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Published 12:08pm Monday, August 20, 2012

For decades – a century really – businessmen have provided the leadership in Alexander City.

For most of that time, the businessmen worked at Russell Corp. and often shared the company name.

Although I haven’t researched the topic thoroughly, I’d be willing to bet that members of the Russell family have served in every leadership position in this town, from mayor to bank president to chamber of commerce president. They have been instrumental in running our schools, our hospital, our civic clubs. At one time the Russells had an ownership position in this newspaper.

The Russell family did so much for Alexander City in part because it helped them and their business. But I also believe they loved this community and the people who live here and helped them achieve their goals. Our community relied on Russell Corp. to be a good corporate citizen – which it was – and relied on its patronage. As Russell thrived, so did Alexander City.

It was an arrangement that worked beautifully as Russell Corp. grew into an international powerhouse, a Fortune 500 company and a leader in the world’s textile industry.

But every situation has positives and negatives.

Today, after the sale of Russell Corp. and the loss of 6,000-plus jobs tied to our community, we face problems caused by our reliance on Russell.

It is obvious now that we as a community had all our eggs in one basket.

What may not be so obvious is a problem in our community culture.

Because Russell Corp. had strong, successful leaders who commanded allegiance, many who would speak up learned over the years that it was wiser to just keep quiet. And at the time, it probably was.

But times have changed.

With all due respect to those who hold positions of authority in our community now, I believe Alexander City is starved for leadership. “Starved” is a relative term, but I remember back in the ‘90s when our entire town believed it when Mr. Gwaltney (I still can’t bring myself to call him by his first name) said things are looking up during an annual meeting.

It instilled a sense of well-being that had far-reaching consequences. People bought cars, invested in homes, opened businesses because they had the confidence that everything would work out for the best. And why not? It usually did.

We’re in a completely different environment now, with bigger challenges and tougher realities. But I don’t think anybody in our community has anywhere near the power to lead us, to change the way people feel, to instill confidence, like Russell Corp.’s leaders did for most of the 1900s.

We’re starved for those better times.

And I think they’re coming … slowly. We’ve already come through the worst of the storm. We’re transitioning away from the company town and toward a more diverse community that is not making the mistake of putting all our eggs in the same basket again.

The lake is beginning to generate more dollars for our area in housing sales, starts and repairs, boat sales, tourism. We’ve added strong new industries – especially in the automobile manufacturing sector – that are growing fast in our county. Our hospital is second-to-none for its size.

But the most impressive thing I see happening is that as a community, we’re beginning to create a new culture. We the people are beginning to believe that we are responsible for our own future. We can’t rely on Russell Corp. to guide our community and pay our way any longer.

And ultimately that’s a good thing, because we will be stronger as a result.

I believe we have everything it takes to make Alexander City grow again and thrive. I think we all have the ability to be leaders in different ways, by each doing what he or she can to make our community a better place.

It’s time to step up to the plate and take charge of our future.

One way to do that is to speak up about the city election that will be held in 10 days. This page of this newspaper is a public forum dedicated to sharing ideas that can help our community. I encourage you to use it if you have something to say to Alexander City.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.

  • wildflower

    I would say that especially during the last year or two YOU have been an important person providing leadership in our community. Our little paper has become a big factor in spreading the news and motivating people to get involved in our politics and our community. It takes time and experience for people to learn how to lead. An increasing number of people who may have played the game from the sidelines are now stepping forward to voice their opinions and lead in whatever way they can. Not all citizens can run for office or lead the charge. Leadership can take place with open and sincere conversation in person or in the public forums. I hope you will continue to cheer the populace on and to provide the forums necessary to voice our different opinions. I am excited that for the first time in my experience the average citizen of our town is beginning to realize the power of his/her voice to effect positive change.
    Thank you and the Outlook for being an important catalyst in this process.