STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS 2020
The State of the City 2020. DELIVERED BY MAYOR KENNETH E. GULLEY AT THE BESSEMER CIVIC CENTER.
START TO THE
NEW DECADE IN
“To the members of the Bessemer City Council, elected officials, the business community, religious leaders, employees and to all
residents of the great Marvel City of Bessemer, Good Evening. I’d like to start tonight, as always, by giving honor to the Almighty God. It is He who has allowed each us to be here this evening. I’d like to thank my assistant Toraine for that introduction. Thank you.
I would like to introduce The First Lady of Bessemer and my lovely wife, Mrs. Yvonne Whitely Gulley. Yvonne, would
you please stand. I want to take a moment and acknowledge any other elected officials in the audience tonight. If you don’t mind, would you
please stand and be recognized. Thank you for attending tonight.
I stood before you at the beginning of a decade 10 years ago to deliver my first State of the City of Bessemer address. This is the start of a new decade and I am privileged to stand before you tonight and deliver this State of the city of Bessemer address. As this new decade dawns with all its possibilities, let us all call to mind some of the awesome achievements of the last 10 years. By working together, we have achieved great things in this city.
Bessemer’s continued growth is to be celebrated and our story is one the world needs to hear. Bessemer is and always has been a rich city. She has birthed great people who have gone to fame both here and abroad in fields such as music, athletics, academics and the arts.
Bessemer is rich in its history, rich in its heritage and rich in its sense of community. She is rich in natural resources, has a rich location, has rich amenities, but most importantly, she is rich because she has great people. Bessemer has survived depressions and recessions. She has survived wars abroad and wars at home.
She has survived man-made and natural disasters. Even when she has fallen on hard times, Bessemer has rebounded. Bessemer is a city that survives and thrives! It is why we still call her The Marvel City. It is why I stand here tonight, recognizing the rich history we all share, to tell you that the State of our city is indeed strong and she is ready to embrace her future.
The economic climate in Bessemer is as strong as ever before and is the envy of many communities in this county and state. The eyes of the world are watching Bessemer because we have recruited major industries to our city and prepared ourselves for an even greater tomorrow.
In March, Amazon will open its 325 million dollar Fulfillment Center on Powder Plant Road, putting some 1500 to 3000 individuals to work and creating a 202 million dollar economic impact on Jefferson County.
Amazon is in the midst of the recruiting and hiring process as we speak, and has reached out to agencies such as the Bessemer Housing Authority and Lawson State Community College to recruit employees from right here in this community. I have told you before how big this
investment is for our city, county and state. These new jobs will expand our tax base and pump millions into our school system.
By partnering with agencies such as the state, county, the Birmingham Business Alliance, Alabama Power, U.S. Steel and
the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority we made this project a reality. Amazon made it clear transportation was
one of the important pieces of recruiting them to our city.
I asked for and the City Council approved transit dollars in this year’s budget to fund the extension of a transit route to the
Amazon facility. Our economic progress is due in part to cultivating local and state partnerships. These partnerships helped us land
Amazon and this past year these partnerships recruited Carvana representing some 400 new jobs in our city. Plans to build a 40
million dollar center on Morgan Road and will further expand job opportunities and our tax base over the next decade.
Carvana is another example of how creating a business-friendly environment in Bessemer yields benefits for all our residents.
I can think of no other city of our size in the state of Alabama that has been as successful as Bessemer in recruiting businesses over the last decade. Our roster of businesses and industry is second to none and includes names such as the Dollar
General Distribution Center, Milo’s Tea, Steyr Arms, BLOX and so many others Bessemer is strong economically and is
emerging as an economic engine in both this state and the Southeast.
When Amazon and Carvana are up and running to full capacity, this administration will have created over 5000 jobs in the past
decade. Our unemployment rate stands at just 3.6 percent, the lowest in memory. Even with our low unemployment rate, there
is still much work to be done. Our challenge now is connecting our residents to these new jobs and opportunities coming into
our city. I have tasked my staff with finding ways to work with interested parties to develop the workforce in Bessemer to meet
the demands of these new jobs and the future.
Organizations such as Lawson State Community College and the Alabama Career Center have already reached out to my office to help us
bridge the gap with our workforce. My desire is that everyone in the city of Bessemer who wants a job can find one. Our Bessemer Airport continues to grow. This past year the Airport broke ground on a 10-unit hangar and Airport staff assures me the project is moving toward completion. Sanders Capital Partners, LLC a Birmingham based real estate development company purchased three corporate hangars at the airport.
Their recruiting efforts have resulted in an influx of corporate aircraft playing a significant role in the increase in fuel sales. Kinematix, LLC, a small engineering company develops and manufactures avionics equipment, does traffic accident reconstruction and vehicle dynamics testing and conducts work with the Department of Defense. This company relocated to the Bessemer Airport from Tupelo, Mississippi. As a result of
companies like this and more traffic at the airport, fuel sales increased and the airport sold a total of 372,184 gallons of fuel
Interest in the Airport from businesses continues to grow. Many companies in our city are expanding their operations. This past year our Building Inspections Department issued commercial building permits for construction projects totaling 84 million dollars. Even now, my office is overrun with calls from hotels and restaurants, interested in coming to Bessemer.
Recruiting businesses sometimes requires incentivizing their investments in our city and its people. If Bessemer is to remain competitive with other cities in our state and throughout the Southeast, we must be prepared to provide incentives when it is practical for our city. This year, I have asked the City Council to work more closely with me to identify what types of incentive packages to offer to perspective companies desiring to move to our city.
Last year our Building Department issued 7.1 million dollars in permits for the construction of residential housing. The influx of new companies will result in additional growth and the need for housing and other amenities. How we prepare for this development will be important.
My fellow citizens, a failure to plan for the future is nothing short of planning to fail. I have requested the City Council fund a master plan strategy for our city.
We must start thinking about the future, so that residents of communities can have a vision for their neighborhoods. This plan must include
Downtown Bessemer. We must look at our zoning and ordinances and rid ourselves of archaic zoning and ordinances as we face the challenges of the 21st Century.
We must also look at protecting the historic character present in this city so that future generations can understand the rich heritage of Bessemer. Trends show millennials returning to downtowns so we must position Downtown Bessemer as a place to live, work, shop, eat
and play. Many new businesses have already opened in recent years in our downtown. We have a National Historic District and
an Opportunity Zone designation we can capitalize upon to bring new investment into our downtown.
Some of you may have heard of the proposal to redevelop the former Bessemer City Hall into a mixed-use complex of housing and commercial space. We are still working with the developers on the proposal, but this proposal illustrates a need to create a stronger, more robust city centre. If we are to remain competitive with cities right here in Jefferson County into the future, we must prepare ourselves by showing outside interest
that Bessemer is a city with a vision for the future.
None of this economic expansion could happen without sound financial management. For the 8th consecutive year, city revenues increased. Tax revenues have grown 18 percent since 2015 and we added 80 new businesses to the city last year. We have made sound financial management a hallmark of this administration. We have promoted transparency in our financial records by having the city’s finance department and
Information Technology Department post our annual audits and budget on the city’s website. Our annual audits have been strong. Those audits show we have managed your tax dollars responsibly, with no hint of scandal or fraud.
We have continued to invest in our employees so they can do their jobs, as evidenced by a 2% cost-of-living increase in this year’s budget. We have been able to give employees a cost of- living increase for six of the last nine years. We have purchased new equipment in all of the departments. This year our Public Improvements Department is working with our IT department to provide an online map of garbage and trash
collection days for each community so that we can erase confusion over trash and garbage collection days and keep our neighborhoods cleaner.
After the devastating F2 tornado that hit our city in April 2014, I applied for a FEMA grant to build a safe room in the city of Bessemer and I am proud to announce in October of last year we opened the city’s first storm shelter and I am committed to working with federal, state and county partners to identify funding for additional storm shelters throughout the city. The physical safety of our citizens remains paramount as we
continue to move this city forward.
Over the past 10 years we have been able to secure federal grant funding and we have replaced three bridge culvers in city, paved Dartmouth Avenue from Highway 150 to the Lipscomb city limits, paved 4th Avenue from 18th Street to McAdory School Road, replaced and synchronized all traffic lights downtown and made all downtown intersections ADA accessible. We must continue to invest in our infrastructure.
This past year we completed a streetscape project along Third Avenue North in Downtown that includes new lighting, new sidewalks and benches. We improved the ADA accessibility around DeBardeleben Park and at Bessemer Utilities.
Our goal going forward is to continue paving our roadways and improving infrastructure in this city. Last year we began work on sidewalk projects which will allow our students a safe way to walk to Abrams, Hard and Jonesboro Elementary schools. We all know the Bessemer City School System faces great challenges. I’d like to take a moment and commend the members of the Bessemer Board of Education for their selection of Dr. Autumn Jeter as our new Superintendent of the Bessemer City School System. Dr. Jeter we look forward to great things from you, the board, teachers and support staff when it comes to advancing the Bessemer City Schools. As always, I want you to know that you have a friend in the Mayor’s office.
If we are to continue to grow as a community, our school system must be at the forefront of that transformation. None of this can be accomplished without the robust parental and community involvement in our schools. Parents and guardians, encourage your children to strive academically to be the very best they can be. This year we will begin on Phase II and III of our Rail Trail along Highway 150. These will include pedestrian bridges over Berkley and Arlington Avenues.
We are also in the design phase of constructing a pedestrian bridge across highway 150 to link the trail to the recreation center and Roosevelt Park. We will continue to invest in the quality of life components in our city. Our investments in amenities such as the Bessemer
Recreation Center are paying huge dividends for our citizens. The Bessemer Recreation Center now boasts a membership of
11,000 active members. It continues to host events such as Movie Night in the Park, swim classes, programs for our seniors, youth athletics and so much more.
We have continued to upgrade our parks by building a new playground and upgraded lighting at Abrams Park, installing new Splash Pad benches at McNeil Park and the building of new Tee-ball fields at Carver Park. Parks are such an integral part of building strong communities and we continue to invest greatly in our parks and recreation. Studies have even shown that recreation improves physical and mental health in communities.
Public Safety is an integral part of providing a great Quality of Life in our City. We have made great strides in recent years to address crime. Our crime rate continues to decline, as evidenced by a 4 percent drop in all violent crimes between 2018 and 2019. We witnessed reductions in burglaries, robberies, breaking and entering of vehicles and stolen vehicles.
This is due to the hiring and training of officers and efforts by the Bessemer Police Department to invest in Crime Prevention strategies.
However, my heart aches over the number of murders in our city. The number of homicides increased in 2019. Thirteen individuals lost their lives in our city due to senseless violence. I want to again encourage men and women to settle their differences without resorting to gun violence.
Again, I am calling on all agencies in this city to assist our police department in reaching both the vulnerable and those at risk. Intervention, especially among our youth, is important. Everyone, whether it is our faith-based community or local businesses, is involved in this fight.
Sometimes all that is needed to deter someone from crime is to point them in a better direction. For example, this past year
our Municipal Court implemented a program in association with Lawson State Community College called Arrested but Corrected, or ABC.
This program offered those with misdemeanor records an opportunity to have their records cleaned if they completed a free certification and job training program at Lawson State. Likewise, our police department continues to invest in programs such as Kids N Kops and the Marvel City Youth Program which aims to deter at-risk middle and high school students.
The Bessemer Police Department has partnered with the UAB Minority Health and Research Center and the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement on a $1 million grant opportunity to increase cooperation between our police department and the community in order to lower the crime rate and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. In light of the climate of our society today, the Bessemer Police Department is instituting Active Shooter Training for our churches.
Statistics show that armed confrontations and active shooting incidents are steadily increasing within our society and occurring at our places of worship more frequently. In response to these incidents we must have the conversation with our church leaders on steps to take to provide greater safety for their congregations and families.
It is the intent of the Bessemer Police Department to set up city wide training for the churches that will assist them with How to implement initial active shooter response plans and procedures; How to evacuate or lock down the church; How to select effective shelter in place
locations and How to effectively communicate that there is an active shooter incident underway. Also, our police department is initiating a Citizens Police Academy.
The purpose of the academy will be to familiarize citizens with the operation of the police department. The academy is intended to open lines of communication between the community and the police department. By allowing citizens a firsthand look at the police department and how operations are handled, it is our hope that citizens have a better understanding of the police role in the community. Additionally, citizens bring a wealth of knowledge about their community and particularly the problems in their neighborhoods. This enables the police to
learn and better understand the concerns of the citizens.
Finally, in an effort to keep our citizens safe, the Bessemer Police Department is instituting Self Defense Classes. In January of 2020 the Police Department held its first self defense awareness course. The classes were attended by approximately 75 citizens. We will be holding other classes throughout the year. These classes instruct citizens of the do’s and don’ts when moving about during their daily activities. We also demonstrate some techniques to use if approached by a criminal.
As I said earlier, Bessemer is strong. Through events like the Bob Sykes Blues and BBQ Festival, Jazz in the Park, Food Truck rallies and the Caribbean Festival we are exposing visitors to a true picture of Bessemer’s hospitality. Almost 10,000 people visited Bessemer last year to take part in these events. This does not include the thousands who come here each summer to Alabama Splash Adventure In closing, be reminded that we have a lot to be proud of here in Bessemer.
We have weathered storms that have destroyed other communities and emerged even stronger each time. It is why we can look to the future of this city with such hope and optimism. The promise of Bessemer shines brighter than ever before. Let us all continue, regardless of our race, age, or financial background to work together to take Bessemer to heights she has never reached.
My fellow citizens, our city is strong and our best days are yet to come.
So join me in "A STRONG START TO THE NEW DECADE IN BESSEMER".
May God bless each of you and May God Bless the Marvel City of Bessemer.
Thank you and good night.”