MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- When American Honda Motor Co. Inc. recently announced it will build a new auto plant in Lincoln, much of the credit went to David Bronner, chief executive of the state's $23 billion pension fund.
Mr. Bronner met three or four times with the consultant on the project, James White, president of Porter White & Yardley, Birmingham, to help develop a strategy to bring Honda to Alabama. "I help guide the process along. In this case, we discussed the conditions of the state and what we could do for a client that big," Mr. Bronner said.
The pension chief, who has been running the retirement system since 1973, also has been one of the state's most active promoters.
Neal Wade, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, said Mr. Bronner is one of the state's most important recruiters.
"He can offer financing from the pension plan to companies who might want to come to Alabama. Honda wasn't looking for financing. But that resource is immeasurable. Dave always makes himself available for whatever is needed, whether it's for discussion, dinner, financing or golf."
Says Mr. Bronner, "When we put people in higher paying jobs, it helps the economy of the state, which in turn helps the pension fund."
The Honda plant, scheduled to begin production in the spring of 2002, will create 1,300 new jobs, said Jeff Smith, spokesman at Honda.
The effort to bring Honda to Alabama took 14 months, said Mr. Bronner, who noted he's involved in trying to bring other new companies to Alabama. While he declined to provide names, there have been reports the state is courting Volkswagen of North America and Mitsubishi.
Mr. Bronner became a serious recruiter of new business six years ago, when he successfully helped state officials woo Mercedes Benz to open a plant in Tuscaloosa.
"It was their first plant outside of Germany and that helped put the state on the map," Mr. Bronner said. He went to Germany twice to participate in the discussions with Mercedes and the system also invested $100 million in Mercedes, most of which went for training programs.
The new plant created 1,500 new jobs that paid workers a higher rate than most jobs in the state, which in turn made it easier for the state to recruit other industries, Mr. Bronner said.
The pension fund also has put its money where its mouth is by investing in some other newcomers to the state. It invested $25 million in a Wal-Mart distribution center and $300 million in Alabama River Pulp Co. Inc., and will invest $100 million in Ipsco Steel Inc., one of the recent recruits.
"We're very different from states like Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania," Mr. Bronner pointed out. "Those states have several different pension funds, which means there are lots of different directors and they can be more low key. They can take a 'Let Mikey do it' approach. But in Alabama, we're the only game in town. It's evident if we're not actively involved in bringing in new businesses, the state stays poor."
Said Kip Porter, executive vice president at Porter White & Yardley: "Dave is a good communicator. He knows business. He knows corporate finance. He's also very knowledgeable about Alabama, markets and business."
Mr. Wade estimated Mr. Bronner has been involved in at least 25 to 30 projects to bring businesses to the state.
Those include Boeing Co. Inc., which opened a facility in Decatur two years ago; Trico Steel Co. LLC, which opened in Decatur in 1994; Ipsco Steel, which recently announced it will open a plant in Mobile, creating 300 jobs; and Navistar International Corp., which will create 800 new jobs through its new facility in Huntsville.
Mr. Porter said both the state and the pension fund benefit if Alabama has a diversified array of industries with a strong wage base. The auto plant manufacturing jobs pay around $18 an hour, double the $9 an hour earned by most of the state's hourly workers, he said. "If wages go up, more money flows into the pension plan and everybody wins," Mr. Porter said.