Did Del Schafer Do That? Probably.
You may not have ever met Del Schafer or even heard his name before now, but chances are great that the work he’s done throughout his career has impacted your daily life.
From job creation or preservation, road, water and sewer projects to building senior centers or funding equipment for law enforcement, Del has done all of this and more.
“Del has been an icon in the Alabama Economic Development space for decades, and I was excited about having the opportunity to work alongside him when I joined TARCOG, said Michelle Jordan, TARCOG’s executive director since 2019. “He put TARCOG on the map for supporting the communities we serve, and we will always be grateful for his vision and wisdom.”
As a consultant in the 1970s he worked on surveys for hospitals, managed traffic studies and property tax valuations, studied the impact of aerospace on Huntsville, worked in mapping, and produced a series of monographs for TARCOG. Then he joined the staff.
For 48 years, Del has worked at TARCOG. Before he joined the staff as a planner in 1975, he had worked as a consultant for three years. He’s been with the agency almost as long as it’s been in existence. He is our living, breathing, working history.
He’s done it all related to Economic Development and Planning — except be the boss. But he prefers having his hands in the action of helping towns and cities find funds for their needs.
“The very first CDBG grant I worked on was for the Town of Hammondville. They needed a road or water project. Dottie Blackburn was the mayor,” Del recalls. “I wrote the application; it was funded and then I did the grant administration for a period of time.”
He’s worked on comprehensive plans for every small town in the region. When HUD housing plan grants came about, he helped submit applications to acquire funding. And he wrote and administered funded grants for senior centers in Triana, Bridgeport, Ider, Douglas, Athens, and two sites in rural Limestone County.
In Bridgeport, he wrote and administered the grants that initially created over 600 jobs at Beaulieu Nylon, and U. S Gypsum. In 2016-2017, he worked to save 300 jobs threatened by a facility closing at Beaulieu, by securing grant funding for a new waterline connection needed to induce Mohawk Carpets to relocate there.
“It was very low-cost grant for what they needed, but a slam dunk to keep 300 people from being out of work,” he recalled.
The largest grant Del ever worked on was to secure $4 million in EDA funding to construct a railroad overpass for the Toyota Mazda plant.
“It’s always been a group effort, everything we’ve ever done,” Del said.
Team spirit, dedication, and drive are traits Del has always shown.
“He’s an invaluable resource to me,” said Lee Terry, TARCOG’s director of Economic Development and Planning. “He’s worked here longer than most of the people in this building have been alive – but every grant we’ve done in the last 50 years he’s been a part of.’”
During his tenure, Del has seen many changes at TARCOG.
“Technology has definitely changed,” he said. “For instance, we now have a drone, and there are lots of applications in which it is useful – like to highlight Brownfields, slum and blighted areas to help with grant applications, and take pictures of progress on projects.”
But the biggest changes at TARCOG over the years was the exponential growth and development and current aging programs.
“The aging programs are now the primary organizational focus and planning and economic development, while still important, are not the ‘daily presence’ driver of the organization” he added. “When I first started our offices were in the Central Bank Building, downtown, on the corner across from the courthouse. We had 20 people tops.”
He remembers the first move from the Central Bank Building to Washington Street, and then to the agency-built Research Park location; and the 2023 water and other flooding instances that forced the offices to their present temporary location on Old Madison Pike. There are now close to 90 employees at TARCOG, and, Del, 82, is glad to still be one — and his coworkers are glad he’s still working too.