BONIFAY — Raymon Thomas, recently hired as the Executive Director of the Holmes County Development Commission, requested that there be a meeting called with all local agencies and boards during the Holmes County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Nov. 12 to discuss the recent interest China has taken in area.
“I was recently invited to the China Summit that was held in Alabama,” said Thomas. “Three hundred and fifty Chinese manufacturers signed up for the summit and because of a delay, 562 manufacturers came to Southeast Alabama. They’ve got over $100 trillion in Chinese currency that they’re planning on investing in foreign countries with Japan being number one, Hong Kong being second and the United States in third.”
He said there’s a company already set up in North Carolina employing 1,500 people.
“Are we ready? I say we’re not,” he said. “What I propose is that we put together a steering committee with all the local agencies and boards including the Board of County Commissioners, the school board, real estate and medical. We need that committee and we need to be ready because they don’t buy land, it’s given to them.”
He requested that a meeting be called with all the local agencies and boards because representatives will be coming into the area in March.
“We might not get a factory employing 1,500 people in Holmes County but we need to be ready and Holmes County is not,” said Thomas. “I’m not into foreign investment but this is an investment we need. Lets get together and see if we can bring something to Holmes County.”
The commissioners agreed that all the local agencies should come together for a joint meeting on the matter.
“We should be ready for anything that may be a possibility for Holmes County,” said Chairman Monty Merchant.
Thomas also inquired about the loading building located next to the Holmes County Agricultural building.
“Someone is interested in looking at that building but what I need is the warehouse storage area cleaned out,” said Thomas. “It’s rat infested and a huge mess. Could we get some inmates out there and have it cleaned out?”
Board agreed to have the storage area cleaned for a tour.
The board approved of the Courthouse Security Committee installing 30 more security cameras throughout the Holmes County Courthouse, both inside and out, in the amount of $26,619 with a vote of four to one, with Commissioner Bill Parish voting “no.”
“This will also provide us with additional coverage at night meetings as well,” said Country Attorney Jeff Goodman. “Sheriff, courthouse and county employees are aware of it.”
Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson said that it is “not to eliminate the human security element, but to enhance it.”
Commissioner Kenneth Williams requested that the position of Bridge Crew Foreman be advertised extended out of just in-house.
“I don’t want to disregard these who have applied in-house but I’d still like to post it outside,” said Williams.
Goodman said that they were within their union contract to extend to advertising outside of the county pool of employees if those applying were still in their probationary period or if the employer was not comfortable with the qualifications for those applying and strongly advised that Williams inform those applicants why they were not being selected at this time. Williams agreed to do as Goodman advised.
The board approved of appointing Parish as Circuit 14 Community Alliance for Families Representative.
Board approved of signing the six- to eight-year extension agreement for Opportunity Florida’s Broadband Alliance.
“I’ve worked on it with Washington County and I’ve seen it in many other counties,” said Goodman. “It is the key part of a $3 million grant match, which are allowing for in-kind matches by back-dating these leases. There are six to 10 counties that are in this alliance; it is a race to the finish line and the Federal Government is pushing them to finish.”
Goodman said he was “comfortable with it retro dating it for credit.”
Jim Brook with Opportunity Florida came before the board during their Oct. 29 meeting to discuss the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance but was advised that since Goodman wasn’t present at that meeting the board didn’t feel comfortable approving the request at that time.
“Opportunity Florida is an economic development organization committed to growing the regional economy working within Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties,” said Brook. “The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance, LLC is a regional collaboration of local governments, community and economic development agencies from rural and economically disadvantaged communities. This is comprised of 15 counties within Florida's Northwest Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern and the South Central Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern.”
He added that after the five years, the city looked to possibly gain from the equipment if the city chose to be an Internet Service Provider.
“This will link together providers of vital public sector commercial services with private sector non-profit entities for the first time in these struggling regions of Florida,” he said. “At this time, only 39 percent of the FRBA region has broadband service.”
He said that at the end of the build out period, FRBA's project would deliver up to 1,000 times the existing capacity within the area.
“This is going to create jobs, enhance public safety, improve delivery of healthcare services, enhance emergency services, promote educational opportunities and so much more,” said Brook. “And with the expansion of technological need and even schools converting from physical books to digital it is vastly needed in this area.”
The next meeting of the Holmes County Board of County Commissioners is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 26.