia.

“I truly believe we have turned the corner to becoming a retail center for south central Alabama,” he said. “We have more retail and restaurant options and that helps us draw people from outside of Andalusia and Covington County to our community.”

“Wal-Mart moving to the east side of town changed the ‘focus’ or pattern of traffic,” Southeast Alabama Gas District CEO Greg Henderson said.

The discount chain opened its Andalusia SuperCenter in October 2006. At the time, it was Wal-Mart’s largest store in Alabama.

“Wal-Mart, of course, made a huge change,” said retired Realtor Patricia Blanton, who served as chamber president in 2003. “I could go to Wal-Mart 10 years ago and I would know most of the people in the store but now I can go to Wal-Mart and not know anyone that I see. The larger store seems to be drawing people from a larger radius.”

New schools

Infrastructure changes also have been made in the county’s three school systems.

“We’ve seen an appropriate focus on education infrastructure — with new elementary school buildings in Andalusia and Opp, and major new facilities at Straughn and Pleasant Home,” White said.

Both Henderson and CCB Community Bank’s Wem Mellown said the combining of two elementary schools in Andalusia and the construction of the new Andalusia Elementary is probably the most significant change for the local community.

Blanton also listed AES among the biggest stories of the last decade.

“We have a new elementary school that is very inviting and well organized. Also I’ve noted that the teachers seem much younger than they were 10 years ago. As the older teachers have retired they have been replaced with a new generation.”

Local Realtor Sue Bass Wilson pointed out another change resulting from the new AES — city school buses.

Just this year, Opp City Schools opened the doors to its new elementary school.

“The opening of Opp Elementary School has certainly created a buzz around here,” superintendent Michael Smithart said. “But most importantly we continue to see gains in the achievement level of our students. I am especially proud of the fact that we will significantly increase our graduation rate this year.”

Smithart said without a doubt the most significant change in education over the past decade has been the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind.

“Although I am not a proponent of the entire act and there are certain areas that may need to amended, the accountability components have forced systems to change our thinking as it relates to student achievement,” he said. “Bringing to the forefront the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students as well as how poverty effects achievement and holding systems accountable for how we address these disparities has, in my opinion, been the most significant change.”

Some things never change

No matter how things change, some things remain the same.

“Overall, the most significant thing about Andalusia is not in the changes but in the fact that it is made up of the nicest people in the world,” Blanton said. “People who care about each other, that take pride in how their city looks, how their own property looks and how their children are raised. People who are involved in activities that build character. Andalusia is truly a wonderful place to live.”