Infrastructure is often a word used by silk-tongued politicians trying to avoid an in-depth domestic policy conversation, but what does it really mean?
The good ‘ole Merriam-Webster dictionary defines infrastructure as the following: "the system of public works of a country, state, or region, the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity, the underlying foundation or basic framework of a system or organization, or the permanent installations required for military purposes."
Now, being as this is a Walker County publication, let’s focus on the application of those definitions to our quaint little home. Not really concerned with the third one, as our county isn’t a permanent military installation. It’s really those first three, and especially the third one, that I want to focus on.
The word "foundation" is important here. We all know that without a foundation, you can’t build a structure. It’s no different when constructing a government. From the ancient Mesopotamians to the mighty Roman Empire, strong governmental foundations have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt since man’s existence.
Many of those empires influenced the governmental structure we take part in as Americans on a daily basis, but what makes those foundations so strong, and ultimately, weak enough to fail? How do we build a lasting foundation for our county government that can withstand the flurry of progress that so many Walker Countians yearn for on the pages of Facebook every time a new fast food joint is announced?
The answer begins and ends with two words — public safety. In most civilized societies, the government’s ability to provide a safe and secure community is a bedrock for the growth and sustainability of that community.
Think of it like this; Jack American and his family are looking for a place to settle down after Jack took a new job at the manufacturing plant in Town A. Town A has weak law enforcement and subpar fire and medical services. These cause Jack’s homeowner’s insurance to increase on any potential homes he looks to purchase. Homes that are already located in a less than safe area. Also, because of the weak police and fire service, retail and entertainment businesses that rely on disposable income to flourish are almost nonexistent in Town A.
Just a few miles over is Town B. Town B has put a focus on building strong law enforcement and fire service departments. Because of this, Town B has lower insurance prices, much better retail and entertainment options, better road conditions, and a better overall “vibe.” Given that information, Jack American weighs his options, and like so many people across our state and country, chooses to reside in Town B and commute to work in Town A everyday.
That decision is a direct result of strong public safety creating an environment for business and residency to thrive, therefore increasing revenue for the betterment of the community as a whole. The question that Town A has to constantly ponder is why Town B has seen a population and economic boom, while they struggle to attract people for their work force and places for those people to work.
The cyclical question always comes back to the same answer — quality of life differences that stem from a community’s focus on public safety. Law enforcement and fire services exist to make communities safer. Safer communities create more populous communities. Populous communities provide families with more disposable income. Disposable income creates more retail opportunities for the populous to enjoy. Retail opportunities generate more revenue. Revenue is used to improve the community even more, thereby attracting even more people, and the process continues until towns and cities morph from 1990’s Cullman into 2020 Cullman.
But enough about imaginary towns and hypothetical American families. The question we should be asking is how this understanding of infrastructure can be applied to Walker County. Walker County has enjoyed an industrial and retail resurgence recently, the majority of which can be attributed to its location in the Birmingham Metro footprint, its ease of access to the long promised “Corridor X” I-22 interstate, and its ability to maximize access to local waterways. All of these factors, coupled with a renewed focus on law enforcement and fire services by Jasper, the largest city in our county, and the Walker County Commission have paved the way for corporations like Yorozu and HTNA to choose Walker County as their home.
Those companies don’t make those decisions lightly, and they don’t make them uninformed. They weigh every single component related to a town, city, or county, and we have to put our best foot forward to attract them. That’s happening here in Walker County, and with a focused group of leaders who understand public safety’s role in infrastructure, it will only continue. Just remember folks, Cullman wasn’t built in a day, and Walker County won’t be either.
Nick Key is director of operations at the Walker County Sheriff's Office.