Alabama Communities of Excellence marks 15 years of boosting towns across the state

Small towns throughout Alabama may not have all of the tools for growth and development that the big cities have, but they do have Alabama Communities of Excellence.

ACE has been helping towns of between 2,000 and 18,000 people for 15 years. Instead of looking at what the towns don’t have, the ACE program looks at what they do have and helps them maximize those attributes.

It might be a beautiful downtown (Abbeville), a natural feature (Demopolis) or even a place in literary history (Monroeville).

“ACE uses an asset-based approach that recognizes and values the individuality of each community, and helps towns focus on their distinctive assets and resources,” said Sidney Hoover, executive director of ACE.

“Each town brings something different to the table,” she said. “Maybe the community has a sports arena, or has a great industrial park, or is the regional center for arts and cultural events.  Maybe there is a beautiful lake or stream, or a quaint, historic downtown, or famous son or daughter that the town can capitalize upon. Maybe its strength is its hometown atmosphere, or a popular or even quirky festival or celebration. What we strive to do is help towns recognize the value of these unique assets and learn how to capitalize on them.”

There are 32 designated ACE Towns throughout the state and six now participating in the comprehensive, three-phase program. Jasper, Oneonta and Spanish Fort will be designated as ACE Towns at the opening session of the Alabama League of Municipalities annual convention in Birmingham on May 20.

After a competitive application process, towns chosen for the program are given a detailed assessment with a “report card” of assets. The town leaders are given training and workshops to develop vision and mission statements, implementation strategies and a continuing leadership development program.

ACE then assists with the implementation strategy along with the creation of a long-term comprehensive plan to build on a town’s early successes.

The final phase is graduation, where a town earns the ACE designation and is recognized at the Alabama League of Municipalities annual convention.

“Achieving designation as an Alabama Community of Excellence demonstrates that the community knows how to access resources to achieve its goals, and that it is committed to moving forward,” Hoover said. “The skills learned during the three-phase process help ACE communities to achieve long-term economic success, and the ongoing relationship helps keep the towns focused on the importance of planning, leadership development and broad-based community engagement.”

Helping the ACE staff in its endeavors is a host of partners throughout the state with the kind of expertise few small cities would normally be able to access.

Working with ACE are Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Commerce, Regions Bank, the Alabama Small Business Development Network, the Alabama League of Municipalities, Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, Auburn University Government and Economic Development Institute, the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, the University of West Alabama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, Southeast Alabama Gas District, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood Inc.

Patrick Murphy, vice president of Economic and Community Development at Alabama Power, is the president of the ACE board of directors.

“All of us who want to see this state be at its best and compete at a national level recognize that will only happen if the cities and towns throughout this state play a part of the betterment of Alabama as a whole,” Murphy said. “That’s why ACE is such a vital part of the economic development efforts of Alabama. There are cities and towns now participating at a whole new level when it comes to economic development and it boosts the image of the entire state.”

In the months ahead, Alabama NewsCenter will take a closer look at the designated ACE Towns, the assets identified through the ACE process and how they are being maximized.