Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Dothan Eagle on the Alabama legislature's likely passage of a prison-construction proposal:
With a scant few days left in the legislative session, an ill-conceived prison construction proposal continues its unlikely path toward passage.
Lawmakers would be wise to derail it, or allow it to wither away when the Alabama Legislature adjourns sine die.
It's not that Alabama's corrections system doesn't need attention. To the contrary; a retired prison warden, David Wise, addressing the House Judiciary Committee, pointed out that "the Alabama prison system is operating under insanity right now." At almost double the capacity the prisons were designed to hold, overcrowding is so bad the federal government has warned it may take over the state prisons.
However, the prison construction proposal dreamed up last year by former Gov. Robert Bentley had less to do with addressing challenges to the prison system than creating a legacy that would eclipse the then-growing scandal that now defines an administration cut short by his resignation in disgrace. Bentley's proposal included an $800 million-ish bond issue to build new prisons while closing some existing ones. Once the dust settles the number of beds available would be more or less a wash, and the shiny new prisons would have the same old overcrowding.
It would be foolish to proceed with the slapdash proposal now in the pipeline. The price tag could be $200 million, or $845 million, suggesting that the whole notion is still half-baked.
Lawmakers would best listen to veteran prison staffers like Mr. Wise, the former St. Clair Correctional Facility warden who testified to the committee that the true crisis in the prison system is understaffing. It's not uncommon for two guards to have 196 inmates under their purview. Couple that with an inmate population almost doubling capacity, and the result is a calamity waiting to happen.
The best approach to defusing the crisis in the prisons is to set aside any construction proposal until a well-conceived, beneficial strategy is hammered out. Meanwhile, funneling money into the corrections program to increase staffing is paramount, and long overdue.
The Decatur Daily on the commerce department's effort to improve education and training in Alabama:
The Alabama Department of Commerce clearly understands the importance of workforce development.
For the past five years, the department has worked tirelessly to streamline and improve the state's education and worker training efforts.
Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said the series of initiatives launched, which include Accelerate Alabama, the Alabama Workforce Council and Apprenticeship Alabama, is an effort to take Alabama to the national forefront of workforce development.
The goal is ". that every person in Alabama who wants to find a job can, and . that every employer that comes to Alabama will be able to hire the skilled workers it needs," Canfield said.
The latest strategy is called AlabamaWorks. The backbone of this initiative will be seven local Regional Workforce Councils.
Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence are among the 13 counties that are grouped into Region 1 and will be served by the North AlabamaWorks council. Micah Bullard is executive director of the region, but it's his assistant director, Stephanie McCulloch, who will be doing much of the legwork in the three-county area.
Area industrial, economic development and education leaders got a taste of the importance of this new organization last month when North AlabamaWorks hosted a quarterly workforce summit that attracted representatives from 50 businesses and industries in north Alabama.
Splitting the state into seven Regional Workforce Councils allows each cluster to focus their efforts on the specific needs of industries in their region. For instance, in discussions with leaders in Region 1, it was determined the areas of concentration would be health care, construction and advanced manufacturing. Region 1 has unique opportunities, with only 5.1 percent unemployment and relatively healthy job growth. Only central Alabama's Region 6 has a lower unemployment rate, at 5 percent. For these districts, workforce development must be particularly aimed less at creating jobs than at developing a workforce with the skills to take higher-paying jobs.
Another smart move was to ensure that every county in a region had two representatives on the governing board, and that 75 percent of those board members must be industry and business leaders. After all, the best way to determine the needs of industries and businesses is to hear directly from those involved in the day-to-day operations of those fields.
The AlabamaWorks program is still in its infancy stage, but there's a lot to like about the direction of the effort. Providing residents a direct link to the workforce needs of businesses and industries will prove to be an invaluable aid to those looking for work, or looking for career advancement. And defining those workforce needs of businesses and industries will help our educational leaders do a better job of establishing the training programs needed to meet those needs.
It's a win-win for everyone involved.
The Times Daily of Florence on the Tennessee River's impact on the area's economy:
Most long-time Shoals residents cross over the Tennessee River several times each week without pausing to reflect on how important the river is to our region.
They see people fishing or boating on the water. They have probably spent some time at McFarland Park and noticed the campers that gather there. And they may have witnessed a sunrise or sunset that added a colorful reflection on the river's surface.
But how many as they look at the river ever wonder what the economic impact of the river is to the Shoals area?
Suzie Shoemaker didn't until she started work as the sports marketing and special events planner for the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Bureau.
"Before I came to work here at the tourism office, I had no idea it (the river) had such an impact. I took the river for granted," she said.
Most do, but one group does not - the Tennessee Valley Authority.
TVA officials have long understood the importance of the river as a power source. And over time, they've come to realize the recreational opportunities and waterfront property along the river offer a different sort of value to the cities and communities that line the river.
To determine that value, TVA funded a study by the University of Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture. What the UTIA study revealed is eye-opening: The annual economic impact for every mile of shoreline along the Tennessee River is an estimated $1 million.
The study concluded the recreational and waterfront property along the river account for 130,000 jobs annually that produce $4.45 billion in labor income, and $916 million in state and local taxes. The total economic impact for the system's 49 reservoirs is $11.9 billion.
For TVA, the study offered proof the utility continues to meet its mission.
"Since its beginnings nearly 84 years ago," said Mike Staggs, TVA's executive vice president of Operations, "TVA's mission has been to improve the lives of those in the Valley. The UTIA study clearly establishes a strong link between the recreational opportunities our reservoirs create, and improving the economic opportunities for the 9 million people we serve every day."
Florence Mayor Steve Holt responding to the findings of the UTIA study summed it up nicely: "Everything about the river defines us."
So the next time you stand on the banks of the Tennessee River, make a commitment not to take for granted those gently flowing waters.