What Does an Excellent Community Look Like?
The Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) - http://www.alabamacommunitiesofexcellence.org – program is the state’s finest example of cooperative effort. The ACE Board of Directors includes representatives from the Alabama Development Office, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama Power Company, Auburn University, the University of Alabama, the University of West Alabama, Alabama Association of Regional Councils, Alabama League of Municipalities, Economic Development Association of Alabama, Tennessee Valley Authority, PowerSouth Electric Cooperative, among others. These partners work together to help small towns develop their communities and provide a strong foundation for future prosperity. ACE partners have assisted 28 towns since 2003. In addition to the valuable assistance provided to these communities in areas such as leadership, planning, and economic development, the program has created standards that other Alabama communities may strive for. Developing these standards was one of our early challenges in the program. That is, we wanted to describe what an “excellent” community looked like. In response, Linda Swann (Alabama Development Office), Bob Howard (Alabama Power Company) and I developed the following criteria to describe the characteristics we wanted to see in ACE communities. This list can serve as a checklist as you assess your own community.
What is a Community of Excellence?
1. LEADERSHIP AND CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT
- The community has many dedicated, diverse, and energetic leaders.
- The private sector, community and civic organizations, and faith-based organizations are consistently involved in local initiatives and projects.
- The community has an active civic life with multiple opportunities for citizen involvement (e.g., town meetings, deliberative forums, concerts, festivals, community improvement projects).
- Local government leaders are committed to strengthening community partnerships and engaging citizens.
- Elected officials maintain good working relations and seek to constructively resolve differences.
- Local government leaders build bridges and alliances with other jurisdictions and organizations to encourage economic development in the region.
- City and county governments are committed to the training and professional development of local government officials and staff.
- The community/county has a formal, active leadership development program.
- Local government, the chamber of commerce, the business community, and civic groups actively support the program and encourage employee participation.
- There are adequate funds and staff to plan and conduct the program.
- Program participants represent the diversity of the community (racial, gender, geographic, political, economic, etc.).
- The curriculum includes instruction on basic leadership skills/strategies (e.g., planning, problem-solving, teamwork, interpersonal skills, conflict management, valuing diversity, etc.).
- The curriculum adequately addresses economic development, community development, and community planning and design topics.
- The program format is interactive, participatory, and innovative (i.e., not simply lectures and presentations).
- The program has a youth leadership component.
- The program provides the opportunity for real-world applications — connecting participants with community improvement plans or projects.
Vision and Strategic Planning
- The community has an up-to-date strategic plan that provides a compelling vision for the future along with specific strategies for realizing that vision.
- A large, diverse group of leaders and stakeholders participated in the process and support the plan (i.e., planning participants include a broad cross-section of the community).
- A detailed action plan specifies how the plan’s goals and objectives will be implemented in the community (i.e., who will be involved, the time frame for accomplishment, needed resources, key milestones/benchmarks, and the expected results or product); and
- A mechanism for ongoing review and revision is incorporated into the plan – both to evaluate accomplishment and to correct implementation problems.
- The community has an up-to-date comprehensive land use plan that includes policies and strategies for land use, transportation, housing, community facilities, and resource conservation.
- The community has specific plans for zoning, development regulation, and design/appearance review that are actively enforced.
- All planning initiatives are consistent with community design standards and goals.
3. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- The community has an up-to-date, comprehensive economic development plan (either separately or as part of the strategic plan). The plan addresses business retention, expansion and recruitment; commercial, retail and small business development; and tourism and retiree attraction.
- The economic development plan includes an analysis of the local economy — identifying strengths, potential opportunities, and the types of businesses that best fit the community.
- The plan is fully supported by community leaders involved with economic development.
- Local infrastructure is adequate to support the selected business targets.
- The community is connected to the global economy through high-speed Internet.
- The community has a quality site that is suitable for desired business targets, free of easements and/or encumbrances, and available at a fair market price.
- The community (or county) has an economic development or industrial development authority/board/individual responsible for business recruitment.
- A single point of contact is identified/designated for all economic development activities.
- The organization has a structured and trained prospect sales team.
- The staff (or officers) of the development organization regularly participates in state professional association activities.
Information and Marketing
- The economic development organization maintains current, relevant information about the community and has a quality promotional brochure.
- Available properties are monitored, listed in the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) database, and updated regularly.
- The organization/individual effectively markets the community to appropriate businesses targets and maintains regular contact with state officials and other economic development professionals.
- The community/county hosts a website on the Internet with information appropriate to its targets.
Existing Business Program
- The community has a formal and ongoing business retention and expansion program that includes:
- Regular visits to business owners and managers,
- A process for addressing problems identified by industry leaders,
- An annual industrial and commercial recognition event,
- A survey of labor wages and fringe benefits, and
- Workforce education and training programs.
Commercial/Retail Business Development
- The community has an active Chamber of Commerce or Business Alliance with at least a paid part-time executive.
- The community maintains a comprehensive inventory of retail, commercial, and service properties, including spaces that formerly housed retail or commercial entities and those with that potential.
4. QUALITY OF LIFE
- All schools in the community consistently achieve “academically clear” status with student standardized test scores at or above the state average.
- The schools/school system:
- Is Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredited,
- Offers Career/Technical Education counseling and programs,
- Coordinates formal parental involvement programs,
- Provides Adult Literacy programs,
- Participates in formal partnerships with local businesses,
- Participates in the Alabama Reading Initiative or a similar program,
- Participates in the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) or other enhanced math and science programs,
- Provides leadership training for principals and superintendent,
- Provides pre-kindergarten programs,
- Provides quality teacher education and professional development opportunities (in addition to the state appropriated professional development days),
- Offers appropriate curriculum for migrant populations that includes “English as a Second Language,” if applicable, and
- Utilizes distance learning to connect the school to virtual classrooms.
- Primary, dental, and mental health services are available to all age groups.
- The community utilizes telemedicine to expand healthcare in areas with limited access to physicians.
- The community has ready access to a hospital that provides an array of vital services, including emergency transport services and a 24-hour emergency room.
- The community has access to long-term care (i.e., nursing home/assisted living facility) and home health services.
- The community promotes wellness and prevention programs (i.e., health education, recreation and physical fitness).
- The community’s healthcare leadership is committed to planning for future healthcare services and needs (e.g., recruitment and retention of health care providers and professionals, workforce development, and the development of strategies for funding healthy initiatives).
- Public buildings are designated smoke-free environments.
Amenities and Aesthetics
- The community supports a variety of amenities that contribute to enhanced quality of life (e.g., arts, entertainment, recreation).
- Public property and buildings are well-maintained.
- Attractive gateways are maintained at city entrances.
- The community supports downtown enhancements and preservation of historic buildings.