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Alabama Power Has Best Year in Economic Development

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Novelis announced its $2.5 billion project in May and broke ground in October. The aluminum processing plant is being built on the South Alabama Mega Site. (Hal Yeager / Governor's Office)

By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama NewsCenter

On the 3,000-acre South Alabama Mega Site just off Interstate 65 in Baldwin County, work is underway on the $2.5 billion Novelis aluminum mill that will create 1,000 good-paying jobs.

The site itself took shape with the help of Alabama Power, CSX, the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance and others. Alabama Power also played a key role in Novelis choosing the site for the project.

It’s a mega project on a mega site that is part of a mega year for Alabama Power’s economic development efforts.

Alabama Power’s economic development team worked with state and local officials on new and expanding projects that brought an announced 7,307 jobs and $6 billion in new investment this year – both the largest numbers the company has on record for any one year.

That’s saying something, since economic development has been a cornerstone of Alabama Power almost since it was founded. The record-setting year caps off an eight-year run under Mark Crosswhite as CEO that the company said is the best eight years in its history.

Alabama Power’s Economic and Community Development team partners with state and local economic developers throughout Alabama to help recruit new industry and help existing industry expand. Alabama Power has long operated on the belief that if it is good for Alabama, it’s good for Alabama Power.

Other announced projects Alabama Power was involved in this year include:

Crosswhite, who announced his retirement at the end of this year, has encouraged Alabama Power’s economic development efforts as a way of helping the state grow and as a way of growing the company. Crosswhite also has put added emphasis on growing the state’s innovation economy to better position it for recruiting the tech- and knowledge-based industries of the future.

“Mark Crosswhite has exemplified Alabama Power’s commitment to elevating the state through the strategic recruitment and expansion of advanced manufacturing,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “At the same time, Mark’s biggest contribution may be his work in accelerating the development of Alabama’s innovation economy, particularly in the creation of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator and his involvement in establishing Innovate Alabama.”

Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite is retiring at the end of 2022. (file)

Crosswhite worked with Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole, Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed and others to form Innovate Alabama, a public-private initiative focused on growing the innovation economy in Alabama.

Innovate Alabama recently hired its first CEO and launched its first initiative to better position Alabama’s natural resources for growing the economy and recruiting and retaining talent.

“Mark Crosswhite recognized the importance of a diversified, innovative Alabama economy,” Poole said. “Mark advocated for the creation of the cornerstone measure in Innovate Alabama and supported Alabama Power’s key partnership with the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. These efforts, made possible through Mark’s vision and leadership, will ensure Alabama is well positioned for economic growth and sustainability for years to come.”

Reed also noted Crosswhite’s work in creating the Alabama Innovation Corporation, which became Innovate Alabama.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight Mark’s significant contributions to Alabama’s innovation economy through the Alabama Innovation Corporation,” Reed said. “Mark and his team have been a key partner to the corporation as we identify ways to create and promote this important sector of our economy, remove barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and innovators and make sure the public policies of our state enhance this growth.”

Along with Crosswhite’s and Alabama Power’s emphasis on innovation was recognizing the need for greater broadband growth. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized how parts of the state don’t have the kind of internet speeds needed for business, education, health care and other essential functions.

“A cornerstone of Mark’s legacy at Alabama Power will undoubtedly be the expansion of broadband internet across Alabama,” Reed said. “As public policymakers identified lack of internet access as an area of key need, Mark quickly began working with us (the Legislature) as a key partner in helping us deliver access to our unserved and underserved constituents.”

As Alabama’s labor force tightened in recent years, Crosswhite was among the business leaders who worked to address those needs.

“For many years, Mark and I have collaborated on training centers in rural areas of the state for students in K-12 and higher education,” Reed said. “These training centers have provided opportunities for thousands of students to enter the workforce with the proper skills and access to high-paying and quality jobs.”

At the end of the day, it’s those jobs created – and lives changed – that will be part of Crosswhite’s economic development legacy.

“There are thousands of people across Alabama and beyond who have better careers and quality of life because of Mark Crosswhite’s consistent personal interest, thought leadership and active engagement in economic development throughout the state,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

Alabama Power partnered with EDPA, the Alabama Department of Commerce, Altec, PowerSouth, the University of AlabamaSouthern Research and Hardware Park to form and support the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. The accelerator supports startups in the energy sector working on innovative and sustainable solutions to current and emerging issues. A number of those companies have relocated to the state and the innovations that have shown promise are being further developed.

It’s an example of how Crosswhite’s foresight for Alabama Power has been to pursue economic development in ways beyond traditional recruitment and expansion efforts.

“Under Mark’s leadership and vision, our company, specifically the Economic and Community Development team, has had countless opportunities to join with other partners across the state to grow Alabama,” said Leigh Davis, Alabama Power vice president of Economic Development. “He leaves a lasting legacy that reinforces the value of collaboration, partnership and innovation.”

As Reed put it: “Mark’s tenure can be defined by progress and partnership. I am grateful for his friendship and wish him all the best in retirement.”