By Jim Searcy, Economic Development Association of Alabama
With the passage of the Connect Alabama Act, the Alabama Legislature has effectively made the single most important investment in positioning Alabama to succeed in the 21st century. The Act will assist in expanding affordable, high-speed broadband internet access across the state to the benefit of all Alabamians.
Serving as executive director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA), representing 500 members from all corners of the state, we work every day to promote economic growth and improve the quality of life for all of Alabama’s citizens. During my eight-year tenure leading this organization, I have come across few pieces of legislation that more perfectly align with the EDAA’s mission than the Connect Alabama Act.
In the economic development world, we know firsthand that reliable, high-speed internet access is an absolute must when companies are looking to locate to or expand in Alabama. If you cannot guarantee access to broadband internet while recruiting business and industry, you are quickly eliminated from the mix. Alabama is a perennial leader in various economic development rankings but to fully reach our potential as a pro-business state, we must continue to decrease the digital divide that hinders our growth.
The Connect Alabama Act is a bold, impactful and forward-leaning solution to one of Alabama’s greatest needs. The legislation creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA) to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state, including in rural and underserved areas. It also establishes the Alabama Digital Expansion Division, a new division housed within ADECA, that will develop and execute a state connectivity plan as well as administer a broadband accessibility grant program. The newly created statewide connectivity plan must be submitted to ADEA by July 1, 2022. Prior to this, Alabama was the only state in the southeast without a comprehensive and statewide broadband plan. Lastly, the Act creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation (ADEFC) to issue bonds and serve as a resource to ADEA and the Alabama Digital Expansion Division by helping to fund broadband deployment projects.
The EDAA is grateful to Senator Del Marsh, Representative Danny Garrett and every legislator who supported the Connect Alabama Act for their vision and pro-jobs mindset that helped to get this legislation across the finish line. In addition to economic growth, we know that this effort will have a significant positive impact on education, health care, agriculture and overall quality of life for all Alabamians.
With the continued commitment of our state’s leaders, Alabama is well on the way to even brighter days. The EDAA looks forward to continuing to work with our elected officials, partners and members to build the best possible place for people to earn a livelihood and enjoy life.
As we seek to build a more robust 21st century economy in which every person and business – regardless of where they are located – can thrive, this is a milestone and investment to be celebrated.
Jim Searcy is Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA)