In my January 2015 article, I identified four major issues facing Houston County: road resurfacing needs, unmet needs in the Sheriff’s Department, lack of money and volunteers for the Volunteer Fire & Rescue system, and a lack of jobs for County residents.
Looking back, I believe a lot of progress has been made in the Sheriff’s Department and with the local economy. For the other two items, there is still work to be done.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of needs in the Sheriff’s Department but thanks to Donald Valenza’s leadership, ingenuity, and ability to work with the Commission, we have made a lot of progress. The days of Deputies riding around in 12+ year old squad cars are over for the foreseeable future.
I’m much more bullish on the local economy than I was last year. Even with the growth in jobs and the fall in unemployment, the economic development leaders are still out there finding new opportunities. However, the biggest hurdle to continued economic growth is lack of skilled labor. There are actually thousands of jobs available in Houston County that are unfilled. The problem is that our workforce’s skills and employer needs are not lining up.
While this is national problem, we aren’t just sitting around waiting for the U.S. Government to do something. Houston County, the Houston County School System, Dothan’s School System, the City of Dothan, the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, Wallace, and Troy Dothan are all working together to find ways to retrain workers for today’s jobs. In fact, some training programs such as C-Jet Academy, are already producing good results.
The crumbling state of our off-system county roads, those that we must resurface without state or Federal assistance, is an ever-growing problem and as I write this article, no monies have been made available to tackle this issue. In addition to our roads, the County also owns numerous other properties with differed maintenance needs that continue to pile up.
Our Volunteer Fire and Rescue system is filling the strain caused by lack of money and lack of volunteers. Despite these challenges, our volunteers do a very good job making use of the resources available to them and emergency calls are typically answered very quickly. In a growing number of cases, however, calls are being passed around to multiple departments until someone can be found to respond.
In 2016, you can expect the Commission to do everything we can to make continued progress on economic development, find ways to address our infrastructure needs, and improve emergency services. Now that 2016 is here and the Holidays are over, its time to get to work!