MOBILE, Alabama – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told about two dozen entrepreneurs gathered at Government Plaza in Mobile late Friday afternoon that he’s making small business a priority moving forward in his administration.
“As government officials, we ought to be in the business of helping the people we serve, and our job is to solve problems,” said Bentley, during the fourth of five Mobile County stops on his “Road to Economic Recovery” tour.
Bentley said when the Alabama Legislature is not in session he makes one trip per week to one of the state’s 67 counties to listen to constituents and try to find ways to boost not only economic activity and job creation but overall of quality of life for the small business owners in the state. Now that the Legislature has convened, however, he has increased his volume to two trips per week and admits that because he’s seeking re-election for a second term it will most likely jump to three trips per week this summer.
“So now I’m talking (to people), and we really don’t know how many we small businesses we actually have in Alabama. Is it 300,000? Is it 500,000? And how many employees does that add up to? How do you define small business?” Bentley said, encouraging participants in the roundtable discussion to pepper him with any and all questions.
Among the myriad issues raised were the benefits of attending trade missions, often sponsored by the Alabama Department of Commerce, but pleas to be certain grant funding that enables small business owners with smaller budgets to participate continues.
Another common theme is the sentiment that small business owners feel overshadowed by the signature economic development projects the state has pursued with such vigor in recent years, raising the question of whether incentives that seem to be so freely given as recruitment tools for gigantic operations could be more accessible to smaller, existing or even startup companies looking to expand or relocate.
Other topics covered included workman’s compensation and the inequitable burden excessive disability claims place on the process as well access to information and expert sources who can help small business owners better navigate often complicated issues, such as taxes or access to capital.
“We have those things available out there, but we’ve got to bring them together in an organized fashion,” Bentley said, noting small business owners should have access to new online tools as early as July to help answer questions and guide business development.
“We need some organizational structure, so people can go online and be directed to where they want to go,” he said, adding, “We make things too complicated sometimes, government does especially.”
Bentley’s Mobile visit also included stops Friday at the Big Time Diner, Kate Shepherd Elementary School and the University of South Alabama’s Coastal Innovation Hub. His trip concludes with the 7 p.m. Boy Scouts Golden Eagle Dinner at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.
April 11, 2014