March 15, 2018

Battle Touts Economic Development, Says State Hungry for New Ideas

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle hopes to be Alabama’s next governor and Tuesday he spent time in Alexander City meeting with leaders at Russell Medical and sharing his views with the Tallapoosa Publishers’ editorial board.

In every stop, Battle touted the need to go all-in on economic development, support education so that the state can provide a workforce for the industries it attracts and thinking outside the box to help solve even Alabama’s most complex issues.

Battle, 62, has served as mayor of Huntsville for 10 years and won with 80 percent of the vote in his last election. Why the popularity in his hometown? It comes down to an economic rebirth that has the Rocket City thriving.

Battle said the one thing that has stood out as he has traveled all across the state has been the desire of the people to want better things for themselves, their community and the state as a whole.

“It’s been great getting out and meeting with people all over the state,” Battle said. “We’ve been to all 67 counties and in doing that we’ve put about 45,000 miles on our vehicles. It’s a big state but it’s a great state and we see that everywhere we go.

What has stuck out to me is that people are looking for something different. You can see that from what happened in the last election. They want to be proud of their government and they want to believe in their government. We’ve had way too many reasons recently for that faith to be diminished and I hope if nothing else, that is something that we can give back to the people of Alabama.”

Depending on the source, during Battle’s administration, somewhere between 10,000 and 24,000 jobs have been created in the greater Huntsville area. Battle was quick not to take all the credit for those numbers, but he did say that his mission was to create a culture that showed why Huntsville could be perfect for business and why its people could be a part of driving its rebirth.

“We’ve been able to establish a record over the last 10 years, even though we came in midst of a recession,” Battle said. “We took care of the business the way that you have to in a recession and that’s making sure the revenue is greater than the expenses. Pretty simple.

“But at the same time we said let’s put together a strategy that will take us to the next level when we come out of the recession. So we doubled down on economic development.”

He said they started promoting Huntsville as “a smart place.” As scouts for industry location came in, they did the homework to make sure they left knowing what the area had to offer and how what was already in place would ideally suit the industries.

“We got to the point to when we put someone on a plane that had visited here we would hear the same thing – ‘Wow, I had no idea,’” Battle said. “That was in Hunstville, but I think we as a state have to do the same thing. We can change the conversation on the state of Alabama. Let’s talk about Alabama as a smart place. It’s great to be No. 1 in football but that’s not the only thing in the world. We are doing things here that we aren’t doing anywhere else in the world, that’s the story that needs to be told.”

Battle cited shipyards in Mobile making the most technologically advanced destroyers in the world, a laminated beam made in Dothan that rivals the strength of steel, Cyber Defense systems being developed in Montgomery and Huntsville’s place in the world of space travel.

“A workforce has to have a reason to come here,” Battle said. “But the best thing is when you can show that we have the workforce here that is perfect for them and will train workers with the exact skills they need.”

He said that workforce development has to start with education, beginning with the youngest child in the smallest local school system, then to the community colleges and to the institutes of higher education.

“There’s no one size fits all,” Battle said. “You need to tailor your education plans to each community, but there are some common factors there. We had a program where coding was introduced to second grade. Pre-K, we started that eight years ago in our system and we are seeing the benefits. …We built $250 million worth of schools. That kind of commitment shows that schools and the education of our children is important. The same thing is true of our community college system. We have to maximize our efforts and provide avenues so that our young people can leave with a skill that will enable them to make a good living and fit workforce needs of new industry.”

Battle said the state’s fiber optic infrastructure has to be beefed up so that high-tech industry and telecommuting can be expanded.

Prisons are a hot button issue in Alabama as federal courts have become involved. Battle said that unless every level of the justice system can get on the same page and the correction system evolves into more than just “a warehouse for criminals,” significant change will not come.

“We have to make sure that the people who go to prison are not individuals who would be better served with mental health programs and that the others who are sentenced are able to leave there with something that will give them a reason not to come back,” Battle said. “If they aren’t getting a skill or a trade that will help them find a career on the outside, they will be right back to their old life and to the front of the line to go right back into the system.”

When it comes to gambling, he said the issue needs to be put to rest one way or the other sooner rather than later. Battle had clear opinions on a possible lottery.

“I’m not so sure that is the best way to fund a government, but the problem is that it would have to be run by a body that was transparent and efficient so that the people could trust that the money was going to the right purpose,” Battle said. “It should be used in ways that would be job multiplies, starting with education. Regardless of how I feel about it, I think the people of this state deserve to vote on the issue.”

Battle is on the GOP ballot with Scott Dawson, Bill Hightower, Kay Ivey and Michael McAllister. Qualified Democrats include Sue Bell Cobb, Christopher A. Countryman, James C. Fields, Walt Maddox, Doug “New Blue” Smith and Anthony White.

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