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Legislative leaders discuss ambitious workforce and economic development package

Yellowhammer News hosted its annual panel discussion Wednesday with the President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate and Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

Now in year two of the quadrennium, it was the second installment of the event featuring Pro Tem Greg Reed and Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter alongside one another as leaders of their respective chambers.

A major topic of discussion with the legislative leaders on Wednesday that will increasingly have the attention of all lawmakers was a package of workforce and economic development bills that are aimed to improve Alabama’s low labor force participation rate and create a stronger, more resilient Alabama economy. 

Pro Tem Reed and Speaker Ledbetter each commended Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth for taking on this issue through his work on the Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce. 

“First of all, the Lieutenant Governor’s commission did a great job on this,” Ledbetter said. “A lot of this came out of his commission and they did a tremendous job, and I’m excited about that. I’ve got a list of bills on my desk and we’re looking toward a date to try to move them.”

RELATED: Reed details legislative approach to building the Alabama workforce of tomorrow in BCA talk

The Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce was established in 2019 and charged with charting a path for the state to improve and modernize workforce competitiveness.

At the time the commission report was released in January, Ainsworth said: 

“Alabama is the economic recruitment leader of the Southeast, but to maintain our competitive edge we need historic, transformative changes to our workforce development system,” said Ainsworth. “Our commission has created a plan to align our job training efforts so Alabama can seize new opportunities and connect all Alabamians with 21st century employment. With these reforms, we can make Alabama’s workforce development the envy of the nation.”

The commission report stated that to improve the state’s labor force participation rate, Alabama should consolidate the Department of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division, AIDT and the Department of Labor into a new Alabama Workforce Authority (AWA) to be led by a Cabinet-level Secretary of Workforce Development appointed by the Governor.

The AWA would be governed by a nine-member board of directors who will advise the Governor and Legislature on workforce priorities and help hold state agencies accountable.

RELATED: Alabama’s strategy for workforce competitiveness proposed in ‘transformative’ new plan

Another recommendation of the commission was to establish a child care tax credit, which Ledbetter said is very close to being done. 

“We are working on a bill to deal with child care tax credits and think that’s getting very close,” said Ledbetter. 

Reed mentioned another key component of the commission’s report, which is to establish a workforce pathways diploma that supports students accessing skills training during high school. 

“One of the things that the Lieutenant Governor had on his list is the idea of a workforce diploma,” said Reed. “This would be to give a kid that’s not going to go to college the kind of on-the-job training opportunities needed so that when they graduate at 18 years old,  they’ll have good training and will be ready to go to work.” 

RELATED: Expanding access to high quality childcare builds support among Alabama lawmakers, working families

Reed also mentioned the need for having a strong workforce when it comes to recruiting industry to invest in the state. 

My opinion is Alabama must grow along the interstates — but also in rural Alabama, Reed said.

Rural Alabama has to be engaged. There’s a lot of employees in rural Alabama. If we look for an opportunity to say, if we’re trying to increase workforce participation, we know there are rural folks that are able to be employed.

“Those looking to invest in Alabama are going to say, ‘how can you guarantee me a workforce if I come and spend $100 million to put my facility on your SEEDS Site that has been developed?’ We’ve got to have the ability to say that people in that community are going to be able to be trained to work at your facility.” 

The leaders each confirmed the package is built on and made possible by the successes of “The Game Plan” passed in 2023. 

Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270.

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