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Ainsworth gains allies; per diem increases; and more in this week’s Off The Record

Off The Record: The latest rumors and rumblings in North Alabama


The Ainsworth angle

Lt Gov. Will Ainsworth’s push to widen Interstate 65 has run in to some opposition from Gov. Kay Ivey. The two have traded public jabs over the issue with Ivey citing the high cost of the project as a roadblock. The governor is instead moving forward with her plan to widen U.S. 43 from Tuscaloosa to Mobile – a stance which drew criticism from Ainsworth who cited that U.S. 43 has “less than 1/20th of the traffic count” on I 65.

Trump agrees

Meanwhile, Ainsworth seems to have recruited a major ally in the roadway war of words in former President Donald Trump. When Trump took the stage in Montgomery for the ALGOP Summer Meeting, he quickly proclaimed that one of his first actions in a second term would be to widen I-65 from Tennessee to Mobile. The record-breaking crowd responded with energetic applause. No word if Ivey, also in the crowd, responded quite so enthusiastically.

Carl, too

Ainsworth continues to court new allies that could help him in a run for governor and his push to prioritize I-65. Last week, he hosted a Guntersville fundraiser with his parents for U. S. Rep. Jerry Carl of Mobile. Carl, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, represents Mobile County which is the ending point for I-65 and U.S. 43. The congressman did not make any comments about the two routes but it is clear to most observers that the Port of Mobile would be much better served by a widened I- 65 and Carl’s constituents in Baldwin County would love to see North Alabama travel times to the beach shortened.

Per diem increase

As the FBI continues to grow at Redstone Arsenal and begins ramping up its training missions, their leadership has been very vocal about the lack of government-rate hotel rooms available in the region. As post-COVID travel has boomed, Huntsville and Madison hotels are routinely full and at a higher rate than the $98 per night government rate. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) partners with the lodging industry to provide travelers with Federal Travel Regulation-compliant accommodations that are at or below per diem. Local officials and hotel developers have been pushing the GSA to take another look at the Huntsville market with a goal of seeing that rate increased. It seems the GSA listened to those arguments and this week raised the rate to $127 per night. The 30% increase in the rate is unprecedented and now makes Huntsville’s rate the highest in Alabama after Baldwin County, where competition for rooms from beach tourists drives up the rate.

Help wanted

A tight local labor market won’t be getting better anytime soon. Word is that Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has now added a second shift siphoning more out of the local labor pool. This will mean workforce development and recruiting workers to re-locate will gain even more steam. As Mazda Toyota continues toward full production, it will have a ripple effect requiring more employees for their suppliers.

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