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Roy Moore's Effect On Alabama's Economy


For weeks now, Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, has denied allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. There are some in Alabama's business community who fear the more controversy will make recruiting companies and jobs to their state more difficult. From member station WBHM, Andrew Yeager reports.

ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: Back in September, then-Birmingham Mayor William Bell and other elected officials stood before the media in a downtown park.


WILLIAM BELL: First of all, I want to thank everybody for coming out. I know everyone got a lot to call about this box in the background.

YEAGER: The box towering over them is made up like a package from Amazon. It was part of Birmingham's campaign to land Amazon's proposed second headquarters. The city might be a longshot, but the state has landed many big names in the automotive industry in advanced manufacturing - Mercedes, Honda and Airbus, to name a few. State economic development leaders promote Alabama as a low-tax state with a low cost of living. But headlines of a Senate candidate and sexual assault - that's problematic.

SUSAN PACE HAMILL: Roy Moore is a disaster for business and economic development. He was a disaster even before the allegations.

YEAGER: Susan Pace Hamill teaches business law at the University of Alabama. She says recruiting high-profile projects is highly competitive.

HAMILL: The fear is that his presence will tip the scales, causing the business to choose somebody else.

JENNIFER SKJELLUM: Anything that makes Alabama look backward does not bode well for the business climate.

YEAGER: Jennifer Skjellum is the outgoing president of Tech Birmingham, an organization that promotes and recruits tech companies and talent. As a native Californian, she says people, particularly from politically progressive parts of the country, will ask her what Alabama is really like, though she says it's often based on general perception in a specific news story. Her concern is not that the Roy Moore controversy would make or break a software company coming to the state but that it would drive away talent long term - even homegrown workers.

SKJELLUM: Like, I don't want to be associated with Alabama. And maybe I went to school there, but this is not a place that I feel is conducive to how I want to live my life.

YEAGER: Dennis Donovan is a principal with a consulting firm that specializes in site selection. He doesn't expect Roy Moore to have a widespread effect on business in Alabama. Donovan says you might see it with consumer brands and high-tech companies, which are more image-conscious.

DENNIS DONOVAN: If you're the high-technology company, you're footloose. You can go almost any place. Once you start getting into these automobile plants and so forth, based on logistics and infrastructure, it starts to narrow down fairly quickly where you're going to go.

YEAGER: Donovan praises Alabama officials for working to change perceptions of the state. For instance, Birmingham has received accolades for its food scene. But Donovan says if Roy Moore is elected, it hurts those efforts. A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Commerce declined to comment, and the state has weathered a string of recent political scandals.

Its House speaker was convicted of bribery last year. The previous governor resigned this spring from the fallout of an alleged affair with his top adviser. But Jennifer Skjellum of Tech Birmingham says this moment could be different because issues of sexual misconduct have hit so many organizations, including NPR, becoming such a topic of conversation.

SKJELLUM: Anything that shows Alabama voters or leaders not really thinking that this matters, that this is serious enough is a problem.

YEAGER: She doesn't think a Roy Moore victory is insurmountable for those in her line of work. It just might mean longer conversations with people not from Alabama. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Yeager