The River Region's Wave of the Future!
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POINT CLEAR – Armed with a new state branding campaign, coming off Alabama’s most successful year for economic development in seven years and still flying high from landing Airbus a year ago, Greg Canfield couldn’t hide his enthusiasm at the annual summer gathering of the state’s economic development community.
“I found it difficult to concentrate on a few things,” Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, confided as he took the podium of the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s summer conference. “I think the State of Alabama is on the precipice of great things.”
It’s easy to find fuel for Canfield’s optimism.
The Department of Commerce and local economic developers in 2012 recruited 82 companies to the state that invested $2.8 billion and created or committed to create 6,663 jobs. The same year, they assisted 351 companies with expansions, investing $2.7 billion and creating or pledging to create 14,186 jobs.
Those 433 companies, $5.4 billion in investment and 20,849 jobs are the best the state has seen not only since the 2009 economic downturn, but since three years prior to that.
Canfield credited “Accelerate Alabama,” a new strategy initiated by Gov. Robert Bentley’s desire to align all of the state’s economic development, education and worker training initiatives to better realize objectives and avoid duplications of effort.
The Department of Commerce (formerly the Alabama Development Office) was charged with working with the private Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and others as part of the Alabama Economic Development Alliance to help create that strategy to get everyone working with a more unified purpose.
The result was “Accelerate Alabama,” a plan that focuses on “recruitment, retention and renewal” as a way of luring new business, keeping the ones here and helping them expand, and helping grow new ones from the ground up within the state. Unveiled at the EDAA winter conference last year, the plan has keyed in on 11 industries the state feels it can have success in.
“Accelerate Alabama would not be in existence without (Bentley’s) vision,” Canfield said.
Armed with the blueprint, the next step was to create a fresh marketing campaign to promote Alabama and its strategy to the world.
Birmingham’s Big Communications worked with the Department of Commerce to develop “Made in Alabama,” which Canfield said “is the opportunity to capture the pride in what we do and what we mean to the world.”
Canfield said a big part of being aligned with a common strategy is being consistent with the message Alabama presents to the U.S. and international business communities.
“Made in Alabama” gives them that, Canfield said, and the state is encouraging local economic development agencies to adopt the logo and message in their own branding and marketing strategies.
As the new marketing strategy suggests, Canfield and his department are already looking ahead.
“What we have to do moving forward is more,” he told economic developers. “We can’t be satisfied.”
After Airbus announced last year it will build a $600 million plant and create 400 jobs initially, 1,000 at full production in Mobile to assemble the A320 family of aircraft, economic developers have had their heads in the clouds as to what it might mean for supplier activity.
In an interview after his address, Canfield told AL.com that he expects some initial supplier activity to come with the opening of the Airbus plant but other suppliers will not come unless Airbus or another airplane manufacturer locates in the state, creating a necessary economy of scale that justifies a plant here.
“There will be an initial push from suppliers,” he said. “A number of suppliers will be here because they have to be here.”
Getting more will require doing more, Canfield said.
“If we can be successful in helping Airbus expand or even in recruiting another manufacturer, it will open up even more opportunities,” he said.
Canfield said that is similar to what the state experienced with the automotive industries and the continual growth of automotive suppliers in the state.
However, where the automotive industry is driven by volume and just-in-time delivery of parts, the airplane manufacturing industry focuses on precision and the approach to assembly is more flexible.
That could mean certain parts will continue to be produced at plants around the world and brought to Mobile for assembly.
Beyond Airbus, this year is shaping up to be another active year for economic development in the state, Canfield said.
“We are seeing a good volume of projects in 2013,” he said in the interview.
He said nearly all of them are tied to the key industries identified in “Accelerate Alabama” with many of them in high technology, emerging technologies and advanced manufacturing.
Ed Castille, director of AIDT, the state’s worker training program for new and expanding industries, gave a bit more insight into the state’s economic development pipeline.
Castille said his agency is working with 156 projects in nearly 40 counties in the state looking to fill 21,156 jobs. Since Oct. 1, 2012, the start of the 2013 fiscal year, Castille said AIDT has met with 172 prospects and is on pace to have one of its best years ever.
Rep. Mike Hubbard, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, said Castille came to him concerned they would not have enough funding to provide the assistance needed in the economic development pipeline. The Legislature came up with a $10.8 million supplemental appropriation to assist AIDT with its immediate needs and a conditional $10 million more in fiscal year 2014 as the demands for worker training assistance continues to grow.
Also, Gov. Bentley said in an interview at the conference Monday economic development is taking up a growing amount of his time.
“I would say every day I talk to somebody across the country or around the world related to jobs coming to Alabama,” Bentley said.
It all contributes to Canfield’s assertion that Alabama is poised for unseen levels of prosperity.
“Everywhere we have been, there is an increasing awareness of Alabama as a state that has great economic opportunity,” he said.
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