By State Rep. Craig Ford
Since 1993, Alabama has focused its job recruiting efforts on bringing in large companies and growing the automotive industry. These efforts started with Governor Folsom and continued under Governor Siegelman. Over a period of just a few years, Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai took Alabama from dead last in the number of autos built to second in the nation. It was an amazing recruiting effort that has resulted in more than 50,000 new jobs across Alabama. These efforts truly transformed our state.
Through the system developed by those Democratic governors, Alabama has some of the most effective – and generous – incentives packages of any state. There’s no doubt that we should continue our efforts to recruit new and expanding businesses to our state.
But the backbone of Alabama’s economy has always been small business, and that is where we have the most potential to grow and create new jobs. That is why this past week, House Democrats introduced a pair of bills that will create new jobs and provide financial support to small businesses across the state.
The first bill House Democrats introduced creates a small business loans program that will provide loans for businesses that create a minimum of five new jobs. The funding for this program will come in the form of a loan from the Alabama Trust Fund (i.e., the oil and gas savings account) so that no taxpayer money will be used and no taxes will be raised. This is an idea that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and House Democrats will make every effort to work with Republicans to make this program a reality.
This program stands in stark contrast to what Governor Bentley’s administration has done recently. The Bentley Administration provided a massive amount of incentives to lure a Chinese copper tubing manufacturer to the Black Belt. While the Black Belt desperately needs new business and new jobs, the incentives that Bentley’s administration is providing will end up costing the state more than $100,000 per job. The small business loan program that House Democrats are sponsoring wouldn’t cost nearly as much, and our program responds to the needs of Alabama businesses as opposed to only catering to out-of-state corporations.
Another common sense jobs bill that House Democrats have proposed requires that any company that receives a state contract must employ a workforce where at least 50 percent of the company’s employees are Alabama citizens. In the past when Alabama has put up huge funds to bring in a new company, that company would employ workers from other states or even other countries to build it’s plants and facilities. If we are going to put up our tax dollars to bring a company here, then Alabama laborers should get the first priority for those jobs.
While we must continue to support our efforts to recruit new businesses and new industries, Alabama’s economy cannot rely solely on out-of-state corporations to bring in new jobs. The heart and soul of our economy is small businesses and a dedicated and well-trained workforce. These bills that House Democrats have introduced are Alabama’s best hope for growing the state’s economy and creating new jobs. House Democrats are ready and willing to work with Republicans to improve these bills if we can. But at the end of the day, both parties need to come together to pass these bills and support Alabama’s working families and small business owners.