The board tasked with recruiting and expanding industry in the Tuscaloosa area has a new leader at its helm after a series of meetings this week.

The Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority was incorporated in 1975 and played a pivotal role in bringing Mercedes Benz U.S. International to Tuscaloosa County, drawing its suppliers here and incentivizing several expansions and additions to their operations here.

For much of its existence, the TCEDA was led by Dara Longgrear, who served as executive director from 1986 until his retirement in 2017. He was ultimately replaced by Danielle Winningham, who stepped down from the role for personal reasons earlier this year. 

The TCEDA's board of directors met Thursday and, on their executive committee's recommendation, voted to name Justice Smyth as the organization's new executive director.

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Smyth holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Alabama and is now seeking his doctorate in education there. As an undergraduate in 2006, he was elected president of UA's Student Government Association.

He currently serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Alabama Transportation Institute at the University of Alabama and also serves as the interim director of UA's Alabama Mobility and Power Center.

He spent seven years with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, including three as their director of corporate development. During his time in that role, Montgomery was consistently a leader in job creation among all Alabama cities and landed the recruitment of Gerhardi, a German auto supplier who built a $37 million plant that opened there in 2019.

In a Thursday interview with the Thread, Smyth said his time in Montgomery taught him that economic development is a relationships game.

"Economic development is a team sport. It's it involves not just the professional, local and state economic developers, but it involves other external partners -- landowners, utility providers, transportation industry, business leaders, existing industry, state government, local government, education partners," Smyth said. "So it takes a lot of coordination and a lot of consensus-building and team-building and interconnection to establish these partnerships and teams."

That's what made taking the TCEDA job so attractive for Smyth -- he said the Tuscaloosa area has great leaders already in place and, working together, they can attract major job creators to the area.

"This community is ripe for success," he told the Thread. "You know, we have all the ingredients for success and sustainable long-term success. We have great leadership at all levels of government from our elected officials. We have a great workforce, a diverse workforce, a well-trained and eager Workforce. We have great business leaders, great existing Industries here that are known throughout the globe, internationally known brands and we've got people who care -- Specific leaders in Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County who are involved and want to see the community move forward and I couldn't be more fortunate in that respect."

"If we can get everybody pulling in the same direction, there are very, very special things that we can accomplish," Smyth said.

Smyth said he will spend his first days as executive director becoming familiar with the sites and buildings available for projects and establishing or bettering relationships with other economic development stakeholders.

He said Tuscaloosa's best opportunities for major economic growth are in what he called the electric vehicle revolution. Smyth said to capitalize on that movement, the county should focus on growing and expanding its automotive industry, focusing on research and development in close collaboration with the University of Alabama and by prioritizing workforce development.

For more news from the TCEDA and updates on projects like the $15 million poultry processing plant announced Thursday, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

Top Stories from the Tuscaloosa Thread (7/11 - 7/18)

19 of the Top Stories published by the Tuscaloosa Thread during the week of July 11th, 2022.