Stormy, cold, unpleasant weather did not hinder more than 125 people from attending the Job and Economic Growth Forum in Montgomery, Alabama last month hosted by USDA Rural Development and the USDA Farm Service Agency, as a follow-up to the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth that President Obama hosted at the White House on in December of last year.
Alabama’s forum provided an opportunity for residents, business owners, elected officials, non-profit organizations, and community leaders from across the state to share ideas on creating jobs and economic opportunities.
A warm, encouraging welcome from Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange opened the forum. Opening remarks from Rural Development State Director Ronald Davis, Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Daniel Robinson, and Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist William Puckett led to video remarks by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. Both Davis and Robinson expressed their appreciation to those attending and reinforced USDA’s commitment to support the President’s initiative to hold conversations and roundtable discussions to get feedback and suggestions that can be provided back to the President relating to seven questions provided for comment and discussion.
Dr. Samuel Addy set the tone for the forum by using numerous charts and graphs to reflect the economic and employment conditions in Alabama. Dr. Addy serves as Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at The University of Alabama. “Our secret is out. Alabama is a good place to do business and to live. More people are coming here.” Seventy percent of our population live in 28 metro areas; 30 percent in non-metro—rural areas. Of the jobs that we lost in the 12-month period from October to October, nearly half was in the rural areas, which means it’s aggravating the economic situation there.”
Dr. Joe A. Sumners served as moderator for the roundtable discussion. Dr. Sumners is Director of the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University. “We have a number of questions that we’ll be going through just like other states in the union will be going through these same questions and reporting to the Administration the views of the people. So we’ll first answer questions with the panel, and then, at the end of that, we’ll open it to conversations with the audience after that. Today, we’re connecting our ideas of how we might work together, think together, act together. In communities we need to connect all of our stakeholders and make sure we’re talking to one another. It’s about connecting ideas.”
Roundtable participants eagerly discussed obstacles in creating and retaining jobs, shared success stories, offered ideas on how to support and jump start a struggling economy, frequently stressed the importance of education and workforce development, more than once pointed out the correlation between infrastructure and economic growth, as well as offered opinions and suggested changes to improve the accessibility of Federal funding to rural areas/communities that could possibly help improve economic conditions and put Americans back to work.
“In my capacity as State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, I oversee the administration of several federal programs by way of a state office and 225 or more employees and 55 service entities. In 2009 alone, we issued pretty close to $2 million to farmers. In the words of an expert economist, ‘A farmer’s dollar turns over five to six times in Alabama. Now, if his economic theory is anywhere close to being right, that’s a big bang for the money,” said Robinson.
“My goal as State Director is to use rural development programs throughout Alabama to make a difference in the quality of life and services in rural towns and communities where we all live and our families grow up, to create new jobs, to retain existing jobs, and to support community and economic development. In Alabama this year, we have $85 million in business and industry initiatives. We also have money in energy resources that are out there to assist people in upgrading businesses and industries,” said Davis.
Discussion and comments by the panelists and the audience extended the forum beyond it’s scheduled ending time. The discussion will be summarized and provided to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and President Obama for consideration.
A capacity crowd turns out for a USDA sponsored jobs forum in Alabama.
Jobs Forum panelists included:
Left to Right: Stan Batemon, Phillis Belcher, John Schmidt, Tim Harlin
Submitted by Beverly Helton, Assistant to the State Director/Public Information Coordinator, USDA Rural Development. Photos provided by Vickie Lane, Public Relations/Outreach Specialist Farm Service Agency, and Lori Quiller, Director of Public Relations, Association of County Commissions of Alabama.