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Alabama’s innovation economy sees strength in inclusion

Alabama’s innovation economy will not reach its full potential unless it is inclusive.

That was the message from Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole. He served as chairman of the Alabama Innovation Commission and now chairs the board of the Alabama Innovation Corporation.

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Poole spoke last week to members of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama’s Women’s Policy Institute fellows during their visit to the state Capitol. The Alabama Power Foundation hosted the meeting.

Poole said the innovation economy needs input from women and other groups to ensure that all ideas are being captured and all are being represented as the state pulls in unison to grow in areas of entrepreneurship, technology, research and development and the broader knowledge-based economy.

Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole talks Alabama Innovation Corporation with Khadidah Stone from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Poole urged anyone with ideas on growing the innovation economy in Alabama to bring them to the Alabama Innovation Corporation.

“I think within a matter of months, the new entity will further formalize and will have an executive director and some staff,” Poole said. “In the meantime, bring them to me or bring them to any member of the Innovation Corporation board. Get those ideas on the table. We can’t turn an idea into reality if we don’t know about it.”

RELATED: Alabama Innovation Commission releases recommendations to grow state’s economy, build competitive workforce

Once the Innovation Corporation is staffed, it will set out to implement programs and advocate for policy. Some of those have been identified through the work of the Innovation Commission. Others will become apparent through the Innovation Corporation’s work.

“There’s a series of recommendations from the commission that speak to it, but we’ve got to turn that into action,” Poole said.

“We know we want to stand up a pretty robust mentorship program.

“It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another to bring it to fruition,” Poole added.

Helping in business planning, accessing capital and training, working through grant applications and commercializing technology are expected to be other initiatives of the Alabama Innovation Corporation.

The corporation board has two women, including Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. Alabama native Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and director of the Hoover Institution, served on the Alabama Innovation Commission Advisory Council and was instrumental in developing the commission’s recommendations.

Ensuring women have a voice at this pivotal time is essential, said Melanie R. Bridgeforth, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama (WFA).

“Advancing systemic change that accelerates economic opportunity for women and creates a more equitable workplace requires an all-hands-on-deck approach with both the public and private sector at the table. Alabama Power has lent their voice and support to Women’s Foundation of Alabama as we’ve launched the Women’s Policy Institute Fellowship program and equipped community leaders across the state to advocate for common-sense, nonpartisan and community-driven public policy solutions,” she said. “Support from the business community makes WFA’s work possible and accelerates our vision of a state where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race or place.”

Quentin P. Riggins, senior vice president of Governmental and Corporate Affairs at Alabama Power, serves on the WFA board. Houston Smith, vice president of Governmental Affairs at Alabama Power, spoke at the event in Montgomery. He said an inclusive attitude shows the state and others have learned from past mistakes.

“When our company was founded, women could not vote,” he said. “If anything has changed since our company’s inception, it would be that now, more than ever, we are actively advocating to create equitable opportunities for everyone in Alabama, understanding that an inclusive Alabama is a stronger Alabama. We can’t move Alabama forward unless we are collectively working together toward that goal. That’s exactly why we’re here tonight to talk about the private-public partnership called the Innovation Corporation created with this mission in mind.”

RELATED: What’s next for Alabama’s innovation economy?

Poole said there are a number of ways Alabama can grow the innovation economy, but a key focus will be to convince more college graduates to remain here.

“In Alabama, we do a wonderful job of exporting. We export a lot of timber, we export a lot of cars, we export a lot of poultry and we export a lot of talent – we export a lot of college graduates,” he said. “So, we’re going to work real hard on talent retention, talent recruitment, creating pipelines through education with programming and mentorships into tech, into entrepreneurial-type areas.”