Limestone County has been selected to participate in the Rural Recovery Accelerator, a new community-oriented technical assistance program designed to help rural communities build the economic resiliency strategies they need to survive the current crisis. The Rural Recovery Accelerator is a new initiative launched by Opportunity Alabama (OPAL), a statewide 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to connecting communities with capital.
Limestone was selected from a statewide pool of applicants for the new program, which has already received national attention from Forbes Magazine. Opportunity Alabama is working closely with the Limestone County Economic Development Association, Athens Main Street, Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce, City of Athens, and TARCOG to equip communities in Limestone County with the data, relationships, and strategies to recover and to thrive post-COVID-19.
“We were impressed with the capacity Limestone County demonstrated for economic growth, even in the midst of the current national crisis,” says Opportunity Alabama CEO, Alex Flachsbart.
The Limestone County team and OPAL have developed a survey to help Limestone County leaders and OPAL better understand the impact of COVID-19 on Limestone County residents and businesses. Jennifer Williamson with the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce says the biggest thing community residents can do to support the initiative is to take the survey. “We will be relying on your feedback to help us set the course for economic recovery,” said Williamson.
“Limestone County possesses a number of desirable assets from the charming, historic Downtown that is Athens, to the beautiful, 67,000 acre Wheeler Lake, to a business climate that is tops in the State of Alabama with an education system that excels at preparing our young people for this growth. We needed to put this story together with all the supporting data and make it available to those seeking a great community. We are so excited to work with Opportunity Alabama to do just that! Through their experience, resources and the Rural Recovery Accelerator, we see the perfect path to creating nationwide interest in our community .” says Tere Richardson, Executive Director of Athens Main Street.
Rural Recovery Accelerator operates at the county level to foster collaboration between neighboring townships and municipalities. The Limestone County team will meet regularly with Opportunity Alabama staff to address economic resiliency in five key ways: strategy development, data analysis, network development, marketing materials, and investment opportunities. The team already completed its first meeting with Opportunity Alabama and has already identified various projects that show real promise.
Opportunity Alabama (OPAL) is a nonprofit organization that connects Alabama communities and projects to a statewide and national network of impact-oriented investors. Though its primary focus to date has been projects in Opportunity Zones, OPAL has broadened its view to better address the needs of Alabama’s rural and low-income communities. Rural Recovery Accelerator is one of the ways OPAL intends to address those needs.
“We see this moment–where communities are setting aside their differences to work together on recovery–as a chance to put lasting infrastructure in place to improve local economies,” says Alex Flachsbart. “To us, the question is not: how do we reopen over the next 2-3 months? Rather, it is: how do we leverage this moment to build a stronger economic foundation over the next 6-24 months?”
Limestone is one of six counties statewide selected to participate in the beta version of the Accelerator. Other communities statewide selected to participate in the Accelerator include Sumter, Butler, Calhoun, Jackson, and Chambers counties.