By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, October 8, Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington (R) addressed the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans (GBYRs) about how he sees Jefferson County.
Commissioner Carrington said that Jefferson County is the largest county in Alabama in population. At 660,000 people it is bigger than two states. Jefferson County has a diverse economy. The news that US Steel’s Fairfield Works was going to shut down its blast furnace was not good news, but we are in better shape to deal with it than we were 20 years ago.
Carrington said that Birmingham’s metropolitan area is greater than Mobile’s, Montgomery’s, and Huntsville’s combined. Jefferson County is home to Alabama’s largest employer, UAB. It gets more research dollars than all of the other colleges and universities in Alabama combined.
Carrington said that Jefferson County is building more new homes. The construction industry is important to the overall economy.
Carrington said that he and Commissioner Joe Knight (R) and the rest of the County Commission have faced the county’s financial problems and have balanced the budget despite the loss of the Occupational tax. They have lowered the debt by $1.5 billion and soon will install new financial software that will give the County access to up to the minute financial reports on demand for the first time.
The Commissioner thanked State Representative Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and the rest of the legislature for freeing up the 1 percent sales tax so they can use it for purposes other than school construction.
Carrington said that Jefferson County is becoming focused on economic development. Jefferson County has got to acquire land because the space in our industrial park is about 97 percent used up. “You got to have land or you are out of the game.” Major corporations don’t want you to take them out to Aunt Betty’s farm that she may or may not want to sell. They want to be able to deal now.
Carrington said in the last ten years we have seen the rebirth of the city center. Most new ballparks set attendance records their first year and then drop off following that. At Regions we set a record the first year, set a new record the second year, and broke that attendance record in this, the third year. 1300 condo units have either been built of permitted downtown. Publix is about to open in downtown Birmingham and historic building tax credits adopted by the state legislature have produced $200 million of investment.
Carrington said that Birmingham was ranked as the top American city for millennial entrepreneurs and a prominent magazine ranked Birmingham 6th overall and 5th for economic development potential in the western hemisphere.
Carrington said that Birmingham is a world leader in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields, is hosting the 2021 World Games, and Condoleezza Rice will be here in November addressing an international trade group.
Carrington listed a number of advantages that Birmingham and Jefferson County have. The City is within one day’s drive of 50 percent of the US population. Alabama is a right to work state. Jefferson County has an educated workforce, Alabama work ethic, some of the finest school systems in the State are located here, we have some of the best restaurants in the world, UAB, broadband is widely available here, and growing urbanization. 50 percent of the US population now live in just 146 counties and Jefferson is one of those 146. The rural areas of the state will not develop. If I was the father of a child in a place like Elba, I would tell them to move to Birmingham, Huntsville, or Mobile because they will never have an opportunity to have a good paying job in the rural areas. Millennials have something in common with us baby boomers now: they don’t want a lawn and don’t want to mow grass. Jefferson County has the Barber’s Race Course, the Civil Rights Institute, Museums, the zoo and other attractions and millennials want to be able to live near restaurants and shopping.
Commissioner Joe Knight said that the commission has learned that major corporations narrow site selection down to five sites and then fly in to visit in order to narrow that down.
Carrington said that Jeffco is not recruiting businesses to cross the county line. “Our goal has never been to shuffle dominos. We want to grow the state’s economic pie.” That means we are recruiting companies nationally and internationally. Carrington announced that Jefferson County has had recent investment announcements by: EVONIK, the Steris Corporation, KAMTEK, Oxford Pharmaceuticals, and new electric arc furnaces at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works. BBVA Compass based in Spain has announced a $13 million capital investment for a software development center in Birmingham and Hilton has announced plans for two new downtown hotels.
Carrington said that there are workforce issues. 50 percent of Alabama’s present workforce is eligible for retirement. We need to start importing workers from other states and through legal immigration. Between 2000 and 2010 Alabama population of 35 to 44 year olds declined by 9.6 percent; but in Jefferson County it went down 19.6 percent. We are working to turn that around. 479,000 adults in Alabama do not have high school graduate equivalence. All the sewing jobs in Alexander City and other places. Those are gone. They went to Southeast Asia. Now they are going to Africa where you can pay ten cents an hour. Today’s jobs require skills. Must have high school equivalence. We can grow our work force by educating these under educated people already here. People are finally starting to realize that not everybody has to have a college degree to have a good job.
GBYR Chair Jackie Curtiss announced that she was not seeking re-election. The elections committee has recommended that Justin Barkley be the new Chairman and that be the new Vice-Chair. Nominations can still be made from the floor and the office of County Liaison remains without a candidate.