By Crystal McGough, Editor
TRUSSVILLE – The Trussville Area Chamber of Commerce had an extra special speaker at the May 18 Chamber Luncheon. Gov. Kay Ivey was greeted by rounds of applause as she entered the exhibition hall of the Trussville Civic Center.
“These are historic times all over our state,” said the 54th Governor of Alabama. “Our economy is breaking new ground and we are facing challenges and opportunities not seen in many generations. The record rates of job creation and opportunity from the Tennessee River to the gulf coast is stunning.”
Ivey said Alabama is currently experiencing unprecedented surpluses in both the education and general funds. She also said the state was able to use $1 billion in one-time ARPA Funds to increase the state’s broadband connectivity, improve the water and sewer systems, and improve the state’s healthcare infrastructure, which she called a “great success.”
Moving on, Ivey shared her top priorities for this legislative session and her second term, which she said go hand-in-hand: increased investment in economic development and in education.
“We’ve already laid a solid foundation in both areas, and we must double down on our efforts over the next four years if we are to make a lasting difference,” she said.
Since 2017, when she was elected to office, Ivey said the state’s investment in new and expanded industries has already added 78,000 jobs in Alabama.
“Today, over two million people are employed in Alabama, and that’s the most in state history,” she said. “Unemployment in Alabama remains not only at a record low of 2.3%, but we’re currently the only southeastern state with low unemployment. Folks, let me say that one more time: we have hit Alabama’s lowest ever unemployment rate.
“I hate to disappoint the nay-sayers, but we have more good news,” Ivey added. “My office recently announced that a record $10.1 billion worth of big dollars in capital investments were made in Alabama in 2022. This is the highest level on record. … Results like these don’t just happen by luck. They require planning and leadership. From economic incentives to industrial site preparation, Alabama has become a trail-blazer in attracting new jobs and industry.”
Ivey mentioned one specific economic development program, the Rebuild Alabama Act, which she said “has literally paved the way for industrial development and job recruitment across our state.”
“Since the Rebuild Alabama Act was first enacted just four years ago, new road and bridge projects have broken ground in all 67 counties,” Ivey said. “More than $170 million in state funds have been awarded to cities and counties in which 234 new projects are either underway or already completed. And while we may not love driving through all those orange cones … I assure you the results will be worth the wait.”
Ivey also mentioned the planned I-59 expansion from the I-459 interchange to Chalkville Mountain Road, which will add one northbound lane and one southbound lane to the interstate. The project was delayed due to the original bids coming in $18 million higher than expected, Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat said in the City Council workshop later that evening, but Ivey said she is monitoring the project closely and looks forward to bringing it to fruition in the near future.
Next, the governor spoke to what she called a major priority for her time in office – increasing broadband access throughout all of Alabama – saying that, since 2018, over $300 million in state and federal funding has been committed to broadband expansion.
“Alabama is working, and that is why our state is among the top 15 in population growth from July 2021 to July 2022,” Ivey said. “We are proud to welcome folks in search of a better life from California, Colorado and New York.”
Adding to Alabama’s recent accomplishments and accolades, Ivey proudly mentioned that the United States Air Force chose Huntsville, Alabama, as the future home of the Space Command headquarters.
“We won the competition and the name fair and square,” Ivey said. “What’s sad is there’s some folks who don’t like Alabama’s success. President Biden has slow-walked the final approval of Space Command’s location in Huntsville in hopes of finding a way to take it away from us. We all know that politics should never come before what is best for America’s national defense. The Biden administration must put America first and follow the Air Force’s recommendation to build Space Command and the new headquarters in Huntsville.”
Speaking of national defense, Ivey transitioned into comments on the U.S. southern border, particularly where drug trafficking is concerned.
“For the entire length of the Biden administration, illegal immigration has broken records,” she said. “President Biden’s abandonment of border security has not only affected America’s security, but also the lives of many young Americans. The deadly drug Fentanyl is the leading cause of death of Americans from ages 18 to 45 (with a) 94% increase since 2019. … In Alabama, Fentanyl endangers our children and our first responders.”
On April 6, Ivey signed into law House Bill 1, which, for the first time under Alabama law, subjects Fentanyl traffickers to severe penalties for drug possession.
After tackling the topics of illegal immigration and drug trafficking, Ivey moved on to a more positive subject matter: Alabama’s children and improvements in their education.
“Speaking of our children, they are the key to Alabama’s future,” she said. “For this reason, I have set a goal of Alabama reaching the top 30 states in educational achievement by the end of my term as governor. Our journey to success in the classroom starts with the youngest of learners. Alabama’s first-class Pre-K program, which has led the nation for the last 16 years, has generated positive results among our earliest students, and I’m committed to ensure that every family who wants to enroll their child will have access to it.”
Ivey emphasized that giving every single child, no matter their family’s income level, equality in their educational journey would result in giving them equal opportunity in life.
“We’re not focusing on the nonsense. We’re focusing on the building blocks of education: reading and math,” she said. “While we’re speaking of reading, beginning this year, Alabama’s children will also benefit from my partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s a book-gifting program that brings free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter the family’s income.”
One challenge to improving reading and math proficiency in Alabama has been teacher shortages, Ivey said.
“Programs like the TEAMS Act will pay math and science teachers up to $15,000 more a year in hard-to-staff schools,” she said. “My goal is to help (the) starting salary for all Alabama teachers to be the highest in the southeast by the end of my term.”
Additionally, Ivey said the state must continue to have meaningful discussions on improving school choices, including the option of charter schools.
“The bottom line is simple: if a community wants to improve it’s education options by establishing a charter school, then we need to offer them support; not red tape and obstacles,” she said. “These are just a few examples of my new education strategy for the next four years. And folks, I’m truly excited about our state’s potential to transform my education system … by opening doors for families to prosper for generations to come in Sweet Home Alabama.”