Second Quarter 2014 Newsletter
The Second Quarter of 2014 is marked by monumental events -- the end of the final Legislative Session of this quadrennium, the official opening of the first major industry in 40 years in Alabama’s poorest county, and devastating natural disasters hitting the Coast and more than two dozen counties. You never know what a season will bring. That’s why it’s important to have strong leadership at the helm -- leaders who continuously work to move the state forward, are poised to capitalize on opportunity when it presents itself, and prepared to respond when citizens are in need.
The 2014 Legislative Session adjourned sine die April 3, 2014, marking the fourth and final Session of this quadrennium. This Session legislators adopted common-sense, responsible budgets that do not require proration; passed legislation to increase transparency of the tax appeals process; adopted two of the strongest pro-life bills in the State’s history; and introduced measures to prepare our students for the 21st century workforce. I’ve previously written in detail about these important measures. Needless to say, it was a successful Session moving our State forward for the people of Alabama. In fact, some have called the last four Sessions the most productive in Alabama’s history. It’s been my honor to preside over the Senate as it conducted the People’s Business and I look forward to continuing to serve in that capacity.
Wilcox County has not seen a new major industrial development in 40 years, until now. It was truly my honor to be a part of the official ribbon-cutting of Golden Dragon Copper Tubing on May 28, 2014, in my home county. The $100 million investment with plans to employ up to 500 people is sure to have a positive economic impact and certainly paves the way for further expansion and development in the region. Golden Dragon USA Chairman, Li Changjie, and President, Roger Zhang, along with Governor Robert Bentley, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Secretary Greg Canfield, and many other distinguished guests attended the ceremony outside the newly constructed, state of the art facility. It was an exciting day to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work by many people on the state and local level. Golden Dragon was the very first economic development prospect Governor Bentley entertained when he came into office. Even before that, Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day and Wilcox County economic developer George Alford primed the pump with Golden Dragon and were ultimately instrumental in the final decision to develop in Wilcox. Many thanks to their vision and perseverance to see the project to reality! Alabama is proud to welcome Golden Dragon and looks forward to a continued positive relationship with our Chinese partners!
Read More: How Alabama's Poorest County Landed Golden Dragon
For years, Alabama was running on empty even before the fiscal year began. It was common practice for the Legislature to pass budgets that required proration to balance. That changed when Alabamians elected new leadership in 2010. Because of that, many miles have been logged on the Road to Economic Recovery fueled by responsible budgeting and common-sense, fiscally conservative policies encouraging commerce. Across the State, business is up and unemployment is down by more than 30 percent from the 2010 high. Alabama is on the move!
In May, I was pleased to join Governor Bentley on the Road to Economic Recovery Tour (#R2ER) to Shelby and Houston Counties. I greatly value the time I spend visiting Alabama communities. I love meeting people, hearing the success stories, learning what’s not working, and discovering how to better move our State forward for our people. I’ve always encouraged leaders to follow four simple steps: Listen, Learn, Help, and Lead -- good leaders start with listening.
We visited the Alabaster Career Center where un- or underemployed Alabamians have access to the necessary tools to find work. The Alabaster Career Center is the State’s busiest career center even though Shelby County has the lowest unemployment rate statewide (currently 4.4%). It is a well-oiled machine and a model that can be implemented at other centers across the State. Our Career Centers are instrumental in helping Alabamians find quality employment and they work in harmony with the State’s number one priority to create jobs.
Next stop, the Governor and I met with nurses, administrators, and healthcare professionals at the Shelby Baptist Medical Center to celebrate the unveiling of the hospital’s Virtual Alabama program. Virtual Alabama is a 3-D mapping system which provides first responders with a detailed layout of public buildings in emergencies thus enabling them to effectively and efficiently respond in a crisis. Virtual Alabama has been used in schools, but SBMC is the first hospital to utilize the system.
Governor Bentley and I first stopped in at The Blue Plate, a small business success story. After running restaurants in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, owner Chris Bradshaw brought his success back to his hometown of Dothan. It’s good to see local folks do well and invest in their own communities. Not to mention, the food was delicious!
I was delighted to visit Dothan High School next on the #R2ER in Houston County. The administration there really has a handle on how to create a positive learning environment for students and utilize technology to enhance education. The classrooms, students, and teachers are all connected providing students with the greatest access currently possible to available learning tools. I was very impressed and, as a former educator, it was good to be back in the classroom!
From DHS, we toured Panhandle Converters where catalytic converters are given new life. The company is the industry leader in catalytic recycling and is headquartered right here in Alabama. It’s a fascinating operation that requires the kind of quality, skilled labor Alabama is so good at producing. Panhandle Converters’ founders were lured to Alabama because of the potential for business to thrive and the hospitality. I certainly felt that hospitality was reciprocated.
The #R2ER in Houston County wrapped up with a small business round table at the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and you’ve got to have one to be a small business owner. Anyone who has bravely stepped out on their own to run a business can tell you that. I join the Governor in his commitment to create jobs and cultivate an environment where business can thrive. We’ve seen marked progress in that arena on state level, but it’s good to hear from the people who experience the day-to-day challenges of running a business so we know where to turn next on the Road to Economic Recovery.
Assessing the Damage
Alabama once again endured nature’s fury. The same week of the April 27th tornadoes anniversary, severe weather evoked tornadoes and flooding from northern Alabama to the Gulf Coast. Dozens of people were rescued by boat in Baldwin County; homes and businesses were severely damaged when two feet of rain caused extensive flooding. In Tuscaloosa, a tornado took the life of a University of Alabama student when a retaining wall fell onto him. And in Etowah and DeKalb Counties, homes and farms were wiped away or heavily damaged by tornadoes. 31 of Alabama’s 67 counties reported damage during the two-day weather event. Governor Bentley declared a State of Emergency in anticipation of the severe weather to put storm aid and National Guard troops on standby. Alabama Emergency Management acted quickly to coordinate aid and assess the damage. Alabamians did what they do best -- help one another and pick up the pieces. That spirit was vastly evident in Etowah and DeKalb counties when I visited the week after the storms. Unfortunately in Alabama, tornado damage is an all too familiar sight, but still nothing quite prepares you to see the destruction and meet the victims whose livelihoods are compromised by wind. I met Brian and Karen Smith from Smith Institute who lost everything. Their home and chicken houses were leveled. With the help of family and neighbors, they were sorting through the mess and starting over.
Sending Airpower Overseas
The most personally rewarding role I enjoy as Lieutenant Governor is serving as Chair of the Military Stability Commission. Recently, I had the opportunity to wish the airmen of the 187th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard Godspeed as they deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 21,000 Alabama Guard members have been called to active duty. Alabama’s military assets continue to play a significant role during a time of ongoing conflict on many fronts.
Additionally in military news, it was recently brought to my attention that a hospital transportation service for disabled veterans was struggling to operate because of a loss of funding from the VA. As a strong supporter of our vets and military issues, I felt it was important to restore that funding. Approximately 418,000 veterans call Alabama home. In light of recent revelations about the mismanagement of the VA, proper attention and oversight of the healthcare of our veterans are absolutely necessary. Alabama is fortunate to have very strong voices in Congress calling those in charge to task on the VA issue and I remain committed to the care of our veterans. Working with our capable General Fund Budget Chairs, Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Steve Clouse, $120,000 was allocated to fully fund the transportation service and provide veterans with the care they need. I was pleased to make that announcement to a group of heroes at the Disabled American Veterans State Convention in Montgomery on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2014.
Right Women, Right Now
My June column focused on a national initiative I support to recruit, train and support more new women to run for public office. In state legislatures across the nation and in Congress, women are woefully underrepresented. Whether it’s positive or negative, most women are raised with the notion that we have to be asked to go to the dance, even if we really want to go. A recent study on women supports this idea. It reveals 7 out of 10 women would consider running for political office, if asked. So we need to get better at asking. The Republican Lieutenant Governors Association and Republican State Leadership Committee are leading the charge. Qualified and capable women across the nation are being asked to run for office and serve as leaders in our state governments. They are being trained and supported with the resources of Right Women, Right Now. In Alabama, only 2 in 10 elected offices are filled by women. This provides a tremendous opportunity for ambitious women who are willing to say yes. When I was elected in 2010, I became the second female Lieutenant Governor in our State’s history and the first Republican woman. There has never been a better time for the right women to make a difference in the public sector than right now.
Learn more about Right Women, Right Now
I am honored to serve as Lieutenant Governor of this great State. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I may be of any assistance to you.