What’s next for Alabama’s innovation economy?

Members of the Alabama Innovation Commission shared next steps for growing the state’s innovation economy with Alabama’s economic developers.

The new Alabama Innovation Corporation will initiate some of these next steps, but others are expected to be undertaken by communities across the state, panel members at the Development Association’s Winter 2022 Conference said recently. Economic Area of ​​Alabama (EDAA).

The panel included Alabama Chief Financial Officer Bill Poole, Acting Alabama Senate President Greg Reed, and Alabama State Rep. Jeremy Gray with Zeke Smith, executive vice president of external affairs at Alabama Power, as moderator. All four panelists served on the Alabama Innovation Commission, which presented its report on the economics of innovation to Governor Kay Ivey in October.

This report was created in collaboration with the Hoover Institution, whose director is Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice. In December, the commission presented its recommendations and announced the board of directors of the Alabama Innovation Corporation.

Members of the Alabama Innovation Commission discuss the future of the state’s innovation economy from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

While these are important milestones for the commission, the EDAA panel said work has only just begun to create a robust innovation economy in the state.

“I think this is one of the most consequential efforts we’ve undertaken in recent years in Alabama and I think the continued success that I hope will lead to tangible and meaningful results I think will define this effort and will drive us forward,” said Poole, who served as chairman of the Innovation Commission. “This is a time of opportunity for Alabama, in my view, and I think the commission’s report provides a roadmap.”

Gray said communities should look at themselves through an innovation lens to take inventory of what would appeal to entrepreneurs, tech companies and employees, and identify what makes their place unique.

“Just telling these stories and being able to leverage what we’re doing with society and the commission really helps us,” he said. “It will really bring us together as one Alabama.”

What do these entrepreneurs and tech employees want?

Reed said it comes down to three things: a good business opportunity, a community they can engage and be involved with, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Reed said the state has an abundance of all of these things but needs to do a better job of communicating it.

“We’ve done a really good job of marketing to people in other places: Come to the Alabama Gulf Coast, spend a week with your family, spend a lot of money, and have a great vacation. And we have a ton of people all over America doing just that. We had a lot of success there,” Reed said. “But we have to look for other ways to market ourselves as the entrepreneur’s dream place: it’s a place where you want to come and start your business.”

Both Reed and Poole serve on the board of the Alabama Innovation Corporation.

Poole said he expects one of the company’s first major initiatives to focus on marketing and branding.

“Hopefully we will have a very strong, very aggressive national marketing plan in place – not just visiting, not just buying our products, but living in Alabama, investing in Alabama, playing in Alabama in our outdoor activities and areas. “, Poole mentioned. “So I think the marketing effort is going to be critical and can yield huge results for our state in every aspect.”

This marketing includes information and preparation.

“What we’ve all learned is that there are all these great things going on around Alabama that sometimes we didn’t even know we learned,” Poole said. “Above all, we need to do a better job of marketing and telling our story inside Alabama so our citizens know about our capabilities, our opportunities, and what’s going on. Because a lot of times I think we don’t do a good enough job of giving ourselves credit across our state for the great things that happen.

Gray and Reed said rural communities need to know they can participate in the innovation economy, and that efforts like expanding broadband will help them in those efforts.

“We want Alabama to grow everywhere. We just can’t grow along the highways,” Reed said. “If Alabama is going to be everything we want it to be, we’re going to have to grow in rural areas as well as urban areas.”

Talent retention, university partnerships and community mentoring are other ways to prepare rural and underserved areas.

There are other things the state needs to do as part of the preparedness, Poole said.

“We can’t recruit and retain talent if we don’t have infrastructure, education and healthcare,” he said. “If we have them, we must improve them, then this company’s goals for moving forward in this effort and all other efforts across the spectrum of economic development will be successful in Alabama.”

Alabama’s economic developers are on board, according to EDAA executive director Jim Searcy.

“As this progresses – and I said to the audience who was here – I said you were going to look back and say ‘I was there when this transformational program was introduced,'” he declared.


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