By Rep. Craig Ford
Tourism and hospitality is a $13 billion dollar a year industry in the state of Alabama. That number comes from the Alabama Department of Tourism, and was included in a press release Gov. Kay Ivey put out last month.
But tourism and hospitality don’t just come from our beautiful beaches and college football. Alabama brings tourists from all over the country to participate in fishing and golf tournaments, space camp and tours of the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, travel ball sports and many, many more events.
Tourism is big money in Alabama, and building the Mega Sports Complex will mean more of those tourism dollars coming to our community. More tourism means more jobs, more business and more money for our local schools and roads.
The heart of the Mega Sports Complex will naturally be baseball, softball and soccer fields to support tournaments, travel ball and local athletics. But the intention has always been for the Mega Sports Complex to include more than just these fields, and the members of the Mega Sports Authority have been looking at including options like walking trails, an indoor sports facility and an amphitheater.
Another option for the authority to consider is building an agri-business center.
As you would imagine, an agri-business center would be a venue for all sorts of events related to farming and livestock. Everything from farmers’ markets to rodeos, roping events and livestock shows could be held at an agri-business center. When the weather is bad or too cold outside, an agri-business center could be a place for people to exercise their horses and other animals.
But an agri-business center has many other uses, as well.
Despite what the name implies, an agri-business center is really a multi-functional facility that can be used for all sorts of events. The agri-business center in Rainsville has hosted graduations (this is particularly appealing here in Etowah County, where earlier this year three local high schools had to hold their graduations off campus due to the weather, with one having to go all the way to Jacksonville State University), and the center in Blount County has hosted home and garden shows.
Other non-agricultural functions that could be held at an agri-business center include concerts, business expos like the one we had in Gadsden the other week, county fairs and educational programs for local schools.
Most of the events held at agri-business centers are multi-day events. That means people staying in our hotels as well as eating at our restaurants and shopping at our stores. And the increase in sales, lodging and gas taxes collected will be used to fund our schools and help finish road and bridge projects like Hwy 411, I-759 and the Southside Bridge, among others (which, in turn, means more jobs and more economic growth).
So how would we pay for building an agri-business center?
Right now, there are several government grants that the Mega Sports Complex Authority could apply for that would cover much, if not all, of the cost of building an agri-business center. And if the costs were more than the grants could provide, the business that an agri-business center would bring in, along with the money collected from ticket sales, would certainly make up the difference.
With or without an agri-business center, the Mega Sports Complex will be a huge boom for our economy that will trickle down to our local schools and road and bridge projects.
But building an agri-business center would significantly increase the economic benefits of the Mega Sports Complex and would broaden the appeal and the benefits of the facility to a wider group of people, including those in neighboring Cherokee, DeKalb, Marshall, Calhoun and St. Clair counties.
Building a Mega Sports Complex with an agri-business center would create jobs, grow our economy, increase local tax revenue without raising taxes, create educational opportunities for local school children, provide a venue for sports and other local events and support our local farmers and others in the agricultural industry.
Tourism and hospitality are a $13 billion dollar a year industry in our state, and there’s no reason why we can’t get a bigger slice of that pie.
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.