MOBILE, Alabama – The Mobile area is certainly no stranger to international trade, but Alabama Commerce Chief Greg Canfield explained Thursday why small businesses remain the lifeblood of any economy.
“I’m in a market that understands international trade. After all, you have the deepwater portthat opens Alabama products and goods to the world,” Canfield told a sold-out crowd for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Business Expo luncheon at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center.
The role of the state commerce department, however, is not exclusively to recruit new industry to Alabama, but to leverage an arsenal of resources toward supporting the micro- and small businesses that sell Alabama to the world one product and service at a time, he said.
“We know about 75 percent of job growth in comes from micro- and small businesses, and our Office of Small Business Advocacy exists to help connect you, to open up your market for your products and goods to the world. It provides the connective tissue for businesses across the state to broaden their reach, so that you will grow, reinvest in your business and hopefully hire more people,” Canfield said.
Specifically, the small business advocacy office works in tandem with the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, the Alabama Film Office, the Office of International Trade and the department’s business development arm to execute the statewide Accelerate Alabama initiative conceived by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, he said.
“Great things are happening in Mobile, and great things happen when people come together with a common vision, with a common purpose, with a common strategy, and they work toward a common goal,” Canfield said.
The first step toward creating that unified statewide identity, he said, came in re-naming the former Alabama Development Office the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“If you’re going to implement a strategy to become globally significant, you have to have a name that can be translated and easily understood globally,” he explained.
Bentley then established the Alabama Economic Development Alliance to bring key players from every aspect of K-16 education to the table and hammer out what Canfield called a “game-changing” statewide plan to educate students in a way that not only provides career paths but meets the needs of business and industry at every turn.
“We worked for five months to develop a strategic plan that brought together economic development and educators at every level. No state’s done that. They’ve tried, but no state has done what we have done to this degree,” he said.
The result is the often-touted Accelerate Alabama initiative that Canfield said identifies educational and workforce preparedness goals and career development goals in a manner that marries education and economic development.
“We’re going to see a lot of good things come from this. We’re going to see the type of achievement that will better equip students that graduate so that they understand why math is important, why science is important…It’s an exciting time,” he said.
Above all, Canfield said he believes in “keeping things simple” because it makes implementation so much easier, which is why the commerce department focuses on what he calls the “Three Rs.”
“Recruit. Retain. Renew,” he said, noting the third component is a new direction for the state that emphasizes the growth of Alabama’s biotechnology sector and other areas where intellectual property and innovation are the true products.
“We’re helping to create plans to grow sectors such as nanotechnology and robotics and to grow all of the research-based capacity from here in Mobile all the way to Huntsville – the kind of research that can lead to new products, the kind of research that can be used to launch new enterprises. We’re trying to create an environment where that commercialization can happen here in Alabama and not go to some other state,” Canfield said.
To view the video of Canfield discussing prospects in the development pipeline more specific to the Mobile area, click here.
The Mobile chamber’s 2013 Business Expo began immediately following Canfield’s address, attracting more than 200 exhibitors. The event concludes at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a special Business After Hours at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza on Royal Street in downtown Mobile.