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The Frontier conference’s Innovate Alabama panel highlights policies to advance economic growth across the state

Innovate Alabama officials believe the same approach that helped make Alabama a leader in the automotive industry can drive the state to similar success in the innovation economy.

That was one of the takeaways from the Innovate Alabama panel during The Frontier 2021 conference.

In 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey formed the Alabama Innovation Commission – known as Innovate Alabama – to enhance the state’s innovation and economic development efforts for success in a 21st century world.

During The Frontier’s conference, Peggy Sammon, CEO of GeneCapture Inc. and member of Innovate Alabama, moderated a panel that discussed how Alabama is advancing innovation growth through forward-thinking policies.

The panel included Miller Girvin, executive vice president of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM, and Rick Clementz, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief of staff at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International – all of whom serve on the commission.

“It’s been a fun and stimulating project,” Sammon said of her time on the commission. “A lot of work is happening across the state to spur additional innovation, but there’s a lot of innovation in Alabama already.”

Stokes said one of the key challenges for advancing these efforts is to think in terms of policy.

“A lot of policies and initiatives we recommend center on education programs, financial structures and incentivizing companies of all sizes to participate,” she said.

In a globally competitive world, Alabama has much to offer, particularly in terms of its established and emerging innovation clusters, including in the automotive, health care, information technology and cyber security sectors.

Clementz recalled the landmark decision by Mercedes-Benz to locate a manufacturing plant in Alabama.

“Over 26 years ago, when Mercedes first came to Alabama, they had not produced a single vehicle outside of Germany. It was an incredible risk to try this for the first time,” he said. “They selected Alabama because of the support and culture of state and business that came together to make it possible. That same culture and environment is what you see in the innovation commission now.”

Girvin discussed the dramatic shift over the past five to seven years regarding opportunities in Alabama related to the innovation sector, especially in terms of securing capital.

“Having the support of strong industry clusters makes it easier for those innovative companies to raise money when they have a customer in the state to work with them,” she said. “Outside venture capitalists are taking note of what is happening in Alabama.”

Girvin added that the messaging around innovation is an important component when it comes to access to capital, and that matching programs are incredibly helpful in complementing federal and state programs.

That collaborative energy is helping innovative startups in Alabama in a variety of ways, from attracting capital investment to gaining support and guidance through mentorship.

“There is a desire for success in the state. Many people and many companies are willing to give to make that happen,” Sammon said.

Clementz emphasized that developing, retaining and attracting talent is essential for success. “Getting the right workforce is challenging, but it is one of the best investments we can make as a state.”

For more information about Innovate Alabama and its work in enhancing and expanding entrepreneurship, innovation and technology development across the state, visit InnovateAlabama.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)