As a community, it is important for us to look back and reflect on a year of news and events that have brought us to where we are today. At times, the news around us is focused on conflict, which drowns out the news we should celebrate. There is much happening in Decatur-Morgan County that shows our high quality of life, and we need to tell that story.
With that thought in mind, the Chamber would like to share the top five stories from 2019 that make us excited for the future of Decatur-Morgan County.
The next generation of the Cook Museum begins
The updated and expanded Cook Museum of Natural Science opened in June, forever changing the landscape of our downtown city center and creating an attraction to our community that will transform our educational and cultural footprint. At more than 62,000 square feet and a $32 million construction budget, the Museum – the second generation of the original 5,000 square foot version which opened in the early 1970s – is a state-of-the-art facility equipped with exhibit halls, classrooms, learning laboratories, a 15,000 gallon saltwater aquarium, meeting spaces, a retail store and a full-service organic restaurant. This regional destination is estimated to draw approximately 200,000 to our city (not including school groups) from across the U.S. What will unfold in the years to come is the economic impact the museum will have in the form of restaurant visits, hotel room stays, retail shopping, and visits to other area attractions. More importantly, the effect on the imagination and the creativity on generations of visitors will pay dividends in the form of lives changed and an improved quality of life.
Residential development shifting to high gear
The last 12 months have seen a focused effort by a collection of community groups and business leaders to create a development-friendly environment for residential growth. In the second half of the year, two multi-phased residential developments were announced in southeast Decatur that will add to our city’s thin housing inventory. The first, located on nearly 20 acres recently annexed on Old River Road, will begin construction in early 2020, and be known as “River Road Manor.” This development will add 55 rooftops to our city in a phased plan thanks to the vision of Howard Morris and his family. In the Point Mallard area of Decatur, developer Jeff Parker of Parker Real Estate has begun site preparations for “Black Branch Point,” a planned 74-home phased development that features residential riverfront options. Both developments are the first large subdivisions built in our city since the late 1990s and have the potential to jumpstart other developments in our community. As part of the Chamber’s five-year strategic plan “The Partnership,” residential development and recruitment will continue to be a high priority for our organization as we serve as an advocate for community development in our area.
Calhoun ranks #1 in advanced manufacturing
November saw the announcement that Calhoun Community College, the largest two-year college in the State of Alabama located just minutes from downtown Decatur, ranked number one in the U.S. by Economic Modeling Specialist International (EMSI) in awarding degrees in advanced manufacturing – a pool including all community colleges, technical colleges and universities across the country. The recognition is the culmination of a 10-year vision for the college that started with a 2005-2008 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor of $3.5 million that positioned the school to completely revamp the curriculum and redesign the program to meet the needs of business and industry. With the growing number of high-tech manufacturing careers with companies like Mazda-Toyota, United Launch Alliance, Dynetics and adjacent suppliers, the school is equipping our regional workforce with the skills for graduates to be work-ready once they receive their diploma. Based on projections, the need for this training is expected to grow, and the Chamber looks forward to partnering with Calhoun and others to continue training the next generation workforce.
Career technical education nationally recognized
Just after the start of the new school year in August, the Morgan County Schools Technology Park – located on the campus of Brewer High School – was recognized as a Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School of Excellence. While that designation is a major achievement for the Technology Park team, what makes it even more significant is the fact that it is one of only three career tech schools in the United States to ever be recognized with that distinction. The Technology Park provides a career tech environment where students can get specialized training in fields including Agriscience, Arts and Audio Visual/Multimedia Design, Automotive Technology, Culinary, Drafting/Pre-Engineering, Early Childhood Education, Electronics, Emergency Medical Technician with Calhoun Community College, Health Science, HVAC/R, JROTC, Robotics/Pre-Engineering, Welding and many others fields needed to meet the talent development required to feed our workforce talent pipeline. We congratulate Superintendent Bill W. Hopkins, Jr., Technology Park Supervisor Dr. Jeremy Childers and the entire team for this fantastic recognition.
Highway 20 overpass project key to safety, growth opportunities
In the spring and summer of 2019, plans advanced for an overpass on Highway 20 in the Decatur-annexed portion of Limestone County that would create safe access for development on both north and south sides of the highway near Bibb-Garrett Road. The total project of approximately $18 million is anchored by a $14.2 million BUILD grant awarded to the City of Decatur in January from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project, located on the easternmost boundary of our city, will provide safe and controlled access to several hundred acres for a wide range of development opportunities, including residential, retail, commercial, industrial and recreational. That long-range vision for growth in the area brings with it the potential of jobs and a chance to shape a “blank canvas” in our city across the Tennessee River in a way that best serves the needs of our community.