What to Watch in 2019

Economy Likely to Be the Topic of the Year for Jefferson County Commission

Officials gathered to break ground on the new Amazon fulfillment center being built in Bessemer. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Economic development is likely to be a primary focus for Jefferson County and the County Commission during 2019.

The county hit a mother lode, or at least the offshoot of one, during 2018 with Amazon and DC Blox announcing they are establishing operations in Bessemer and North Titusville, respectively.

Look for Jefferson County to continue prospecting for more golden nuggets in 2019 as economic development remains a primary goal for the County Commission, along with cities and towns throughout the region.

County Commission President Jimmie Stephens traveled to Japan in 2018 with an eye on luring tech jobs to the metro area. Commissioners also will be prospecting for manufacturing jobs, perhaps from suppliers associated with Toyota and Mazda.

Workforce Development

In a related goal, workforce development will continue to be a topic in the halls of the Jefferson County courthouse.

“What we need to do is try to make it where a person can pay their own rent,” Commissioner Sheila Tyson said at a recent commission meeting. “They need a living wage. If not, the next month they’re going to be in the same predicament.

“Being over workforce development, I think we are ready. I know through hard work and training they can come up and make a living wage and they can provide for their families,” Tyson said.

Tyson said she wants to meet the poor “where they’re at.”

“Sometimes you have to spoon-feed information to people in order to lift them up and get them some training,” she said. “I’m here, I’m willing to step in that gap and I’m willing to do it myself. I am the commissioner. I will go to the streets and I will get the information out to the people that’s in Jefferson County.”

As part of that effort, the commission recently granted $75,000 from the general fund to Lawson State Community College for workforce development and job training programs.

Distressed Cities

Distressed cities in the county made headlines in 2018 as they sought financial relief from Jefferson County.

The plights of Brighton, Fairfield and other financially troubled towns and cities was a repeated subject of debate for commissioners, particularly former commissioners Sandra Little Brown and George Bowman.

The fiscal 2019 budget gave each commissioner additional discretionary funds that could be used to aid cities and towns. But that money is limited.

Look for surrounding cities to make more appeals to the county for money and services, although the county has warned its financial well cannot long sustain the increased demands.