Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley toured the Airbus facility in Mobile on Tuesday, holding the company up as a prime example of economic development and job creation while resolutely deflecting questions about his political future.
Bentley has visited the Airbus Final Assembly Line (FAL) before, including the occasion in spring 2016 when it delivered its first finished jetliner to the plane’s new owner. But this was his first time to tour the FAL during regular operations.
“I just want to say what an honor it is to come and visit Airbus,” Bentley said, talking about the state’s long campaign to bring an Airbus production facility to the state. “When the tanker project went down, we felt like commercial aircraft really would be the way to go, and I worked very closely with the company for a number of months … and then they decided to come back to Mobile.”
“It’s so good to come on day like today, when it’s a work day rather than a celebration day,” he said. “The last time I was here, the first JetBlue airplane took off … This is a day when everyone is working, and I was able to talk to workers and let them explain to me what they were doing.”
Bentley praised the company for the number of jobs it has created, which he said are close to 600 now and could hit 1,000 by the time it reaches full capacity. Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker said those figures include not only full-time employees but contract workers and indirect job creation related to the FAL.
Bentley also praised the company for its workforce makeup, which he said included about 15 percent women and 30 percent veterans. “Fifteen percent does not seem like a lot,” the governor said, “but in certain industries it is a lot.”
Bentley went on to say that the fact many women were working in hi-tech jobs at Airbus could help inspire a new generation of female students to pursue careers in technical fields. He said his emphasis on high-quality pre-K programs was intended to give students a good foundation for an education that would qualify them for such work, and that he also had put a heavy emphasis on workforce training.
“Education is the key because companies are going to come where they have well-trained individuals.”
Bentley spoke with several workers during his tour and said he enjoyed the experience. He was impressed by the pride they take in their work.
Bentley firmly refused to take any questions about the possibility that the state legislature could consider impeachment proceedings when it resumes work in April.
A scandal involving Bentley, a female aide and his possible misuse of state resources to facilitate a relationship has simmered since last spring, and the state Ethics Commission is expected to rule soon on whether he broke the law.
“I’m not going to address that,” he said. “You want to ask me questions about the healthcare bill, or you want to ask me questions about what I did in Washington last week, things like this, I’ll be glad to answer.”
If the commission says criminal charges are warranted, a push for impeachment likely will gain steam. Rumors have swirled that the governor might resign in April to avoid that situation; his office has firmly denied that he plans to do so.