The economy is thriving and the Birmingham seven-county region is doing well, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby told Birmingham Business Alliance leadership during a policy briefing at the BBA office this week.
“The economy is as good as I’ve ever known it in my lifetime,” Shelby said.
He remarked that the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to grow and attract the best doctors and scientists, and that, while Monday’s Interstate 59/20 bridge closure might be a headache in the short term, any improvements to infrastructure will benefit the city and the state in the long term.
When asked about possible public transit options in Birmingham, Shelby looked to Atlanta and Denver as possible models for a light rail system and said it could create a substantial number of jobs. He said he was open to the possibility but would need plenty of preparation to get the idea off the ground.
“I’ll do everything I can to work with you, but you’d better have a really good plan,” Shelby said.
Shelby was asked about Port Birmingham, a river port and rail terminal in northwestern Jefferson County that helps barge traffic from Birmingham reach Mobile and New Orleans. Expanding the port and obtaining funding through private, local, state and federal money and economic development grants is one of the BBA’s infrastructure legislative priorities, which were also discussed at the briefing.
Other topics covered included Shelby’s desire to see the Northern Beltline completed, the 2020 elections and his commitment to seeing business grow in Birmingham and across the state. He pointed to the 1997 opening of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) in Alabama as a landmark event for business in the state, and said he was asked by many at the time why MBUSI would come to Alabama. Since then, he said, he’s been pleased to see Alabama’s businesses grow and prosper and to see the image of Birmingham and Alabama improve.
“Alabama is on fire in a lot of areas,” he said. “Alabama is open for business and is a good place to live and work. We always want to create a climate to start businesses and help businesses grow.”
Shelby will be in Washington, D.C., this week as the Senate takes two key votes aimed at ending the government shutdown.
“Right now, we’re at an impasse,” Shelby said of the two proposals, one backed by Republicans and one backed by Democrats, and both likely to fail. “We’ve got our hands full. We will reopen sooner or later, I just wish it could be sooner.”
As President Donald Trump asks for $5.7 billion for border security, Shelby – who earlier this month began his first full two-year term as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, one of the most powerful positions in the Senate – said the nation’s debt is the biggest problem we face. Shelby said it took the United States 200 years to amass $1 trillion in debt by 1982, and the country is $20 trillion in debt just 37 years later.
“It all has long term consequences,” Shelby said.
This March, Shelby will pass Senator John Sparkman as Alabama’s longest-serving U.S. Senator. Shelby has served six terms in the U.S. Senate and was first voted into that role in 1986.