How can we improve the state’s global reputation? What does Alabama do well that people outside of Alabama don’t know about?
Dozens of leaders from across Alabama’s public and private sectors gathered Dec. 14 to discuss those and other marketing questions during the Innovate Alabama Symposium hosted by the state’s new Alabama Innovation Corporation. Miller Girvin, executive vice president of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), led a panel discussion about the evolution of Alabama’s brand with Josh Carpenter, president and CEO of Southern Research, and Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM.
“We know we’ve got amazing people that are doing great things at putting Alabama on the map,” Girvin said, “but there are definitely a lot of people who may not be quite as aware of that as we are.”
Growing awareness of Alabama’s assets – both visible and hidden – was a central theme of the discussion. Carpenter said more opportunities to tell Alabama’s story are happening thanks to the vision of the corporation, a product of the Alabama Innovation Commission (AIC), more federally-funded research and development (R&D) projects, and an increasing amount of attention others are devoting to sharing their discoveries about Alabama.
“I think a lot of the non-linear, exponential growth we’ve seen over the last few years is attributed to many of the long-term investments that have been made by many of our predecessors,” Carpenter said. “Recently, there was a book written by two MIT economists called ‘Jump-Starting America.’ They identified 102 metro areas across the country that they thought were on the precipice of growth because of a constellation of assets. Of those 102, five were in Alabama, and so what we have to do now is figure out how to convert those R&D assets into tangible, quality jobs for many of our students who are graduating from our high-quality institutions.”
Alabama’s strengths were well documented in October when Stanford University‘s Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank promoting the principles of individual, economic and political freedom, delivered to the AIC a set of growth ideas and policy recommendations. The group, led by Alabama native Dr. Condoleezza Rice, partnered with the commission in 2020 to conduct data-driven research and assess how Alabama’s educational, legal, financial, governance and physical aspects can be revamped to create a favorable entrepreneurial environment. Its research found Alabama already possesses two key assets to achieving its growth goals: important innovation hubs and a large number of passionate, dedicated and hardworking people in public service, universities, K-12 education, nonprofit organizations and the private sector, all of whom are determined to build a more prosperous future for their fellow Alabamians.
“In our experience, this is an exceedingly rare asset,” the report stated. “One which has no market price.”
Stokes said Alabama’s diverse population makes that asset even stronger.
“That shows our strength as a state,” Stokes said. “I was surprised when I came onto the commission that I didn’t hardly know anybody on here and I was happy about that. I was happy to know that I would sit at a table with people I don’t see all the time. It gave us more opportunity to bring more light to the great things that are happening in Alabama because I now know more about things happening across the state.”
So how does Alabama improve its global reputation? The AIC’s October report to Gov. Ivey outlined a number of ways, including expansion of its outdoor recreation industry, identifying and supporting opportunities to fuel entrepreneurial development at every stage of business growth, recruiting and retaining a workforce with the skills, knowledge and credentials necessary to create innovation ecosystems throughout the state, and fostering an environment that increases commercialization activities, research and development efforts and supports the state’s economy. Carpenter said developing more public-private partnerships is the key to success in all of these areas.
“We have all the ingredients to grow,” he said. “Taking this moment seriously and prioritizing it in your business and in your legislative sessions is fundamental, not just this year but in the years to come.”
Stokes added that attention to a visitor’s experiences is important.
“You’re getting more individuals who are not only interested in Alabama but who also want to experience Alabama,” she said. “If we place more emphasis on what that experience should look like, we’ll start to see not only that narrative changing, we’ll also see more people want to move to Alabama because they’re invested in what’s happening in Alabama.”