Q: You’re in the UK to attend the Farnborough Air Show and it seems you have quite a bit to celebrate with Mobile’s aerospace sector at the moment, so tell us about that, and how things have developed with the massive investment Airbus has made in your city.
A: Well, the obvious conversations [to be had at the air show] have to do with the future, because the agreement between Airbus and Bombardier is going to open doors that we had no idea were even a remote possibility. [Airbus is taking a majority stake in Bombardier’s C Series jetliner programme, a deal that will see a second final assembly line added in Mobile, creating about 200 new jobs.]
I am reminded when we did the ribbon-cutting for the grand opening of the assembly plant for the A320, [Airbus chief executive] Tom Enders said the sky is not the limit for Airbus or for the city of Mobile. We thought the sky was the limit, but apparently it is not! But what it means for the potential for growth is exciting because supporting two aircraft from a supplier standpoint is a much more valuable business model, so we are very excited about it.
Q: How do you get the workforce ready for such jobs?
A: There has been a lot of effort to improve [the preparation of] workers from high school level to all the way through [their careers]. In the US, for decades and decades, young people were told they had to have a college education to be successful. Well, that is starting to change. People are being told: 'You can be an aircraft mechanic, an electrician or a computer programmer and you do not have to have a college education to do that, and you can make a very good living.' We will get better at it, but I wish that we had started that earlier so that we turned out with more students today... So if you take what we are doing there and what Airbus will [need] from a recruiting standpoint, I feel that we will certainly find the people. Mobile is excited about this opportunity.
Q: Turning to politics, how do Donald Trump's trade policies and tariffs impact you at the local level?
A: We exist because of trade. [This has been the case] from the very beginning so we want free and fair trade. Of course, I know that the terminology [can be debated] right now as to what ‘fair’ means and the degree of fairness, and that’s where the dispute comes. But we are observing what is going on and we are very interested because [the policies] can have a huge impact on us. We also know that we are just one of many voices but we are going to continue to support free and fair trade because that is the foundation of what we believe in.
Q: Another hot political issue is immigration. What kind of immigration policy would you like to see at a national level to help achieve the economic development goals that you have at a local level?
A: I think people have to come in legally. To allow open borders for people to pour in illegally – I do not support that. The devil is in the details, like how you handle [these immigrants], and how you change the policy, but the negative impact that it has created in our society, [with] anybody coming in, is very detrimental. So on our part we support restrictive immigration.
I think that the federal government has some way to go before it coordinates or handles [immigration properly] but [there] have been decades and decades of not paying attention to it, and that is where we are. And it is very costly now in the city of Mobile. However, some of the negative ramifications [or challenges] that occur in other states or cities do not [affect us], because we do not have as many illegal immigrants.