Nearly $14,000 in taxpayer money was spent by city officials during the most recent trip to the Paris Air Show in June. Records for transportation, hotel and meals indicate a total of four officials went on the trip this year, including Council Vice President Fred Richardson, Councilman C.J. Small, Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Communications Director George Talbot.
Records show Stimpson spent $2,650 for lodging and roughly $518 on transportation. The cost of airfare was funded through a city account held by the Industrial Development Board, Talbot said.
“It’s a fund of city money used for economic development purposes,” Talbot said. “It has been used in the past for economic development purposes, travel being one of them.”
Talbot spent $2,187 on lodging and $690 for transportation. Once again, the airfare cost was covered by the separate account.
Stimpson and Talbot also spent $63.54 and $162, respectively, for meals while in Paris. Talbot paid personally for meals as well, records show. Stimpson was also charged a $418 change fee through Delta for rescheduling his return trip. Records indicate he had originally planned to fly from Paris to San Francisco for a mayor’s conference, but changed his plans due to the conference’s conflict with the first shipment of Airbus components arriving in Mobile.
Small and Richardson each spent $1,451.40 on airfare to Paris. Small spent $1,749 on lodging, while Richardson spent $1,784. Richardson spent $176.33 on meals, while Small spent $159.02.
Richardson spent the most on ground transportation at $239.08, but that includes some of Small’s expenses for Uber, City Clerk Lisa Lambert said. Small allegedly didn’t have the Uber phone app while Richardson did. Small spent $161 on ground transportation.
Richardson said the travel was beneficial for the city, as the air show produced many announcements about suppliers relocating to Mobile.
“I think we did a great job in making connections with companies with a direct interest in coming to Mobile,” Richardson said.
He said Mobile is a preferred destination for many suppliers at international air shows, as Airbus’ first final assembly line in North America begins production. Richardson said the reception he attended in Paris served as proof.
“When we had our reception, it was packed,” he said. “People wanted to be near Airbus.”
The air show gave city officials a chance to pitch to suppliers about relocating their own facilities to be closer to Airbus, Richardson said.
“If you’re not there, you’re out of the game,” he said.
Small said the expenses shown in the records were not all the expenses for the week. He said for a portion of the trip, city-issued credit cards didn’t work and officials had to use personal money.
Small, whose district encompasses the Brookley Aeroplex, said the trip gave him an opportunity to find out which companies were looking for employees. He said he’s taking that information and preparing a job fair for candidates. The event will be held on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 5 p.m. at B.C. Rain High School.
“I want to make sure the workforce is ready,” he said. “I want to make sure we have people ready to take jobs.”
Small said going to the air show and being able to ask questions will benefit Mobile from an economic development perspective, especially when more suppliers look to relocate in 2018 and 2020.
“It allows the city to get the first piece of pie instead of crumbs,” Small said of the travel. “It’s pennies compared to the benefit of millions of dollars in investment and jobs.”
Meeting face to face with companies looking to make possible investment in the city is necessary when officials from Baldwin County, Mississippi and Florida are making the same push, Small said.
“You have to stay in the game,” he said.
The Airbus facility puts Mobile on the map internationally, Small said, and companies are interested in what Mobile has to offer.
Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the delegation spent this year’s air show further developing relationships with key players in the aerospace industry. He said they moved away from selling Mobile to suppliers and instead worked to strengthen professional relationships.
“What we found is companies spend a great deal of money — sometimes millions of dollars — on the air show,” he said. “They are there to sell products, not be sold on us. They do want an update on us.”
Wayman said aerospace companies are “keeping their eyes on Mobile” and that translated to several deals being announced at the June air show. One deal, with Hutchinson Aerospace, will initially bring about 100 jobs to the area. Hutchinson designs vibration control systems, fluid management systems and sealing solution technologies for the aerospace, automotive and other industries.
Messier-Bugatti-Dowty (MBD) also announced it would be locating a facility near the Airbus final assembly line and hiring eight people initially, Wayman said. MBD is a manufacturer of aircraft landing and braking systems.
Additionally, MAAS also announced a painting facility at Brookley and the initial hiring of 80.
“We continue to see more and more growth, Wayman said.
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