Local cities rank low on group’s business-friendly list
by Daniel Gaddy
dgaddy@annistonstar.com
Apr 06, 2013 | 6674 views |  0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Birmingham-based research group published a report this week ranking Alabama’s 50 largest cities according to how business friendly they are. Anniston placed 48th and Oxford 43rd.

Other east Alabama cities received similar rankings, with Talladega at 46 and Gadsden at 41.

The list was compiled by the Alabama Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization that, according to its website, is “dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.”

Researchers with the institute looked at four areas to determine a city’s business friendliness: business tax burden, economic vitality, access to transportation and community allure.

Economic vitality was calculated by a community’s rates of job and population growth as well as its median income per person. By those standards, Anniston ranked 45th, with Oxford 41st, Talladega 48th and Gadsden 36th.

Community allure was measured by crime rate, graduation rate, cost of living and school test scores. In that area, Anniston finished last, with Oxford at 20th, Talladega at 43rd and Gadsden at 36th.

Business tax burden was calculated by looking at sales taxes and business property taxes. From that aspect, Anniston ranked 38th, with Oxford at 30th, Talladega at 22nd and Gadsden at 27th.

Access to transportation was calculated by measuring a city’s distance from major airports, rail lines, shipping ports and interstates. In that regard, Anniston ranked 39th, with Oxford at 38th, Talladega at 37th and Gadsden at 44th.

Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he understands that Anniston would rank low in some areas, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to call the city unfriendly to business.

“We know there’s room for improvement in all fronts and we’re working to make those improvements,” he said.

He said city leaders will soon develop a strategic plan for the city and form community task forces to address the goals of that plan. Once those are in place, he said, Anniston’s current ranking among the cities can serve as a benchmark and he invites the API to take a look at the area in four years.

Anniston City Planner Toby Bennington said API researchers seem to have looked at the right data. However, he believes the report comes at a time when Anniston has not fully recovered from a tremendous economic slowdown prompted by the 2008 financial crisis.

“My opinion is that it’s an unfair period to gauge a community and its vitality,” he said.

Efforts to reach Oxford Mayor Leon Smith were unsuccessful Friday.

John Hill, a senior policy analyst for API, said a few people have taken issue with the criteria used to rank the cities. Though there’s no perfect model, he said, API researchers feel the four areas covered in the report are the chief aspects businesses look at when considering a location.

“We’re not trying to rag on anybody with this … We just wanted to see what’s out there,” he said.

Hill said the report can provide a valuable tool to cities hoping to improve their attractiveness to businesses. He also said communities can quickly move from the bottom of the list to the middle by improving a few criteria.

Hill cautioned that the researchers only studied the communities strictly within the city limits. He said an interesting follow-up study might be to compare the larger metropolitan areas of the 50 cities.

Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @DGaddy_star.
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