Governor Kay Ivey addressed the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) this morning to outline fundamental priorities ahead of her annual State of the State address tonight as the Alabama Legislature kicks off the 2024 session.
Ivey highlighted successes of 2023, including the maintenance of a historic budgetary position in both the general and and education budgets and policies passed with the goal of Alabama’s future economic growth in mind.
Ivey credited the achievements of the past year to a collaborative effort, particularly in appreciation of contributions from former Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield. She praised the passage of The Game Plan, which solidifies Alabama’s job recruitment strategy as a significant accomplishment of the previous year.
Governor Ivey’s full remarks and video of event:
“I always enjoy these gatherings as we kick off the new legislative session. I like to think of this as a ‘pep rally’ to set the tone for a productive four months to come.
Folks, we can’t look ahead without looking back.
By all measures, 2023 was a success. We completed two special sessions and a regular session. We enacted historic – but wise – spending levels for the general and education trust funds, and we laid a solid foundation of investments in future economic growth for Alabama.
While I would like to give all the credit to former Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, I must admit it was a team effort. Incidentally, I’d like to again welcome Clay to the BCA. In retrospect, many can take a bow – especially BCA – for a host of monumental votes during 2023, most especially the passage of The Game Plan. Its bipartisan rollout and final approval were remarkable. Thanks to all your efforts, Alabama’s tested job recruitment strategy remains on solid footing. That’s what governing is all about.
This is 2024, and we now have a new chapter in Alabama history to write. Looking at the calendar, we’re beginning our legislative work almost one month earlier than last year. That’s a good thing because the people’s business cannot wait. I am excited about the opportunity for more progress that lies ahead.
I’ve made no secret of my focus on two complementary goals in my second term as governor: Doubling down on Alabama’s proven economic development efforts, and, advancing educational achievement opportunities for all Alabama students
I am optimistic because I have already witnessed the successful implementation of programs to add local jobs and elevate classroom achievement. In the six months following last year’s regular session, we hit the road touring all 15 of our Turnaround schools and opening new frontiers in broadband connections across formerly remote Alabama communities.
I could practically devote all my remarks to detailing the new ground that we’ve broken in infrastructure alone. Time will not allow for that but let me say that the momentum of this progress is accelerating.
Last Friday, I was in Fort Payne dedicating a lifesaving telehealth digital access project. Yesterday, I was in Wilcox County announcing the completion of Middle Mile broadband access in that previously- underserved Blackbelt area. These announcements cap similar visits in recent months to rural Walker, Cullman, Escambia and Pike counties.
Since 2018, we have invested approximately $82 million dollars in grants to support more than 100 broadband expansion projects. Once completed, more than 72,000 Alabama households which didn’t already have broadband access will be connected.
Add to that, the Alabama Middle Mile and Anchor Institute Middle Mile programs, and the state has already invested a total of $352 million dollars in broadband expansion.
But we’re just getting started. Alabama is a big state with many miles yet to cover. Last week, I announced $40 million dollars in the first-round of 2024 funding for 26 new road and bridge projects across the state. This is on top of over $170 million dollars in local road and bridge funds awarded since the beginning of the Rebuild Alabama program in 2019.
To date, Rebuild Alabama has funded nearly 250 new road and bridge projects, resurfacing more than 400 miles of roadway. In addition to paving the way for more jobs and economic expansion, these investments are transforming Alabama into the 5th Best State to Drive In, according to Wallet Hub.
I cannot say it enough, Alabama is literally being transformed right under our feet thanks to Rebuild Alabama. And BCA – as a major supporter of the program – deserves much of the credit for this achievement.
Alabama is not only leading the way by upgrading and expanding its roads, bridges and digital connections, but we are also making news on our waterways. Just last week, I announced Rebuild Alabama investments in the Port of Alabama in Mobile are paying major dividends.
Last year, the Port brought home over $98 billion dollars in economic impact. The Port, which Forbes recently recognized as the second fastest growing in America, supports one out of seven jobs statewide.
But our work to grow and to protect Alabama’s jobs isn’t yet done. Some out-of-state folks have recently taken notice of Alabama’s successful, innovative approach to attract new industry and good jobs, and they want a piece of our action.
Among those drivers taking advantage of our safe roads are big labor organizers from up North. They’ve set their sights on Alabama’s growing auto industry.
As you all know, almost three decades ago Alabama’s economy dramatically shifted gears to auto manufacturing. And we’ve not once looked back in the rearview mirror. Since 1995, we’ve accelerated from zero to 1.3 million in annual vehicle production capacity. Alabama auto workers generate more than $9 billion dollars in annual exports – assembling 15 different cars, SUVs and trucks, including three cutting-edge, all-electric vehicles.
Alabama has become a national leader in automotive manufacturing – the number three state for vehicle exports and the number five state for total auto production.
And all this was achieved without a unionized workforce. But big labor has finally caught sight of Alabama’s model for economic success, our hard workers.
Make no mistake about it: The UAW is an out-of-state special interest group, and their special interests do not include Alabama or the men and women earning a career in Alabama’s automotive industry. Rather, big labor seeks to profit from the hard work of Alabamians and tap into our economic success. This cannot stand.
I want to add my voice to BCA president Helena Duncan who recently asked if Alabamians want big labor to do to our state what they did to Detroit? Rather than allowing out of state special interests to tap into Alabama jobs, we will continue to focus on making our state more competitive in landing more good-paying jobs, while also putting more Alabamians to work.
Last summer, we hit one of the lowest unemployment rates in state history at 2.1 percent. As we celebrated that milestone, we also observed that too many Alabama businesses still have help-wanted signs in their windows. In fact, in July 2023, I penned an op-ed noting the need to shift our focus to labor force participation. Alabama’s system of workforce development has evolved and improved over the years. Especially during 2015 when major reforms were implemented.
But we can always do things better, and the time has come to refine our efforts. I am excited to usher in a fresh approach for the Ivey Administration to better serve Alabama employers and jobseekers.
We can do more to ensure our systems are efficient and effective, and this coming legislative session, we will do just that. We recruit the world’s best employers. Now, we must ensure that every able Alabamian takes full advantage of the high-wage careers they provide. I am proud of the $48 billion dollars that has been invested in Alabama’s economy during my time as governor and all the jobs that have come with it.
Finally, I am eager to continue the important work of raising the quality of education for all Alabama’s children.
We are beginning to turn the corner, and we must not slow down our efforts to raise student proficiency in the basics. I share the view of many of you that all options are on the table, including expanding the ability of parents to choose alternate paths for their children’s education.
I am not going to talk specifics yet, but I am excited about the joint efforts between my team and legislators in developing new ideas to expand school choice. You will hear more about my ideas for the new session tonight in my State of the State address.
It’s 2024, the new Legislative Session is here, and it’s time to get back to work!”
Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270