Workforce development, infrastructure priorities for Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba
Although it is sometimes overlooked by its counterparts around the state of Alabama, the city of Dothan remains a hub for commerce for not only the Wiregrass but southwestern Georgia and parts of the Florida Panhandle, as well.
During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba discussed his city’s relationship with the rest of the state.
“Sometimes we think we are the neglected city down here in the southeast corner, but we feel like we’re ideally located to a lot of lakes and, of course, the beach,” Saliba said on Tuesday’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” broadcasting from Troy University’s Dothan campus. “We’re about an hour and 45 minutes away. We think we’re a great family spot and we always have a lot of things going on.”
“[W]ithin about 50 miles, we are the largest city,” he added. “So we are kind of the hub for retail and medical. And we have a lot of folks that come into our city. We are around 68,000-70,000 people. But we balloon to 120,000-125,000 during the day — mostly working, shopping and, of course, seeking medical help as well. So, we have a lot going on. The economy has been good. It has been across the state over the last few years. So we’re enjoying the benefits of that.”
Saliba noted one obstacle for Dothan was not being connected to the Interstate system, even though Interstate 10 is roughly 35 miles to the south on U.S. Highway 231. Saliba says he hopes the state of Florida will continue to make progress in four-laning additional routes from I-10 to the Alabama state line, including Florida Highways 77 and 79, and U.S. Highway 331.
The Dothan mayor touted the city’s successes but said improving workforce skills remains a priority.
“I think the state of Alabama and the city of Dothan have done very well with economic development over the several years,” he said. “I do think workforce development is the issue. We have a lot of companies here. We’ve got now to provide a quality workforce. And you know now the unemployment rates in Dothan are at all-time lows. People are working that want to work. I think that is important. But we’ve got to work on skills — soft skills as well as the hard skills.”
Saliba pledged to continue to contribute to Alabama’s efforts to improve the economy. He also noted his recent participation in a meeting of the “Big 5 plus 5” mayors of Alabama, which included the mayors of the state’s 10 biggest cities, as a part of that effort.
“We have a lot of good people down here,” he said. “We’re a very entrepreneurial spirit I think because of where we are. We’re a little bit away from everyone. We pull from Georgia. We pull from Florida. And from Alabama. And so, we think we have a lot we think we can do to contribute to the state of Alabama, and how things are run. We want to participate and we a part of that. I’m very appreciative to the Big 5 and to be able to go to the last meeting and looking forward to having conversations about where our state is headed and talking about the issues that we all kind of share.”
Although Dothan has yet to have one of the big auto manufacturers locate nearby, as has been the case for Huntsville, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Saliba is hopeful and pointed to a mega-site effort the city has in cooperation with Florida.
“I would think every mayor dreams at night of having an automotive plant at least get somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or 30 miles — get these Tier 1, Tier 2 opportunities,” he said. “We worked on a mega-site. We share one with Florida on the Alabama-Florida line. We have tried attracting that as well and will continue to do so. I don’t know if we’ll ever have one real close but if we get one as close as the Florida line, I think that we would be very happy with that.”