Selma is least friendly city to business, report finds

Published 10:42pm Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In mid-March, Gov. Robert Bentley was joined by economic development leaders from throughout the state touting the industrial and economic expansion the state had seen in 2012.

The 2012 New and Expanding Industries Report gave a county-by-county breakdown of the more than $5.4 million invested in new and expanding industries and the 20,847 jobs created. Among those highlighted in the report was Dallas County, which reported $42 million in investments and 150 new jobs.

In short, it was a strong report and success story local economic leaders were all too happy to share.

Now, local economic leaders are having to deal with statistics and figures in a report released by the Alabama Policy Institute that shows the city of Selma, specifically, is among the least business-friendly city’s in the state.

In a report titled “Building Business in Alabama: How Business-Friendly Are Alabama’s 50 Largest Cities?,” Selma is listed as the worst of the 50 and in some statistical categories — including the overall scoring — has only worsened in its standing from the 2012 report to the 2013 report released in mid-March.

The findings were unveiled over the past few days by Yellowhammerpolitics.com, with the group unveiling 10 cities each day, beginning with the bottom ten last Wednesday and ending with the top 10 Tuesday. The city of Fairhope in Baldwin County was named the most business-friendly city in Alabama.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, even from the bottom because some of those cities at the bottom have said ‘this is an opportunity to know where we are and improve,’” said Alabama Policy Institute policy director and general counsel Cameron Smith. “The goal of the report is to not do economic development for anybody, but to let people know where they are.”

In building its score for each city, the report was broken down into four areas, each with a different weight. Economic vitality was 35 percent of the overall score, while business tax burden was 30 percent of the overall score. Community allure was 20 percent, while transportation infrastructure carrying 15 percent of the total.

In the area of economic vitality, those analyzing the report factored in recent job growth, residential population growth from 2010 to 2011, population growth from 2000 to 2012 and median per capita income.

Of all 50 cities in the report, Selma received the second lowest score with a 9.57. Only Eufaula was ranked lower.

The other area where Selma registered with low marks was in the area of community allure where factors such as cost of living index, per capita violent crime rate, percent of adults age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma and average SAT 10 scores for eighth-grade math and reading were used.

In this particular area, Selma again was ranked the second lowest of any of the cities in the report and received the worst score of participating cities in the per capita violent crime with a 0.00 score. High school graduation rates and SAT scores were also among the last of all 50 cities.

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said the validity of the report is highly questionable, not because of the statistics but the categories used to determine what makes a city more business-friendly than another.

“What can I do with it,” Vardama, said. “It’s irrelevant. We are going to keep doing what we are doing and keep trying to get better regardless of these kinds of reports.

“I just question why they put this report out in the first place. Who does it help? How does it help any of us?”

Smith said he understands those who would be bothered by some of the report’s findings, but said the report is not intended to be used to help or hurt economic development, but rather intended to show cities where they stand in areas the Alabama Policy Institute feels are important to businesses.

“This is an opportunity at the same time — someone would say that for those in the top 25 this is a carrot and for those in the bottom 25 it’s a stick — but our contention all along in looking at public policy issues, is we need to have a discussion about these factors,” Smith said. “If someone tells me in economic development that we need to hide the fact that certain areas have an oppressive tax burden or a crime problem or something like that, then well, I don’t know how helpful that is either. I think acknowledging these issues — not in a manner of explaining them away — are important.”

This is not the first time API has compiled this business-friendly report. The 2012 report was released in early September and Selma earned a ranking of 43 compared to the 50 ranking it received in the 2013 report.

In the four key areas tracked in the report, Selma saw its numbers worsen in economic vitality and community allure, while the city slightly improved in business tax burden. In transportation infrastructure, the city earned the same score in the 2013 report as it did in the 2012 report.

Both reports are available online at www.alabamapolicy.org, listed under “Reports” and then “White Papers.”

“We look at this as an opportunity to improve and again, we hope that municipalities look at this report in the same way,” Smith said. “This is not saying that ‘you’re bad and you need to stay that way,’ it simply says that you need to be aware.”

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