The U.S. Chamber was founded April 22, 1912, per the mandate of then-President William Howard Taft that finally gave commerce a national voice. Today, it is unquestionably one the most powerful business advocate groups in Washington.

Locally, the Mobile Area Chamber’s Community and Governmental affairs department oversees programs such as governmental relations, lobbying, military affairs and activities enabling the business community to network with elected officials — all with the intent of impacting public policy.

Lagniappe recently interviewed Ginny Russell, Vice President of Community and Governmental Affairs, to get up to speed on her department’s objectives this year as well as finding out how firm of a handle Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” has on today’s byzantine political climate.
Q: How does the Mobile Area Chamber advocate for business-friendly legislation?

A: For Mobile to have a robust economy, we need a regulatory and legislative environment that is friendly to business. The Chamber believes less bureaucratic government regulations encourage entrepreneurs and businesses to locate and/or expand their operations here.

The Chamber’s advocacy efforts are focused on creating that type of pro-business environment. To accomplish this, we develop our annual legislative agenda based on a tremendous amount of member feedback and committee work. We then use this data to lobby our local, state and federal elected officials.

Q: What are your key areas of focus for 2014?

A: Our legislative agenda is far-reaching. Hot topics in 2014 include:

Growing support for a new I-10 Mobile River Bridge and widening the Bayway/I-10 to the Florida state line; maintaining funding levels for education and job training programs that prepare workers for existing and future positions; ensuring the availability of affordable flood insurance for business and home owners; maintaining funding for two federal shipbuilding contracts at Austal; securing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding to widen and deepen the Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Coden ship channels and establishing a separate, impartial Alabama Tax Appeals Commission.

Q: What are some of the Chamber’s recent successes in this area?

A: The statewide effort to reduce metal thefts costing businesses and homeowners thousands of dollars was initiated in Mobile. The Chamber collaborated with Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and local utilities to write and pass legislation to make those who buy scrap metal accountable for whom they purchase it from. According to Sheriff Sam Cochran, thefts have greatly decreased.

To even the playing field for Alabama’s aerospace industry, the Chamber successfully worked for a sales tax exemption for parts used to convert passenger aircraft to freight aircraft. This statewide bill positively impacts ST Aerospace — an employer of more than 1,200 — so they can maintain their FedEx contract.

For a number of years, south Alabama home and business owners have struggled to pay rising property insurance rates. The Chamber joined a national coalition of communities from Maine to California in seeking revisions to federal flood insurance, in the form of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.

Last week, it passed through the U.S. Congress and now goes to the president to sign. While it’s not perfect, the act will postpone steep increases when the southwest Alabama flood maps are released by FEMA later this year.

Q: How does the Chamber determine the issues it will advocate, for or against?

A: We listen to our key community partners (Alabama State Port Authority, University of South Alabama, City of Mobile, Mobile County and the Mobile Airport Authority) and look for ways we can cooperatively work together.

In addition, the Chamber has an active governmental affairs committee that meets regularly to discuss issues and seek input before making policy recommendations to our governing board of directors.

Q: What else of relevancy do you see on the horizon for 2014?

A: With party primaries in June and the general election in November for statewide offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, etc.) and the state legislature, we will all be exposed to lots of political speeches and handshaking. We want to learn where the candidates stand on issues that are important to business. 

On a few points, we’ll be asking candidates about their positions on how to invest in our statewide aging infrastructure, how to guard against local, state and federal regulations that can make it difficult for business to expand, and how to ensure that RESTORE Act funds (allocated from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) are used to have the greatest long-term impact. 

Commercial real estate moves

White-Spunner Realty (WSR) recently closed on property that included 84 storage units and nine retail spaces, located at 28613 N. Main Street in Daphne. Selling price was $450,000. Tracy Womack with WSR represented the buyer. Stuart LaGroue Sr. with Omega Properties, Inc., worked for the seller.

Mike Reid with WSR sold the former Bagby & Russell Electric offices for $450,000. The building is located at 512 I-65 Service Road (between Old Shell Road and Springhill Avenue) in Mobile.

Sneak-A-Peek, a prenatal imaging provider, leased 1,440 square feet of office space at Piccadilly Square off Airport Boulevard near Hillcrest Road. 
Bellagio Nails and Spa leased a 1,200-square-foot space at U.S. 98 South in Daphne next to Subway. Sharon Wright with WSR worked for both the landlord and tenant on both of the transactions.

Barre3, an exercise studio, leased 1,770 square feet of space at Piccadilly Square. Jonathan Rudolph of Rudolph Development Group represented the tenant. Sharon Wright with WSR worked for the landlord.

Morris Bart, attorneys and trial lawyers, leased space on the ninth floor of the Riverview Plaza Office Building and will be relocating its Mobile office soon. Sharon Wright with WSR worked for the tenant. Gavin Bender Jr. of the Bender Real Estate Group worked for the landlord.

Rita’s Ice, a frozen treat shop, leased a 1,384-square-foot retail space at Foley West on Ala. 59 directly across the street from the Tanger Outlet. Sharon Wright with WSR worked for the landlord. Jean Lankford with J.A. Lankford represented the tenant.

Vapor Dreamz, an electronic cigarette store, leased an 800-square-foot spot at Sugar Mill Village on Hillcrest Road near Airport Boulevard. Sharon Wright with WSR represented the landlord. David Dexter with NAI Mobile worked for the tenant.

Lava Fish & Chicken leased 2,410 square feet.] of restaurant space at 396 Azalea Road near Azalea South Shopping Center in Mobile. Mike Reid with WSR represented both the tenant and the owners in the transaction.

Yellow Pages leased 4,703 square feet of office space on the second floor of the White-Spunner Construction office building on I-65 Service Road. White-Spunner Realty was the landlord. Allen Garstecki, realtor with EGS Commercial Real Estate worked for the tenant.