When the pandemic caused business closures and put the brakes on what was Alabama’s economy into high gear, the state’s economic development community focused on recruiting jobs to work to save them. .
Alabama’s unemployment rate in March 2020 was 2.6%. This climbed to 13.2% in April 2020. In June 2021, it was 3.3%.
“There’s no question that 2020 has been a crazy year,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told Economic Developers at the Alabama Economic Development Association’s 2021 summer conference. “Guys, we’re on the right track towards the searing economy that Alabama had before the pandemic. “
What we learned about Alabama’s economic development during the pandemic from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.
Many of the state’s economic development entities have focused on helping local businesses apply for and receive pandemic aid. Most went to online support services and used online meeting tools to stay connected.
But while the tools may have changed, the work of economic developers to recruit, develop and preserve jobs and industry continued throughout the pandemic and helped the state’s economy recover more. quickly than expected.
“During the pandemic, we have learned not to panic, on the one hand,” Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said. “We have learned that economic development can still be done. All things that are important for economic development, except strong socialization, could take place.
The result: announcements totaling $ 4.8 billion in capital investment and the creation of 9,466 jobs in 2020. Some of these projects – like the expansion of SiO2 Materials Science in Auburn to manufacture vaccine vials and the expansion of Eastford equipment – had links to the pandemic. Most did not.
Canfield said key factors offered by the state before the pandemic remained important, which included: the ability to provide detailed data to decision makers, to have good prepared properties to rely on, to have a available labor and a highly regarded training program that can adapt programs to industry needs.
He said state and local economic developers were always able to come together and solve problems – albeit from a distance – to help attract business to the state.
“Basically it was a statement to us that what we were doing was working and all we had to do was keep doing what we do best,” Canfield said.
Greg Barker, president of the Alabama Economic Development Partnership, said it helps that Alabama is home to big companies and great business leaders.
“We’ve learned that businesses are really resilient,” Barker said. “They can react to changing times. When the pandemic started you worried, “Oh, man, are there going to be jobs created? Will there be new capital investments? Especially when you have seen unemployment rates go back to double digits. It was really worrying. The answer is that businesses are resilient enough to face tough times and adapt. “
Businesses have turned to remote workspaces. The distilleries produced hand sanitizer. Restaurants have expanded their take-out operations. Small businesses have established online presences.
Jim Searcy, executive director of the Alabama Economic Development Association, said that although things have slowed, Alabama’s economic development has never stopped.
“Alabama responded well. We saw a reduction in activity, we saw less project activity, but there was at least a constant flow of activity, ”Searcy said. “A lot of the projects that were about to make the announcement or move forward have been put on hold, but the conversations have remained in place.”
Barker said that as companies assess the impact of the pandemic and look to the future, they have found Alabama to be where they want to be.
“We started to see some really significant project activity and there were literally billions of dollars (invested) and thousands of jobs created in Alabama,” he said. “Now our unemployment rate has fallen to just over 3%. This shows that the economic development process that Alabama – Governor Ivey, the Commerce Department – has carried out for a long time is still working.
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said local economic developers provide this important link with businesses.
“Business developers working in their communities, in their counties, telling the right story, being able to market what they know best, they can do it better than the state can do it any day,” did he declare.
Like the rest of the world, business developers have had to go virtual to get the job done.
“We were able to integrate a lot of technologies into the process,” Searcy said. “One of the things we have been discussing for years was how technology was going to impact economic development. What was abstract and a bit hypothetical, all of a sudden we had to put it into practice in the space of two days or two months. I think we weathered the storm very well.