EDAA: Protect Alabama's economic development efforts

The Birmingham Business Alliance supports reauthorizing legislation that exempts site selectors and full-time economic developers from registering as lobbyists in Alabama. HB317, also known as the Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act, was signed into law in 2018 and was crucial to guaranteeing that economic development organizations in Alabama can continue their work to attract new business to the state. The act has a sunset of one year and will expire on April 1, 2019 unless the legislature renews the legislation or passes new legislation during the 2019 Alabama Legislative Session. Jobs, economic prosperity and continued success for the Birmingham region and Alabama are at risk if the legislation is not renewed.

By JIM SEARCY, Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama

The Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act was passed last year to provide clarity to an issue that could have crippled Alabama’s economic development efforts. The bill was necessary to provide clarity regarding a requirement for economic developers and site selectors to register as lobbyists to engage in the economic development process. Thankfully, the bill was passed and signed into law, allowing economic development professionals the opportunity to continue to grow Alabama’s economy.

During the session last year, there was a concerted effort to mischaracterize the bill as having a negative impact on the ethics law. That assertion was patently untrue, and, regardless of how much hyperbole and misinformation was presented last year, the Legislature passed the bill. The Jobs Enhancement Act has been in effect for a year and none of the dire predictions have come to pass. They haven’t come to pass simply because none of the assertions we heard in the last legislative session were based in fact.

The act contained a sunset provision that ends the exemption of site selectors and economic development professionals. If that provision is not removed, Alabama’s economic development efforts will again be mired in ambiguity and uncertainty. Site selectors will not consider Alabama as a location if they must violate their client’s confidentiality agreement in order to even consider an Alabama location.

Confidentiality is critical in the economic development process. Companies and site selection professionals involved in a search for a potential site or companies considering expanding an existing operation must be able to rely on economic developers to maintain that confidentiality until it is appropriate for the company’s identity to be revealed. Should the provisions of the act end as a result of sunset, economic developers and site selectors would be required to register as lobbyists and disclose the identity of their clients (principals). This requirement alone would make Alabama unattractive for not only new investment, but hamper expansion of Alabama’s existing companies as well.

This law doesn’t impact the ethics law. The provisions of the existing law simply exempt site selectors and economic developers from the requirement to register as lobbyists. The economic developers that work to grow Alabama’s economy and the site selectors that represent their clients in the process are not lobbyists.

The sunset provision must be removed to allow economic development professionals to compete for projects and ensure Alabama’s continued economic success.