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Jimmy Rane: Improving workforce leads to stronger economy, communities

By Jimmy Rane

As an entrepreneur who started a humble, two-man business nearly 55 years ago that today employs more than 2,000, I am well aware that the backbone of any enterprise is its workforce. No business, big or small, has any chance of success if it doesn’t have good workers.

The same is true for our state. The future of Alabama’s economy depends on a strong, resilient workforce. Unfortunately, too many Alabamians – some by choice, most by circumstance – find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to work and career opportunities. What’s known officially as our “labor force participation rate” is sadly among the worst in the nation, and many barriers to employment – from the high cost of childcare to housing – are cited as the reasons people are staying out of the workforce.

Fortunately, Alabama is blessed to have a team of leaders committed to action. Gov. Kay Ivey, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth with his commission on a 21st century workforce, Legislative leadership and numerous others came together to offer a new plan called Working for Alabama. As I have dug into the details, I am convinced that this will be, as promised, a visionary plan to transform our state’s approach to workforce, economic and community development.

I have often said that investing in quality industrial sites is key to recruiting businesses and industry to our state, and now it’s more important than ever to continue and expand investment in this area. Importantly, funding for site development is a goal included in the Working for Alabama package. But equally important as we compete with neighboring states for investment into our economy is access to trained, skilled workers who can get to work and build better futures for themselves and their communities. 

Employers from nearly every sector of our economy have jobs to fill but no workers to fill them. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for every 100 job openings in Alabama there are only 44 available workers.

Here’s how Working for Alabama will help:

It consolidates redundant state agencies and programs into the Department of Workforce Development led by a cabinet-level Secretary of Workforce Development. No more wasteful duplication of services and turf battles among government bureaucracies. No more confusion among job-seekers and job-creators about who is responsible for what. Instead, just an accountable and cohesive approach to recruiting, training and employing workers.

It establishes the new Workforce Pathways diploma for students who plan to enter the workforce immediately after high school graduation. Not all students want or need to go to college to have a great career. For these students, the Workforce Pathways diploma will enhance career and technical education opportunities so they get the credentials and training they need.

To encourage greater workforce participation and help Alabama families, the Working for Alabama plan includes a childcare tax credit and a housing tax credit. By encouraging employer investment in childcare, Working for Alabama will lower these obstacles and make childcare and housing more affordable for workers.

Working for Alabama also empowers local governments to establish Innovation Districts, special zones that would serve as tools to bolster economic development in rural areas and other communities across the state. Strategic partnerships between these districts and non-profit organizations would provide a strong platform of support to foster location-specific economic development and community projects. 

Finally, Working for Alabama establishes the Alabama Growth Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on the state’s long-term economic development strategy. Combining the strengths of the public and private sectors will lead to more collaboration and ensure resources are effectively deployed to meet our state’s evolving needs.

Working for Alabama isn’t just a plan, it’s a promise. A promise to unlock opportunities for every Alabamian and protect our state’s competitive edge. These groundbreaking reforms offer Alabama an opportunity to shape our destiny and win the future, no matter how tough the competition.



Jimmy Rane is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving

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