Episode 1 features City of Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. We cover everything from a new hotel coming to the riverfront, to new encouraging crime stats and Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama.

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[00:00:00] Bradley Byrne: Hello and welcome to our first episode of the Mobile Matters Podcast, powered by the Mobile Chamber. We’ll dive deeper into important topics that make a significant impact on Mobile, Alabama’s thriving business community. I’m your host, Bradley Byrne, the CEO and President of the Mobile Chamber. Today, you are in for a treat.

[00:00:29] We’re going to cover everything from a new hotel coming to the waterfront to the most recent crime stats (which are good) and Mardi Gras. I’m eager to introduce today’s guest, our first guest on the podcast, Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who just happens to be on the front page of Business Alabama. So we picked a good day to bring you in, Mayor.  So good to have you. 

[00:00:50] Sandy Stimpson: Bradley, I appreciate it. It’s great to be here. As I recently remarked about it being a golden era. City of Mobile, are you ready to take a victory lap? And I tell them, absolutely not. I don’t know if this is the golden era. But there’s more going on in our city than any time during my 71 years of living here.

[00:01:12] Bradley Byrne: Well, I can beat that. I’ve talked to Blacksher White-Spunner, a local real estate developer, who’s 97. But he told me it has never been better. So I’ll take that. 

[00:01:27] Sandy Stimpson: Well, you know, it’s a team effort, and we’re just fortunate. It’s like any sports team, when you have momentum on your side, which we have momentum right now, you’ve got to score points.

[00:01:30] Bradley Byrne: There you go. Well, speaking of scoring points, here in January, we already scored a couple points. We had a great article in Forbes Magazine this month that says that our port is the second fastest growing port in the country. Now, not the fastest growing container port, the second fastest growing port of all kinds. Airports, seaports, ports of entry on the border. Our port is on fire. 

[00:02:00] Sandy Stimpson: Amazing. And if you back up, which I think you have to do, is look at the investment that has been made over the years. You probably have to back up, I’ll just say the last 10 or 15 years. The future investment that we will have, it looks like it’s going to continue to grow like that.

[00:02:15] And we were a little late to the game on container port business, but we are, you know, the fastest growing container port in the last several years. And it all has to do with the infrastructure and really the business relationships. COVID helped us because of the ports being blocked out on the East Coast and the West Coast.

[00:02:34] People always kind of maybe thought about, you know, the port of Mobile, but then they realized they had to do something different than an East Coast option or the West Coast option. And they realized the benefits that we have shipping into the city of Mobile because the infrastructure that already exists.

[00:02:53] It’s not just the port, the deepening and the widening which we all know happened in a couple years, but it’s the five class one railroads, it’s the two interstates, it’s the two airports. I mean, it’s just our time. 

[00:03:12] Bradley Byrne: It’s not just a port. We’ve got some other good mentions this month in the Wall Street Journal. Why don’t you tell us about that? 

[00:03:09] Sandy Stimpson: Yeah, so, you know, there’s been so much focus over the years, the decades really, about Silicon Valley and all the job growth of tech happening there. But what people have realized is it’s so expensive in Silicon Valley and the quality of life, you know, when you have expenses, that these young budding entrepreneurs can’t afford, they start looking elsewhere.

[00:03:34] And so in this Wall Street Journal article, we were mentioned as business growth and business license applications in the city of Mobile, specifically, the city of Mobile was up 127%. 

[00:03:54] Bradley Byrne: 127%. That’s just remarkable. And you think about it, there was already a fairly good growth going on before that, so for it to increase that much in one year.

[00:03:55] Yeah. Remarkable. That’s, you know, there have been remarkable things happening here for several years. Last year, 2023 was remarkable for a lot of things. I mean, the city’s finances were great. We had a very successful annexation  vote that makes us the second largest city in the state. I love to tell my friends from Birmingham, we’re bigger than Birmingham.

[00:04:14] And, uh, you know, a lot of major projects coming on, moving the airport, starting the construction on the bridge over Mobile Bay and the deepening and widening of the ship channel, as you mentioned, it’s just great stuff going on. But last month in December, you just made a really important announcement about a new hotel on the waterfront. Tell us about it.

[00:04:33] Sandy Stimpson: Yeah, so, you know, we’ve always realized that you talk about a chicken and an egg, sometimes this has to happen before that has to happen. Well, at the end of the day, people that are moving businesses here, whether it’s the hotel business or something else, they want to feel good about the business climate and what the opportunity for growth is.

[00:04:53] Because if they don’t have the opportunity for growth and to make money, you know, this is just not going to happen, you know, they’ll invest elsewhere. But so the Kessler group decided they, after really probably 18 months of due diligence, realized that there’s an opportunity to put a Class 1 hotel, a boutique hotel, at the north end of our convention center right on the river.

[00:05:18] It’s spectacular. The rendering is absolutely spectacular, but what it does is it’s going to connect, the entertainment district, you know, to the water and the water to the entertainment district. And it’s also going to be probably the highest class hotel that we have. And so, it will fit into what I think tourists and conventions are looking for.

[00:05:43] From a convention standpoint, you know, the people that are leadership in these organizations that choose your city. Now, they would like to have a small boutique hotel where the leadership can go stay, maybe not at the big hotel. And so, this fits that little niche there, but from a tourist standpoint, there are so many people coming through Mobile who go on to the beaches, and if there is something really special to stop for, which this hotel will be Riverwalk Plaza.

[00:06:12] Uh, it’ll be amazing. So, anyway, we’re really excited. Probably won’t have a groundbreaking until 2025, but it’s already created more conversation about changing the image of the City of Mobile. I love to tell the story that, and you know, this Bradley for years, Mike Dow was selling that string of pearls.

[00:06:33] It’s all about string of pearls and how it’s tying it all together for downtown Mobilians. And I made the comment, well, any lady that has a string of pearls would love to have a really nice diamond to go with it. And so Riverwalk Plaza is going to be the diamond that we’ve been looking for.

[00:06:50] Bradley Byrne: Yeah, you know, and you mentioned for tourists, I think it’s a pretty good thing for people in Mobile, too. People like me will get to enjoy just going there. Being in a structure like that, hopefully we’ll have some nice restaurants. 

[00:07:00] Sandy Stimpson: We’re going to have three restaurants and a rooftop bar, and not only is it a hotel, but it’s going to be office space and condominiums.

[00:07:21] So, we are probably saving a condominium on the roof for you. Thank you. 

[00:07:24] Bradley Byrne: Thank you. I’m gonna have to get a good second job. Maybe we’ll share. We can share, share. That’s right. So, we also had a great year last year, uh, in jobs. We announced over 2,000 new jobs. A lot of that has to do with the way that we work together. So, tell everybody about what Team Mobile is.

[00:07:30] Sandy Stimpson: So, Team Mobile, you know, really started way before I was the mayor. I mean, it was the concept we were going to take all the stakeholders, the city, the county, it was going to be the airport, the port, University of South Alabama. I probably left someone out, I hope I didn’t.

[00:07:50] But anyway, they were going to meet on a regular basis, to discuss the opportunities, to try to make sure that they weren’t all operating in their single silos. And they did a magnificent job, and when I look back on it, I think that the Chamber of Commerce, the leadership of Win Hallett, had so much to do with establishing the foundation for Team Mobile and the things that they did, because it was really Team Mobile, along with the Team Alabama, you know, that landed Airbus, that landed TK, you know, so they have a real history of successes, and so now we are benefiting from the fruits of that, And I’d like to make the comment that, when in Team Mobile, when I was elected the mayor, you know, the previous mayor, even though it was a nonpartisan election, you know, people realized that he was a democrat and I was a republican.

[00:08:46] It’s just, it just dawned on me when I was elected, it didn’t matter what I was, I was representing the city of Mobile. I was representing everybody, and I think that’s why when you kind of become part of Team Mobile, you put a lot of the partisan thoughts that you may have apart and recognize now I have this responsibility to be a team player to move this city forward, and that’s why we’ve been successful.

[00:09:09] Bradley Byrne: You know, people remark from out of town about how things are going so well up here, and they say, yeah, we’re a 30 year overnight sensation because we’ve been working it. And I’m glad you brought up Win Hallett. Win was, for those of you that don’t know, Win was the CEO and President of the chamber for 20 years? Maybe more than that? And he was at the heart of so much of this and I can tell you as I travel around the country and meet other people that are chamber execs in other places, they all know him and they all ask about him. So we were blessed to have him. So enough about 2023, what do you see coming forward for 2024?

[00:09:38] Sandy Stimpson: So, I think it’s going to be a banner year, Bradley, but the job announcements and the things that are in the queue, other conversations that are going on about projects that can’t be publicly discussed at this point in time, it’s just, it’s just kind of an endless opportunity and I think that that challenge is really trying to keep all the balls in the air without them hitting us in the head or without us dropping a ball.

[00:10:09] And that takes a lot of coordination. And you can sell, sell, sell, but now we’ve got to deliver, deliver, deliver. And I think that’s what you’re going to be seeing in the next, really, couple of years. And, and that’s really the difficult part is to make sure that you do projects, you know, on time, on budget.

[00:10:27] Especially today with the supply chain issues. Time is a real challenge and because of inflation, you know, cost is a, is a bigger challenge. So we’ve got to work through all of that. And so you’ve got to figure out how you navigate it, but I think it’s going to be all right. 

[00:10:50] On that note, let’s take a little bit of time for a sponsor break. But when we come back, we’ll take a look at a few accomplishments from Mobile. Our new standing as the second largest city in the state. These great new, stats on crime and we gotta talk about Mardi Gras, so when we come back, we’ll be able to get into it.

[00:11:15] The Mobile Chamber is proud to introduce thebusinessview.com, our newest tool to share Mobile’s business news, dive into community updates, success stories, and company spotlights, all brought to you by the vibrant Mobile business community on thebusinessview.com we will apply local achievements and keep you in the know. Thebusinessview.com where Mobile success stories come alive. 

[00:11:50] Bradley Byrne: We’re back on the Mobile Matters podcast with Mobile Mayor, Sandy Simpson. Talk to me about logistics. 

[00:12:00] I made some comments about the infrastructure being able to get the containers and the product away from the port to the port. Now, specifically, we didn’t mention some of the logistics side like the South Alabama Logistics Park

[00:12:06] Which is Burton Property Group that did that. Huge investment, and so that’s going to be a game changer, but you’ve got to have those type of investments for the port to really be able to be maximized. 

[00:12:24] Bradley Byrne: Yeah, we’re very lucky to have Phillip Burton. He’s really put his heart and soul into it. He also helped put his heart and soul into that new hotel down at the waterfront. 

[00:12:33] Sandy Stimpson: Yeah, and I forgot to say that, but absolutely, and then for Phillip, I’m not sure if he could have convinced Laura Kessler. Stay around for a while and really do our due diligence. So thanks to both Laura and and enough.

[00:12:38] Bradley Byrne: Yeah, great members of the chamber. Okay, annexation. How cool is that? 

[00:12:48] Sandy Stimpson: It’s really cool. You know I didn’t realize how many people didn’t think it could really happen until after it was over and you confided in me. They thought we thought you were crazy. And I said, well, maybe I was but we had a team that identified how it could be done.

[00:13:00] And really, we haven’t done anything in the last 10 years that we put more energy and effort into than trying to make that happen because of what it would mean to the City of Mobile. And I think it is, it will be the game changer going forward because of opportunities that will come from having those individuals as citizens of the City of Mobile.

[00:13:22] I mean, I think that’s different than being somebody that just lives around the Mobile area. And these are people that can participate, run for public office, bring their, their heart, their soul, their passion, their knowledge to the table. And so it’s just a, it’s one of the, I think the biggest things that we’ve been able to accomplish so far.

[00:13:40] Bradley Byrne: Well, one thing you’ve already changed is crime. We’ve got some great news on the statistics about crime in Mobile. Tell us. 

[00:13:59] Yep. So if you look across the nation, 2021, post COVID was the high watermark for crime everywhere, even in Mobile. And it’s because we let so many people out of jail that should never have been let out of jail. And, but that happened. And so if you look from 21 to 22, look at the crime stats there, uh, we were down 20 percent in homicides. Okay. We were down 10 percent in just overall violent crime, again, from 21 to 22. From 22 to 23, we’re down another 20 percent, uh, in homicides and another 10 percent in violent crime.

[00:14:22] So, when you look at that trend, I mean, it’s getting back to where we know that we need to be, I continually say, that, uh, continuously say that if you don’t have a safe city, eventually you won’t even have a city. You can look around the nation at these, where there’s so much violent crime, but in our situation.

[00:14:40] We recognize it’s not just policing, it’s a community effort, and policing is a huge part of that. So, we’re always trying to encourage various groups to help us help them help each other so that we can reduce crime. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the education system, it’s the church, it’s the family, but we’re trying to keep all of those balls in there all the time, looking for new ideas so that we can reduce crime.

[00:15:07] Sandy Stimpson: Well, you’re doing a great job, and we all see it and appreciate it. Okay, we think we just finished Christmas and here we are with Mardi Gras right on top of us. I know that there’s a lot of work the city does about that, but we’re prepared for a Mardi Gras this year, aren’t we, Mayor? 

[00:15:24] Sandy Stimpson: Absolutely. We have a lot of construction going on, if you hadn’t noticed it. But even with that, we’re ready. Uh, we have, last year, I think, we put up the Mardi Gras dashboard, which has a lot of up to date, I mean, instantaneous information about where to park and different things, and maybe changes that just, that people want to know. They’re driving downtown, they don’t remember this. 

[00:15:43] Go to the Mardi Gras Dashboard on our website and you’ll be able to get the most up to date information. I’d say since you brought up Mardi Gras, I think it’s just amazing what public safety intermediaries do. It’s fire and police, amazing job, and these guys are working, they’re really stretched.

[00:16:01] By the time Mardi Gras day is here, you know, they’re, they’re running on fumes. 

[00:16:12] Bradley Byrne: And God they’re worn out.

[00:16:14] Sandy Stimpson: Yeah. And this, and the public works guys in the South. Same, yeah. They come showcase themselves, where people hang around after the parade, they want to see, see it cleaned up. And when you get somebody from another city.

[00:16:18] That’s never seen that, they are just absolutely nutties, so how in the world did y’all make that happen? Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t make that happen, but what has happened is they have taken so much pride in what they’re doing. And they recognize now that people appreciate it and they’re watching so they kind of put on a show about cleaning up. They put on a really good show and they’ll wet you with water if you’re not careful.

[00:16:41] Bradley Byrne: I’ve seen that. Mayor, for joining us our first podcast great things are happening Mobile. We’re glad that the chamber can be a part of that. Before we go I do want to tell our listeners about a new project from the Mobile Chamber thebusinessview.com. There’s so many positive stories coming from our Mobile community and this is the place we can shout those from the rooftop.

[00:17:06] On this business news website, we are celebrating our region’s successes and keeping the community well informed and connected. You’ll find the Mobile Matters podcast there, as well as a link to our community calendar. That’s thebusinessview.com. Well, from the heart of the Mobile Business Community, this is the Mobile Matters Podcast, powered by the Mobile Chamber, and joined today by Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

[00:17:30] Sandy Stimpson: Can I say one closing thing? 

[00:17:34] Bradley Byrne: I’m not going to tell you not to. 

[00:17:38] Sandy Stimpson: Okay, so, as a previous chairman of the Chamber, I would encourage anybody, everybody, to be a member of the Chamber. I mean, they have done a remarkable job over the last 30 plus years. And with the momentum we have and the things that they’re involved in, and specifically workforce development and job creation, I mean, they’re on it.

[00:17:56] So if you want to be a part of it and you don’t know how to participate, join the chamber. 

[00:18:07] Bradley Byrne: Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for joining us on this podcast.