Alabama’s roadmap to stimulate economic growth through innovation, entrepreneurship and technology will work only if state leaders in the public and private sectors work with county, city and local leaders to implement the plans.
That statement was a key takeaway during an economic development panel discussion Oct. 26 in Montgomery. The Alabama Association of Regional Councils (AARC) invited members of the Alabama Innovation Commission (AIC) to share its findings and plans with conference attendees.
“The Alabama Association of Regional Councils is thrilled that we had this panel discussion today,” said Michelle Gilliam Jordan, vice president of AARC and executive director of the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments. “We’re the communities that are going to be charged with recruiting and retaining entrepreneurs for the future and we want to work hand in hand with Gov. Ivey and this commission to ensure that Alabama continues to be the choice location for the future.”
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Tuesday’s panel included AIC Chair and Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole, AIC Vice Chair and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, TechMGM Executive Director Charisse Stokes, and Miller Girvin, executive vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). Zeke Smith, chair of the AIC Advisory Council and executive vice president of External Affairs at Alabama Power, moderated the discussion.
“It was a great session,” Smith said. “We got a lot of great feedback that we can use as we implement some of these recommendations that we plan to make to the governor later this week.”
The AIC, also known as Innovate Alabama, was created by Ivey in July 2020 to develop and execute strategies that will drive innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as help attract and retain talent in Alabama. The AIC held its final meeting Oct. 14 as it prepares to deliver final recommendations to Ivey this month.
“I’m excited about where we are because I know through the work of the commission we have a lot of assets and we have a lot of opportunity,” Poole said. “How do we realize that opportunity? How do we devise strategies and help our entrepreneurs and startups be successful and thrive in Alabama? That’s going to be the real trick.”
Poole and Reed repeated their praise of AIC members for not only putting together a comprehensive action plan, but for working together to enact key elements of that plan during the past legislative session. Topping the achievement list is the creation of the Alabama Innovation Corporation – an entity to support statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and access to advanced technical skills that will drive a future workforce.
“The Innovation Commission has done a fantastic job of trying to focus the attention of business, of our higher-education institutions and certainly our Legislature,” Reed said. “We’ve made huge strides moving in the right direction and I think there’s much more to be done, and the corporation is going to be the entity to carry that forward.”
Much of the AIC work was bolstered by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank promoting the principles of individual, economic and political freedom. Led by Alabama native, former U.S. secretary of state and AIC Advisory Council member Condoleezza Rice, the group released a report Oct. 21 explaining how Alabama can become a national hub for innovation.
“A lot of what we did as the Innovation Commission, and especially leveraging the relationship that we had with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, was to collect good data across the state,” Stokes said. “Who’s doing what and who has the potential to do more? Those data-driven decisions is not just the next step, it’s truly how we will be able to help the Innovation Corporation execute and facilitate a lot of the programs that we could have.”
Among recommendations AIC members voted Oct. 14 to include in the commission’s final report:
- Create a retention program targeting talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at Alabama universities and colleges.
- Create an accelerator program that will educate students and faculty about bringing academic research, business ideas and technology from an idea to a licensable product.
- Remove barriers to allow university faculty to become stakeholders in startups.
- Create and/or support programs designed to increase STEM and entrepreneurship offerings in Alabama K-12 schools.
- Create an assistance program to fund nonprofits providing upskilling/reskilling programming to adults.
- Market Alabama’s growing innovation ecosystem around the nation.
- Leverage Alabama’s outdoor recreation as a tool to attract and retain workforce talent.
- Host a world-class summit for entrepreneurs and investors.
- Develop regionally based mentorship networks for founders and business owners.
- Support efforts to expand high-speed broadband across the state.
- Create regional innovation hubs in Alabama that will fund and incentivize collaboration to build and advance innovation-focused ecosystems.
- Support efforts to create an Open Data Council to make nonsensitive data available to state agencies and the public.
- Create a research and development state tax credit for targeted, high-growth industries.
- Create an angel investor tax credit that would equal 25% of an equity investment made into a qualifying high-growth business.
- Create two Alabama Innovation Corporation-managed seed capital funds.
- Create a $2 million annual grant program to provide growth capital targeted at high-growth companies in need of additional financing.
- The Alabama Innovation Corporation and the state should partner to apply for and implement the federal State Small Business Credit Initiative.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” Girvin said. “We’re seeing regional groups and incubators in certain cities doing great things, but they could really benefit at a more macro level from some of the policies that are being implemented at the state level. It takes that coming together to really be able to move the needle.”
The full report will be posted on the AIC website, innovatealabama.org.
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