Alabama business leaders agreed workforce development and improving infrastructure are keys to job creation during the inaugural Alabama Economic Growth Summit, presented by Yellowhammer Multimedia Feb. 19 in Birmingham.
Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance President Jimmy Parnell gained consensus from other members of a CEO panel when he addressed the importance of rural roads and mentors for youth.
“I think we need to put some emphasis on building the infrastructure in rural counties,” Parnell said. “There are 50 counties in this state where the majority of the county roads were built in the ‘40s. There have been a few potholes filled since then, and that’s about it.”
Speaking about workforce development, Parnell noted the positive impact mentors made in his life and the lives of others.
“One thing we can do — and I don’t think it’s raising taxes or all about spending money — is get people involved in young people’s lives,” he said. “I run into people on a daily basis who point out to me one individual who made a difference in their life — someone who gave them a role model and said, ‘You can do this.’”
Parnell was joined on the CEO panel by G. Ruffner Page of McWane Inc., James W. Rane of Great Southern Wood, J. Michael Kemp of Kemp Management Solutions and John D. Johns of Protective Life, who moderated the discussion.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, kicked off the summit Feb. 18. The next morning Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley spoke at breakfast and challenged businesses leaders and local government officials to sell their region to potential employers and create an environment for entrepreneurs.
Agriculture and forestry were highlighted during a discussion about industries poised for growth. Federation Governmental and Agricultural Programs Director Brian Hardin spoke on the potential for Alabama’s poultry, forestry and horticultural producers. Other panelists included Dr. Arthur J. Tipton, president and CEO of Southern Research, and Carter Wells, vice president of economic development for HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and chair of BioAlabama.
Jennifer Himburg, director of the Federation’s Young Farmers Division, participated in a separate panel that explored Alabama’s workforce strengths. She discussed her work with the Alabama Workforce Council to align various programs and state agencies involved in workforce development to better utilize resources and reduce duplication.
Himburg was joined by Ed Castle, deputy secretary of commerce and director of Alabama Industrial Development Training; Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System; Fitzgerald Washington, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Labor; and moderator Zeke Smith, vice president of external affairs with Alabama Power Co.
More than 300 people were registered for the summit, which featured a keynote address by Alabama author and motivational speaker Andy Andrews. The lunch program was an interview with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, by Yellowhammer President and CEO Cliff Sims.
The summit concluded with a panel discussion on labor unions and the right-to-work movement by business group leaders including William J. Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama. Alfa Insurance was among the sponsors of the summit, which is expected to be an annual event.