"It is actually my favorite time of every week," he said Thursday, while sitting down at the Pell City Steakhouse. "I get to get out of Montgomery and see the real Alabama."
Bentley and members of his staff took a whirlwind tour through the area on Thursday as part of his ongoing "Road to Economic Recovery Tour," which he says has taken him to two different counties in the state per week. His Thursday venture took him to the steakhouse, to Interstate Freight, to the St. Clair County's Economic Development Council and to Pell City Hall.
"I think he's a real down-to-earth fellow," said Charlie Browning, after taking him through the facility at Interstate Freight. "I think he's working really hard for Alabama."
Bentley noted two issues that he says are pressing on him daily in his role as the state's chief executive. One, the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP), which represents over $1 billion in road and bridge improvements within the state.
"It's the largest road program in our history," he said. "Everybody in the state is concerned about roads."
The other is the relationship between the state's industry and its education system. While visiting at Interstate Freight, Bentley lauded the business' endeavors to educate students about the truck driving industry.
"What they're doing here is exactly what we're trying to do in education," Bentley said. "They're going into the high schools. That's what we're going to have to do in our school systems."
County Commission chairman Stan Batemon called Bentley's efforts to unite industry and education a positive for the state.
"I hope we're going to continue that," he said. "That's one of the most positive developments we can have."
Bentley said everywhere he goes, the people ask how to recruit industry and jobs to their areas.
"Every area of the state is really different," he said. "Some counties don't even have economic development teams in place.
"We just try to put things together so we can show why their area would be a great place to put a business: their workforce, their educational system, quality of life. Recruiting industry is a personal relationship. Of course, in Alabama, we're good folks; that Southern hospitality can go a long way."
The governor said he intends to continue visiting two counties per week until October.
"Then we'll probably cut back to one a week," he said. "I enjoy getting to speak to people who might never have spoken to the governor – it's not really about me as much as it is the office.
"If you're a public servant, it's important to meet with people as often as you can."
Jefferson State Community College president Judy Merritt lauded Bentley's support of her college and the two-year college system in general, and paid Bentley the ultimate compliment.
"I'm so proud to say he is my governor," Merritt said. "He is the best governor I have ever worked for."
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.