Governor’s Chief of Staff Says Alabama’s Best Days are Ahead

“We are open for business. We’re doing quite well, and there’s room for even more”

Governor Kay Ivey’s chief of staff, Steve Pelham, said at today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Tuesday Briefing that Alabama’s economic and education progress is a harbinger of what lies in the future.

Pelham was introduced by Sheron Rose, vice president of community strategies for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored today’s Tuesday Briefing.

Rose said the BCA and chamber of commerce partnerships drive economic development that Pelham said is producing results in Alabama.

Pelham said Alabama’s current unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, the lowest in state history. There are 2.1 million men and women at work in Alabama, and the unemployment claims are the lowest in 44 years, he said.

“These numbers will probably only get better … it’s highly possible that Alabama will have the lowest unemployment rate in the country,” Pelham said. “I’m not predicting it, I’m just saying it’s possible it will happen.”

He said the recent Toyota-Mazda announcement of a $1.6 billion investment and the creation of 4,000 jobs is part of the $6 billion in investment and 12,000 new jobs announced in the last year.

“At the end of the day, the people who make these numbers possible are the businesses you represent and the investment they make and the investments they will make in the future.” Steve Pelham

“We are open for business and we’re doing quite well and there’s room for even more,” Pelham told the Tuesday Briefing audience. “At the end of the day, the people who make these numbers possible are the businesses you represent and the investment they make and the investments they will make in the future.”

Legislative Issues

Pelham said legislative issues of interest to business include the simplified use tax that will help Alabama try to capture additional revenue from Internet sales and HB 317 that will protect industrial site selectors from having to reveal projects they’re engaged in in Alabama before they are ready to be announced.

HB 317 addresses current confusion over whether site selectors who work on industrial projects have to register as lobbyists and disclose the projects they are working on, projects that demand secrecy until the last possible moment.

“I think you’ll see progress is being made on that and that bill will pass, and Alabama will be on a level playing field with competitors,” he said. “It is a priority.”

Pelham said Governor Ivey is on top of the substandard prison-care issue that has Alabama in federal court. The Administration is moving forward with an alternative approach to engage private construction of new infrastructure and has retained a project manager to develop a Request for Proposal.

“Alabama is doing what is necessary,” Pelham said. “We have a prison crisis and we will get out of it. If things keep going the way they are … it will have a long-term impact on this state.”

Pelham said Governor Ivey is soon expected to identify about 150 opportunity zones under a new community development program established by Congress in 2017 to encourage long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide in exchange for tax incentives.

National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group

Based on U.S. Richard Shelby’s recommendation, Vice President Pence appointed Governor Ivey to the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group created to fulfill President Trump’s mandate to “foster close coordination, cooperation, and technology and information exchange” in the nation’s space industry.

“Alabama plays a leading role in space exploration.”

“Alabama plays a leading role in space exploration,” Pelham said. “We’re very exciting the governor is participating in the council.”

State Budgets

Pelham said the two state budgets appear to be in good shape and can accommodate raises for state employees, teachers, and retirees. “We’ve had a couple of good budget years and it looks like we’ll continue to have a couple of good budget years,” he said.

Governor Ivey, a former school teacher, continues in her education advocacy role and is involved in selecting the next state school superintendent, is promoting workforce development, and supports early childhood reading.

Governor Ivey also supports business-oriented education initiatives because Alabama’s schools are the training ground for future generations of talented employees.

“Probably one of the biggest things that has happened in state government since 2010 is the business community drives the education agenda and not someone else,” Pelham said. “Let’s make sure we stay with the agenda.”

Tuesday briefings are held each week during regular legislative sessions. The March 6 Tuesday Briefing speakers are scheduled to be Senate and House Judiciary Committee chairmen, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, respectively.

(Editor’s Note: The original blog has been updated to remove erroneous information that an $800 million prison bond issue is progressing. Governor Ivey’s Administration is moving ahead with an alternative approach to prison construction.)