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Innovate Alabama board approves recommendations for enhancing state’s recreation assets

Taking full advantage of Alabama’s natural resources and recreational assets was high on the priority list as leaders with Innovate Alabama met, fittingly, this week at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham.

With the broad goal of helping nurture Alabama’s innovation economy, the Innovate Alabama board approved 13 recommendations for enhancing outdoor recreation resources throughout the state.

The recommendations were presented by Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which is working closely with Innovate Alabama on the recreational aspects of its mission.

“I see a lot of areas for growth in our efforts to promote Alabama’s outdoor recreation opportunities to a broader nationwide audience,” Blankenship told the board and members of the public in attendance. “Aligned with Innovate Alabama’s work in developing a network of communities and institutions committed to innovation, we want to take stock of our outdoor recreation assets and create a centralized hub for Alabamians and visitors to take advantage of what we have to offer.”

Key recommendations adopted by Innovate Alabama included:

  • Building a comprehensive, regularly updated inventory of all Alabama outdoor recreation assets.
  • Creating a website that is a central hub for outdoor recreation in the state, one that provides an accessible and intuitive user experience that includes an interactive map and trip-planning tools.
  • Developing a comprehensive, long-term branding, marketing and advertising plan for outdoor recreation that incorporates all regions of the state and all outdoor recreation sectors.
  • Organizing and hosting an annual Alabama outdoor recreation conference, including opportunities for business recruitment and economic and community development.
  • Completing a comprehensive competitive analysis of what neighboring states are doing well, particularly in utilizing outdoor recreation as a tool for retaining and attracting talent.

Mary Stockard. raptor coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park, shows an eastern screech owl to Innovate Alabama CEO Cynthia Crutchfield and State Finance Director Bill Poole, chair of the Innovate Alabama board. (Peritus Public Relations)

Among the other recommendations adopted by the board were the formal establishment of a permanent Council on Outdoor Recreation within Innovate Alabama; having Innovate Alabama coordinate the state’s outdoor recreation strategy, including establishing programs and hiring staff dedicated to those efforts; and advocating for long-term, dedicated, sustainable funding in state budgets for outdoor recreation coordination and maintenance and enhancements of outdoor recreation assets.

The focus on Alabama’s natural beauty and outdoor resources comes out of a 2021 report completed by the Hoover Institution for the Alabama Innovation Commission that explored how Alabama could become more attractive for entrepreneurs and startups. Enhancing the state’s recreational assets was among the key findings of the report, which resulted in the creation of Innovate Alabama.

In other business, the board approved three applications for the first round of the Innovate Alabama Tax Credit established in April as part of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Game Plan.” The successful applicants were Bronze Valley, for its VentureLab Alabama tech accelerator; the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator; and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Applications for the second round of tax credits under the program are due Aug. 9 and will be reviewed at the next Innovate Alabama board meeting, scheduled for Aug. 29.

“Innovate Alabama has had a busy start to 2023 as we move from planning to implementation,” Innovate Alabama CEO Cynthia Crutchfield said. “I’m thankful to our board and stakeholders for their sustained effort as we stand up programs to support innovation throughout Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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