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Panels in House, Senate advance debt cap increase

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — With visions of steel, aerospace and automotive plants in their heads, state House and Senate committees approved Gov. Bob Riley's economic incentives bills Tuesday.

The House General Fund Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee gave unanimous approval to increase the state's debt limit by $400 million.

The measures then went to the full House and Senate for a vote during the second day of a special session on economic development.

State Finance Director Jim Main and Development Office Director Neal Wade said Alabama is in negotiation with at least 12 companies, each promising 500 or more jobs. The largest, German steel manufacturer ThyssenKrupp, would bring more than 2,500 jobs if it builds a plant in Washington County near Mobile.

ThyssenKrupp is also talking to Louisiana.

Another potential employer, an automotive engine plant, is looking at sites in the Interstate 565 corridor in North Alabama and in the Montgomery area.

"Never before in the history of the state have we had 12 large industries with this many jobs considering Alabama," Main told the House committee.

Counting smaller potential employers, about 30 firms are considering the state, Main said.

Alabama Development Office Director Neal Wade said after a similar presentation to the Senate committee that if the state lands even one of the large "mega projects," there will be additional companies to come.

"It is my belief that there won't be a mega employer looking at projects in the Southeast that won't be at least interested in Alabama," Wade said.

A $400 million increase in the state's debt limit means Alabama would be able to issue capital improvement bonds up to $750 million for industrial recruitment. The $350 million in bonds currently allowed is committed to existing projects, Main said.

The House committee vote came only after Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, called for the state to offer incentives to help existing industry remain in the state. Page said his local delegation and city and county officials in his area want the state to help with a $30 million modernization incentives package to keep Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in his community.

Page said he supports the debt-limit increase and wants the German steel plant to locate in Alabama, but the state also needs to look at incentives to help existing industries.

Page pointed to the state's recruitment of Trico Steel to the Decatur area during former Gov. Fob James' second administration. Economic incentives the state gave to Trico helped kill the Gulf States Steel plant in Gadsden, Page said.

Trico went out of business after three years, but Nucor Corp. later purchased Trico's Decatur facility.

It currently employs about 650, said Rep. Ron Grantland, D-Hartselle.

Main said the state can help existing businesses with the bond funds.

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