PARIS, France — Governor Robert Bentley addressed a crowd of nearly 100 economic development officials and local elected leaders from across Alabama at a breakfast this morning at the Marriott Paris – Rive Gauche Hotel. The group has gathered overseas for the 50th Paris Air Show, a biennial aerospace and defense trade show where companies and countries, suppliers and states showcase the latest technology and talk business.
In a Q&A with Made In Alabama, Governor Bentley spoke on the state’s aviation sector, the opportunity for growth and Alabama’s purpose at the air show:
Q: The state of Alabama has had a presence for the last several years at the Paris Air Show and Farnborough International Air Show. Why is the state focused on aviation as an industry?
A: Alabama has had tremendous success in transportation manufacturing and engineering. Some might think that began with the automotive industry – Mercedes, then Honda, then Hyundai. But in reality, it began with the development of NASA’s Saturn V rocket in Huntsville in the early 1960s. Because of Alabama’s history in aerospace, we have the expertise, the talent and the infrastructure companies need. So it’s a natural growth sector for us, and it provides the kind of high-tech, high-paying jobs that we are working to recruit to our state.
Q: Earlier this year, aviation giant Airbus broke ground on its first U.S. final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama. How does that change the game for Alabama when it comes to recruiting aerospace business?
A: Without question, the Airbus facility opens up a new set of opportunities. We are very focused on building relationships with companies that could serve as Airbus suppliers and vendors. We want those companies to build their plants in Alabama and bring their job opportunities to Alabama. I want these companies to come to Alabama, not other states.
Also, the Airbus announcement reinforces our position as a leader in the aviation industry. We have had a significant presence with Boeing’s defense division for more than 50 years, and we already had major suppliers such as GKN and PPG on the ground. Now, we’ll be producing commercial jets as well, which was really the only big piece missing from the puzzle.
Q: Who will you be meeting with at the air show, and do you expect to walk away from the event with a significant announcement?
A: I expect to walk away with deeper relationships with decision-makers who will be key to future announcements. The purpose of our visit to Paris is to promote Alabama as a solid choice for companies looking to build and expand. We have the best workforce of any place in the country. We have a positive business climate. We offer the tools that companies need to succeed. As more companies choose to locate and expand in Alabama, more jobs are created for the people of Alabama.
My Commerce Secretary, Greg Canfield, and I will also be meeting with companies that already have operations here in Alabama and several prospective projects. We won’t be sharing any details just yet on those prospects, but I can tell you that I’m meeting with companies such as Safran, which recently announced a new operation at Mobile’s Brookley Aeroplex, UTC, which has a big operation in Baldwin County, Raytheon, GE, Boeing and, of course, Airbus. All of these companies are growing globally and represent potential new jobs for our state now and in the future.
Q: When you talk to those prospective companies, how will you position Alabama?
A: I’ll tell them that we have the best workers in the world as well as the best worker training programs. I’ll tell them that we have the ideal infrastructure for any project, including the Port of Mobile, the Port of Huntsville and an Interstate system that can take them to more than half of the U.S. population within a day’s drive. I will tell them that we have been named one of the Top 5 states for doing business. And I’ll tell them that I am personally committed to seeing them set up shop in Alabama.
Q: How does aerospace fit into your overall economic development plan for the state? Is it your top priority?
A: My top priority is creating jobs. Our long-term economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama, is built on that mission. Aerospace is one of 11 industry sectors that we identified as having tremendous potential for growth. I believe that the next big project could come in any one of those sectors, so we are actively recruiting companies across the board. Our Department of Commerce teamed up with the University of Alabama this year on a trade mission around biosciences, which present a significant opportunity for us. We believe there is more growth that can and will happen in the automotive industry. But beyond those high profile sectors, we have strategic efforts around newer industry sectors such as information technology, and we don’t want to forget our roots in metals manufacturing.
So, our plan is diverse and strategic, and it is all centered on driving the kind of investment in Alabama that creates jobs.