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Mark Crosswhite sees Alabama’s people, universities vital to economic growth

In a speech at UAB’s Hill Student Center, Mark Crosswhite provided a detailed blue print for how he believes Alabama’s university system can help the state’s business community build for the future.

The Alabama Power chairman, president and CEO addressed the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees and, in doing so, outlined a plan for the universities and state to capitalize on its people.

Crosswhite began by applauding the work of Alabama’s universities.

“You’re educating thousands of the state’s, and really the nation’s, best and brightest,” he said. “Tracking hundreds of millions of dollars of sponsored research. Providing support through economic development and community development programs. You’re improving healthcare in the state.”

Even with all the accomplishments, Crosswhite said that, in his view, the success of the state and its universities are tied closely together moving forward.

In accordance with that belief, he presented three areas for the universities and the business community to work more closely together.

The first was in the area of attracting and retaining a talented workforce.

Based on statistics he cited, Alabama has room for significant improvement when it comes to workforce retention.

He suggested focusing on the things that motivate people beyond merely employment.

“Let’s get them a job, but let’s get them involved in our community,” Crosswhite said.

Research that his own company had done points toward community involvement being an important factor for people looking to enter the workforce.

“Civic engagements drive them,” he emphasized. “It gives them a sense of ownership and creates a sense of place for them, and that’s something that they value.”

For Crosswhite, the collaborative goal is clear.

“We want to work with the system to find a way to keep students here in the state,” he said.

The second area he thinks the two groups can work on is in leveraging relationships.

The value in the relationships held by the universities is something they should seek to realize, according to him.

“The system has great and unique relationships all over the world,” he pointed out.

His plan is to tap into those relationships and engage in specific recruitments.

“Actively ask them to come back, come here, start a business here, open a business here,” said Crosswhite. “We try to do that at Alabama Power. When we go out across the state, we look for connections and we will target people and go after them.”

He characterized some of the existing connections for the universities as ripe for this type of approach.

“The system has some real world-class faculty performing sponsored research for prominent companies around the world,” he said. “How can we go back to those companies if you’re having research done in Alabama? Let’s see if we can’t get some of your business located here.”

The final piece to Crosswhite’s plan involved expanding the spotlight on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“I know that’s already a big focus for all campuses now,” he acknowledged.

But the results he has seen lend to an even more intense focus.

Crosswhite mentioned the success of Alabama LaunchPad, an early-stage business investment program through the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

According to Crosswhite, the mentoring and funding program for start-ups has provided $4 million to 82 Alabama start-up businesses which collectively now have a valuation of more than $200 million.

“Those type of activities would be another way business and the university system can work together,” he added. “We know that in the startups we’ve seen here already from Alabama Launchpad, the successful ones often have someone from the university involved.”

The key, he said, is pursuing those partnerships for a defined purpose.

“We want to find people who can come in and make their idea into a business,” he outlined.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

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