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Frontier Leadership panel features Economic Development Partnership of Alabama chief

Creating a culture that spurs innovation and lays the foundation for success will help leaders survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive landscape, Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), said recently.

Innovation is a must, not an option, in this era of rapid change across industrial sectors, Barker said during a Frontier Conference virtual session facilitated by Whitney Wright, co-chair of Athena Collective. Change is being propelled by transformative technologies, including data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and smart manufacturing solutions, Barker said. Business leaders are under pressure to adapt and adjust.

Barker was named president of the EDPA in June 2020. He has been involved in economic development for more than 30 years, with 20 of those years serving at Alabama Power.

Barker is optimistic about 2021 and, based on his conversations with business leaders in Alabama, he’s not the only one with a positive economic outlook. Barker said workers are becoming accustomed to virtual meetings and adapting their workday to the ever-changing environment.

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its quarterly survey results saying manufacturers were more positive in the first quarter of 2021 than they were in any quarter since the beginning of 2019.

Barker pointed to successes in Alabama that bode well for the state. He said the legislation to renew incentives that passed early in the current session of the Alabama Legislature is a big positive.

Also, Gov. Kay Ivey established the Alabama Innovation Commission late last year, with state Rep. Bill Poole serving as chair of Innovate Alabama and Sen. Greg Reed serving as vice chair, overseeing the commission’s 15 members.

“They are coming up with great ideas to innovate and support companies,” said Barker. “These leaders have worked together to develop strategies on how Alabama can see more growth and a better quality of life.”

On the national level, Barker said investment is needed in infrastructure nationwide: roads, water, sewer, fiber and broadband. These investments create job opportunities and provide critical infrastructure that businesses need to be successful. Federal matching money is “incredibly helpful” in developing infrastructure to sustain success on the state level, Barker said.

In addition to the policy and tactical growth that drive and facilitate innovation in businesses, culture and leadership are also important to make sure innovation is part of every business.

“We’ve all heard the saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Barker. “If you don’t have the right kind of culture and mindset, it’s going to be really hard to implement your strategies. Your culture has to perpetuate or you’re not going to be successful.”

Diversity and inclusion are right to do from a human perspective, Barker said, but they are also right to do for a business to be successful.

“It doesn’t stop there. At EDPA, we observe how emerging companies do business with big companies,” Barker said. “In Alabama and all over the nation, we can do a better job of finding these fits. These emerging companies are developing solutions that could be helpful with some of the big issues facing big companies. We’re trying to do a better job of engaging smaller companies with big companies. It has to start at the top and work its way down.”

Sales between big and small companies are two examples of where culture and risk collide, Barker said. There are many successful incubators around Alabama that have proved successful.

“We need great talent to bring new business to Alabama,” Barker said. “We’re making robust investments in fiber infrastructure and broadband, products they need to be gainfully employed. It’s the single most important thing. It’s also about quality of life; there are great restaurants, the outdoors, quick access to sandy beaches, mountains, streams, lakes, and our cost of living is significantly lower.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)