FOLEY — During the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Luncheon held on Monday, April 18, Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth spoke to the crowd about the state's economy, growth and workforce.
"I've got pretty good news," Ainsworth said. "Alabama's economy is on fire."
Ainsworth referenced the 2020 Census, when talk consisted of Alabama potentially losing two congressional seats.
"The Census came in, and they were all wrong," said Ainsworth. "Our population ended up growing. And I will say this, thank you, Baldwin County. Look at the state's population growth. Y'all had a huge impact on that, and you're continuing to do so."
With increased growth came increased budgets, Ainsworth said. With over $1 billion in Alabama's Education Trust Fund, state teachers were able to receive pay raises, more items were funded for classrooms and new construction, such as workforce centers, have begun.
"The other thing we've been fortunate of, I talked to my colleagues in New York and California, and you know, they couldn't get people back to work safely, they couldn't figure out how to navigate the economy," Ainsworth said, referring to reopening businesses that had closed due to the pandemic. "But when the American Rescue Plan Act and federal money came into Alabama, we didn't have a deficit, our economy was on fire, we had a surplus. So, we're going to use that money to go towards sewer projects, infrastructure projects and building things such as career tech facilities, whereas other states are having to use it to pay back debt. We did a great job getting people back to work in our state, and now we can use this money when it comes in to put billions of dollars to improve our state."
Ainsworth said Alabama is leading the nation in areas including automotive, aerospace, cybertechnologies and tourism. The state is now number two in the nation for automotive, and both north and coastal Alabama are home to a number of aerospace companies.
Last year saw the implementation of an aerospace program internship for students. Ainsworth said preparing students for "21st century jobs" is one of the top priorities for the future workforce.
"Between 60 to 65% of the students in the state end up not getting a two- or four-year degree, and 40% of the jobs in the next ten years will be displaced because of the technology," Ainsworth said. "Where is our industry going, so what do we do?"
While questions for high school students used to be focused on ACT scores and where they were going to college, Ainsworth said, the most important questions to ask now are, "What do you want to do with your life? What skillset do you have, what passion do you have, and what jobs are in your area?"
To help students discover their passions, talents and jobs offered in their location, career coaches have been placed in Alabama schools. Career coaches talk with students individually and collectively to help determine students' interests and skills and present internship and dual-enrollment opportunities to students.
Last year the number of career coaches in Alabama doubled, he said.
Ainsworth said the state is working to bring more cybersecurity opportunities as well, including establishing a National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence and a Software and Security Clearance Workforce Program.
"The economy is strong, people are continuing to move here, and we've got to stay ahead of the growth," said Ainsworth. "It's growing, y'all's economy is booming down here, and we've got to stay ahead with infrastructure, investment in education and investment in workforce."
For information on upcoming South Baldwin Chamber events, visit www.southbaldwinchamber.com.