Archived Story

‘Our city will become another Goodwater’

Published 11:51am Thursday, March 7, 2013

By Ray Carlisle, Guest Columnist

My hope and the hope of many was that a new Mayor would bring a fresh new approach to our city and the result would be more jobs through new industry, which also brings economic prosperity for all.

I remember from my days at the University of Alabama business school that a manufacturing plant in a community spawns seven other jobs in the service private sector. Therefore, if a plant employs 100 people, it creates 700 other service and retail-related jobs. Alexander City needs new business and a city government that encourages such.

We do not have that.

In athletics and business, when a team or company falters, the leadership gets fired and the new coach or CEO brings in a whole new staff to get things moving in a new direction. Sadly in government (be it city, state or federal), new leadership does not always clean house, so nothing changes. That is the case in Alexander City.

A new mayor does not mean new thinking because the same people who run the city’s daily work do not change. This mayor needs to clean house and find a staff that is competent and business friendly.

If you have not been to Auburn lately, make that drive and see what competent leadership – thinking outside the box – can accomplish. I remember with Alex City and Auburn were the same size. Now Auburn dwarfs Alex City in every way.

You may remember a column I wrote a few months ago detailing my experience with the city – more particularly, the building and fire department. They denied a business license for a solid company to rent my Special Service Vending facility, located at 2238 Washington St.

Well, it has happened again.

This time an existing business wanted to expand. A local businessman who runs an existing business needed more room to hire more people, and my facility was the perfect fit. We signed a five-year lease, and he asked the city for permission to turn on the utilities. Then the roadblocks began.

The city said the building would have to be inspected. That took time. The city informed me that must again hire an architect. That took time and money. Then, after the architect rendered his opinion (that the building met code for the proposed usage), the fire marshal said he disagreed. Excuse me – the fire marshal overrules an architect who has been to architecture school? The fire marshal can interpret ICC building code better than an architect? Why did they have me spend thousands of dollars for an architect to interpret the code if they were just going to disregard his findings?

The architect even told the city that other municipalities that he worked with would structure legal agreements with tenants to ensure the city’s liability was covered if the fire department had concerns. That suggestion by my architect was disregarded.

After another review by a committee, it became clear no one in the city wanted to stick their neck out to help any business be successful. On the contrary, every effort is made to see that their job is protected.

This city does not want new or expanded business.

After weeks of denials and ridiculous rulings, my tenant ran out of time and had no other choice but to look for another building (mostly likely in a city that would welcome him rather than fight him).

It is interesting that both of my past two tenants, who were rejected by the city, were African-Americans. Is there racial bias in our local government? I am not making that claim, merely raising the question.

In this case, not only am I stopped from receiving a five-year revenue stream to help keep the building in good repair, the city is also denied sales tax and the prospect of additional employment. Why?

I own similar buildings in other cities where my vending business used to operate. These cities are much larger than Alexander City. My buildings have all been rented to businesses similar to this situation. Those cities welcomed new business and do everything possible to accommodate and facilitate their success. They now get sales tax and business license revenues that they previously were not getting.

In summary, the mayor should fire the heads of these departments, including the fire marshal and his boss. If the mayor wants this city to become prosperous again, he should restructure the entire city staff in a way that is receptive to new business and expansion.

Otherwise our city will become another Goodwater.

Carlisle is a guest columnist for The Outlook.