Building East and West

Organizers say a forum of west Alabama community and political leaders "Turning Goals Into Action" might benefit east Mississippi, as well as west Alabama.

Sponsored by Cong. Artur Davis, the forum was not only to discuss problems of the Alabama Black Belt region, but solutions as well.

Some of the 12 counties in the Black Belt have the highest jobless rates in Alabama at 13 percent, almost triple the national average, and the lowest education funding rates.

Government leaders in attendance said part of the problem is unequal appropriation of funds.

"It's about politics," said state Sen. Hank Sanders, co-chairman of the Black Belt Action Commission. "Politics determines each of those decisions over and over again."

Sanders said politics plays a great role in the delegating of state funds. Davis said the same is true in Congress. He said in 2002, districts with Republican representatives received on average about $100 million more than those with Democratic representatives. Meanwhile, other concerns brought up.

"Quite often we hear that racism is an issue. Having dual school systems is an issue," said Felicia Jones of the Black Belt Community Foundation. "Some areas lack industrial park areas. We have industrial parks but they're not adequately developed, especially to compete with others."

One of the industrial parks in Livingston provides some space for agriculture, cows. Although this is okay, industry recruiters say when compared to hi-tech industrial parks in larger areas it's difficult to compete. Some say the problem is not necessarily a lack of funds.

Officials say if you look over Alabama and get every grant that's been funded that used the figures for the Black Belt, you would see a huge amount of money.

As for extending a second interstate in the region, Davis said Interstate 85 will extend over the Meridian from Montgomery and will have a huge impact on the state.

"It means possible additional jobs for residents on both sides of the state line," said Davis.

However, with a projected price tag as high as $400 million, he says it will likely be some time before this dream in the works becomes a reality.

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