Meet Brandon Shoupe!!

Would you like to learn more about the politicians and elected officials supporting our Dothan community? In this episode of “Home Grown,” I’m going to speak with Brandon Shoupe, the county commissioner of District 4 here in Houston County, Alabama. We’ll learn about Brandon’s background and his current campaign for Houston County Commission Chairman so you’ll know exactly what he plans for our community if elected.

Meet Brandon Shoupe 

Stephen grew up in a community just west of Dothan called Wicksburg. Graduating from Wicksburg High School in ’98, he attended Wallace Community College just outside of Houston County in Dale County. After a year in community college, Stephen next attended Auburn University and ended up getting a degree in software engineering. 

He worked in software for about two and a half years and then migrated to more entrepreneurial pursuits. It took him too long to figure out that he was not one of those people that like to sit behind a desk, programming. While he loves to program and figure out and solve problems, he just couldn’t be chained to a chair all day. His personality didn't mesh too well with that life—which led him to pursue his other dreams.

A Penchant For Politics

Brandon has had an interest in public service ever since he was a young boy of 10 or 12 years old. He paid attention to who the President was, who our elected representatives were, and who the mayor of Dothan was. While he wasn’t necessarily cognizant of the issues, he knew who those people were. 

One of Brandon’s earliest political memories was watching President Reagan talk about the Challenger Disaster; it’s almost ingrained in my mind. Although he has no desire to be president or governor, he does like serving people—and the county commission level is just as grassroots as it gets. 

As the county commissioner, Brandon actually talks to the people that have a problem. He can sometimes solve that for them, and sometimes he can't. Either way, he is always honest with people in telling them what he can and can't do—which most people respect. 

Running For Chairman

As county commissioner, Brandon has been in office for eight years. This November will wrap up his eighth year, and he’ll hopefully be elected to a different position after that. He’s currently running for Chairman of the Commission.

For a long time, Brandon never really aspired to be chairman. However, he grew to really love county government, and there are a lot of things that the county needs to do a little bit differently. Brandon has a lot of ideas to help the Dothan community grow and to make our citizens' lives better—which is exactly what he wants to try and pursue.  

So why should the residents of Houston County elect Brandon as chairman, and what needs to be done in Houston County? According to Brandon, the current chairman has done a great job leading the county for a number of years; he’s been the chairman since Brandon was a junior or senior in high school, and he just turned 42. This means he’s been in office for a while.

Brandon is a big believer that there needs to be some sort of constant turnover and change. While the community gets that with the county commission and district seats (which always have new people coming and going, bringing in new ideas), he thinks it's time for new ideas to percolate up to the chairman's office. Just because we've always done things a certain way, Brandon says, doesn’t mean we need to continue doing those things a certain way.

Attracting People To Dothan

Brandon notes that the world is changing. A lot of people that are looking for a home want to live in a place that has a good work-life balance. Today, you can live in Dothan, Alabama and work for a company out of San Francisco. Brandon did that a couple of years ago, living in Pittsburgh and working for a company out of San Francisco that needed some software help. 

For the most part, you can really live anywhere no matter who you work for. Because of this, Brandon believes we've got to give people a reason to want to live in Houston County, Alabama. We have a great business climate and we’re very pro-law enforcement. While that doesn’t mean the community is immune to the crime problem creeping up in the nation, Dothan certainly doesn’t have the issues that a lot of communities and major cities have. 

Additionally, Dothan has a good climate. While it does get hot and humid in the summer, we don’t have bone-chilling winters like some places do. Brandon was talking to a lady from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a few weeks ago who didn't know anybody from Houston County. As they got to looking around and trying to figure out where they wanted to live, they ended up moving to Houston County. 

That tells Brandon that the county is starting to do the right things. We've got a lot going for us, but there are always areas for improvement. 

Development And Utilities

With the growth of Dothan, the Wiregrass area booming as a whole, and more rural areas throughout the county developing, many people are already attracted to Dothan. Brandon feels that a lot of what attracts people to our area is that we have cheap land compared to much of the nation. This means you can come to Houston County, get a couple of acres, build a nice house compared to what you get in the rest of the nation, and not go broke. 

Obviously, the county is not going to discourage that type of development. However, Brandon believes they could do a better job of encouraging infill development. Turning the clock back 100-120 years ago, Dothan had a concept of towns. Back then, towns didn't have automobiles or much personal transportation; a horse would be the best people could do. This means Dothan had more densely populated areas.

One of the drawbacks of spread-out development is that you have to supply utilities, which is extremely expensive to do. The only way to make the numbers work is if you're going to invest in a road, a water line, or a sewer. However, in a sparsely populated area, all those things are going to degrade over time. The only way to make those numbers work is for there to be growth in that area. 

The Smart Way To Grow

When growth stops happening, you have really bad things happen to your community. We can look at the city of Detroit to see what happens when the population starts to decline: you have all this infrastructure, but it has to be supported by a smaller and smaller tax base. The smart way to expand is to pursue both.

Brandon says the county wants to encourage—or at least not prohibit—growth in the more rural parts of the county. At the same time, Brandon believes they could do some things to encourage more redevelopment. They’re already seeing some of that; the county just approved a project for the Moody Hospital that's going to be senior housing. That building has been vacant for 20 years, but the utilities that go by that building have to be paid for every year, including the roads. 

Once people are living there, the tax that the communities of Dothan and Houston County will get from that property will now cover the cost of that road and those utilities.

Where To Put The Money

With so much growth going on throughout the Wiregrass as a whole, I wanted to know where Brandon thinks revenue should go. For example, if Jeff Bezos said he was going to grant Houston County, Alabama $1 billion, where would Brandon think the county should put that money?

Brandon says it would probably be put towards the eastern side. If you look at the map of Houston County at Dothan, it’s sort of in the northwestern corner. You can see that the city has been growing northwest and west for some time. Eventually, you start to run out of county. As a county official, Brandon wants to see that growth in our county on the eastern side of Dothan. That would encourage more surrounding development in that area. 

The county is already starting to see some of that right now. There's an ad for the 84 East Corridor Development Plan and the possibility of redeveloping downtown Dothan, which Brandon thinks would do wonders for the east side of town. There’s residential growth in Ashford, Cowarts, and Webb as well. With the housing development that's going up in Cowarts, the county could put something like that on the eastern side of Dothan.

Transportation Plans

Another question I had for Brandon is about transportation needs for rural citizens or those who are low income, disabled, or simply don’t have means of transportation. Dothan is a healthcare hub for the entire region, but we haven’t had good public transportation in the area. While there is a small service that the county operates with Wiregrass transit, are there any plans to further progress with public transportation?

Brandon tells us that this has been looked into a few times over the past couple of decades. The answer that always comes back is it would be a tremendous cost to the taxpayers to operate a fixed route transportation system. However, Wiregrass Transit is like an Uber model for transportation. You can call in and put a request, and then they will pick you up and take you to where you need to go. When you're done, they'll pick you up and take you back home.

Wiregrass Transit operates pretty large size buses, though they may not always have a lot of folks in there from time to time. Brandon says there might be more efficient ways transit can be done. One idea that Brandon had considered in the past was some sort of voucher system for Uber or Lyft. However, there's going to be specialty transportation for those who need it.

For example, if you have to be transported to dialysis or if you have to be taken on a bed, you can get an ambulatory transportation service. Medicaid will often help cover the cost of those types of transportation, though the person is going to have to get on that program to take advantage of it. 

Expanding Infrastructure

Brandon says that his fantasy of transportation is for there to be a subway. He’s always loved taking the subway when he goes to bigger cities—but that is probably never going to happen in Dothan, even if it would be nice. However, it may come to a point where a fixed route transportation system does make sense. For that to happen and work, Dothan would have to have more infield development and density. 

Speaking of transportation, I asked Brandon what he would do if someone came to him with a proposal to build a new road or a new bridge. How would he evaluate whether or not that project was needed or feasible? There's a lot of road development happening in Dothan, and often people wonder why they didn’t do certain projects 20 or 30 years ago.

Everybody’s got an idea, opinion, suggestion, or a new proposal. Brandon says that, typically, if there's a need for a new or expanded road or bridge, the county knows about it for years. Unfortunately, it's just the way the numbers are. There's not enough tax revenue to pay for everything that's needed when expanding infrastructure. There are a lot of things that the county needs and knows they need, which keeps stacking up and stacking up. Finally, when the monies are available, it’s a matter of choosing the most important thing.

Current And Future Road Projects

Although projects can stack up, there’s plenty of current construction going on. The expansion of Ross Clark Circle that's been going on for a couple of years will continue to go on for a few more. There has also been some capacity expansion on 231 North, which has worked out very well. The county is about to do something very similar on 84 West,

According to Brandon, the most important area right now is the area around Brannon Stand and 84 West. That traffic gets congested quite a bit in the mornings and the afternoons. There's an old bridge that needs to be replaced, and the county is not going to expand that intersection until that bridge is replaced. This will be a multi-million dollar project and, once it gets underway, will probably be the most important one in Dothan. Hopefully, Brandon says, it will get done sooner rather than later.

A question that's existed for many years is whether an I-10 connector will ever happen. Brandon is one of the people that think this is still possible, though it’s certainly not happening now. According to Brandon, we're going to have to have leadership in place that's not afraid or ashamed to go after that. 

We’d also need to have some special circumstance come along just to spur the idea, whether that's the state of Florida pushing for it or a big economic development project.  It will take a marriage of really good, strong local leadership and some sort of national circumstance to spur that development. 

Interstates And Highways

Brandon tells us that we don't really build interstates anymore because the environmental rules and laws have gotten so tight; it's almost impossible to get one permitted. Still, it's possible, and Brandon would love to see that happen. It would just bring a lot of growth to Dothan. 

If you take a look at the state, you’ll see the interstate running through every sector of the state except the southeast region. In the meantime, the county’s strategy is to improve the existing highway system that Dothan does have and make things flow a lot quicker and smoother. While it’s not an interstate, it can at least be interstate-like.

People who aren't from the area often don’t understand that we're a hub of highways. You can get anywhere within the Wiregrass area quickly and easily; we’re close to I-10 and are easily able to move east and west across Florida. 

Zoning Codes

Another question I had for Brandon was about zoning codes. If there was one thing that he could change regarding our zoning, what would that be? Brandon says he would change the way we do zoning completely. He thinks the Japanese have a good model that we could emulate. 

In the American model of zoning, we have a system where we state specifically what is allowed in certain zones. However, the Japanese model is the complete opposite of that: they state specifically what is not allowed. So as long as something is allowed in a zone, you can build it. In the American model, it has to specifically state that the structure you want to build or the thing that you want to build is allowed. 

Brandon would be a big fan of swapping the way we do zoning completely. He doesn’t know if that'll ever happen, but if he could wave a magic wand and make it happen, that's what he would do. 

Investing In Recreation

As he continues as commissioner—and possibly chairman-elect—there are many things Brandon hopes to accomplish in his term. First,  he wants to create more things for people to do from a recreational and cultural standpoint. 

For example, when you go to New York City, it's cool to see the buildings and skyscrapers. However, what most people really go there for are the cultural opportunities that are available which they don’t have where they live. This includes things like museums, Central Park, the library, and of course—food and entertainment. 

Of course, Dothan and Houston County as a whole is never going to be a metropolis like New York City. We're never going to have mountains, and we're never going to have an ocean at our shores. But the city of Paris doesn’t have those things, either. Paris was created because Napoleon decided he was going to invest in his capital city. He wanted his capital city to be the envy of the world. 

Brandon believes we have to get comfortable with the idea of investing in ourselves. We need to invest in things like recreation and cultural opportunities. This is one of the reasons that Brandon is running for the position of chairman. 

Economic Development And Education

Focusing on recreation goes hand in hand with economic development. Brandon wants to have more jobs—which everybody wants—that pay higher. That way, when people come here to work, instead of having a $20 an hour average wage in our metro area, people can get paid $25 or $30 an hour. What can we do to raise those wages? That’s one of the big things Brandon wants to figure out. 

He also wants to partner with our education system better. Brandon tells us that he was looking at the numbers just this past weekend and noted that Houston County’s school system is one of the lowest funded per pupil in the state. While that might scare some people, Houston County actually has a very good school system. It’s simply something that the county can make better if we get comfortable with the idea of investing in our schools, Brandon says. 

One of the other things he wants to do is take about 30% of the county’s SSUT, which is a simplified sales use tax. This is tax money that people are already paying and includes things like internet sales tax. Brandon wants to divert that and start giving it to the school systems so they can improve and invest in their buildings. It will also allow them to invest in their school programs. 

Vote Brandon Shoupe For Houston County Commission Chairman

Brandon Shoupe has a ton of great ideas for Dothan and all of Houston County. Be sure to check out Brandon’s website where you can learn more about his campaign, donate to the cause, and even request a yard sign to show your support. 

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of “Home Grown,” my show all about the Wiregrass area of Alabama. Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you never miss a video, and stay tuned to see what I feature next!