Riley makes visit to Camellia City

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2006

The state of Alabama is poised for greatness.

That was the message Governor Bob Riley shared with his audience during a Thursday luncheon at the Greenville-Butler County Boys and Girls Club.

Approximately 150 people turned out to hear Riley speak at the event, co-sponsored by the Greenville Rotary Club and the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Riley shared the dias with Rotary President Dr. Everett Snow, businessman Bill Bates, a longtime friend and supporter of the governor, and Joan Reynolds, Republican candidate for State Senate.

The governor, who will face Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley in the November election, promised to avoid political campaigning during his speech.

Riley did ask the audience's indulgence if he occasionally &#8220veered in that direction.”

He shared his optimistic outlook on the direction both Alabama and the Camellia City were taking.

&#8220Greenville could be viewed as a microcosm of this state…this was once a textile industry town. Now there are high-tech industries in place. This is happening all across Alabama in ways we couldn't have dreamed of a few years ago,” Riley said.

The governor said opportunities were coming to the state that &#8220never before existed in my lifetime,” opportunities that require thinking outside of traditional boundaries.

&#8220So, what do you do to take advantage of these opportunities? What do you do when you want to double the size of your existing plants and unemployment is only four percent?”

Riley, describing Greenville as a &#8220potential template for what you should be able to do in any small town,” praised Mayor Dexter McLendon for his efforts to bring new industry to the area.

&#8220Dexter has turned not accepting the word ‘no' as an art form; we need more people like him leading communities throughout Alabama.”

While he said many positive changes have taken place across the state, the governor also pointed out Alabama was still plagued with landing at or near the bottom of the barrel in national rankings.

&#8220We always compete with Mississippi and Arizona for the bottom ranking…we have never been higher than 48th in my lifetime,” Riley said.

&#8220Is there something innately wrong? Is it our environment, work ethic, the water? We have a central location, wonderful natural resources – so why are we always last?”

The governor said he believes the long-time economic models in the state were largely to blame.

&#8220There was no way we could be competitive doing it the old way.

If you keep doing the same things, over and over again, and expect different results – that's what Einstein called ‘lunacy.'”

Riley said changes in the economic model in recent years had wrought &#8220remarkable” results.

We've led 19 southern states for the past three years in economic development…two weeks ago, Alabama was named the best economic model in the U.S., for the very first time in our history,” Riley said.

The governor praised the strong work ethic and productivity Alabama has shown since industries such as Mercedes and Hyundai have moved into the state.

Riley also said placing the state's numerous workforce development agencies under one umbrella with a central manager now allowed workers to be trained &#8220for any job needed in the state of Alabama.”

&#8220We changed the economic model…we have the ability to lead the South and the U.S. in the generations to come,” the governor said.

However, Riley stressed two &#8220limiting factors” that hurt what he sees as the state's potential rise to greatness: educational woes and cynicism among citizenry.

The governor emphasized the implementation of the Alabama Reading Initiative during his administration, saying the program has caused reading scores in the state to &#8220explode.”

&#8220In three years, we will be in the top ten in reading…we can do the same thing in math and science; we know how to do it.”

Riley also encouraged local high school principals and Butler County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney to build distance learning programs in their classrooms to increase educational opportunities for students in rural areas.

&#8220The high school in Mountain Brook has 29 (distance learning programs) and Vestavia has 28 – the high school in my little home town has none,” the governor said.

&#8220 Ask yourself, could a business compete today using the same technology that was in place 50 years ago? I don't think so. Break the mold, change the model – and Alabama kids will be able to compete with anyone in the country.”

In addition to the need to build a &#8220world-class” education system, Riley said citizens' trust must be restored in state government.

&#8220You should be skeptical of all politicians, but somewhere along the way in Alabama, we moved from skepticism to downright cynicism – it's like a paralysis in this state. Overcome that cynicism, and it emboldens you to do things you would not otherwise try.”

The governor urged his audience, &#8220Do not accept mediocrity…imagine what we could do if we put as much effort, support and high expectations into our classrooms, as we our football teams.”