The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama unveiled its new community-wide initiative to jumpstart its next five-year development program.

"As you know, we have hosted four outstanding benchmarking trips in recent years that have inspired some major community initiatives, such as Elevate Tuscaloosa and the New East Alabama Workforce and Community Development Center," said Jim Page, President and CEO of The Chamber. "The Chamber leadership has decided not to visit another community in 2022. Instead of researching another community's best practices to emulate here, we're going to do some more inward reflection at home."

The "Next Level Series" is a sequence of educational forums on seven priority levels of focus. Starting February 16th, the forums will take place each Wednesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the C.A. Fredd Campus at Shelton State Community College:

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  • Wednesday, February 16 - Public Safety
    • Moderated by: Tripp Powell, Powell Enterprises; Chamber Chair
  • Wednesday, February 23 - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
    • Moderated by: Michele Coley, AllState Coley Agency; Chamber Chair-Elect
  • Wednesday, March 2 - Infrastructure
    • Moderated by: Judge Rob Robertson, Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge and Chairman of the Tuscaloosa County Commission
  • Wednesday, March 9 - Workforce Barriers: Childcare, Housing and Transportation
    • Moderated by: Brad Newman, President, Shelton State Community College; Chamber Vice Chair for Education and Workforce Development
  • Wednesday, March 23 - Economic Diversification
    • Moderated by: Dr. Russ Mumper, Vice President of Research and Economic Development, The University of Alabama
  • Wednesday, March 30 - Quality of Life: Cultural Arts and Recreation
    • Moderated by: Elizabeth Winter, Regions Bank; Immediate Past Chamber Chair; PARA Board Member
  • Wednesday, April 6 - Public Education
    • Moderated by: Dr. Terri Boman, Executive Director, Tuscaloosa Education Foundation

During each of these moderated forums, residents will hear from experts about the current state of things in each particular area. They'll candidly discuss challenges, policy constraints, current initiatives underway that maybe aren't widely known and opportunities for increased community engagement.

These forums will serve as a prime opportunity for data collection while also helping raise community awareness.

The information gathered from the forums will be used to plot a list of action items for this year's Next Level Summit, which will take place Wednesday April 13 through Friday April 15 at the Renaissance Ross Bridge in Birmingham.

This two-and-a-half day event will be an opportunity for community leaders  to come together and strategize how to implement the items discussed in previous meetings into real initiatives.

Page said that the Chamber's primary reasoning for staying at in Alabama this year for its summit was the growing need to address issues in West Alabama, and the Chamber's role over its 122 year history is to be a convener on important issues impacting the community.

This year also marks the fifth and final year of the Chamber's five-year strategic plan and capital campaign, known as the Next Level Initiative. Page said the timing was right to shift focus and find ways to directly connect with members of the community.

"While we finish strong with the current plan, it's also time to begin the research and due diligence phase of what our next five year strategy will be," Page said.

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