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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

Economic growth a priority as Alabama creates funding opportunities for technology, innovation

Last Wednesday, Governor Kay Ivey made a major step toward supporting the growth of Alabama's technology and innovation sectors with the signing of two significant pieces of legislation, HB540 and HB609.

House Bill 540, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and House Bill 609, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, were both supported by the Alabama Innovation Commission. The passage of both bills and their subsequent enshrinement in Alabama's law books mark a major victory for the state as officials work to create a competitive, attractive landscape for luring new businesses.

Rep. Poole's bill, HB540, establishes the Alabama Innovation Corporation (not to be confused with the Alabama Innovation Commission), a public-private partnership in Alabama designed to further galvanize the Alabama's burgeoning innovation economy while providing tools and resources to help ensure the success of entrepreneurs and other business shareholders working in the state. The Alabama Innovation Corporation will support specific initiatives that encourage statewide entrepreneurship, the formation and growth of rural businesses, and continued research and development projects at existing companies.

Rep. Gray's legislation, HB609, creates the Innovate Alabama Matching Grant Program, which focuses on providing funding to support innovative research and development across the state. More specifically, the matching program will build a bridge connecting federal awards to Alabama-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) recipients. The program will be overseen by the Alabama Innovation Corporation which will receive annual appropriations from the state's budget. Currently, SBIR and STTR federal programs award over $3.6 billion annually to more than 5,000 companies.

During the signing ceremony, Governor Kay Ivey praised the work of the legislature and their focus on economic growth.

“The state of Alabama is focused on ensuring our innovation economy is strong. The policy ideas developed from the hard work of the Alabama Innovation Commission will create an environment for growth through supporting entrepreneurship, job creation and workforce development.”

Rep. Poole, who is the chair of the Alabama Innovation Commission, likewise celebrated governor's signings and the potential for major change in the state's business economy.

“The establishment of the Alabama Innovation Corporation will be transformational for our state’s economy by making Alabama a hub for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship," said Poole

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, also released a statement in support of the new laws. Reed is the vice chairman of the Innovation Commission.

“Through the establishment of this statewide commission, we will be able to focus in on the innovation, technology and entrepreneurship-related issues that will be critical in giving Alabama the tools needed to grow our economy and allow our state to continue to be a great place to do business,” announced Reed. “The corporation will be under the management of a board of directors, which will include representation from the Governor, the legislature, and six at-large directors that have expertise and experience in growing an entrepreneurial economy.”

Rep. Gray, also a member of the Alabama Innovation Commission, highlighted the importance of matching programs and the role they play in supporting business growth.

“State matching programs make it more attractive for small businesses to pursue funding and conduct innovative research in the state. This program will continue to build entrepreneurship in Alabama to ensure we’re a leader in innovation,” explained Gray.

Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, a longtime champion of economic growth initiatives in the state, weighed in on the landmark bills as well, speaking on the impact the laws will have on small and minority businesses as well as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Alabama.

“This is a golden opportunity for our small businesses in general, and our minority-owned businesses in particular, to be able to grow and advance because this legislation prioritizing the focus on underrepresented companies for awards,” Smitherman said.

“These bills also provide an avenue for our HBCUs and all universities to partner with small businesses by developing a marketing campaign which ensures that underrepresented companies and HBCUs are aware of the grants available through the SBIR and STTR programs. It’s a win-win for our state.”

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