Economic development in Alabama is flying high

Posted in News

In North Alabama, the Alabama Robotics Technology Park provides research, development and testing of leading-edge robotics used for military projects, space exploration and industrial applications. The second phase of the RTP provides Alabama companies the opportunity to test applications in nearly every field and improve their competitiveness and productivity.

Biotech is booming in Birmingham and Huntsville, with 150 companies graduating from Innovation Depot. Biomedical breakthroughs have become the norm at Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology. Researchers from HAIB are engaged in the work to sequence the genomes of approximately 500 patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, over the next two years. The average hourly wage for a biomedical engineer in Alabama is $35.03 and $33.70 for a biological scientist.

These are not the low-paying jobs referenced in a recent Georgetown University study that examined jobs created in the Southern states in previous years. These higher-paying jobs and others like them are the types of jobs we plan to continue recruiting as part of our state's economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama.

Eleven target market industry sectors were identified as part of the plan: aerospace and defense; automotive; agricultural products and food production; steel and metal; forestry products; chemicals; biosciences; information technology; enabling technologies; distribution and logistics; and corporate operations. These targeted sectors represent the types of jobs that require skills and educational levels that will lead to higher salaries than those of today's Alabama workers.

Our automotive industry has the distinction of being the fifth largest in the country, soon possibly moving in on the spot of third largest. From team assemblers to fabricators and machinists, the average earnings in 2012 for an employee in this industry will be $52,641.

In addition to Airbus, high-tech defense contractors continue to open throughout the state, from GE Aviation in Auburn to last week's announcement of a new aviation company in Andalusia, DRS Technologies. DRS will open a state-of-the-art aircraft maintenance/overhaul facility.

The state has had a number of new distribution centers locate here, from Dollar General breaking ground on its 10th distribution center in Bessemer last year to Home Depot bringing high-paying jobs for the McCalla area with its $33 million distribution center. The distribution sector employed 43,866 people in Alabama in 2011 and employees working in them in 2012 will earn an average of $47,468 annually.

Our state's economic development training program, AIDT, is the best recruitment and job-training program in the nation. AIDT gives companies a customized training package at no cost to the employer. Companies know they can rely on AIDT, and we have attracted many projects to the state as a result.

Education and workforce preparedness are a must for the type of jobs we are working to bring to Alabama through the Accelerate Alabama plan. They require a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a way that students in K-12 can begin to understand how to apply academic coursework within real-world careers. These jobs require a two-year college system that can supplement STEM education and provide technical education and advanced degrees to meet the demands of a global economy with an increasing reliance on workers who possess those skills.

Accelerate Alabama is serving as a catalyst, bringing to the table the traditional economic development community in partnership with the state Department of Education, postsecondary and our universities to address the common elements shared between job creation and education. These issues are being addressed in meetings involving each of these vital groups, and tremendous progress is being made in an effort to prepare today's students for tomorrow's jobs. Much work remains. I was pleased on Wednesday to hear Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice say it is his goal not only for students to graduate, but to be prepared in their future careers. Of all the areas we are striving toward with our Accelerate Alabama plan, this may be the most important because the results will impact our state for many decades.

Accelerate Alabama and the new partnership between our state's education community and the traditional economic development community provide a clear direction leading to a more prosperous Alabama.

http://blog.al.com/birmingham-news-commentary/2012/08/viewpoints_economic_developmen_1.html