By Chip Cherry, CEO and president of the Huntsville Madison County Chamber Authority; and Valerie Gray, executive director of Chambers County Development
Economic development is a team effort. Every day, more than 300 men and women across Alabama like us wake up and go to a job where they work tirelessly to grow their communities. As economic developers, we are not politicians – we are community-minded individuals with an occupation that focuses on creating jobs and bringing new business to better our communities.
The passage of The Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act, HB317, should be important to every single person in Alabama. However, much confusion has been built around the bill, which was put forth to modernize, clarify and clean up economic development statutes.
If HB317 does not pass, it would impede the work that economic developers have been doing in our state for the last 50 years. We would be deemed as lobbyists. We would have to register as lobbyists and disclose any talks with prospects considering bringing a business into our communities. As economic developers, we work in a highly confidential environment with site selectors and oftentimes don’t know for months into our discussions the company that the site selector is representing.
What’s even more detrimental if this bill is not passed is that any site selector who wants to inquire about bringing a company they represent to Alabama, like Mercedes, Toyota, Airbus, and others, would also have to register as a lobbyist and disclose who they are representing. Because of the confidential nature of their work with the corporations they represent, they won’t register – they will just strike Alabama from their list of communities they are considering.
Economic development does great things for rural communities, and Chambers County, Alabama is a great example. A rural county with approximately 35,000 residents, the unemployment rate in the county in 2009 had soared to almost 20 percent after suffering stiff job losses – more than 2,800 people out of work – in its textile/apparel industry starting in 2007. Building on a solid period of rejuvenation and exhaustive work by the Chambers County Development Authority to diversify the area’s economy, Chambers County attracted more than $765.1 million in new capital investment since 2010, spurring the creation of 2,472 new jobs due to continued growth in its broad-based auto supply chain, infrastructure improvements, the development of a new industrial park, and other promising developments. Local schools also saw $3 million in new tax revenues from the economic development activity in 2016 alone, and the current unemployment rate for the county is now sitting at only 3.2 percent.
Likewise, in the Huntsville metro area, economic development partners just paved the way for a new automotive manufacturing plant and a $1.6 billion investment from Toyota Motor Corporation and Mazda Motor Corporation. After a five-month national competition with Alabama as one of 12 finalists, Toyota and Mazda chose the TVA-certified Megasite in Huntsville-Limestone County to build their automotive manufacturing facility on 2,400 acres with capacity to produce 300,000 cars annually and employ about 4,000 workers. If the consultants for the project were required to register as lobbyists, Alabama would not have been considered and the Toyota/Mazda project would not have located in Alabama. Like the majority of economic development wins in Alabama history, the consultant did not disclose that Project New World was the Toyota and Mazda Joint Venture until months into the selection process.
Local economic developers, like us, are the quarterbacks for bringing new jobs and prosperity to our communities. The Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act (HB317) does nothing more than to continue to put Alabama in the best position to be competitive in economic development. The bill does not propose a change or amendment to the Ethics Law. It does not allow anyone to profit from public office. Economic development should not be constituted as lobbying for the well being of all Alabamians.
We respectfully ask that our Alabama legislators vote yes to the passage of HB317.