The legendary head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), Dr. David Bronner, celebrates 50 years as CEO this month. When the annals of Alabama history are written, there will never be an Alabamian as remarkable a public servant to our state than David Bronner.
Dr. David Bronner has marked his place in Alabama governmental history. When Bronner took his present job with RSA, the Retirement Systems had approximately $500 million of funds. Today, RSA has approximately $43.9 billion in funds under management and manages the pensions for 385,000 public teachers and public employees.
Alabama public employees will swear by, standup for, and place on a golden pedestal David Bronner. They credit him with securing their retirement years with a solid foundation. Indeed, he has. The Employees’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System are financially sound and the envy of most other states. Bronner is quick to credit the Alabama Legislature for their part in helping to ensure the systems are fully funded, which is something that has set RSA apart from pensions in other states.
Dr. Bronner is also the head of the insurance program for public educators, the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan. This program covers over 300,000 educators, retirees, and dependents. This $1.4 billion a year program provides excellent benefits to members at a low cost to both the members and employers. In fact, RSA has managed the plan with level funding for the past seven years and plans to do the same in the coming year.
Bronner was born in Iowa and received his elementary and high school education in Minnesota. He came to Alabama to study law. He earned his Law Degree and PHD from the University of Alabama in 1972. Shortly after graduation, he became Assistant Dean of the Law School at the University of Alabama. A year later, at the age of 28, he became head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
Today, 50 years later, Bronner is a youthful looking 78 with plenty of vigor and probably no plans to retire. When you have a conversation with him it is an experience you will never forget. He is extremely quick witted. There is no mistaking that you are talking with someone very intelligent. He has digested your words almost before they are out of your mouth and will reply immediately with a succinct response that appears as though he has given it 15 minutes of thought. Of course, that may be because we native Alabamians talk a little slower than he does.
The Retirement Systems of Alabama has contributed a great deal to the state’s economy over the last 50 years. One the greatest legacies that Dr. Bronner may enjoy is his creation of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This idea generated a profit for RSA in the first years. The brilliance of the Golf Trail is not only the profits the Trail generates for the RSA, but the peripheral boost to our state’s economy.
The Golf Trail has enhanced the image of Alabama. It has also benefitted the state’s attractiveness for corporate recruitment. The economic benefits and prestige that it brings to our state are exponential and helped increase tourism from a $1.8 billion industry to a yearly $24 plus billion industry.
The courses have made Alabama a tourist destination. It brings well-heeled northern golfers to our state for week-long stays and they spend untold amounts of money in our hotels and restaurants. Snowbird golf enthusiasts are locked out of their courses six to seven months of the year so they journey to warm climates of the Heart of Dixie to play these world class courses. They might look at the adjoining hole and see Dr. Bronner playing, chomping on his ever-present cigar.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s first seven sites were constructed in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Opelika-Auburn, Dothan, and Greenville. These seven were completed from 1990 to 1994. The Prattville site opened, and the Lakewood Club course in Point Clear joined the Trail in 1999. The premier Hoover site at Ross Bridge appeared in 2005.
The Ross Bridge course and Ross Bridge Renaissance Resort Hotel and Spa may be the crown jewel. This Hoover location attracts national conventions and has spawned one of the premier residential neighborhoods in the state. Ross Bridge is home to a good many of the young physicians and medical specialists from UAB.
Dr. Mark Fagan has authored a wonderful book on Alabama’s Golf Trail, Dr. Bronner and the RSA. It is entitled, Alabama’s Public Pension Fund Growth and Economic Expansions Since 1972.
See you next week.