It doesn't matter if they're home-grown or recruited from overseas. Don't nit-pick the origin. Today, Alabama's employment plight is like that of its Southern brethren: Unemployment's high, wages are depressed and job growth is stagnant — at best — in most corners. Recovery from the recession is molasses slow.
That's the bottom line. But the bigger picture — the type of jobs recruited to the Heart of Dixie — shouldn't be ignored, either. That's why Alabama officials should be commended when they seek cutting-edge jobs that bring high wages and environmental benefits that can be felt across the state, if not the region.
It's not that they are eschewing the value of service-industry or factory jobs. It's that they understand a state can't survive without a diverse jobs diet. Too much of anything creates problems.
This week, Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office, traveled to Biloxi, Miss., for a gathering of the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance (SEUS-CP), a coalition designed to foster international trade and job growth.
On Monday, Wade avoided the boilerplate issues to hit on the vital point for Alabama's long-term economic development.
"What we want to see is not just the assembly jobs, but the research and development, renewable energy projects that will impact not just our state but all of the country," Wade told the Associated Press. "I think there are tremendous opportunities not just to reduce the cost of energy in our state, but also to increase jobs."
Even with the likely loss of the $40 billion Air Force refueling tanker facility for Mobile, Alabama's modern-day track record of securing economic opportunities from overseas is remarkable. If anything, Gov. Bob Riley's two terms have been marked by his commitment to seek global partners. Canada is one of Alabama's best allies: The state already exports $2.6 billion in goods to Canada; our Canadian imports are more than $1.7 billion.
Yet, in fairness to both the SEUS-CP and Riley, Alabama's next phase of international job growth must include a heightened attempt to honor Wade's prescient advice.
The ADO director is right: Alabama's work force benefits from assembly jobs, but the same low-tax, business-friendly mentality that entices blue-collar factories to the South should be used to recruit research-and-development firms to the state, as well. Increased diversity in employment opportunities is a critical next step — especially for parts of the state not named Birmingham, Huntsville or Mobile.
Somehow, the vision of McClellan as an economic engine for northeast Alabama must be part of this statewide script.
That Canada's involvement with Southern states is heavily invested in energy-related jobs is a prime example of what's possible for the next decade, and more.
Riley's successor will have a hard time matching the governor's ability to attract global partners. But the state's next governor should listen to intelligent people like Wade, whose sage advice often is spot-on correct.