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Two bills signed into law to advance innovation, 21st century economy in Alabama

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey this week signed into law two bills passed by the Alabama Legislature designed to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in the state while attracting and retaining talented workers for a 21st century economy.

HB 540 and HB 609 were developed based on interim policy recommendations by the Alabama Innovation Commission, which was created last year at the governor’s directive.

“The state of Alabama is focused on ensuring our innovation economy is strong,” stated Ivey. “The policy ideas developed from the hard work of the Alabama Innovation Commission will create an environment for growth through supporting entrepreneurship, job creation and workforce development.”

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), HB 540 creates the Alabama Innovation Corporation, a first-of-its-kind, public-private partnership in Alabama that will serve as a catalyst for the state’s growing innovation economy. The corporation will be charged with making Alabama a hub for technology and innovation, supporting efforts to enhance growth across the state and ensuring the collaboration that is needed to prepare Alabama for the economy of the future.

The cutting-edge partnership will give Alabama entrepreneurs and innovators the tools and resources for growth and success, including:

  • Developing and implementing capital recruitment and funding.
  • Facilitating programs to promote equity and inclusion in innovation ecosystems.
  • Collaborating with universities and research institutions for research and development and commercialization opportunities.
  • Coordinating industry clusters to retain talent and investment capital.
  • Serving as a connector of public and private stakeholders to ensure public policy aligns with the needs of the innovation economy.

“I’m appreciative of Governor Ivey’s support of the Alabama Innovation Commission and our policy recommendations,” said Poole, who chairs the Innovation Commission. “The establishment of the Alabama Innovation Corporation will be transformational for our state’s economy by making Alabama a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Reed serves as vice chairman of the commission.

“Alabama has tremendous assets and a strong history of innovation to help build a workforce that’s inclusive to the demands of the future,” he commented. “The Alabama Innovation Corporation is another tool that helps our state continue meeting these needs in the 21st century.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), HB 609 gives Alabama companies the ability to access matching federal grant awards for small business innovation and technology.

The law creates the Innovate Alabama Matching Program, which matches federal awards to Alabama-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) recipients. The newly-created Alabama Innovation Corporation will oversee the grant program, which will receive annual appropriations from the Education Trust Fund. SBIR and STTR federal programs award over $3.6 billion annually to more than 5,000 companies.

“State matching programs make it more attractive for small businesses to pursue funding and conduct innovative research in the state,” commented Gray, who is also a member of the Innovation Commission. “This program will continue to build entrepreneurship in Alabama to ensure we’re a leader in innovation.”

Smitherman added, “This is a golden opportunity for our small businesses in general, and our minority-owned businesses in particular, to be able to grow and advance because this legislation prioritizing the focus on underrepresented companies for awards. These bills also provide an avenue for our HBCUs and all universities to partner with small businesses by developing a marketing campaign which ensures that underrepresented companies and HBCUs are aware of the grants available through the SBIR and STTR programs. It’s a win-win for our state.”

The Innovation Commission has an advisory council and has partnered with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which is led by Birmingham native and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She is a member of the advisory council.

There are five Alabama Innovation Commission advisory council members in addition to Rice; Zeke Smith, Alabama Power Company’s executive vice president of external affairs, serves as president of the advisory council.

“The Commission and Advisory Council continue to drive important policy discussions that will build the future of our state,” Smith said in a statement. “Forward-thinking policies like the Alabama Innovation Corporation and SBIR matching programs elevate Alabama and attract and retain top talent and innovative companies to stay and grow here.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn