- Associated Press - Saturday, January 27, 2018

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Heather Ferrara and Josh McMurray didn’t initially consider living in Decatur after landing new jobs in north Alabama.

Both said they first looked at Madison and Huntsville, before the Best and Brightest Initiative - a program focused on attracting young professionals to Decatur - convinced the pair to move to the city.

Ferrara and McMurray are members of the Best and Brightest Initiative’s second class. With funding from private donations, the initiative provides young professionals in the science, technology, engineering and math fields with up to $3,000 a year to go toward student loans in return for a five-year commitment to live in the Decatur city limits.

Members of the second class are Ferrara, formerly of Eaton, Colorado; Ken Still and Jarrod Roberts Moore, both from Huntsville; Joshua Gaines, formerly of Moulton; and McMurray, who lived in Trinity.

Executive Director John Joseph said he is keeping each class small so the initiative can provide a high level of services. Including spouses, the initiative has attracted 20 young professionals to the city.



This year, the initiative is focusing on improving mentoring and employer networking that’s offered to participants, he said.

“We don’t have a good template of incorporating people’s lives into the community, so we’re trying to integrate them in different ways,” Joseph said.

Unlike the first class, this year there are no Decatur natives returning home. Two participants are from Lawrence County. This is the first group with married participants. One of the married participants has three children.

Ferrara said her uncle, Michael Medina, lives in the area, so she accepted a job as a metallurgist at Nucor Steel in Decatur after graduating in May from Colorado School of Mines. She moved to Decatur in August.

She said attending a school that specializes in engineering was expensive, so she was grateful Nucor human resources told her about the Best and Brightest Initiative.

“When I spoke to John, he told me they were trying to get more young professionals,” Ferrara said, “and the initiative would make it easier for us to get involved in the community.”

Ferrara, 24, and her husband, Kristopher Small, recently bought a home, and she said they are happy with their decision to live in Decatur. He is an emergency medical technician who is working to become a paramedic while he works at Supreme Beverages.

“We’re still in transition mode, but I think Kris was meant to be born a Southerner,” Ferrara said. “I love my new job. We love the river. We definitely plan to stay awhile.”

As a native of the Trinity-Caddo area, Decatur isn’t new territory for McMurray. The University of Alabama in Huntsville graduate in physics said he initially looked in Madison and Huntsville because he wanted to be close to his new job at the Polaris plant in Greenbrier. He also considered several out-of-state opportunities.

“I wanted to live somewhere that I can be a part of the community,” McMurray said.

McMurray, 29, said he and his girlfriend are happy since moving to Decatur about six weeks ago. They recently purchased a home.

“I’m in a good spot,” McMurray said. “I’ve got a great house, and it’s an easy trip to work.”

McMurray said he’s excited about the mentoring the initiative offers.

“I’ve spoken with John about talking to someone at AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development and Training) about getting Six Sigma training, which is a big deal in manufacturing,” McMurray said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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