Dodging questions about the ongoing efforts to remove him from office, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley held a ceremonial signing of the Alabama Renewal Act in the Port of Mobile on Friday.
Introduced by State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville), the Act aims to stimulate economic growth throughout the state by extending tax deductions to companies investing into projects in pre-existing industrial areas and complexes.“That deals with economic development in all parts of the state,” Bentley said. “Those areas can be used to recruit jobs, and the tax credits that can be given in those areas will help develop additional sites across the state.”
The legislation increases the availability of shovel-ready land sites for economic development through the use of the Growing Alabama Credit. The funds are limited to $5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017 through 2020. Of those funds, 25 percent must also be set aside for projects in rural counties.
Though Mobile stands to benefit from that as well, it was the tax credits for incoming cargo shipments that could have a significant impact on Mobile’s Port. On Friday, area leaders like Mobile County Commission President Jerry Carl and Mayor Sandy Stimpson touted the “vital role” the Port plays in the local economy and throughout the state.
Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority (ASPA), said the incentive package approved in the Renewal Act puts Mobile on an even playing field with other coastal cities, like Savannah, Ga. and Jackson, Fla, that already have similar programs for the shipping industry.
“It’s an incentive based on the number of units, and it moves incrementally more than the year before,” Lyons said. “We would offer that in a package to an industrial development client. They would get an additional credit for so much per container, which would be an additional incentive for them to select Mobile over another Port.”
Bentley said the Port Credit would help increase cargo traffic, adding that as the 9th largest seaport in the country, the economic impact of the Port stretches far into the state — supporting 127,000 jobs and creating an economic value estimated at $18.8 billion.
Lyons said the future is bright for the Port, but added the ASPA wants to continue “to play a key role in economic development.” He said with its operation, the Port can incentivise companies to invest in Mobile and Mobile County, even if they aren’t working directly on the water.
By establishing tax incentives that better rival Ports in larger cities like New Orleans, Stimpson said the Renewal Act is “hugely” important to keeping Mobile competitive on the global scale.
“So often, people have said, ‘Mobile is on that cusp of perpetual potential,’” Stimpson said. “Well, now we’re playing on the world’s stage, and this only enhances our opportunity to continue to show we can do things just as well in Mobile as can be done anywhere else.”
While at the podium, there wasn’t a single hint of a national political scandal, but it only took minutes before Bentley was questioned about his recent turmoils — inquiries that came despite the governor’s stern warning to reporters he was in Mobile “to talk about jobs” and nothing else.
Since those allegations were made by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier on March 23, the governor has admitted and apologized for “inappropriate conversations” after those conversations were made available in public recordings. However, Bentley has continued to deny any “physical affair” with Mason, who resigned from his office a week after the scandal broke.
In Mobile, Bently declined to discuss the situation even in light of the impeachment proceedings lawmakers launched against him on Tuesday — replying sharply to say, “we’re dealing with this today. We will deal with Montgomery.”
However, Bentley did claim the scandal has had “absolutely” no impact on his efforts to recruit businesses to the state and create jobs for Alabamians, which he said has always been a priority of his administration.
“Everything is about the people, and I’m working hard — even through all of this — I’m working hard every day to try to help the people,” Bentley said. “I think that’s what the people want. They want jobs. They want their children educated. They want all the things I’ve been trying to do, and we’re not going to stop trying to do them.”