MADISON, Fla. (WTXL) — Leaders in economic development are trying to attract new business to Madison County.
To do that, they’re digging into new data. The numbers show the county has been losing residents in recent years. One economic expert told ABC 27 that could soon change thanks, in part, to the pandemic.
“We want to be able to keep our local people here,” said Sherilyn Pickels. "We don’t want people to have to move off to find employment.” Pickels is county manager in Madison County. She said she has lived in the county all her life.
She helps lead a community that lost 1,256 people between the years 2010 and 2020 due to people moving away. The county’s population dropped from 19,224 in 2010 to 17,968 in 2020. That’s according to census data.
Pickels is working to turn that number around.
“We want to get the word out that Madison County is here. We’re ready. We’re open for business,” Pickels added.
Economic development is one strategy they’re using.
“I always love coming to the small counties. I’m from one myself in Alabama,” shared Dr. Jerry Parrish. He is an economic expert with the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University. He paid Madison County a visit Tuesday. During the talk, he went in-depth with new data showing the economic outlook for the county.
“The Madison County economy actually recovered all the jobs from pre-Covid times three months before the state of Florida did,” Dr. Parrish shared. “They make things here. There is manufacturing here a lot higher than other parts of Florida and the U.S.”
It’s not just big business.
“We’re doing very well. Main Street in Madison is fully occupied,” added Doug Brown, executive director of Madison County Development Council. “We have an industrial park that has land available. It has infrastructure available.”
That land is right next to Interstate 10.
“We have four interchanges, three of which have water and sewer available to them,” Pickels said.
Another plus for Madison County is the railroad with Jacksonville to the east and Pensacola to the west.
“One of the biggest challenges is just simply competing,” Brown said. “We have a couple of projects that are in process right now.”
Dr. Parrish added, “We’re always subject in North Florida to states like Alabama and Georgia coming over here and recruiting companies to move over into their state.”
Dr. Parrish also said the pandemic has changed that formula. Remote work is opening up all kinds of opportunities.
“We’ve seen it all over Florida. People are choosing the smaller towns and smaller counties. It’s been really good for the economy,” Dr. Parrish concluded.
Some projections show 1,800 residents moving to Madison County as early as the year 2030. That is an idea that has Pickels excited to keep calling this place home.
“We just kind of get overlooked, but we’re trying to change that,” she concluded.
Dr. Parrish said people have been leaving Madison County for places like Lowndes County in Georgia and Leon County in Florida. However, as the population shifts with new tech and development opportunities, he said people are actually relocating north from Miami-Dade and Pinellas Counties in South Florida.