June 19, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Governor Bentley Leads Aerospace Delegation

A visitor stands under the wing of an Airbus A380 airplane at the Paris Air Show, where Alabama Governor Robert Bentley plans to visit. (Bloomberg News file)

Gov. Robert Bentley departed for Europe Saturday on an industry recruiting tour.

Bentley is leading a delegation of about 50 Alabamians today through Tuesday at the Paris Air Show, where they'll meet with top aerospace executives and rub elbows at a series of social events. Bentley will also visit Germany later this week to tour the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz.

Bentley said he was reluctant to take the trip -- his first overseas -- at a time when state budgets are under tremendous financial strain. But he said it was important to help bring good-paying jobs to Alabama.

"It is a working trip," he told the Press-Register during an interview Thursday. "I actually dread it, in some ways. But if it will help us create jobs, I'm willing to go. That is my primary goal."

Bentley, a Tuscaloosa Republican, will join Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and industry officials today at a reception held on board a yacht in the Seine River. The invitation-only event is hosted by the Aerospace Alliance, a multi-state marketing group.

On Monday, he'll join Mobile officials for a briefing at the air show with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent company of Airbus. EADS had proposed to build a $600 million, 1,500-worker aircraft assembly plant in Mobile, but that project collapsed in February when EADS lost its bid for the U.S. Air Force tanker contract to rival Boeing Co.

'Still talking'

EADS and several of its major suppliers are continuing to eye Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex as a potential manufacturing site.

"We're still talking," Bentley said. "I believe they still want a U.S. presence, but they've got some internal struggles to work through. The important thing we want to show them is that we still want them and are ready to support them. I'll do everything I can to convince them to come."

Bentley said he is continuing to reserve a package of cash and other tax incentives for EADS in Mobile, though he acknowledged that his administration is facing pressure to use the money for projects elsewhere in Alabama.

Laith Wardi, president of Erie, Penn.-based Executive Pulse business retention and expansion consulting firm, said Alabama made the right choice in choosing to have a presence at the air show to continue to press for development such as EADS.

"You're talking about significant investment, great paying jobs, an infrastructure that's already there and clusters that are established," he said. "The question to me would be, 'Why wouldn't you go to Paris?'"

Patrick Murphy, head of economic development with the Birmingham Business Alliance said there is more to the state's aerospace industry than the tanker project. The BBA's own Blueprint Birmingham five-year strategic plan for growing the Birmingham metro area's economy includes aerospace in one of its target industries.

"Obviously, Mobile is disappointed with the loss of the tanker project but they have said they are still pursuing projects with EADS," Murphy said. "For us, aerospace is still a part of our recruitment efforts. It's in the Blueprint as an emerging opportunity and we have the infrastructure in place with several airports within our region. We are also a good technology and manufacturing community that can support ancillary suppliers in the aerospace sector."

Bentley said he's looking forward to visiting Mercedes officials in Stuttgart, Germany, on Wednesday. The automaker employs about 2,800 at its assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County.

"They're looking at an expansion project," he said. "But primarily we're going to meet with some of their executives and tour the plant there. They're one of the mainstays of our state economy."

Bentley, a former dermatologist and state legislator, said he'll be joined on the trip by his wife, first lady Dianne Bentley. He said his only previous trip outside the United States was to attend a medical conference in Canada.

"My job is to be a spokesman and a salesman for our state," he said. "A lot of recruitment is just personal relationships, and this trip will help us build those. I'm a people person. I'll enjoy that part of it."

Bentley, who vowed not to take a salary as governor until the state reaches full employment, said he didn't plan anything extravagant in Paris.

"Everybody knows how frugal I am," he said. "I'd rather be working at home in Alabama. If I was taking a vacation, I'd probably go down to the Gulf. The way I look at it is, this is just another day's work for me. It'll just be in a different location."

Press-Register writer George Talbot contributed to this story.

  • For more information, visit http://commerce.alabama.gov
  • For more state-wide press releases, click here