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Alabama Senate passes two bills to advance innovation, entrepreneurship

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed two bills as amended to advance a 21st-century Alabama economy in which innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish.

HB 540, sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), and HB 609, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika), both stem from interim policy recommendations made by the Alabama Innovation Commission, of which Poole is chair. Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper), the vice chair of the commission, is the sponsor of both companion bills in the upper chamber. Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) carried HB 609 on Tuesday, underling the bipartisan nature of the effort.

The first bill, HB 540, would establish the Alabama Innovation Corporation. This 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.

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.

“This bill is an important priority of the Alabama Innovation Commission, which I serve on as vice-chairman, and will have a strong impact on our state’s future,” Reed said in a statement.

Also known as Innovate Alabama, the Alabama Innovation Commission was created by Governor Kay Ivey in July 2020 as Alabama’s first statewide commission focused on innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

“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,” Reed explained.

“I thank Representative Bill Poole, who serves on the Alabama Innovation Commission as its chairman, for his work on this bill and moving it out of the House. As we look at ways to drive our state forward, it is clear that the ability to innovate will assist in our efforts to foster a more inclusive, robust and resilient economy across the state,” he added.

Meanwhile, HB 609 would create the Innovate Alabama Matching Grant Program to promote research and development in the Yellowhammer State.

The program would match federal awards to Alabama-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) recipients. SBIR and STTR awards are helpful for companies with technologies that can be commercialized, supporting entrepreneurs throughout a large array of industries, including biotechnology.

“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 stated. “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.”

Reed concluded, “These economic development incentives will allow the state of Alabama to match grants from the federal government to encourage businesses, entrepreneurs and employers to come to Alabama make our state home. This will have an immediate impact on our state, and I appreciate Representative Gray for sponsoring it in the House, and Senator Smitherman for carrying the bill in the Senate.”

The two bills now return to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. HB 540 originally passed the House in a 102-1 vote, while HB 609 passed the lower chamber 97-1.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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