MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is headed to London for the Farnborough International Air Show to try to generate jobs for Alabama.
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In an interview Thursday, Bentley said he will leave Saturday and will spend Sunday, Monday and Tuesday meeting with executives of aerospace companies attending the air show.
"I wish they would name it something else because it sounds like a vacation. It's certainly not a vacation, not for me anyway. It's the hardest three days I ever spend," he said.
Bentley said he met with 40 company chief executives last year when the air show was in Paris, and his meetings typically began at 6 a.m. and continued into the evening.
Bentley said he hopes to seal a deal with two industrial prospects in London and make announcements while he is at the air show. "It's the direct result of time we've spent with these companies," he said.
The industry-hunting trip will be the governor's first since national labor figures showed the country has regained the jobs lost from when the recession began in December 2007. Jobs in Alabama remain 5 percent below the 2007 mark at 1.91 million. Alabama ranked 48th among the states is getting back to the pre-recession employment level.
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In December 2007, Alabama's unemployment rate was 3.7 percent and 2.10 million people were employed.
Bentley, who was elected in 2010 on a jobs platform, said Alabama has seen a steady increase in jobs since he took office and the May unemployment rate of 6.8 percent was well below the 9.3 percent when he took office in January 2011. He said his administration has brought more organization to the state's industry recruitment efforts and stepped up efforts to produce more skilled workers that will help attract industries. That includes increasing funding for dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take technical courses at community colleges.
"It's a slow process. It's not something you turn around overnight," he said.
While in London, Bentley said he will be talking with potential Airbus suppliers about locating in the state to serve the $600 million A320 assembly plant being constructed in Mobile. The Airbus plant will employ about 1,000 workers, but Bentley expects suppliers to produce more jobs than that.
Before heading to London, Bentley will be in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday. He will lead a meeting of the National Governors Association's Economic Development and Commerce Committee. Bentley chairs the committee, and he's scheduled to talk about Alabama's workforce training program and how Alabama has produced homegrown businesses, including the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville.