Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey could not have picked a better time to talk to the state’s economic developers.
Major industrial development victories like the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda plant and its 4,000 jobs announced for Huntsville, and the $1 billion Mercedes-Benz expansion in the state, coupled with a record-low unemployment rate, made for a welcome reception at the Economic Development Association of Alabama Winter Conference at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover this morning.
“And then, to top it all off, last night President Trump pointed out the fact that Toyota-Mazda had selected Alabama because they wanted to be where the action is here in the United States of America,” she said, referencing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night in which he name-dropped Alabama. “Thank you, Mr. President, for calling out the fact that Alabama is indeed open for business and ready for more.”
Ivey noted that since she took office last year, the state has announced $5 billion in new capital investment and 12,000 new jobs from economic development projects. The state’s December unemployment rate of 3.5 percent matched the record low set last November, and Ivey noted the 2.09 million workers in Alabama is a new record.
“That is the largest number ever to be employed in the great state of Alabama,” she said.
That presents a new problem for the state and a recurring theme at the EDAA conference this week: How does the state attract and produce more qualified workers so it can recruit and expand projects with more jobs?
“Nothing breeds success like success, so when we can show people we’ve got these quality jobs available, they’ll come,” Ivey said.
Ivey is emphasizing her Strong Start, Strong Finish education initiative that includes expanding computer coding and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in K-12 schools along with workforce training. Those initiatives include apprenticeships and certification programs designed to elevate the education attainment levels necessary for the future workforce.
“We know that in two years, 62 percent of all of the jobs that will be available in Alabama will require at least a postsecondary certificate or degree,” Ivey said.
She said 37 percent of the state’s workforce has that level of attainment.
“So, we’ve got a gap there,” Ivey said.
“We’ve got to prepare today’s workers for the jobs of tomorrow,” she said. “Our workforce is great today, but as the economy evolves and our jobs evolve, we’ve also got to have advances and evolution in our workforce training.”
Ivey singled out the Alabama Workforce Council, which communicates the private sector’s education and worker training needs so the state can improve its curriculum and programs. She said that and other alignment in the state have made the state better prepared.
Alabama workers are recognized as among the best, Ivey said.
“When I meet with global CEOs, whether it’s at the Paris Air Show or otherwise, there seems to be a common theme that they share with me when you let them talk about what their experience is like doing business at their facility in Alabama,” she said. “And their theme is: We’re successful in Alabama because of the quality and productivity of our employees.
“Those of us who are active in that arena every day, we know we’ve got a first-class workforce,” she added. “But when you’ve got global CEOs saying it, it takes on a special meaning.”
The goal, Ivey noted, is to have jobs that make a difference in the lives of those who live here.
“When we create jobs, folks, we are changing the lives of everyday Alabamians,” she said. “We are giving people an opportunity to work and provide for their families, to be able to own a home and send their young people to higher education. We are affecting the lives of real people in Alabama.”
Ivey praised the work of economic developers in the state – led by the Alabama Department of Commerce and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield – and challenged them to keep building on the success.
“What we’re doing is working and as a result our people are working and are better able to provide for their families,” she said. “We’re making great progress in Alabama. People are able to take care of their families and achieve their dreams.”