Governor visits Clanton during economic recovery tour

Published 7:22 pm Friday, February 7, 2014

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver gives Gov. Robert Bentley a cake from Cakes n' Candy in Clanton after Bentley's small business roundtable at city hall Friday.

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver gives Gov. Robert Bentley a cake from Cakes n’ Candy in Clanton after Bentley’s small business roundtable at city hall Friday.

As part of his Road to Economic Recovery Tour, Gov. Robert Bentley visited Clanton on Friday to talk to residents and business owners about local economic conditions and state-level efforts to attract more jobs to Alabama.

“It’s good to be in Chilton County,” Bentley said to those gathered in Clanton City Hall for a small business roundtable. “We’ve been through some difficult times the last few years. Things are getting better. We know that by seeing how much we collect in taxes every year. We can tell that the economy is turning around.”

Bentley said although the state’s unemployment rate increased to 6.1 percent recently, 58,000 more people are working now than there were in 2011.

LeCroy Career Technical Center Director Tommy Glasscock asked Bentley about how to help more students in the county be college and career ready.

Bentley said his College and Career Ready Task Force is designed to brainstorm ways to create more skilled workers in Alabama.

“It’s essential that we do that,” Bentley said. “It takes knowledge of science and math. We need to be really concentrating on it.”

Cornerstone Fitness and Wellness co-owner Barry Baker asked Bentley how the Affordable Care Act might change small businesses like his.

Bentley said 87,000 state residents’ insurance has changed since the legislation was passed, and tax-wise, the act would cost everybody more money.

“More than half of all jobs are created in small businesses,” Bentley said. “We need to make it easy to create small businesses. I’m going to work on small businesses the next few months.”

Bentley said his new Small Business Advisory Council would be responsible for creating a network to support small business owners across the state.

Bentley also encouraged residents to pool their efforts on a local level and work to attract new industries like Airbus and Hyundai to the county.

“To recruit industries to an area, it’s a cooperative effort,” he said. “It really starts with you selling your area. You all have to sell it at a local level, then we come in and help you.”

Sibley Reynolds with the Chilton County Hospital Board gave Bentley a brief update on local leaders’ and residents’ efforts to reopen a hospital in the county.

Reynolds said the State Health Planning Commission in Montgomery approved leaders’ request Friday for an increase in the number of hospital beds assigned to the county.

State Rep. Kurt Wallace said a bill to allow county residents to vote on whether to pass a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for building a new hospital has cleared the House and is making its way through the Senate.

“I appreciate your effort,” Bentley said. “This area will certainly support a hospital. You need one.”

Before the roundtable discussion Friday afternoon, Bentley had lunch at Main Street Café in downtown Clanton.

He capped off his visit at McKinnon Toyota, where he talked to employees and toured the facility.

Chilton County Airport Authority chairman Craig Cleckler and board member Billy Singleton were on hand to talk to Bentley about the status of the airport and new projects they hope to announce soon.

“We look at this project as being extremely beneficial to the citizens of Chilton County because the airport serves a variety of functions, and that would be providing critical aviation services for the citizens of this county as well as promoting economic development,” Singleton said.

He added that the airport also serves the state because of its proximity to the Emergency Management Agency Operations Center and allows Bentley and his team to fly into the county when necessary.

“I’m just glad that the governor is coming to Chilton County,” Industrial Development Coordinator Fred Crawford said. “He’s been very good for economic development. For him to come here just shows the support he has for Chilton County moving forward.”