Despite some challenges, local leaders gave the impression the Port City’s future is bright at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City and County event Tuesday.
Organized by the Chamber, the event gives Mobile’s mayor and the president of the Mobile County Commission a chance to bring the business community and the public up to speed about their successes, challenges and future plans.
The focus of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s address was Mobile’s momentum and economic growth — evidenced by more capital improvements, the growth of private restaurants and businesses and major additions like the Mobile Downtown Airport, he said.
“You can see it … You can taste it … You can hear it … Can’t you just feel it?” Stimpson asked the crowd at Mobile’s Convention Center. “We are seeing people taking measured risks and making bold investments, but fulfilling the goal of ‘One Mobile’ — the safest, most business and family-friendly city in America by 2020 — is going to require an even bolder vision.”
Stimpson also touted the growth of downtown Mobile as both an entertainment destination and a growing residential hub and nodded to recent growth in economic development from major companies like Airbus down to individual small businesses.
He went on to discuss the city’s success in reducing blight, repeating recently released figures suggesting the number of blighted properties has halved over the past three years. He didn’t shy away from areas where he feels Mobile is falling short, though.
Crime — especially violent crime and youth violence — the lack of adequate affordable housing options and continued concerns about public education are all issues Stimpson said present Mobile with challenges. However, he said those challenges create opportunities for change.
He said he believes the right people are already in place to help address them — namely Public Safety Director Jim Barber, Police Chief Lawrence Battiste, Mobile Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Pierce and Mobile County Public School Superintendent Chresal Threadgill.
Looking to the future, Stimpson focused on the long-awaited results of the Map for Mobile initiative — a massive, yearslong overhaul of the city’s zoning maps, codes and ordinances — that is expected to come before the Mobile City Council for approval by the end of the summer.
He credited Shayla Beaco, executive director of Build Mobile, for leading the initiative.
“It may be the heaviest lifts of my administration, but it is also possibly the most impactful,” Stimpson said of Map for Mobile. “The boldness of this undertaking cannot be understated nor can the importance of its adoption when it comes to growing the city.”
To that end, Simpson also discussed the interest some communities in west Mobile have expressed about annexing into the city — a trend he acknowledged started after the city began withdrawing emergency medical services from its three-mile extended police jurisdiction.
Bringing new areas of the county and their residents into Mobile has been a point of political contention in the past, and in recent discussions, it’s seen some pushback among members of the Mobile City Council. In his address, though, Stimpson encouraged the council to look at “limited annexation” as a feasible way to grow the physical parameters of the city.
“Recently, the City Council wisely voted to add the Darby Creek neighborhood to Mobile after 100 percent of the residents petitioned to join. Economic analysis shows that the tax revenue generated by the neighborhood easily pays for the services that will be provided,” Stimpson said. “As the City Council addresses neighborhood requests, my administration will provide a suggested plan that would make limited annexation economically feasible.”
The State of Mobile County
In her address, Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson said 2018 was a “banner year” for economic development, but also for environmental conservation, investments in public safety and the development of additional public recreational spaces.
“We currently have about 18,000 workers employed in the advanced manufacturing sector, which represents a 27 percent increase since 2010,” Hudson said. “With the completion of Airbus’ final assembly A220, we will be the fourth largest airplane manufacturing hub in the world, and as a reminder, less than 10 years ago, Mobile County was not yet in the aerospace business.”
Harking back to one of the county government’s oldest responsibilities, Hudson touted the Pay-As-You-Go infrastucture plan, which has funded nearly $750 million in road and bridge projects since it was implemented in 1977. This year, voters approved construction or improvement projects that will cover 73 miles of local roadways throughout the county.
Hudson also noted the county’s recent investments into Mobile County Metro Jail as well as its recent $4.2 million allocation that will build a new Community Corrections Center to provide community-based alternatives to incarceration through local and state courts.
However, Hudson said she and her colleagues have also prioritized the environment and worked to conserve sensitive habits and expand public access with federal funding sources including the RESTORE Act and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).
“Mobile County has long been committed to ensuring environmental protection and ensuring the conversation of our natural resources,” she said. “To date, we’ve acquired more than 2,000 acres of land to help preserve and protect our waters and other natural resources.
As for public access, Hudson noted the county has recently purchased the Escatawpa Hollow Campground in West Mobile and the former Memories Fish Camp along Fowl River as future public access points and plans to make improvements to both in the coming months.
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