MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Gov. RobertBentley has been touting his administration's record on job creation, pointingout that more than 38,000 new jobs have been announced for Alabama since hetook office in January 2011.
"Jobcreation remains my No. 1 priority, and these figures reflect the tremendousprogress we're making in Alabama," Bentley said.
Those numbers areimpressive. But they also need to be placed in context.
While new jobannouncements may bode well for the future, the reality is that job growth inAlabama remains weak.
Consider thesefacts that were not covered in the news release this week from the Governor'sOffice: According to the Alabama Department of Labor's website, Alabama'semployment in January 2011 -- the month Bentley took office -- was 1,998,201.In January 2013, it was 1,999,451 -- a difference of just 1,250 jobs.
What elected officials seldom point out,unless they are pinned down by the news media, is that all the while newindustries are announcing the jobs they expect to create, many other businessesare much more quietly closing their doors or cutting jobs.
Sometimes those closing or layoffsmake news, especially when they involve lots of employees. More often than not,they happen with little or no fanfare.
But back to the good news. Accordingto the Governor's Office, 77 new companies announced plans in 2012 to locate inAlabama. If all those plans reach fruition, they will bring 6,558 jobs to thestate and more than $2.73 billion in capital investment. Another 355 companiesalready located in Alabama announced they would add 14,289 jobs and more than$2.67 billion in new capital investment.
Among the announcements in 2012 wasAirbus's assembly plant in Mobile, which will create 1,000 new Airbus jobs andmany more supplier jobs, and expansions at Walter Energy, Austal USA andHyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama.
Although these jobs were announcedin 2012, many of the new positions won't come online until months from now. Butthey do suggest the possibility of job growth in the future. And the Bentleyadministration points out that new job announcements have trended up for thepast few years.
Still, while electedofficials quite understandably focus on new job announcements, what the publicalso needs to keep its eyes on are the net job growth numbers announced eachmonth. I believe they are much more telling than new job announcements.
And those net job numbers are stillanemic, despite signs that Alabama's economy is making a slow but steadycomeback.
According to theU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just four states had a smaller percentage increase in total jobs thanAlabama in 2012 -- Wyoming, Maine, Connecticut and New Mexico.
Please understand, I do not in anyway mean to make light of new job announcements. They are crucial to the state.They are even more important to the local communities where these new jobs arelocated. The men and women who work to attract new industries are doingimportant work, and that work is worthy of celebration.
Without those new jobs coming in tooffset jobs lost, Alabama would be bleeding jobs and the economy would betanking.
Instead, Alabama by many measures isdoing better economically than most of its neighboring states, and itsunemployment rate of 6.9 percent was better than the national rate of 7.9percent in January.
But unemployment rates are affectedby more than just people getting work. They also can be driven down bydiscouraged workers giving up on finding jobs and essentially dropping out ofthe labor force.
Also remember that Alabama needs acertain amount of job growth each year just to keep up with population growth.
So, again, those members of thepublic who want to get a true feel for the state's overall job picture shouldlook not just at new job announcements and unemployment rates, but also at netjob growth.
When he was a candidate for office,Gov. Bentley understood that. In a position paper released during his campaign for governor, Bentley said his goal was tocreate 250,000 new jobs if elected.
In hindsight, that probably was anunrealistic goal. And elected officials -- even governors -- don't have thatmuch control over job growth, especially in the short term. Lots of factors areout of the control of state officials.
Jeremy King, communications directorfor the governor, said of the 250,000 jobs: "Obviously, the number youreferenced is a long-term goal. And it is a lofty goal. Will we be able toreach it after only four years? With the national economy the way it is, it's goingto be difficult.
"But again, you have to setambitious goals. Governor Bentley is working every day to attract more jobs.What we're seeing is a positive trend in job creation, and we expect that trendto continue," he said.
It is a lofty goal. But candidateBentley set it, and it's not unfair for the public to hold him accountable forit.
Bentley also set another goal thathas received much more attention -- he promised not to take a salary untilAlabama returned to full employment, which he later defined as 5.2 percentunemployment.
I believe he's got a reasonablechance of hitting that goal before his first term is over, despite a slightuptick in the most recent unemployment rate. Alabama's average annualunemployment rate for the past 23 years have been at or below 5.2 percent 12times. Halfway through his four-year term, the jobless rate was down from 9.3percent when Bentley took office to 6.9 percent. So the state is makingsignificant progress in this measure of employment.
King agrees: "If the nationaleconomy improves, we believe it's certainly possible because Governor Bentleyhas put several things in place that will help our state's economy improve aswell. We now have the Accelerate Alabama long-term plan for economicdevelopment. We are strengthening workforce training. We have the new College& Career Ready Task Force, etc. The Governor's goal is to reach fullemployment as soon as possible."
So the 5.2 percent unemployment goalcertainly appears to be within reach. But 250,000 new jobs? The governor stillhas more than 248,000 jobs to go.
Every Alabamian should wish thegovernor well in meeting that goal. Buthe's going to need a lot of help from the national economy to even come close.
Ken Hare was a longtimeAlabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes aregular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.