Q: Mobile landed a highly sought-after, large-scale investment from Airbus a few years ago. What has this project meant for the city?
A: It has been transformative. It has a lot to do with why I ran for mayor, the thought being that it was a game-changer for our community, and we had an opportunity to take advantage of the Airbus phenomenon that selected Mobile. And if we were willing to take advantage of that and be aggressive and do some things differently, it would be difficult to project what the trajectory for the city would be! But if we continued to take things as they come, then we would lose generational opportunities. So I think it’s a golden opportunity for a very bright future for a sector in the business world we never had had before.
Q: Do you find it’s hard to get a small city on the radar of big international companies? How do you go about doing that?
A: I think it is, typically, more difficult. But to me, there has to be some compelling reasons why they would look at you to begin with. For Airbus, it was because of our infrastructure, having to do with the port, railroads, interstate highway system, and [the availability as a site of a] somewhat under-utilised former Air Force base. The port is a magnet, but another thing that we have is we’re known for is manufacturing. We have an outstanding reputation for the workforce, for being able to produce high-quality products and advanced manufacturing. The competitive cost of doing so is attractive compared with other areas. A story we tell is that Airbus’s very first plane, which was sold to JetBlue, when they were doing the final quality inspections for acceptance, the only thing they found wrong was that the coffee pot didn’t work. That’s building the first airplane, so that’s a huge win for the community and for airbus. Another indicator is that recently, one of the ships that we’re building for the Navy went out for sea trials, and coming back in they were flying a broom on the yard arm. What that means is that it was a ‘clean sweep’, meaning there was nothing found wrong. So the word gets around that people are having a great experience in Mobile, and that just builds upon itself. Is it difficult to compete? Yes, it’s very competitive out there. But we feel like we are poised and really already planted on the world stage, and that we are equipped to do that.
Q: There’s a lot of political rhetoric at the national level right now about protectionism, and a tone that is anti-FDI as well. Does that worry you? Do you feel you can continue to get your message out there and compete for FDI projects in the face of that?
A: Yes, we do. Whenever you have an election, there’s a lot of rhetoric. But when it comes down to the reality of the situation, then calmer heads, cooler heads have an opportunity to express their opinions. Some of the things that we hear during the campaign season really don’t come to fruition. Of course it’s always a concern, but that’s just part of our political process.
Q: What’s your outlook for the rest of this year and beyond in terms of Mobile and its economy? Any big things we can look out for?
A: I think there has never been a brighter time in Mobile than right now. Now is the time that people want to come into the community and make an investment. I think they will realize they are glad they did it sometime in 2016-17-18 instead of waiting for ’19, ’22 or later. Now is the time to be here.