The head of economic development at Alabama Power has been named the new president of the organization representing those who practice the profession that is behind job growth and investment in the state.
Patrick Murphy, vice president of Business, Sales and Economic Development at Alabama Power, received the gavel Wednesday as president of the Economic Development Association of Alabama at the organization’s 2018 Summer Conference. Lee Lawson, president and CEO of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, is outgoing president.
Murphy said he steps into the role at a time when he feels it’s important to emphasize the work that economic development professionals do throughout the state.
“Economic development is a local issue,” Murphy said. “It is done, performed locally and regionally, by people in the communities. Our goal this year is to highlight that a little bit better.”
Murphy said Alabama’s economic development success over the past couple of decades has been due in large part to the teamwork among the state, regional, local and private-sector economic developers.
“This is not a weekend job and it’s not something you can do after hours,” Murphy said. “We can’t create the demand, but it’s important for us to create the awareness.”
Jim Searcy is the executive director of EDAA. He said the organization is made up of 475 professionals throughout the state. He said EDAA seeks to represent those professionals with networking, education and advocacy that support the important work they do for the state.
“Economic development used to be kind of a ‘mother and apple pie’ issue and it’s obviously something that is critical for the future of the state,” Searcy said. “One of the things that has been kind of disconcerting to us is that economic development has taken some hits to the meaning of that term and it’s been kind of lessened.”
Searcy said EDAA will be leading a public relations effort to improve and capture the true meaning of economic development. He said it’s not incentives and ribbon cuttings, it’s the work that goes into convincing business leaders that they will have the most success in a community in Alabama.
“When you ride by an industrial facility or you ride by a commercial facility and you see all of those cars in the parking lot, they’re not just cars, those are lives that have been changed through economic development,” Searcy said.
One key issue the organization faces is the need for legislation preventing economic developers from being listed as lobbyists in the state. While they were successful in getting such language passed in this year’s legislative session, that law sunsets in April 2019, putting pressure on EDAA to get a permanent fix early in the new session.
“We’ve got to get a permanent fix,” Searcy said. “If we do not fix it, it will hurt Alabama’s competitiveness.”
Should economic developers be defined as lobbyists, they would lose the confidentiality that comes with working with companies conducting site searches in multiple states, putting Alabama at a disadvantage.
“Our competitor states – whether it’s Georgia or whether it’s Tennessee or whether it’s Ohio or California – were starting to use that against us,” Searcy said. “It just goes without saying that economic developers aren’t lobbyists. We advocate for better schools. We advocate for better infrastructure – transportation, broadband. We advocate for all of that because that makes the communities, it makes the state more competitive to go after projects. But we’re not lobbyists and that’s the clarification we’re looking to do legislatively in the next session.”
In addition to Murphy as the new president, EDAA voted Megan McGowen-Crouch, city of Auburn Deputy Economic Development director, as second vice president; Brooks Kracke, president of NAIDA, as secretary and treasurer; and added board members Jeff Rabren of Regions Bank, Mike Swinson of Spire and Tanya Maloney of the city of Heflin.