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Governor signs innovation bills to help accelerate economic development

Both bills were priorities of the Alabama Innovation Commission.


Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed two bills that were a top priority of the Alabama Innovation Commission. Sponsors claim that the bills will put the state on the path toward a brighter future.

House Bill 540 is sponsored by state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and carried on the floor of the Senate by Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper. HB540 would establish the Alabama Innovation Corporation. Sponsors claim that the unique public-private partnership in Alabama will serve as a catalyst for the state’s growing innovation economy. The forward-thinking partnership will give Alabama entrepreneurs and innovators the tools and resources for growth and success.

The second innovation bill signed by the governor was House Bill 609. It was sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, in the House and carried by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, in the Senate. It would create the Innovate Alabama Matching Grant Program to promote research and development in the state.

“The state of Alabama is focused on ensuring our innovation economy is strong,” said Ivey, who created the commission, also known as Innovate Alabama, in July 2020. “The policy ideas developed from the hard work of the Alabama Innovation Commission will create an environment for growth through supporting entrepreneurship, job creation and workforce development.”

“I’m appreciative of Governor Ivey’s support of the Alabama Innovation Commission and our policy recommendations,” said Poole, who chairs the commission. “The establishment of the Alabama Innovation Corporation will be transformational for our state’s economy by making Alabama a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, is the vice chairman of the Innovation Commission.

“Alabama has tremendous assets and a strong history of innovation to help build a workforce that’s inclusive to the demands of the future,” Reed said in a statement. “The Alabama Innovation Corporation is another tool that helps our state continue meeting these needs in the 21st century.”

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This new entity would act as a public-private partnership to promote specific initiatives in support of statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and access to advanced tech skills that will drive a modern workforce.

“Through the establishment of this statewide commission, we will be able to focus in on the innovation, technology and entrepreneurship-related issues that will be critical in giving Alabama the tools needed to grow our economy and allow our state to continue to be a great place to do business,” Reed said. “The corporation will be under the management of a board of directors, which will include representation from the Governor, the legislature, and six at-large directors that have expertise and experience in growing an entrepreneurial economy.”

The corporation would primarily be charged with making Alabama a hub for technology and innovation, supporting activities and initiatives that enhance this growth in all corners of our state.

House Bill 609 creates the Innovate Alabama Matching Program, which matches federal awards to Alabama-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) recipients. The Alabama Innovation Corporation will oversee the grant program, which will receive annual appropriations. SBIR and STTR federal programs award over $3.6 billion annually to more than 5,000 companies.

“State matching programs make it more attractive for small businesses to pursue funding and conduct innovative research in the state,” said Gray, who is a member of the commission. “This program will continue to build entrepreneurship in Alabama to ensure we’re a leader in innovation.”

“This is a golden opportunity for our small businesses in general, and our minority-owned businesses in particular, to be able to grow and advance because this legislation prioritizing the focus on underrepresented companies for awards,” Smitherman said. “These bills also provide an avenue for our HBCUs and all universities to partner with small businesses by developing a marketing campaign which ensures that underrepresented companies and HBCUs are aware of the grants available through the SBIR and STTR programs. It’s a win-win for our state.”

Zeke Smith is the president of the Commission’s Advisory Council and the executive vice president of external affairs at Alabama Power.

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“The Commission and Advisory Council continue to drive important policy discussions that will build the future of our state,” Smith said. “Forward-thinking policies like the Alabama Innovation Corporation and SBIR matching programs elevate Alabama and attract and retain top talent and innovative companies to stay and grow here.”

According to the governor’s office, the Alabama Innovation Commission and its subcommittees continue to meet regularly and to serve as a platform for innovators to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation. The commission has been charged with developing and presenting a comprehensive innovation policy agenda to Ivey and the Legislature in October.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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