Columbia Leaders Return with Ideas from Tuscaloosa


Last month, 70 representatives of Columbia-area businesses, public entities, higher education and more joined the Chamber for a Leadership Visit to Tuscaloosa, AL. A breadth of topics were covered over the three day trip, but a few of the exchanges that rose to the top among participants included a presentation from Mayor Walt Maddox, a tour of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant, and a discussion of the workforce development programs offered in West Alabama. The Mayor discussed a city-wide initiative he championed which embraces the economic paradigm shift and aims to move Tuscaloosa from a retail-based economy to an experience-based economy. Citing trends including the City’s decrease in retail sales, the preference of millennials for spending relating to experiences, workforce needs to fill the jobs of the future, and hitting the peak enrollment for students at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa is creating a plan to enhance the arts, connectivity, parks and recreation, and education. Later that day, attendees were able to tour the state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama; the only Mercedes plant in North America. After touring the assembly lines, the group returned to the offices for a discussion of the workforce ecosystem in the region with the Executive Director of West Alabama Works. Large employers such as Mercedes and other manufacturers have impacted workforce development needs in the region, prompting the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and West Alabama Works to respond with programs to tackles shortages, such as Ready to Work, retraining, and K-12 programming. On the final day prior to departure, breakout sessions enabled participants to select a topic of interest for a more personalized tour. This included an art walk of venues, galleries and public art in downtown Tuscaloosa; a visit to City Hall to discuss in depth the processes and policies relating to permitting and commercial development; and an abbreviated tour of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail, including impactful first-hand accounts from three participants involved in the Bloody Tuesday march in 1964. In addition to learning about unique initiatives and assets, the trip allowed participants to benchmark Columbia to Tuscaloosa, noting our strengths as well. To read blog entries from the trip click here.