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  • City & County Update

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    Every January 1 brings with it the chance to reflect on the year past while preparing to seize new opportunities for moving ahead, and the City of Montgomery and Montgomery County are doing both: looking back with pride and forward with optimism, ready to build on strategic plans for continued progress. MBJ asked Mayor Steven L. Reed and County Commission Chairman Elton Dean to share thoughts on the big wins from last year and their priorities and expectations for 2022.

    Montgomery County
    CHAIRMAN DEAN: The Commission’s first priority is always to efficiently spend county tax dollars to maximize the services and quality of life for Montgomery County residents. We expect to see continued growth in county revenues in the upcoming year, which will allow us to improve services and help citizens recover from the impacts of the pandemic. To that end, next year the Commission will focus on developing and implementing our plan for the American Recovery Plan dollars in collaboration with the City of Montgomery. Our ultimate objective is to utilize these funds in a way that has a long-term impact on the quality of life for all Montgomery County residents.

    COVID presented a number of unique challenges for the County. I am proud of how our department heads managed their budgets and continued to provide services to our residents. We were able to launch the ERAMCo program this year, which provided financial assistance to qualifying Montgomery County residents to prevent homelessness, potential eviction and financial hardships due to the pandemic. COVID had a serious economic impact on our communities, and this program allowed the Commission to help residents cover rent, utilities, internet and trash, and past-due rent and utilities dating back to as early as March 13.

    From an administrative perspective, we launched a web portal earlier this year that allows the public to easily view Montgomery County Commission documents and time-stamped videos of commission meetings and to search for specific topics. We hope this tool will encourage more public engagement in the business of the county to ensure accountability and transparency in government. The county was also very proud to break ground on the Whitewater project. This major economic development initiative will bring recreational amenities, entertainment and retail to west Montgomery and will have a positive economic impact for the entire region.

    We believe collaboration and communication are key to driving economic development and workforce recruitment efforts across the county. We are proud of the partnerships we’ve built with the cities of Montgomery and Pike Road, as well as within our business community. This allows us all to speak in one accord when we promote all the positive things our community has to offer employers and their workforce. For example, we work together to identify key infrastructure improvements that will allow the business and industry in and around the county to efficiently transport services and goods. This has proven important to our ability to recruit new industry to the area.

    We’re also committed to investing in our local workforce by giving citizens access to the skills, knowledge and ideas needed to drive innovation, productivity improvements and economic growth. We want the River Region workforce to proactively choose to reside in the county, and that means having a keen focus on improving our livability factors so we can keep the talent we have and draw in new talent.

    Lastly, it’s important that we actively promote all of the wonderful assets Montgomery County has to offer businesses and their employees. We have a strong partnership of organizations working together to spread the word about the benefits of doing business in Montgomery County.

    City of Montgomery 
    MAYOR REED: A major priority is to hire a permanent police chief who can bring the department together internally and help bring about change externally in the community. It’s at the top of my list. We have to address violent crime in the city; that is so important to the community, and it will be the most important hire we will make. It’s not only about public safety; it’s about our ability to grow the city.

    I’m also focused on ensuring we are recruiting businesses of all types to the city. We want to take a more direct approach to recruiting regional corporate headquarters and other white-collar job opportunities here to go along with the industrial and manufacturing sector opportunities we are currently pursuing too.

    I think it is crucial that we keep recruiting. It’s about more than bringing new businesses here; it benefits our existing business by giving them new opportunities to develop relationships and partnerships with new companies.

    We plan to continue to work with and support local job creators and entrepreneurs to strengthen that segment. We must do better to strengthen minority-owned businesses, particularly increasing black business ownership and the revenue of black-owned businesses. We have to assist them in utilizing the equity component that the Biden administration’s Department of Commerce is factoring into its grants and other opportunities to help these businesses expand. It just makes good sense to do that. Right now, we’re losing productivity and losing tens of millions of dollars by not investing in and partnering with these entrepreneurs and their small businesses.

    This year we are also kicking off the Montgomery Forward Initiative, with which we are investing $50 million in the city; that money is the proceeds from the sale of municipal bonds we did in 2021. The projects funded will include things directly tied to quality of place for the city.

    For one, we’re proud that we’ve gotten the city into a great financial position. We restructured city debt, which allowed us to refund $150 million of it, and we paid off 100 percent of the city’s short-term debt. It’s important to note that this allowed us to pass a budget that included pay raises, the first in seven years, for city workers. We’re now at or near the top of peer cities when it comes to what our municipal employees are paid. That’s key to recruitment and retention, and it was something I campaigned on, investing in our team. It would have been a year-one point for my time in office, but COVID forced budget cuts.

    The Amazon announcement in November was obviously huge. It’s such a big win and solidifies our strategy to be a bigger player in the knowledge-based economy. That doesn’t just happen; we are making it happen.

    Opening the Lab on Dexter and continued collaboration with MGMWERX are other notable 2021 highlights. As we continue to build the tech ecosystem here, in partnership with our military assets and our private sector, the Lab positions us well to grow that even more and to accelerate that growth. Partnering with Ed Farm and Apple on the MGM Codes initiative, which will expose our Montgomery Public School students to advanced tech and STEAM-learning activities, is another piece of that puzzle, and all combined, these efforts will be transformational for this community in terms of the businesses and people we will attract here.

    The goal is to grow our economic footprint. We have to build a strong economic foundation for our city and region. We are the seat of state government, but we are a regional leader, and we have to be ambitious and aggressive in that regard. That means talking to Capitol Hill directly, engaging with Wall Street and Silicon Valley directly and staying on the forefront of the quickly changing economic landscape. We can’t be small-town Montgomery anymore. We can’t be the city we have been and expect to keep up the pace. We have to run faster. That means a discussion on expanding our airport, expanding our broadband access, bringing more apprenticeship programs to our schools and businesses. We want to be in the discussion for all of these things. We know this takes a lot of work and a different approach. We also have to build on the assets we have—we want more homegrown businesses—but we can’t stop attracting new assets.

    Another vital piece of growth and recruitment is tourism. With the expansion of EJI and the expectation of the city hosting one million visitors, we have to change the face of the city to greet them. That includes the I-65 corridor, west Montgomery and downtown. We want to be more accommodating and have the amenities they want, including a retail presence they expect, which has them spending money and giving us increased taxes. That will take an aggressive approach and some re-tooling of our tourism efforts.

    Effective & Efficient
    Federal money is coming to our area via the American Rescue Plan Act, and the City and the County are collaborating to identify and enact the most effective ways to spend these dollars for maximum impact on quality of life for residents.

    Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean noted the benefits of the partnership. “The infusion of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act is a historic opportunity for the City and County, and it seemed like a perfect chance for us to work together. This collaboration allows us to combine resources and leverage those with other funding sources to make the biggest difference for our constituencies,” he said. Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed agreed. “As we make decisions about this money, it’s great to have our partners at the County, so together, we can be strategic and make the best use of these resources for both short-term and long-term impacts on our community,” he said.

    They are awaiting the final guidelines from the U.S. Treasury Department, but in the meantime, both the City and County are actively working to collect the information needed to make key choices, starting with the formation of several committees to examine the target areas of impact as outlined in the interim rule: infrastructure, the negative impact the virus had on citizens and businesses, public safety, COVID response and economic development.

    Going forward, encouraging input from the business community and residents will also be important, as Mayor Reed stressed. “There are a lot of ideas and thoughts on what’s needed and wanted, and we want to hear from everyone.” Dean expressed a similar sentiment. “Public engagement is a critical component of creating a strategic vision for creating a long-term community impact with these funds,” he said.

    An essential piece is the Montgomery Thrive initiative and its website, montgomerythrive.org, that launched in December. It is fostering a dialogue to ensure open and honest communication around these funds and providing a platform for the voices of all Montgomery County residents. “The website will include a special portal for businesses, nonprofits and healthcare providers to share their ideas on how we can use this money to address the COVID-related issues facing them and the Montgomery community,” Dean said. The plan for public feedback also includes several virtual town hall events in the coming months.
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