Short Changed: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

By Margo Gray - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Competition is high when it comes to businesses opening their doors. Everyday states have to put up the cash as an incentive to lure major companies to open up shop.

The state of Alabama spends millions of dollars to bring in big name companies, but does Huntsville's distance from decision makers in Montgomery also translate to the Rocket City getting short changed on projects?

One good business move has the power to transform a city. Past moves for Huntsville put it at the top of lists highlighting the best places to live, work or start a new business in the United States.

But no good business move is risk or cost free, and that's where incentives come in. The state invested a little over $100 million in incentives over the last eight years to split for projects like Verizon, Hudson Alpha, and Raytheon.

Base Closure and Realignment, or BRAC, also got some help from the state to the tune to of $5-million.


That $5-million may sound like a lot, but in south Alabama the state invested $222-million to lure ThyssenKrupp to the Mobile area, $101.5-million for a Mercedes plant in Vance and another $54.8-million for Hyundai in Montgomery.

The investment into ThyssenKrupp translates to an investment of a little over $82,000 per job created. Mercedes is right at $29,000 and Hyundai at more than $27,000. BRAC's investment translates to $4,700 per job.

Why is Huntsville seemingly getting short changed when it comes to the state providing incentives for the area? Linda Swann, Assistant Director of Alabama Development Office says the state has and continues to make sure north Alabama gets its fair share of money.

She says Huntsville, which makes up six percent of the state population, has gotten 14 percent of state incentive funding over the past eight years.

"I think that would prove in itself, we do get behind these projects," said Swann.

Swann says the argument should not come down to how many dollars the state invests in cities, but the kinds of jobs the state helps bring to cities. Huntsville Chamber of Commerce President Brian Hilson agrees.

"The pay level of the jobs that we have continued to gain here, largely through BRAC, are significantly higher than the automotive industry," said Hilson.

The average salary for a BRAC worker is around $85,000 a year. But with the higher paying jobs, should north Alabama get less money than parts of the state which are creating lower paying jobs?

"We do want other help from the state and because we are gaining so many jobs from BRAC and other means, we need infrastructure help," said Hilson.

Hilson says the state needs to step up when it comes to funding other things like road projects and schools.

BRAC Committee Chairman Joe Ritch lobbies state lawmakers to look at Huntsville, not in terms of percent of population, but rather in percent of state revenue.

"We are paying a tremendous amount of taxes to the state of Alabama and you just can't expect someone to do what we are doing up here without support," he said. "Otherwise, there are other communities around the country that would very much like the things that are here, and that's who our competitors are."

That competition with other states is tough enough without competing for resources within the same state.

We have to be treated more like industrial growth and less like you are on your own," said Ritch.

Ritch says it is critical that citizens fight for the area by contacting lawmakers and demanding more money for growth.

The final phase of BRAC will be completed this year. There is still about 25 percent of the project left to complete by relocating military and civilian workers from other bases.

This means 1,600 more workers moving to north Alabama, impacting roads and schools, utilities. Those workers will arrive with a fraction of the investment the state has put into other jobs to the south.

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