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ALABAMA
From Site Selection magazine, January 2022
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INNOVATION COMMISSION POINTS THE WAY FOR ALABAMA’S ‘TRAILBLAZERS’

ALABAMA
by Mark Arend

Alabama is on the brink of something big, according to the Alabama Innovation Commission (Innovate Alabama) formed by Governor Kay Ivey in July 2020. The Commission’s goal is to serve as a platform for innovators to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation in the state.

“Through the establishment of the Alabama Innovation Commission, I look forward to collaborating with our state’s leading innovators to develop a long-term strategy to create a more resilient, inclusive and robust economy,” Governor Ivey said. “Alabama has always had a rich tradition of developing technologies to move our state forward. Now more than ever, we must capitalize on future opportunities by engaging our state’s trailblazers to discuss new ideas and policies that support entrepreneurship, economic development and jobs.”

The commission was tasked with delivering recommendations designed to promote innovation in Alabama with specific strategies to enable success. The final report was delivered to the governor and statewide stakeholders in December. The Alabama Innovation Corporation board of directors was announced at the same time.

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Amazon’s Montgomery Play

Amazon announced plans in November for a 650,000-sq.-ft. Inbound Cross Dock (IXD) facility in Montgomery. Located between I-65 and Highway 31, the new facility represents a $100 million capital investment, and will create 500 jobs. This is the first Amazon facility of any type to be announced in the Montgomery metro area and is the only Amazon IXD facility in the state of Alabama. Montgomery is an ideal logistics hub due to its proximity to the Port of Mobile and direct railway and Interstate access with I-65 and I-85 running through the region.

The Alabama Innovation Commission Report was produced in partnership with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the director of which is former Secretary of State and Alabama native Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice also serves on the Commission’s Advisory Council. “As we’ve seen from the commission and Hoover fellows’ research, Alabama has the assets primed for a successful innovation ecosystem,” she notes in the report’s Foreword. “The recommendations set forth in this report will further advance the state’s innovation ecosystem so that we inspire the next generation of innovators.”

The commission concentrated its research and efforts in five areas. Following are recommendations found in the report to illustrate where policy and programs are heading — or need to be heading — to achieve the Commission’s objectives. The full report and recommendations can be found at innovatealabama.org. 

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Governor Kay Ivey

Photo courtesy of Governor’s Office/ Hal Yeager

Entrepreneurship and Access to Capital: 

  • Create two Alabama Innovation Corporation-managed seed capital funds. 
  • Create a $2 million annual grant program to provide nondilutive working capital (growth capital) targeted at high-growth companies in need of additional financing and present promising opportunities within targeted industry clusters.

“The recommendations set forth in this report will further advance the state’s innovation ecosystem so that we inspire the next generation of innovators.”
— Dr. Condoleezza Rice, director, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and member of the Alabama Innovation Commission’s Advisory Council.

  • The Innovation Corporation should partner with the state to apply for and implement the federal State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) by assessing small business needs, engaging partner organizations and marketing programs to private sector participants.

Talent Attraction and Retention: 

  • Create a program under the Alabama Innovation Corporation focused on incentivizing workers with requisite credentials and entrepreneurs with records of success to move to Alabama, which may include targeting former residents of Alabama. 
  • The Alabama Innovation Corporation should create a retention program targeting talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at Alabama universities and colleges (or expand the 2021 Retain Alabama program). 

Smucker

The J.M. Smucker Co. facility near Birmingham will create 750 jobs. 

Image courtesy of Smucker

Birmingham Metro Lands a $1 Billion Plant

The J.M. Smucker Co. announced November 18th it will invest $1.1 billion to build a new manufacturing facility and distribution center in McCalla, Alabama, dedicated to production of Smucker’s® Uncrustables® sandwiches. Construction of the facility is expected to begin no later than January 2022, with production commencing in calendar year 2025. The new facility marks the third manufacturing location dedicated to the Smucker’s Uncrustables brand, along with existing facilities in Scottsville, Kentucky, and Longmont, Colorado. This new facility, and a completed expansion at the Longmont location, will support the company’s strategy to more than double its current production capacity.

Construction of the facility and production will occur in three phases over multiple years, creating up to 750 jobs. Financial investments and job creation will align with each of the three phases and are contingent on the approval of tax and business incentives and the closing of the transaction to purchase the property where the facility will be located.

“Smucker’s is a household name, and we are proud they have selected Jefferson County for their next manufacturing facility,” said Commissioner Steve Ammons, chair of the Jefferson County Economic Development Committee. “It’s important for us to recognize the previous Commission and their forethought to add acreage to the Jeffmet Industrial Complex. The McCalla area is hot right now due to useable land availability, Interstate access and productive growth potential. We are excited for the continued momentum of job creation for the citizens of Jefferson County and the region as a whole.”
 

Increasing Commercialization:

  • The Alabama Innovation Corporation should engage an industry-leading firm to perform a comprehensive study on Alabama’s innovative traded sectors (industry clusters that produce goods/services consumed outside of Alabama).
  • After the Alabama Innovation Corporation completes the targeted sector study, use the data to identify Alabama’s key innovative communities and create Regional Innovation Hub designations that will fund and incentivize collaboration to build and advance innovation-focused ecosystems, ensuring opportunities for all innovation-based businesses throughout Alabama.

Bridging Digital and Economic Divides: 

  • The Alabama Innovation Corporation should support the state, ADECA and ADEA in their goal of expanding high-speed broadband access across the state.
  • The state should work with its partners to create an Open Data Council (ODC) that brings together a team of public and private citizens focused specifically on making non-sensitive data available to state agencies and members of the public.

Knowledge Economy: 

  • Establish marketing programs in partnership with local workforce development partners to inform high school and university/college guidance counselors regarding job and career trends within the innovation and digital industry and the types of credentials needed to succeed in such innovation-related careers.
  • Create and/or support pilot programs designed to increase science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as entrepreneurship offerings in Alabama’s K-12 schools and measure outcomes to build into a broader program.
  • Create an assistance program tailored to local/regional innovation and digital industry needs to fund nonprofits providing upskilling/reskilling programming to adults.
  • “The Alabama Innovation Commission will provide a tremendous opportunity to partner with leaders from the public and private sectors to grow our great state,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, when the Commission was announced. “The focus on innovation to deliver sustainable growth will benefit our entire state through new solutions and more job opportunities. I am excited to play an important role in building Alabama’s future.” 

Mark Arend
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 



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