Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama Vice Chancellor Jo Bonner Talks about His New Role

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama Vice Chancellor Jo Bonner Talks about His New Role

Article excerpt

Former U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner envisions his new role as the vice chancellor for government relations and economic development at the University of Alabama System as nothing new for the system or himself.

"In many ways, I find myself doing what I have always done and that is connecting people to people," Bonner said.

Bonner, who joined the UA System staff on Aug. 16 in the recently created vice chancellorship position, offered the example of former UA System Chancellor Malcolm Portera's involvement in the recruitment of Mercedes-Benz in the early 1990s as a template for his role in economic development.

Bonner, who resigned from the U.S. House on Aug. 2 to take the system job, said he would build on the work of Bill Jones, who retired as director of government relations for the system in the spring.

UA System Chancellor Robert Witt said Bonner's first priority will be lobbying for the system in Montgomery, but he believes the former congressman's economic development responsibilities will dovetail seamlessly with the government relations responsibilities.

Witt said the system decided to formally add economic development as a responsibility of the position following the retirement of Jones. Witt said the additional responsibilities of the new role merited an elevation from a directorship to a vice chancellorship. Bonner's annual salary will be $350,000.

Witt said Bonner, the brother of UA President Judy Bonner, had an ideal mix of skills, experience and perspective for the dual roles.

"A native son of Alabama, he knows how to advocate persuasively with elected officials and sell the merits of our state to global audiences. We are delighted to have him on board," Witt wrote in an email.

Witt did not comment on whether other candidates for the job were considered and what qualifications the system sought in the candidates.

"Looking forward, our goal is to help Alabama continue to grow by partnering with public and private entities to attract new industry, help existing businesses flourish in the 21st century, and add new high-wage jobs," Witt wrote in the email. "The stronger Alabama's economy becomes, the better our state will be able to support education, so it's a win-win all around."

Bonner said he believed there was a direct correlation between the health of the system and the health of the state, adding the UA System had an approximate $5 billion impact on Alabama's economy.

Witt cast economic development as a standing interest for the system.

"Innovative and successful economic development projects are a long-standing priority for our three campuses," Witt wrote. "Our faculty members in Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa are at the forefront of job creation, industrial recruitment and retention in wide-ranging areas -- business, engineering, medicine, aerospace, optics, transportation and manufacturing to name just a few. …

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