If you want a good job or a great place to grow your business, Alabama is where you need to be.
That message was prevalent Oct. 25 during the Alabama Economic Growth Summit at Ross Bridge Resort and Spa in Hoover. Hosted by Telegraph and presented by Alabama Power, the event gathered a diverse group of influential business and governmental leaders from around the state to share and discuss success strategies. Katie Britt, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama and moderator for one of the panel discussions, said the collaboration of private and public partners is a key reason Alabama is attracting new business.
“We have all the right tools to push forward, but in order to make that happen we’re all going to have to work together,” Britt said. “The fruitfulness of the employer is passed down to the employee and to the community. Making sure that we are creating environments where small, medium and large-sized businesses can flourish is essential to the vitality of our state.”
Britt moderated a business discussion with Jimmy Parnell, chairman, president and CEO of Alfa; Mike Kemp, CEO of Kemp Management Solutions; Jimmy Rane, president and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving; and Zeke Smith, executive vice president of External Affairs for Alabama Power. She asked all of them about the challenges of finding 500,000 additional people willing and capable of filling new jobs needed by Alabama businesses by 2025.
“It’s going to take a combination of private and public partnerships to promote the skills that are going to be necessary,” Smith said. “We’ve got an emphasis in the K-12 level to market the jobs that are going to be needed to these young men and young women.”
Parnell said the state needs to encourage unemployed people not looking for a job to get involved. “They would feel better about themselves,” he said.
All of the panelists applauded the Alabama Legislature for efforts to improve the infrastructure and develop the workforce. They specifically pointed out the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, the Rebuild Alabama Act and the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act as useful tools helping the state grow.
“Alabama has a lot of resources that make us unique,” Kemp said. “How we partner with the K-12 school systems, community colleges and universities to properly equip our workforce — we’ve got to have that group ready because it’s going to have a tremendous impact on our business and to be competitive with our neighboring states.”
Rane said efforts to extend high-speed internet access across rural Alabama will benefit the entire state.
“I can’t think today of any citizen of Alabama that broadband does not touch and affect,” Rane said. “I think it’s critical.”
Parnell said efforts like broadband expansion and job training will help keep college graduates in Alabama.
“Our largest export out of Alabama today is college graduates,” Parnell said. “Those are the folks that could help us build a better state.”
The panelists discussed the importance of business leaders embracing a culture of diversity.
“When we hear of diversity, a high percentage of us take that to be gender or race, but diversity goes well beyond that,” Kemp said. “It’s a diversity of thought, ideas, input, involvement and contribution. It’s a tremendous resource if it’s utilized properly.”
Smith said Alabama Power created a Council on Culture and Inclusion to focus on recruiting and developing a diverse workforce.
“Diversity of backgrounds, diversity of thought, diversity of experiences — all of that is so important,” Smith said. “Our foundation is laid with young men and young ladies who are educated in the state, but we do reach outside the state and try to recruit individuals from outside the state as well. It’s very important to the success of corporations and companies. Investors look for that from a corporate standpoint. Our customers expect that from a diversity standpoint.”
Rane, whose business employs people in 28 states, said the greatest resource Alabama has is character.
“We don’t have a lot of the ugliness in Alabama you see other places,” Rane said. “At our company, we distill those values down to three words: duty, honor and country. Alabama is a storehouse of that.”
The summit included discussions on the role of universities in economic development, how to capitalize on technology and innovation, competing in a global economy, and driving growth and economic opportunity in Alabama’s rural communities. Arthur C. Brooks, a faculty fellow at the Harvard Business School, delivered a keynote address on how to create a better Alabama for everyone, and Dominique Wilkins, NBA legend and entrepreneur, talked about his passion for technology.
“It’s about empowering young people to do something bigger than themselves,” Wilkins said. “Technology is the wave of the world. We have to give these young kids as many options as we can.”