SPANISH FORT – Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was preaching to the choir on Thursday, July 12. Speaking to business and community leaders at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center during a gathering hosted by the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce Economic …
SPANISH FORT – Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was preaching to the choir on Thursday, July 12. Speaking to business and community leaders at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center during a gathering hosted by the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council, the two-term governor said he expects continued economic growth for southwest Alabama, while stressing that planning for it is paramount.
“You’re going to grow. You’re going to be successful,” Riley said. “You’re going to grow in spite of what you do.”
He added having a strong economic model enabling officials to decide what type of business and industry locates here is the best way of not allowing the growth to get out of hand and destroy the lifestyle that is the envy of others around the region.
Riley urged officials to maintain strong planning efforts. He said, “All of a sudden this can spin out of control if you don’t … You can transcend everything in this area that’s ever been before, and you can maintain your quality of life.”
Riley mentioned recent economic gains such as the steel mill planned for north Mobile County and the USA Mitchell Cancer Center as indications of good things to come. He hinted of another large project he will announce soon that will also have a strong economic impact in our area.
“There’s a lot going on, but nowhere in Alabama do you have more economic opportunity than you do in the two most southern counties,” Riley said. “This (unnamed project) will enable you to raise your quality of life as well as your per capita income.”
The governor also touted recent federal action that will keep a bigger slice of the offshore pie at home. He said, “If we’re going to supply the rest of the country with natural gas, shouldn’t we be compensated for allowing them to drill here? All of a sudden, we’re going to be able to participate in royalties we never have before, and it’s going to have to be spent in the two most southern counties.”
Riley said the money will enable the state to move forward with a plan to open up sections of Battleship Parkway, restoring flow that was interrupted when the roadway was constructed in the 1920s.
“We’re going to have the extra money,” he said. “We can build the best ecosystem in the world. Add that to the beaches and the quality of life you have here, and it’s going to be one of the most premier destinations.”
He invited city and county officials as well as business owners to get in touch with area state legislators and tell them what they need to get the job done. Riley said, “Alabama is on the cusp of greatness, or magnificence. You have more influence than you can possibly imagine. Be a part of the accomplishment. Be a part of the planning. Work with all your leaders to help small business. Don’t ever underestimate your influence.”
During a question and answer session following his remarks, the governor addressed the Gulf Coast insurance crisis as well as the idea of home rule.
Developer and real estate executive Starke Irvine asked Riley if anything would be done soon to deal with insurance companies that are raising rates or dropping coverage along the coast.
“I don’t want to put the state in the position of being an insurer,” Riley said. Doing so as Florida has done would jeopardize state finances if a devastating hurricane makes landfall here, he countered.
Riley did pronounce the beach pool insurance plan healthy, and said he expected it to become more successful as time went on. He also noted he is currently meeting with insurance underwriters, and is looking at three different plans that should help those having trouble finding coverage.
“If you take everything from I-10 south, that’s your problem,” Riley said. “I’m trying to isolate that … The one thing we can’t do is slow the economy down because of insurance.”
He predicts that if the current hurricane season leaves the central Gulf Coast unscathed, the major insurance companies will rethink their positions on writing policies here.
Answering a question about home rule, the governor said, “At some point this state has to understand, you want to have home rule. You should look at something here that everyone can buy into where you have control at the local level. (Thomas) Jefferson was right that government close to the people works best.”
Riley said Shelby County has limited home rule, and officials there are able to address problems quickly rather than having to place them on the legislative agenda.
He also advised those in the room to consider the big picture when governing.
“Begin to look at this at a Gulf Coast region,” he said. “Some out there make it more difficult. This is not Friday night football. It doesn’t matter what Spanish Fort and Daphne do if they don’t work together.”