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New head of CCDA

LANETT — The new board chairman for the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA), Bruce Emfinger, was the guest speaker at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club, held at the Jane Farrar Event Center in downtown Lanett.

After program chair Carolyn Lott introduced him as the one person “who could have walked in Mr. Bobby’s shoes,” Emfinger was a bit hesitant about that.

“We lost a giant of a man when we lost Bobby Williams,” he said. “He was a vibrant and important part of our community. Following him is like following Greg Maddux to the pitcher’s mound.”

Before being hired to his present position with AuburnBank, Emfinger had worked with the CCDA for five years.

“I loved working there,” he said. “The staff is what makes the organization go and keeps Chambers County in contention for many projects. Valerie Gray (the director) has been there since 1999. She has a way of keeping us in the picture for so many projects, some that remain active for years.”

Working at the CCDA is different than other jobs because of the unpredictability of the schedule.

“If you are in the office late in the afternoon on Friday, and a call comes in about a project,” Emfinger said. “It’s a proposal some 14 pages long and they want an answer by Monday. If you had a big weekend planned, you have to scrap those plans and get to work. You may not have a chance to do something like that again for some time to come. When a call like that comes in, it’s all hands on deck to respond to it the best way you can. The CCDA staff is very good with data. They keep it fresh and current and get it to key people as soon as they can.”

Emfinger said that any time a new job is created in Chambers County it’s a good day for everyone. Past projects like Ajin and new ones like John Soules Foods are great and everyone knows about them. However, when a local business expands and they hire a new employee, that’s a good day for the community, too, though not as many people will know about it.

“It’s important for our local small businesses to expand and hire more people,” he said. “Economic development is about our community. We have to be as excited about that one new job as we are about 400.”

An important task of the CCDA is to work with existing businesses and industries.

“We try to do everything we can to work with them when they first get here,” he said. “Commercial development and job creation are crucial to us, and on the retail side when we get new stores here it creates new local tax dollars that weren’t here before.”

Many examples of this can be seen at Tiger Town in Opelika.

“Look at the car tags and where they are from,” Emfinger said. “Not everybody’s from Lee County. You see a lot of tags from Chambers, Randolph and Macon counties and from out of state. You grow your tax base when you can consistently bring in people from out of town.”

Emfinger is the sixth board chair of the CCDA since the mid-1970s. Bobby Jones was there from 1976-2006. James Williams, Cary Baldwin, Charles Hardage and Bobby Williams have each served as the board chair.

“Before accepting this position, I had to pause when looking at that list,” Emfinger said. “I knew everyone on that list and thought highly of each one. I just hope I can make them proud of what we will be doing. That’s a hard group to follow. We have made progress in Chambers County thanks in large measure to their leadership.”

The CCDA is funded by the combination of a county tobacco tax, support from the county commission, the cities, and a corporate sponsorship program. Collectively, this brings in a little more than $500,000 a year. Surrounding cities like Opelika, Auburn and LaGrange have development authorities with much bigger budgets.

“That’s our competition,” Emfinger said. “We are all competing for projects that create new jobs. They have better funding, but we have had our share of successes despite this. People need to know just how good our staff is and how tirelessly they work for the betterment of Chambers County.”

Emfinger said Chambers County is extremely fortunate to have some talented young people like Gray and Highway Director Josh Harvill.

“They could go to other places for higher pay, but they like it here,” he said.

“Josh Harvill is a fantastic engineer,” he said. “He’s one of the most intelligent people you can sit at a table with and have a conversation about our transportation system and its needs.”

Emfinger added that the county is fortunate to have the current legislative delegation of State Reps. Debbie Wood and Bob Fincher and State Senator Randy Price.

“All are good friends to Chambers County,” he said.

Emfinger cites effective communication, cooperation and relationship building as keys to community growth.

“It’s not always easy to do,” he said, “but relationships are critical. We have to have good relationships between the CCDA and the county commission, the cities, Alabama Power, TREC, East Alabama and others. Everyone is working under a lot of pressure, especially with this coronavirus. Despite this, I think things are moving along as smoothly as I have ever seen. There’s a lot of cooperation going on, and it takes teamwork to get it done.”

Emfinger is high on the CCDA’s intern program.

“It’s a very good thing for young people,” he said. “They work, learn and get involved in the community.”

He said that it had been a very good experience for his daughter in high school and college.

“It helped her land a job with the Elmore County Economic Development Office,” he said. “She’s not that far away, and who knows, it might lead her back home one day.”