Hoover Chamber Luncheon
Jim Searcy speaks to members of the Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce.
Economic development hardly sounds like a comical topic, but Jim Searcy kept the crowd laughing at the March 17 Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The executive director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA), Searcy mixed his insights about economic growth with jokes at his own expense, including his Auburn education and more memorable economic development clients.
Searcy related to the luncheon audience that in applying for his first job in Alabama, he falsely said that he spoke Korean, believing it would impress the company but he would never need to prove it. It backfired less than a month into the job, when Searcy’s boss assigned him to work with a wood chipping company that wanted to build a plant in Alabama, and its owners were from Korea.
What followed was an adventure in cultural differences and language barriers, including being chased by a dog and trying to find good Japanese food in a tiny town.
On a more serious note, Searcy said he has seen economic development efforts expand in Alabama over his career, including by attracting companies from all sectors of development, not just industrial. He noted that a key moment for the state was when the Mercedes factory began producing vehicles in Tuscaloosa County in 1997. After that point, more companies began seeking out Alabama opportunities, rather than the EDAA chasing them.
More recently, the EDAA has developed a strategic plan to focus on certain types of commercial interest, including manufacturing, vehicles and aerospace, logistics, research and development, large offices and corporate headquarters.
“The central Alabama area, including Hoover, is ideally located for logistics,” Searcy said.
Hoover in particular, he said, was “really well-positioned to recruit payrolls,” meaning that it can attract shoppers to spend money there even if they live outside Hoover.
For the state overall, Searcy said that maintaining good infrastructure is critical to attracting development. He related a story about taking a potential new company to sites around Alabama, including one where the owners had put unattached fire hydrants on the property because it did not have a water pipeline.
Workforce development, including encouraging students to see technical and career training as an alternative to four-year degrees, will also bring more economic opportunities.
Searcy said that given the state’s current budget issues, Alabama must either try to stretch its dollars further, raise taxes or focus on economic development to bring in new revenue.
“The pie is only so big,” Searcy said. “You can either take more and more slices, or you can enlarge the pie.”
At the luncheon, the chamber also recognized its executive assistant, Verona Petite, who is leaving after seven years at the chamber. Petite has helped bring hundreds of new members into the chamber.
“The membership is what makes this chamber, and this chamber is the strongest in the state,” Petite said.