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Alabama economy sound, future bright

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Despite a downturn in the economy nationally, Alabama still has a bright future — and is in a better place economically than it has ever been, economic development and education experts said Friday at a symposium in Brewton.
Stacy was a co-moderator for a panel discussion at the symposium, sponsored by Alabama State University-Southern Normal, the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, Greater Brewton Area Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Development Region 9 and Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority.
Former state Sen. Gerald Dial, now the executive director of the Alabama Rural Action Commission, said Alabama is in a place it’s never been in terms of the economy.
Dial related a comment he read recently from a Michigan lawmaker, who wanted his state to “be like Alabama.”
Dial credited the changing image of Alabama — which began when the state attracted Mercedes Benz — the passage of tort reform and Gov. Bob Riley’s leadership with the direction the state’s economy is going.
To continue the trend, members of the panel said, the state’s leaders need to continue to work together — and that includes education and industry leaders.
Dr. Matthew Hughes, director of the governor’s office of workforce development, said the state has a good workforce, but workers need more opportunities.
They have in some pockets, but it’s not widespread.”
With the announcement of German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp’s plans for a massive plant in north Mobile County, south Alabama can capitalize on that growth, the panel said. But in the process, existing industries want to make sure they have a strong workforce, too.
To strengthen that workforce, some members of the panel and the audience said educators and economic development leaders need to find ways to reach out to disenfranchised workers — those who may be underemployed because of a lack of education or because of past problems with crime or drugs.
Etheridge said his team has a plan to develop brochures addressed to those people who “feel locked out” of the job market, and he also hopes to have industry leaders speak to students as young as fourth grade to teach them the value of education if they want to get a job.
With an estimated one-third of the state’s adult population estimated to be functionally illiterate, Hughes said adult education is important to the state’s success.