Mayor Bill Ham is in his fourth term as mayor of Auburn. When he walks the city sidewalks, family memories come flooding back. His father ran Bill Ham Cleaners on Magnolia Street for 35 years. Standing in front of the old storefront, Ham told me, "At the Georgia game I still had people that would say to me, 'Man, I was in school and your dad helped me do this or that.' He was there long enough to touch a lot of generations."
Ham has a lot to brag about when it comes to Auburn. It ranks as the fourteenth fastest growing city in the U.S. according to the latest census. Forbes Magazine ranks Auburn as the tenth best small city for jobs in the country.
Ham points out, "It was pretty unheard of 25 years ago that people would graduate from Auburn University in engineering and find a job in Auburn." That's no longer the case. Ham says businesses like G.E. Aviation and SiO2 Medical Products employ Auburn engineering graduates, just to name a few.
Over the past 20 years businesses have invested over one billion dollars in Auburn, adding over 6,000 jobs to the local workforce.
As the workforce grows, so does the city school population. They add on average over 400 students a year which is straining the facilities.
A property tax increase referendum to fund a new high school was recently defeated. Ham says, "It may not be exactly what we had hoped for, but we've got to move forward. The people told us they didn't want a property tax. We'll do with what we've got."
Mayor Ham sees improvements ahead for downtown Auburn. "It's been a number of years since we've spent any significant funds downtown, so we want to look at an overall upgrade. It will develop by available funding, probably take five to seven years to totally do it. The mindset is to keep the downtown in lock step with Auburn University."
That's a relationship Ham says is vitally important to protect. "The more that we can do collaboratively with Auburn University, the better."