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UWA launches Economic Development Leadership Academy

Sumter Renaissance leaders
Sumter Renaissance plan expected to bring new life to county’s economic development

A new collaboration among several entities across Sumter County is expected to bring revitalization, renewal and redevelopment to the area. Sumter Renaissance is a project developed through the efforts of the Economic Development Leadership Academy, and it is centered around a strategic plan that highlights four major strategies. The project has brought together leaders from throughout county, including elected officials and business leaders.

Sumter Renaissance (READ the plan) focuses on four major components essential to community success, including infrastructure and site selection, education and workforce development, livability, and leadership development with civic engagement.

The plan was adopted earlier this year by the Economic Development Leadership Academy, which was established at UWA in partnership with the University of Alabama.

The academy met on a monthly basis with one- and two-hour sessions discussing economic development practices and concepts in addition to Sumter County’s needs and opportunities. After approximately nine months of work sessions, the team developed and unanimously adopted the Sumter County Renaissance plan. Subsequently, key public and private sector organizations have adopted and endorsed the plan, including the City of Livingston, City of York, Sumter County Commission, Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, and the University of West Alabama.

Participants in the first Economic Development Leadership Academy include Johnnie Aycock, UWA; Phillis Belcher, Greene County Industrial Development Authority; John Besh, Sumter County Soil & Water Conservation Committee; Allison Brantley, UWA; Marcus Campbell, Sumter County Commission; Jackie Clay, Coleman Center for the Arts; Mike Davis, Chem Waste; Allison Derby, Bank of York; Bird Dial, City of Livingston; Rodney Granec, UWA; Eddie Hardaway, Circuit Court; David Hawley, Mossy Oak Properties; Drucilla Jackson, Sumter County Commission; Dr. Tina N. Jones, UWA; Gena D. Robbins, City of York; Mattie Shield, Town of Geiger; Tom Tartt, City of Livingston; and Lindsey Truelove, Sumter County Chamber of Commerce.

“The collaboration has been significant as everyone has come together with the understanding that the entire community must work together to reverse economic decline and job losses,” explained Aycock, who has spent some 40 years in the field of economic development in west Alabama.

“This plan provides a framework for new direction and future expansion,” Aycock said. “There is still much work to be done, but our next step in this is to take the plan to all municipalities, to other private and nonprofit organizations and the general publics.”

Timelines and benchmarks to measure success are also being created, along with a management structure to guide the implementation of the plan.

“Sumter County has some real momentum right now,” Aycock said. “With the growth UWA has experienced, along with the opening of University Charter School, the creative efforts of Livingston Alive for downtown revitalization, the new ‘Healthy Places for Healthy People’ initiative, and many other new opportunities, it is more important than ever to work together and make good things happen. The window of opportunity stays open for only a short time, so it’s important that we move forward now, together.”

Sumter County Commission chair Marcus Campbell said he sees Sumter Renaissance as yet another opportunity to serve the community and the county.

“I am truly grateful that so many different entities have come together to be servants for Sumter County,” Campbell said. “There is no way that one group, organization, or government entity can do all that needs to be done alone. Teamwork has been instrumental in this initial planning stage.”

Sumter County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Davis said that the chamber is proud to be involved in the project.

“The Chamber proudly endorses and enthusiastically supports the Sumter County Renaissance plan,” Davis said. “We recognize the plan to be the most economically stimulating and socially positive path forward for Sumter County’s future. We’re committed to the implementation and growth opportunities that the plan offers to all Sumter County residents.”

York Mayor Gena Doggett Robbins calls the plan a reflection of the City of York’s stated mission, that “action is the cornerstone of progress.”

“Through the unity of commitment across our whole county, the Renaissance plan meets the needs of local and prospective businesses,” Robbins said. “This helps facilitate community growth and economic development to improve the quality of life for all of Sumter County. We see nothing but a road to success in this project, with our citizens and business partners as the much-deserving beneficiaries.”

Longtime Livingston Mayor Tom Tartt said that he is encouraged by the spirit of collaboration among several entities, a type of collaboration that he and others believe is new for the county.

“There is real momentum and enthusiasm around the City of Livingston and with our colleagues across the county and at UWA,” Tartt said. “We are so very pleased that we are all coming together to expand economic opportunities, enhance the livability of our wonderful community, and create new opportunities for our citizens through cooperation.  The new Sumter County Renaissance plan is evidence of what we can do by working together, and it offers exciting possibilities for our future.”

Among the far-reaching goals for the academy was to establish groundwork for becoming a rural model for this type of economic development.

“Our program started after several conversations with Neal Wade, a former director of the Alabama Development Office and long-time economic development professional who now serves as executive director of the economic leadership academy at UA,” explained Johnnie Aycock, special assistant to the president at UWA. “Joining together with Dr. Tina Jones, executive director of UWA’s Division of Economic Development and Outreach, we launched UWA’s EDLA.

“The process to improve Sumter County’s job creation competitiveness has been an excellent model for communities around the state to replicate,” Wade said. “The partnership between the University of Alabama’s Economic Development Academy and the University of West Alabama provides an excellent example of how institutions and organizations can and must work together. For success, it takes a strong coordinating partner, and UWA has provided invaluable leadership and coordination to keep the local working committee focused on steps to move Sumter County forward.”

The University has demonstrated its commitment to economic and workforce development through the development and implementation of several programs and initiatives in recent years, all with the emphasis on helping improve the quality of life for the region through education.

“Our ultimate goal in developing this leadership initiative is to help match expertise, resources, and commitment to enhancing the quality of life for our region,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “Our work reaches far beyond city, county, state, or even nation lines, and we believe that this model can be one for communities like ours to implement as they seek to empower their citizens. We are most proud to be part of a team that represents and is growing throughout every corner of Sumter County and involves leaders who know and understand our county’s needs and opportunities. Their commitment and compassion for Sumter County, combined with a strategic plan, will certainly bring progress to our communities.”

For more information on UWA’s Economic Development Leadership Academy, contact Johnnie Aycock at or Dr. Tina N. Jones at