Interview with Mr. Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce, who is responsible to trade mission questions. Mr Canfield led the Alabama trade delegation to Bulgaria, September 25 – 28, 2018
We are living in a globalized world, and the important information is few clicks away from your potential business partners. However, when in Bulgaria we mention Alabama, then most people might recall the “Sweet Home Alabama” Song or will remember that it is Forrest Gump’s home state. So, where is Alabama in the U.S. and global business map?
Alabama is located in the heart of the U.S. Southeast, one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Alabama’s economic output totals nearly USD 170 billion a year, while its population stands at 4.8 million. The top industries in Alabama include automotive manufacturing, aerospace, metals, chemicals, and agriculture. Motor vehicles are Alabama’s No. 1 export, and the global auto industry has made the state a magnet for foreign direct investment. Alabama is now home to assembly plants operated by Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Hyundai, while a Toyota-Mazda partnership is set to construct a new $1.6 billion plant in the state. Alabama is also home to Airbus’ only U.S. aircraft manufacturing facility, which is spurring growth in the state’s aerospace sector.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot more to Alabama than the familiar song or the “Forrest Gump” movie.
What you are three phrases saying when you are introducing Alabama as a business state and the business opportunities there?
Business-friendly environment. Skilled workforce. Cooperative spirit.
What are Alabama’s advantages to the rest of the U.S. states and when Alabama’s business focused abroad?
Alabama has many advantages compared to other states when it comes to business. One important advantage is our workforce. A recent Gallup poll rated Alabama’s workers as the most “engaged” in the nation, signifying a high level of enthusiasm for performing in the workplace. Alabama also has one of the U.S.’s top-rated job training programs, which helps businesses assemble workforces equipped with the right skills.
In addition, Alabama’s business environment is very welcoming. In recent months, business-focused publications have selected Alabama as the No. 1 U.S. state for manufacturing and rate our business climate tops among the states. Another publication ranked Alabama No. 3 on its list of “Best States for Doing Business.”
Last week of September you led an Alabama business delegation to Bulgaria. Which sectors those companies represent and what kind of partnerships are they looking for in both Bulgaria, and Romania?
The Alabama companies on the trade mission to Southeastern Europe represented a diverse mix of firms operating in different industries. Many of them are mature small and medium-sized businesses looking for partnership opportunities so they can gain a foothold in new markets. These companies view both Bulgaria and Romania as attractive potential markets, and they want to make connections and build relationships that can convert opportunity into reality.
Alabama’s economic connections to Bulgaria, in particular, seem to be strengthening. In 2017, Alabama companies exported nearly USD 7 million in goods to Bulgaria, an increase of 1,400 percent from the prior year. I’d like to see the economic relationship between Alabama and Bulgaria continue to grow.
Can you outline some of the common features between Alabama and Bulgaria?
The economies of both Alabama and Bulgaria are heavily tied to manufacturing. Alabama has one of the heaviest concentrations of manufacturing employment among U.S. states, with about 13% of its total workforce involved in manufacturing. Manufacturing is responsible for almost 20% of Alabama’s total economic output, also a high figure.
Both Alabama and Bulgaria are home to forward-thinking companies that are committed to uncovering new insights. From the meeting we had at Sofia Tech Park, it is easy to see that our respective areas are both trying to accelerate the competitiveness of science and entrepreneurship by improving the knowledge exchange between academia and business, supporting startups, and developing innovative ideas to facilitate the commercialization of research.
ADC has put tremendous efforts to invite and retain employers in the state. Giving your experience with large corporations and local enterprises, what those companies are looking for in terms of conditions, legislation, and skills of the workforce?
In Alabama, we’ve been successful at creating an environment where both large global corporations and small homegrown enterprises can thrive. The Alabama Department of Commerce and its allies across the state work hard to provide the support that businesses need to grow. It’s a formula that has paid dividends for us. Mercedes, for instance, has expanded its Alabama operation repeatedly and has now committed almost USD 7 billion in investment to that operation.
It’s vital that we provide that support system, but it’s just as important that we are able to deliver a workforce with the right set of skills. In Alabama, we have restructured our workforce development system so that it more efficiently equips workers with the skills needed by growing businesses. This benefits companies while providing a career pathway for our citizens.
Let’s go back to the Alabama business mission to Bulgaria and Romania. Which were your partners from the state of Alabama in this first trade mission to both EU countries?
The Alabama Department of Commerce worked with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Commercial Services’ Export Assistance Center in Birmingham to coordinate the trade mission. Having assistance from Alabama’s state, regional and federal partners in putting together the logistics and appointments helps our companies focus on selling their products during a trade mission.
Alabama is home to dynamic universities, and two of them were represented on this trade mission – the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Are there any Bulgarian investments in Alabama? And if not, in which business sectors you would like to see Bulgarian investments there?
Currently, there are no Bulgarian investments in Alabama, but we’d like to see that change. Alabama has become the U.S. home for many European countries, particularly Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Much of this European investment has centered on manufacturing, so that could be an area of collaboration. Natural resources is another sector for potential activity.
How active is the state of Alabama in SelectUSA – the program that fosters investments in U.S.A.?
The Alabama Department of Commerce is a longtime partner of Select USA, and we count on that agency to help Alabama companies find new markets for their products. This collaboration has been a factor in Alabama’s expanding exports, which have increased by 50 percent over the past decade. In 2017, Alabama exports approached USD 22 billion, a new annual record.
The state of Alabama’s business development group participates in the Select USA Investment Summit each year. Our team coordinates this high-profile event dedicated to promoting foreign direct investment in the US with our economic development allies throughout the state. It is an excellent opportunity to meet with potential investors throughout the world and connect with public and private leaders. The summit also provides a program that discusses current investment trends in the US.
About Greg Canfield
Since July 2011, Greg Canfield has served as the state’s leading economic developer in his role as Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Canfield’s job is to ensure that the five priorities of the department are fulfilled: recruitment and expansion activity, export opportunities for Alabama companies, workforce development, small business opportunities, and avenues for job creation in the film and entertainment industry.
During his tenure, Alabama has attracted world-class companies such as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, Google, Amazon, Airbus, Polaris, Kimber, Autocar, SMP, Pharmavite, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, GE Aviation and many others. Since 2011, under Canfield’s leadership, Alabama has announced projects totaling over USD 33 billion in capital investment and leading to the creation of over 120,000 new jobs.
About the Department of Commerce
The Alabama Department of Commerce is the state’s lead economic development agency, working with economic development allies throughout the state to fulfill the objectives of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s strategic economic development growth plan. In addition to its business development activities, Commerce divisions promote exporting and international investment opportunities for Alabama businesses, assist small businesses, and position the state as a location for film and television productions. Commerce is home to the state’s primary non-education workforce development programs, including AIDT, a nationally known job-training agency.