The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

March 4, 2013

Retired executive works to improve rural Alabama



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Jim Hodo had hoped to become a history professor when he enrolled at Auburn University, but he shelved that dream to become one of Alabama's leading industrialists.

His executive positions began at a foundry in his hometown of Alexander City, followed by stints at a wire harness plant in Montgomery and, finally, a military garment facility in Selma.

For the past seven months he's been enjoying retired life, but state needs continue to draw his interest and attention, especially when they involve rural Alabama.

Hodo is a soft-spoken man, but his ire is evident when he talks about a region he believes has been neglected far too long by those with the assets to make some positive changes.

"Investments are always being made in our big cities, but look what happens when you leave them and head into rural parts of the state," he said during an interview at Selma's popular Downtowner Restaurant. "Highway 80 is a good example of neglect."

Snail-pace work on improving the busy federal highway that links Alabama and Mississippi has become a perennial joke among officials and motorists who use it.

"It's been going on for the past 60 years, and it's still not completed," said Hodo, 63. "It seems we've been working on widening and paving that highway forever."

Hodo isn't the only state leader who feels the same way about U.S. 80, at times referred to as "Blood Alley" because of all the fatal wrecks that have occurred on it during the past six decades.

"Economically challenged" is a phrase that many leaders use to describe Alabama's Black Belt, where unemployment is the highest in the state.

A few years ago, millions of federal dollars were set aside for an economic impact study on possibly extending Interstate 85, the interstate system that ends in Montgomery.

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