What’s in Andalusia’s future?

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 1, 2010

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said he learned something really important in the last decade.

“We can actually turn our dreams into reality,” he said. “When you look around our community, by golly, we’re getting it done.”

Ten years ago, he said, the community was still in what he calls a “textile hangover,” wondering what in the world it could do to overcome the job losses that occurred when textiles moved offshore.

“We have seen a transformation of our community taking place,” he said. “But it’s not at full maturity, by any means.”

He cites the investments of the state, county and local municipalities into improved infrastructure as a key component in the transformation. In the past 10 years, highways have improved, and Andalusia in particular has refashioned major routes in the downtown area. Now, the city is poised to effect similar changes on River Falls Street.

“We have proof that if a government will spend money on infrastructure, private dollars will follow,” he said.

So what do he and others dream for our community in the decade ahead?

First, continued growth of the job market.

“We’re not Huntsville and we’re never going to be Huntsville,” Johnson said. “But the jobs now are more high tech with a higher wage and salary base.

“I hope that we not only grow as a retail center, but become a greater center for education,” he said. “Not just because of our local schools, and not the traditional college courses.”

He envisions local residents completing the training they need for aircraft maintenance, for other mechanical jobs, and through connections with larger universities.

“For instance,” he said. “We’re talking to Troy about bringing some training and degree programs,” he said.

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart expects that the continued integration of technology into the classroom will make some of that possible.

“Today’s students are so advanced in terms of technology use, that it is important for education to keep up,” Smithart said. “It is our obligation to prepare our students in Opp to compete on an international level. The competition for career opportunities is no longer the kid down the street, it is a student in India or China and it is our goal in Opp City Schools to see that our students leave our system prepared for that challenge.”

Johnson also envisions a community that continues to nurture the arts, in turn attracting people here.

“We have huge potential here,” he said. “Not just for brush and paint arts, but for the performing arts as well.

Janet Beste, who is a longtime member of the board for the Lower Alabama Arts Coalition, envisions a larger home for LAAC.

“My vision for 2020 has the arts center in a larger, more effective location that presents not only exhibits but working spaces for artists in all disciplines, classes in design, metal works, pottery, etc. with possibly a partnership with local educational institutions to facilitate funding, publicity and instructors,” she said. “The City itself will be named ‘Andalusia, the City of the Arts’ for the art collections in all of the stores and government buildings, plus statues and designs along at least the primary streets and parks. There will be walking tours available to detail the myriad artistic displays.”

Meryane Martin Murphy, founder and artistic director of the Andalusia Ballet, believes the arts can bring the community closer together.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Art is the language of the soul,’” she said. “Through the arts we strive for excellence, seek universal beauty, explore form, and celebrate our diversity as a culture. The arts bring people together.

“It is my hope that in the years to come our community will continue to embrace the many artistic treasures we have here,” she said.

The Ballet, now in its 27th season, plans to move into its new home in the historic Church Street School this year.

“We have a little rhyme at the Ballet,” she said. “2010…We are in!”

To make all of those dreams come true, the mayor said, the community will need more housing available. He envisions new subdivisions and improvements to old ones. It’s a vision local Realtor Tripp Bass shares.

“Time and time again we hear from prospects who have decided to move here because the city and our downtown area is so attractive to them,” Bass said. “Looking ahead, I expect continued growth with many residents moving away from the large cities and into rural areas and “small town, USA.” Locally we should see many more neighborhoods and older homes being improved. Hopefully more neighborhoods will also develop over the next 10 years.”

Southeast Alabama Gas District CEO Greg Henderson said he thinks the next economic upturn will bring more housing developments around Point A and Gantt lakes.

Sue Bass Wilson, for one, wants to include more of the past in the future.

“The most important thing that I hope to see in Covington County is a Veterans’ Memorial Museum established in the vicinity of the Veterans Park,” she said.