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In Address to Economic Developers, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey Pledges to Focus on Labor Participation

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey talks to economic developers at the EDAA 2024 Winter Conference. (Hal Yeager / Governor's Office)

By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama News Center

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told economic developers this week that Alabama’s low labor participation rate is getting her attention and hinted it will be a part of her upcoming State of the State address and this year’s legislative session. In her luncheon address at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s 2024 Winter Conference on Jan. 30, Ivey noted Alabama’s low unemployment rate is a point of pride but the fact that nearly 43% of the population is not participating in the workforce is a concern.

Labor force participation measures the number of people who could work against those who are working or seeking work. The number can include early retirees, stay-at-home spouses or parents, those with disabilities or their caregivers. But it also includes those who can’t get access to childcare, affordable housing or transportation.

“I’m excited to usher in a fresh approach from the Ivey administration to better serve Alabama employers and job seekers,” Ivey told economic developers. “We can do more to ensure our systems are efficient and effective and this coming legislative session, we will do just that.”

Ivey stopped short of providing details but hinted the issue could be part of her State of the State address to the Legislature and Alabamians on Feb. 6. The governor is set to address the House and Senate at 6 p.m. in a joint session in the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol.

“We, and that includes all of you in this room, recruit the world’s best employers,” Ivey said at EDAA. “Now, we must ensure that every abled Alabamian takes full advantage of the high-wage careers they provide.”

Workforce issues, to include labor participation rates, were a hot topic at the EDAA conference.

Ed Castile is deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce Workforce Division and director of AIDT, the state’s premier workforce development initiative.

In addition to childcare, housing and transportation issues commonly cited as barriers to participation, Castile said education and health are other barriers, along with the cost of some workforce training programs.

Castile said the state already has a number of programs to help address some of the issues but other solutions are needed. He also noted there is a concerted effort from the governor, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and the private sector to find those solutions.

“The challenges are certainly there but I believe this legislative session, they are absolutely focused,” he said. “Something’s going to occur. There is no question. My bet is we’re going to resolve some of this workforce problem with childcare, assistance with incentives, perhaps with transportation and ways to help resolve that.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey talks to economic developers at the EDAA 2024 Winter Conference. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

In her EDAA address, Ivey said Alabama often has to modify its approach to workforce development to better address needs and position the state for economic growth.

“Alabama’s system of workforce development has evolved and improved over the years, especially during 2015 when major reforms were implemented,” she said. “But we can always do things better and the time has come for us to refine our efforts.”

In her address, Ivey also praised last year’s effort to pass the comprehensive Game Plan legislation to renew and improve economic development incentives.

“When I last spoke to you at your summer meeting at Point Clear, we were celebrating the successful 2023 legislative session. Now that we have had more time to reflect, by all measures, that session was historic,” Ivey said. “I don’t recall a time when our state’s leaders on both sides of the political aisle were more focused on the fundamentals of growing our economy and giving every Alabamian an opportunity to prosper.”

Ivey said those successes give her optimism and momentum heading into this session of the Legislature.

“Folks, so much was achieved a year ago because of the team effort to move Alabama forward,” she said. “I will simply add that the goodwill and the good work of the 2023 session is a solid foundation on which to build this year.”

Ivey also took a moment to praise the work of Greg Canfield, who stepped down as Alabama’s secretary of Commerce at the end of 2023 after 12 years in the role.“Under his leadership, Alabama has recruited jobs from all across the globe,” Ivey said. “Our port is humming like never before with import and export activity. Rural Alabama’s economy is turning the corner. And we have positioned our state to be a top national and international competitor for decades to come.”

She then turned her attention to the new Alabama Commerce secretary.

“I want to welcome my good friend Ellen McNair to lead the Department of Commerce,” Ivey said. “She and I worked together in economic development and there’s just no one more qualified to take over this position than Ellen. I look forward to joining Ellen and each of you in devoting even more energy into growing Alabama’s economy.”

Ivey also noted that Alabama’s economic success is reversing a former trend of population losses in the state.

“It seems that folks from California and up north want to share in what we’re doing,” she said. “The Department of Commerce recently reported that more people moved to Alabama than left our state in 2023. This is a trend that we have seen for a number of years as folks are learning that life is great in Alabama. Thanks to your hard work, there’s no better place to live than sweet home Alabama.”