by Executive Director Gordon Stone
With the start of the academic year for students from Pre-K through PhD, the Higher Education Partnership is excited about the possibilities that are forthcoming. The State of Alabama has received many positive announcements about economic development over the past few years. Among these developments are expansion of the automotive sector and aeronautics industries. Each specific project represents a big win for the state, counties and cities. These are large investments in Alabama that are welcomed by the citizens of the state because they bring added income and more possibilities for improved services. With other recent announcements like the expansion of the FBI presence to space travel investments, the state is sending a message that it is a destination for growth.
However, the state also has a few challenges. For example, there are many pockets of the state that lag behind in per capita income. From prisons to infrastructure, plans are being developed to help address some of the state’s glaring challenges. However, the state must pause and realistically determine what is the best, next step to address the overall income deficiency facing the population. Alabama ranks 48th in the nation is per capita income. As income increases many of the other, obvious challenges will be diminished.
Wherever Alabama chooses to focus the next wave of business ventures, it is going to be based on predictable criteria. The ability of the state to develop a workforce to meet tomorrow’s opportunities is critical. The state has done well in rallying support for traditional workforce training. Now, it is important that Alabama expand its definition of workforce to preparing people for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The state must invest in its human capital so that it is building a knowledge based workforce focused on the jobs of the future. The four-year, public institutions of higher education are well positioned to meet this need.
To achieve the goal of expanding the range of employers and consequently the level of income, the state must emphasize four steps: a) motivate leaders to recognize the possibilities, b) invest in universities to train the people, c) encourage young students to pursue four-year degrees and d) sell this additional concept of workforce to employers that are focused on the next generation of jobs.