First Gubernatorial Debate: Economic Development

Sallie Owen, political reporter for the Mobile Register:

Governor, during the last few years Alabama has had tremendous success recruiting auto manufacturers that employ thousands of people and pay double digit hourly wages and none of that has come to southwest Alabama. If you are re-elected, will you make it your highest priority to bring that prosperity to our area?

Governor Siegelman:

What we're doing right now is moving out beyond the cities into rural communities in many different ways. We've provided economic tax incentives to lure companies to go beyond the big cities. We've got a Communities of Excellence program where we prepare cities to meet CEOs and to show them how to put their best foot forward in attracting companies to those areas. We've got an extensive road and bridge program that will lead us to bringing more quality jobs to rural communities.

The bridge program, which I supported and Mr. Riley opposed, will replace 2,500 bridges over the next five years. These are bridges over which school buses couldn't cross and also bridges over which cement trucks couldn't cross, but by replacing these bridges that means we can build in automotive manufacturing suppliers in rural communities.

We've got a task force headed by John Knight and Hank Sanders and they're focusing on trying to get new companies into rural areas and to create a workforce in those communities so that we can have a trained workforce that can do the jobs. I think with roads, bridges, education, and a trained workforce, we can meet that objective.

Sallie Owen:

You mentioned several things that are being targeted at rural areas, but the city of Mobile faces the same challenges that all the large cities in this state are facing - people are moving to the suburbs and abandoning the city. Again, tell me what specifically, you'll do for that city?

Governor Siegelman:

Specifically for Mobile, we're working on a three phase plan to expand the state docks so that the automobile dealers that we've brought in can use that for imports and exports. I think we will see an explosion of job growth because of the work we are doing at the docks. We will establish Mobile as a premier port of international trade. We've already got two ships a week going to Mexico and soon we will have suppliers' ships going from Mobile to Latin and South America and the Far East.

And also, we're investing in research at the University of South Alabama, cancer research there as well as medical device creating at the University of Alabama Birmingham and we're also investing in space science technology at UAH -Huntsville. We're trying to bring in jobs other than just automotive related jobs.

Congressman Riley:

First, the Governor says I need to release my records. Governor, they'll be coming out in a 45-day report. You'll be able to see them. But it's amazing to me that you stand up here and want my records and yet on your lottery campaign, you have yet still to file $700,000 worth of money that was by law required. This was yours. so if you want a change, you've got to at least abide by your own rules that you set.

Sallie, as far as talking about the more deprived areas in our state we have to do something, but you have to make a concentrated effort and it has to become a priority if it's ever going to happen. In the last four years this governor has done nothing to go into that area and build the kind of economic model I think you're going to have to have if you're going to be successful there.