Politics and Robotics Choices

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Without strong public interest, Legislature could hold upper hand on project’s location

MONTGOMERY — If Alabama’s rumored tight finances let Gov. Bob Riley move forward with his dream robotics campus in 2008, an economist says a campus closest to Huntsville makes financial sense.

But political experts say you can’t leave the Legislature out of the equation if the project needs state funding. Decisions about the future of the robotics campus could lie with politics for that reason.

Calhoun Community College and Wallace State Community College in Hanceville are contenders for the first phase of the robotics project. Riley had promised site selection by December, but his press spokesman, Jeff Emerson, said the governor will make no decision until after Jan. 1.

Phase one includes student-training facilities to prepare people for high-paying jobs working with and maintaining robots in industry. Later phases would include robotics research and demonstration areas where industries could show their robotic toys to potential customers.

With both colleges vying for the robotic plum, the experts say the final decision may hinge on one of several factors. Those factors include public opinion, proximity to high-tech research facilities in Huntsville, the governor’s plans after he leaves office in 2010 and who holds the political upper hand.

Unless there is strong public opinion, the decisions about new projects often hinge on political wheeling and dealing, especially in the Legislature.

Widespread public opinion is not a factor on the issue of a robotics campus, the experts believe.

“For the average Bubba and Bubbette at the barbecue, a new robotics campus is low on the priority list,

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