By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MILLBROOK, Ala. (AP) — Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the seeds of a planned Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville- projected to eventually employ 4,000 people- were first planted a decade ago.
Battle said the city optioned the land and, after losing a competition for a Volkswagen plant, worked to get the site “development ready.” He said he visited Japan every year for the last five years to build relationships with auto manufacturers. The work culminated in January when the companies announced they would build a joint venture plant in Huntsville, after being offered a combined state and local incentive package of at least $700 million, including the property.
“It’s going to be a generational project,” Battle said, adding that generations of Alabamians will see the benefits. “Not only for north Alabama, there will be spinoffs of first and second-tier suppliers located other places such as Jasper or Pell City or Birmingham or down as far as Clanton.”
Battle, the mayor of one of the state’s fastest growing urban area, is emphasizing his record, including his city’s economic development success as he mounts a challenge against Gov. Kay Ivey in the June 5 Republican primary. Ivey also faces state Sen. Bill Hightower and evangelist Scott Dawson.
Battle argues it is his “proven track record” leading a city that sets him apart. “We have provided 24,000 jobs in the last 10 years. Twenty-four thousands jobs. That’s 62 percent of the growth in Alabama,” he said during a candidate forum in Millbrook.
Battle, 62, owned and ran a restaurant in Huntsville after graduating from the University of Alabama. He later moved into real estate. He was elected to the Huntsville City Council in 1984. He was elected mayor in 2008, and re-elected in 2012 and 2016.
While touting his area’s economic and education success, tech-heavy Huntsville, home of Redstone Arsenal and nicknamed Rocket City for its role in the development of the American space program, has advantages over other areas of the state. More than 40 percent of the city’s residents hold bachelor’s degrees, compared to just 24 percent for Alabama as a whole. Battle counters that every city and region has something unique that can be leveraged to their advantage.
Battle said the state has problems with infrastructure, noting the state’s congested and rough interstates, and needs more stability in education, noting that standardized testing systems have “changed three times in the past six years.”
“We can do things better in this state,” Battle said.
Not unlike other Republicans in the race, Battle demurs when asked if the state needs additional revenue to accomplish those improvements, saying that if elected, he wants to conduct a “full audit” of spending and revenue.
“You don’t look for taxes first thing. That’s the last thing,” Battle said.
Ivey, who became governor last year when her predecessor resigned, has both a fundraising and name recognition advantage over her lesser-known challengers headed into the primary election. However, Battle believes Ivey will be forced into a runoff with one of her competitors.
He is Ivey’s closest competitor in fundraising, raising $2.1 million to Ivey’s $3.6 million, according to April fundraising reports.
Battle has not been reticent in criticisms of Ivey, including the frontrunner’s decision not to attend debates with challengers. Ivey’s campaign has said she is focused on official duties, and that her record is open to voters and the media.
“If you want to run for being governor of the state Alabama, you owe the people of Alabama the right to hear about your vision. … You need to be able to answer the questions,” Battle said.