By Kim West
The search for an open table during the height of the daily lunch rush at LuVici’s became a bigger challenge than usual Thursday after Gov. Robert Bentley and a slew of local officials ducked into the downtown restaurant following the governor’s Road to Economic Recovery Tour in Limestone County.
Bentley began with a morning meeting with local business, education and government officials at Athens State University’s Center for Lifelong Learning and then visited a pair of Athens manufacturing companies, TR Electrical and Turner Medical Precision Machining.
“We were here not only to talk to business owners and residents, but to listen to them as well,” said Jeremy King, director of communications for the governor’s office, following Thursday’s lunch. “We received a lot of feedback about hiring and the need to have skilled workers, and that may have been the most important conversation (Thursday) with business leaders ...”
Earlier this year, the governor formed a College and Career Ready Task Force that brings together education and business leaders to produce a skilled workforce that will attract additional industry to the state.
“The task force unites teachers and educators from 2-year and 4-year colleges with the business community and employers so employers can talk about skills needed in the workforce and educators can use their expertise to develop curriculum to support that,” King said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this week that Alabama finished July with the second-lowest unemployment rate — 6.3 percent — in the Southeast and the lowest in the Deep South. The state’s unemployment rate measured 7.6 percent in July 2012.
Ronnie Coffman, chairman of the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee, was among the local officials at Thursday’s lunch with the governor. Coffman said the governor has established a strong record in recruiting industry and creating jobs in the state.
“We have a great governor for Alabama, and I don’t know if we’re going to have anyone oppose him (in next year’s gubernatorial election),” said Coffman. “He is out there recruiting industry, and that’s going to continue to help Limestone County. I think he’s been one of the best governors we’ve had.”
Florence resident Roy Baskins, 61, drove from Lauderdale County to shop at the U.G. White hardware store next door and stopped in for lunch before shopping for an outdoorsman hat. Baskins, a union member and retired aluminum plant worker, was not among the dozens of people lining up to take pictures with the governor.
“I vote straight Democrat so I did not vote for the governor. I’m retired from Reynolds Aluminum (in Muscle Shoals), and I’ve always been a union guy,” said Baskins as he ate at a nearby table from the governor’s traveling party. “I think he has been good at creating jobs but I would like to see him support the teachers more. I think him and the (Alabama Education Association) need to make up and shake hands.”