PASADENA, California – Regardless of how the pigskin bounces in Monday night’s BCS Championship Game, Bill Ham Jr., the longtime mayor of Auburn, Ala., already knows one winner – the fast-growing Lee County city that aims to build on recent economic development successes.
“The national and international exposure of this game – you just can’t buy that kind of exposure at any price,” said Ham, who traveled to California for the showdown between Auburn University and Florida State at the Rose Bowl.
The teams are playing for the celebrated crystal trophy that goes to the winner of college football’s biggest contest. For sure, Ham wants his Auburn Tigers to cap what has been a near miraculous season with another victory, allowing him to prevail in a friendly wager with Tallahassee, Fla., Mayor John Marks.
At the same time, Ham wants his city to take advantage of any opportunities stemming from the game’s PR bonanza, particularly on the economic development front. While he doesn’t expect any business decisions to be based on the outcome of the BCS game, he believes that Auburn’s participation provides a boost to the city’s profile.
“I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want this kind of publicity,” Ham said.
Auburn, whose population approaches 57,000, has benefited from some notable recent economic development successes. GE Aviation, for instance, last year opened a high-tech factory in the central Alabama city to produce jet engine parts. And Auburn has become a hotbed for auto suppliers, thanks to its proximity to the Hyundai plant in Montgomery and the Kia plant just over the Georgia state line.
The city is building a presence in the biomedical field. SiO2 Medical Products, whose roots in Auburn date to 1994, makes syringes, vials, cartridges and customized containers that are precision molded from medical-grade plastic and have a special coating on interior surfaces. As part of a project that included the Department of Commerce, the company two years ago announced a $90 million expansion expected to create 300 jobs.
Meanwhile, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), a medical school affiliated with Virginia Tech, is scheduled to launch at Auburn Research Park in 2015 with an initial class of 150 students. VCOM and the Auburn Research and Technology Fund signed an agreement establishing the branch campus and facilitating collaboration on biomedical and health care research.
“I am really excited about the aviation and aerospace side as far as economic development goes, and the biomedical as well,” said Ham, who has been Auburn’s mayor for 16 years.
Ham added that Auburn University, which has collaborative relationships with GE Aviation and many other companies, is a major asset for the community and a valuable economic development partner.
A FIFTH CRYSTAL TROPHY?
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley was on campus on Dec. 30 to speak to Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers before they departed for California. The governor’s message: Congratulations on a great turnaround season and win the big one for the State of Alabama.
“I could not be more proud of the Auburn Tigers for what they have accomplished this season,” Governor Bentley said. “Coach Malzahn has united this team, and they deserve to play in the national championship game. The last four national championships have come from the State of Alabama, and I hope for a fifth crystal trophy for our state.”
Auburn and the University of Alabama have claimed the last four BCS titles, with the Crimson Tide winning the crystal trophy in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Auburn, led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, secured the trophy in 2010, providing a substantial economic boost to the city.
College football is a big business in Alabama, with the annual economic impact of the Tide and Tigers estimated at $500 million.
Ham said the 2013 Tigers, with a miracle win against Georgia and a heart-stopping triumph against Alabama through what The Wall Street Journal has called college football’s “most amazing play,” embody a powerful marketing message for his community.
“You want to surround yourself with people who won’t take no for an answer and won’t fold when the pressure is on,” Ham said.