Mayoral candidates sound off on plans

Published 1:01 pm Monday, July 23, 2012

This is the first in a series of articles designed to give municipal candidates the opportunity to address issues pertinent to Atmore residents. Today’s installment will include Atmore’s mayoral candidates’ ideas on job and industrial development.

With the qualifying period behind them and a community forum set for Aug. 2, Atmore’s three mayoral candidates are focusing on their campaigns.

This week, each man – Jim Staff, Bernard Bishop and Lloyd Albritton sat down with The Advance to explain their views on job creation and local industry, as well as to offer their visions for how to reach the goals they have set for those areas of life in Atmore.

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Albritton said he sees the announcement that Airbus will soon call Mobile home as a major plus for the Atmore area, but added he feels all of the industry in the world will not be beneficial unless Atmore can produce skilled workers to be employed by the new opportunities.

“I came to the Mobile Area Education Federation presentation where they talked about Airbus,” Albritton said. “The thousands jobs they will bring in and the 45,000 job spin off possibility is very exciting, but then they mentioned that for us to get industry into our town, the core of the issue is the skilled labor. There are really two issues. Skilled labor and public schools, and the quality of our education in this town. People coming in are going to be concerned about where their kids are going to school. Our public schools must be up to par. Two things we need to do are to improve public schools and to provide the skilled labor. As mayor of this city I would be 100 percent behind that.”

Albritton also commented on the current status of Rivercane, Atmore’s development property adjacent to Wind Creek Casino and Hotel.

“I can’t really address how (the current administration) is handling the current situation except for the result,” he said. “But Airbus has totally changed the game. But I’ll say the direction we have been going with Rivercane does seem to be doing well. “But I don’t think they are bringing the type of jobs that the taxpayers of Atmore want to see. I do agree we need those jobs, but I don’t think that what we have so far is satisfying the taxpayers of this city. I think we got into that with an attitude of real estate speculation that we should not have.”
Albritton addressed recent comments from Industrial Development Board member Richard Maxwell that stated Atmore has been able to land businesses at Rivercane without having to make the concessions other communities have been forced to make in order to bring in industry.

“One thing that I think I disagree with is when Richard Maxwell said sometime back that a lot of other cities are bringing in industries by giving a lot of concessions and Atmore has not had to do that,” Albritton said. “I’m a little suspicious of that approach. I believe that there are a lot of industries looking to come here and we may have to make concessions. It’s not as important that we get full price for the land at Rivercane as much as it is getting those industries and jobs here.”

Staff, a mayoral candidate and current councilman, said he felt good about the progress at Rivercane so far, but also said more must be done.

“We just have to keep adding to it,” Staff said. “We’ve got that going out at Rivercane and we’re going to everything we can do to keep adding jobs. We’re going to do everything we can do to support existing industries, but we are also going to jump on any opportunity that presents itself to the city of Atmore.”

Staff said he has already begun work on bringing opportunities from the Airbus deal toward Atmore.

“I think Atmore is poised to develop a partnership with Airbus,” he said. “I’ve already put a man from Mobile Aeroplex in touch with people with Escofab and Muskogee Metalworks.”

Staff also expressed his excitement for the future of both Rivercane and south Atmore, which sits approximately 11 miles from the development site.

“We have got a real good industrial development board and we’re going to support them,” he said. “Rivercane has been successful in a bad economy. When we took office in 2000, we have replaced all the jobs lost during the recession, plus some in Atmore. We’ve filled our shopping centers with businesses. Even at Atmore Plaza on Lindberg. After 9/11 we lost a lot of businesses there. Today they’re all full again.”

Bishop expressed concern over the portion of Atmore proper where many have expressed fear that locally owned businesses will dry up once Rivercane begins to fill.

“The first thing I’m looking to do and focus on is to stabilize existing industry and support small businesses,” Bishop said. “I want to get downtown Atmore back to a place where people want to come and dine and spend time there. Yet, I want Atmore to plug into the growth of what PCI is doing as well as the Airbus opportunity, but when people drive from Florida to the casino, I want them to stop downtown, so all of the money doesn’t go to just north Atmore.”

Bishop said he will bring a hands-on approach to the mayor’s office as it relates to local businesses.

“I will actually get involved with the business owners personally and try to help make their businesses more attractive and give their customers incentives to shop there,” he said.

As for Rivercane, Bishop said he is also a proponent of bringing in bigger and different industry from what currently exists in Atmore.

“I would like to see Rivercane become a drawing pool for businesses,” he said. “If we can attract businesses like a Cracker Barrel or some type of casual dining it’s been proven that those business create a pool that other business want to be near, so we can set up a draw for other industries. I would definitely consider the pricing of our lots. Is it fair? Is it alluring enough that businesses would want to come.”