March 22, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Alabama Development Office Renews Focus on Small Business, Job Training

Published: Monday, March 21, 2011, 10:53 PM   
By Roy L. Williams -- The Birmingham News

The head of the Alabama Development Office said Monday his agency plans to renew its focus on small business advocacy and work closer on job training in association with two-year colleges across the state.

Seth Hammett, who spent three decades as a state legislator before taking the helm of Alabama's business recruitment agency in January, told about 300 attendees of an economic development summit at Innovation Depot in downtown Birmingham that his office realizes that existing businesses -- not new companies -- create 75 percent of new jobs in Alabama.

By putting more emphasis on building partnerships with existing programs and colleges, as well as expanding Alabama's successful jobs training program led by Ed Castille, the Alabama Development Office can be able to withstand state funding cutbacks and still help small businesses grow and prosper, Hammett said.

"We are looking at doing things differently because of some of the problems you've read about concerning state finances," said Hammett, adding that Gov. Robert Bentley has told his office it could see a 20 percent reduction in funding over the next two years.

Hammett said the governor has asked him and Bill Taylor, head of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, to develop a "new blueprint on how to operate" their agencies. Established in 1991, EDPA is a private, nonprofit organization supported by leading businesses in Alabama dedicated to the state's long-term economic growth.

In response, Hammett said, they have come up with a three-prong strategy that focuses on recruiting new businesses, expanding existing businesses and what he calls renewal -- taking people's ideas and helping them become successful in their business.

Hammett said he has asked Castille to help take the state training program that has worked closely with Alabama's auto plants and other companies and make it an even more viable force in workforce development with existing industries.

"We want to work closer with Alabama's two-year colleges and help Alabama's 500,000 adults who do not have a high school diploma," Hammett said. "Ed Castille has proposed a new office of small business advocacy. Six colleges in Alabama have small business advocacy programs. We want to tie them together and work with several business incubators across the state like Innovation Depot."

Among other speakers at Monday night's event were Tom Todt, Alabama District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Barry Copeland, senior vice president of the Birmingham Business Alliance; Bob Dickerson of the Birmingham Business Resource Center; David Fleming, head of Main Street Birmingham; Henry Turner, executive director of the Alabama Minority Business Opportunity Center; and Susan Matlock, executive director of Innovation Depot.

Birmingham City Council member Lashunda Scales, who organized the summit, said she hopes the event gave small business owners the tools they need to create needed jobs in the city. Scales, who represents District 1 in eastern Birmingham, said her goal was to empower participants with "access to valuable information and networking opportunities that will lead them to success in the time to come."

"As a small business owner, I know that small businesses are pivotal to our nation's growth in this economy," said Scales, owner of the Scales Consulting public relations firm.



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