MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Its tourism workforce depleted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Alabama will spend $1 million to prepare as many as 2,000 students to work in its hospitality industry.
The funding was announced by Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday during a tourism conference on the Gulf Coast, where lodging companies, restaurants and attractions are seeing record numbers of visitors yet often struggle to find a sufficient number of employees.
An announcement by the state’s tourism agency said leaders requested the money because of a lack of new people entering the workforce since COVID-19 outbreaks began two years ago.
The money will allow students to train online through the state’s 24-campus two-year college system at more than 130 locations across Alabama, making the non-credit program accessible to virtually all citizens 16 and older, said Lee Sentell, the state tourism director.
Industry leaders on the coast and in Birmingham, Mobile and elsewhere sought state assistance in attracting new workers, he said.
“This project has the potential to not only bring new professionals into our industry but to also create opportunities for Alabamians as a whole,” Sentell said in a statement.
Tourists spend an estimated $16.8 billion annually with the state’s leisure and hospitality industry, which employs more than 200,000 people, according to the department. The state’s industry rebounded by 25% last year over 2020, when the pandemic limited travel and forced some businesses to shut down.