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Alabama mustn't waste its development opportunities

  • 2 min to read
Alabama Capitol

The capitol in the capital. (New York Times file photo)

In the movie The Cowboys, John Wayne’s phrase for not effectively using precious time was “Hurry up, we’re burning daylight.”

Across Alabama, there are a multitude of communities that aren’t seeing the economic revival that a relatively few cities have experienced Many have not been able to keep pace in terms of workforce development and job creation. Over the past two decades, Alabama made great strides in the automotive, aerospace and manufacturing sectors, but our neighbor states have been equally successful and competitive.

News reports last August highlighted a Porter, White and Co. report that Alabama had fallen behind most other states in job growth. Our state is one of five, including Maine, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Mississippi, whose employment rate has not risen to levels seen since April 2006. Community tax coffers, utilities, education systems, universities and colleges and existing Alabama businesses suffer when growth is impeded.

But the sun is still shining on opportunities to improve economic development in our communities.

For 2017, the University of Alabama’s Economic Development Academy is focusing its attention on the state’s up-and-coming economic development professionals, elected local officials as well as key communities that have the ability to become striving communities.

The University of Alabama Office for Research and Economic Development coordinates the university’s resources to support, enhance and initiate programs that result in job creation in our backyard as well as across Sweet Home Alabama. Efforts range from economic development forums, experiential classes for Alabama’s emerging economic development professionals, community economic vitality programs in the state’s heartland to initiatives that identify and nurture entrepreneurs who can become job creation accelerators.

The conditions in Alabama’s heartland are not unique to our state. They are common throughout America: fewer good job opportunities, financially poorer schools and scarce financial resources at the local level. Growth naturally occurs along the nation’s interstates, but many potential opportunities abound off the four-lanes.

In order to be a thriving state, Alabama’s heartland must contribute by becoming striving communities -- achieving all they can be through discovering and implementing innovative ways to create new jobs.

In the new world of job creation, the successful community employs a broad definition of economic development including sustaining and growing existing industries, entrepreneurship, innovation, retail and commercial expansion, workforce and education excellence as well as recruiting new jobs.

The community that relies solely on industry attraction will most often be disappointed because, with more than 5,000 economic development organizations across the country and maybe a few hundred solid recruitment projects each year, the math just doesn’t work. There must be more to a community’s economic development strategy than recruiting new industries.

A site-selection consultant recently said that he was not really a site selector but a site eliminator. He said many “good” communities are eliminated in favor of better or great communities.

In a recent meeting with an Alabama mayor in the state’s heartland, the first words he spoke were, “I want us to be a great community.” We have the opportunity to bring that mantra into reality across Alabama and help get this state growing again.

All the ingredients are in place now to bring about the type growth that will continue along the interstates, but also create an economic revival throughout Alabama’s heartland. But, we’re burning daylight.

Neal Wade is director of the University of Alabama Economic Development Academy and former director of the Alabama Development Office (now department of Commerce). Email: fnwade@ua.edu.

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