Alabama is experiencing a strong economy because the state's business and political interests have learned to work together, Alabama Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom told attendees at an Aug. 8 Samford Business Network breakfast.
Speaking to a crowd of about 200 business and community leaders in Birmingham, Folsom noted that the partnerships that solidified around drawing Mercedes-Benz to Alabama 10 years ago have continued to strengthen the state's economy. Just recently, Folsom noted, those same partnerships helped land German steel-making giant ThyssenKrupp Steel for a new plant in Mobile.
"We had a great team that worked together on the Mercedes project," Folsom said. "Economic Development Partnership really helped, and the business communities in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and across the state came together. It showed what Alabama can do when we put together a good team."
Folsom noted that so-called "corporate welfare" – economic incentives to lure businesses – was considered bad at the time Alabama was trying to land the Mercedes-Benz production facility now located in Vance, between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Officials had to work to convince business and political leaders that the incentives were important.
"Now, all of a sudden, it [corporate incentives] is seen as a great investment for Alabama," he said, and was very instrumental in getting the ThyssenKrupp facility in Mobile.
The state will see the dividends of ThyssenKrupp in 4-5 years through a greatly enhanced education trust fund and other economic impact, Folsom added.
In the immediate future, Alabama will need to focus on providing infrastructure needs for the growing aerospace industry in North Alabama, as well as investing in technical training to enhance the work force in the state.
Folsom predicted better days ahead for state government, despite the partisan politics that pervaded the 2007 legislative session.
"Partisan politics always will be part of the process, but I've seen it become much more partisan than it was 12 years ago (when he was first elected governor). In the old days you could have a civil debate on the floor of the legislature and still retain good relationships outside the capitol. I don't see that as much any more."
Folsom emphasized that the state's economy is in "good shape" and he believes that better communication will enhance the next legislative session. "I am confident that we will be able to come across with the funding" for infrastructure and other priorities.