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Workforce is an important crop

By By Johnny Mack Morrow
Our state is for the most part a rural state, known for agriculture and its acres upon acres of farmland. But what many may not realize is that rural Alabama is changing, and any major progress in the future depends on moving rural Alabama forward. We will see unprecedented economic development in Alabama when rural communities become places where jobs are constantly created, and people can easily take advantage of the state's natural resources and their God given talents to make good lives for themselves and their families.
We know from recent successes in economic recruitment efforts that Alabama wins when everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal. As a result, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks organized Rural Alabama's Committee of 100, established as part of the Center for Rural Alabama. It is made up of elected officials from cities and counties across the state, business leaders, industrial developers, educators, and legislators.
The group recently met for the first time, and one of the first topics talked about is how the world is getting smaller. We live in a world where outsourcing to countries on the other side of the world is getting more and more common.
Technology is reducing time and distance. For example, it is common for a call service center for satellite dishes or computers to be located in India. It's not possible anymore for us to simply produce things cheaper than places such as China or Honduras. Alabama's textile industry is a prime example.
For over a century, textiles were a mainstay of communities across the state. When the forces of free trade and industrialization in poorer counties started, we watched one plant after another close and move overseas. Drive anywhere in our state and you'll see the buildings that were once filled with machines and workers. It's important that we sustain the plants still operating, something we can do with a proper state effort, but the days whenalmost every county could grow cotton and use it to make products are gone.
So what is the solution to globalization for rural Alabama? It's all about quality and workforce development.
We know nobody works harder in the world than Alabamians. Yet in order to remain competitive we need to focus on improving our skills, productivity, and our entrepreneurial spirit.
There is a reason that major international automotive companies and their subsidiaries have located in Alabama, especially with plants throughout rural areas. It is because our workforce is one of the most productive in the world.
A significant part of workforce development falls to Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), the state's employee training program. AIDT has been recognized as the country's best job training effort, and is known as "Alabama's number one incentive."
AIDT helps companies by finding and recruiting qualified people for jobs. They advertise, collect applications through Alabama Career Centers, screen applicants and work with companies in selection. Most importantly, AIDT trains Alabamians in job-specific skills for particular employers so they are ready to work.
AIDT and the quality of our workforce are a few reasons why the largest steel plant in the world is being built by German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp in rural Southwest Alabama. They are significant reasons why the country's largest boxcar manufacturing plant is being built in rural Northwest Alabama. We should be able to continue recruiting and developing businesses in rural counties throughout Alabama because of the quality of our people.
We all know that we must take action if we want to keep moving Alabama forward, especially in rural areas. The future of our communities depends on workforce development, training, and recruitment, efforts that will continue to pay off in the future. Investing in the people of rural Alabama will yield the most important crop in our state – a highly productive workforce.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County.