'You have no idea' – Gov. Bob Riley

Published 9:28 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Gov. Bob Riley's rousing speech to more than 300 people gathered for the 60th annual Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday night brought the crowd to its feet.
Quoting a University of Alabama economist, Riley said, "Alabama is on the cusp of greatness."
"You have no idea, Atmore, what's in store," he said, adding that all of the southern parts of the state are poised for tremendous changes.
"Look at south Alabama now," he said. "Watch what happens after EADS comes to Mobile," referring to the airbus manufacturer that has announced plans to locate in Mobile.
Riley predicted the company would affect south Alabama in the way that Mercedes positively impacted the Tuscaloosa area.
"Communities within 150 to 200 miles of them will prosper," he said, adding that suppliers who build components of the aircraft will locate in those communities.
Chamber supporter and Corman Foundation president, Jim Corman set the stage for the governor's speech with an impressive introduction, noting Alabama achievements, which he attributed to Riley's leadership.
"Jim, I don't believe they gave you enough time," the governor, who's seeking reelection and was obviously happy with the introduction, quipped when he took the podium.
Using Corman's introduction as a theme, Riley deviated from his prepared speech and talked about the importance of leadership, in Alabama and in Atmore.
"Leadership does matter, it really does and I'm not talking about the governor I'm talking about the leadership you have here," Riley said.
Referring to the aftermath of recent hurricanes, he said, "Your sheriff during this whole challenging year, had a remarkable program time and time again, set up and I hope you appreciate everything he and his agency did during this time.
"Also, you've got a pretty good mayor," he said. "Howard and I got on a first name basis for a couple of weeks after Ivan."
A native of Ashland, Ala., in Clay County, Riley said small towns like Atmore are special.
"I don't know what it is about small towns," Riley said. "I love small towns. I grew up in a small town, we always thought of places like Atmore as metropolitan. There is a different sense, a sense of community here. Everybody pulls together and everyone volunteers. You can't get by in a small community unless you volunteer. Everything revolves around church, school and civic organizations. A different spirit is found in small towns."
Referring again to Hurricane Ivan, Riley said the difference in people from places like Atmore is that they care about and help each other.
"When Howard was driving me around, we could hardly get through," he said. "Everywhere, people were helping each other. Compare that to New Orleans, where 2,000 people stood on a bridge and waited for someone to help them when they could have walked three-quarters of a mile and gotten food and water."
To lead, he said, you sometimes have to change old models. Before he took office, he said 19 different people had run the Alabama Development Office, the state's chief economic development agency, in 20 years.
"We wanted to hire the best we could find," he said, adding that he found the best in Monroeville native Neal Wade, who was working in Florida at the time. This past year, he was named the best economic developer in the nation.
If Alabama changes its models, it can compete with anyone, he said.
"We have more opportunity today than we've ever had in the history of this state, bar none," Riley said. "We've not only lowered unemployment rates but we are recognized in the 50 states as having the highest rise in per capita income. I said three years ago that we needed to take insufficient models and discard them and start over. Today, Alabama in every department is more efficient than it has ever been."
In addition to EADS, Riley talked about the "world-class" cancer research center planned in Mobile.
"There is more going on in Southwest Alabama than just about any place you can think of," he said, adding that Alabama will never be a follower again, but a leader.
The only thing holding Alabama back is its education system, he said.
"We have got to build a world-class educational system in the state of Alabama," Riley said. "We rank 49th in reading and 50th in math. Why? Is something wrong with our kids? It is the same thing, we have a dysfunctional system we have used for 30 years and it has interfered and retarded the ability for our children to compete. We have got to start putting money into an effort to change the way we educate our children. And if we do, you are going to have the same dramatic results out of education as you've seen when we changed the model for the government.
"We have to demand that education here is going to be competitive with any other states. We have got to change the system. We've got it all folks. We have the ability to pick and choose it all. But we can't do the same things we did yesterday."
Chamber executives said they were pleased with the banquet and the governor's speech.
"Last night was a great night for the Chamber of Commerce and a great night for Atmore," Chamber executive director Emilie Mims said. "Gov. Riley could not have been any more gracious and complimentary about our community. His message was so well said. He presented it in such an easygoing manner that was easily understood not to mention uplifting and inspiring. He left us with a sense of real hope for our state under his leadership."
During the banquet, outgoing president P.D. Pollard welcomed the new 2006 Chamber President Dale Hurst into office.
"I thought the governor's talk was very upbeat and positive," Hurst said. "I think he hit it dead on talking about how you will never see a change if you keep doing things over the same way time and time again.
"I left the meeting feeling very encouraged about the state government," Hurst said. "I have been in Atmore for 26 years and have been to 25 of these and would have to say that this was one of the best. It was definitely in the top five."

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