Birmingham business leaders meet with Governor candidates

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - "Birmingham needs help, and we're here to deliver it".

That's the message from a majority of the candidates running to be Alabama's next governor.

The candidates fielded questions from Birmingham business leaders at a recent forum and they say they would make the metro area a priority.

The Birmingham metro area accounts for more than 40% of Alabama's economy as a whole.

Montgomery is the state's capital, but when it comes to jobs, businesses, and the tax revenue that comes with it, Birmingham is the state's economic heartbeat.

"When Birmingham gets a cold, the rest of the state gets pneumonia," said Republican candidate Tim James. "We have to focus on the economic viability of the metro, probably more than anywhere else."

James told Birmingham business leaders this week that he would commit to spending 2 days a month at a new office in Birmingham if he's elected governor.

"The idea is when you do that you create a synergy and you bring the local and business communities together and it can play a major role in getting things moving in the metro area," James said.

"As the Birmingham metro area goes, so goes the state," said GOP candidate Bradley Byrne. "So what I've said all over the state is the day after the election, November 3rd, we're gonna wake up and say one of the first things we've got to work on as a new governor is what we can we be working the people in the Birmingham metro to help them grow their economy?"

Byrne told the crowd at a Birmingham Business Journal-sponsored forum that a Byrne administration would focus on using assets like UAB and the city's construction companies to create new jobs and expand Birmingham's economy.

Republican candidates Kay Ivey, Dr. Robert Bentley, Bill Johnson, and James Potts, also promised to use state resources to focus on attracting more manufacturing jobs to the area and improving the city's infrastructure to help make that a reality.

For Democrats, the debate over Birmingham's economy became linked to the other hot topic on the campaign trial, gambling.

"I've said unless Birmingham wanted to stop me, we need to make Birmingham a destination point," Democratic candidate Ron Sparks said. "They ought to have an opportunity to put a casino right downtown. That brings people to Birmingham, it creates jobs, it helps economic development."

"I don't think Birmingham's future is casinos," said Democratic Candidate Rep. Artur Davis. "I'm for people making a decision on whether they want gaming to be legal, but frankly biomedicine, biotech, those are the things that are going to grow the job base that we need for Birmingham to move ahead economically."

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