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Welcome to EARTH: East Alabama program celebrates with community, prayer

“This is the EARTH the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Sylacauga native Margaret Morton led the “Welcome to EARTH” event in Talladega County celebrating the program’s progress and strides in support throughout 2023.

“Rising from the rubble of the former Avondale Mills, EARTH (East Alabama Rural Innovation and Training Hub) will train young and not so young alike, to obtain jobs in new and emerging industries as well as existing industries desperate for employees, all at competitive wages,” she said. “This is a model for rural Alabama and a model for the nation.”

The core mission of EARTH is to provide East Alabama a workforce development system that is responsive to needs of individuals and businesses as well as future economic development initiatives.

The revitalization of what used to be Avondale Mill broke ground this year. WBRC reported the historic day as a “rebirth.”

Though the closing of the textile mill resulted in the loss of jobs, EARTH is beginning a  chapter that will provide even more opportunity in the workforce than before.

“‘Welcome to EARTH'” was all about celebrating the past, the present, and the future,” Morton said. “We are all EARTH. We live life together, we innovate together, we invest in our future together, we find solutions together, we learn together, and we find hope together.

“EARTH is hope, and we move forward together.”

The event was especially covered in prayer from religious leaders in the community. A major thread throughout the evening was the passionate commitment from supporters that the refreshing and renewal of the physical site will give way to lives changed for generations.

Those in attendance were given a glimpse into the 30-acre property belonging to the Talladega Board of Education where the site is being transformed. The collaborative effort to develop EARTH brings together education, business, and industry.

Superintendent Dr. Susan Lacey was a co-host. As an educator for 39 years, Lacey praised the connectivity as a result of the hub,

“This is a dream come true,” she said. “Business and industry need education and education needs business and industry.”

Also in attendance were local councilmembers, Mayor Jim Heigl, representatives from the offices of Sens. Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville, Commissioner Nancy Buckner from the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation, and support from Alabama Power and Auburn University.

Jacksonville State University’s jazz combo provided the entertainment.

District Rep. Ben Robbins spoke of EARTH’s gratitude from the county commission, praising their diligent work to keep the ball rolling on a project of this magnitude.

“What we are building today is on the foundation and the blocks of those that have come before us,” he said. “We are standing on the shoulders of the work that Rep. Ron Johnson did for a number of years for the community.”

(Difference Architecture/Contributed)

There was also an unveiling of signs made by Talladega Castings and Machine Co.

As the building continues, so does EARTH’s funding efforts and program development. The expansive campus will focus on incubation and preparing the East Alabama region’s workforce for on-demand jobs, K-12 education, agriculture, hospitality training, healthcare and IT.

Morton said, “Our job has just begun.”

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