Montgomery Business Journal

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Business Council of Alabama

'A More Friendly Ear'


February 2011
By David Zaslawsky

Although the Business Council of Alabama has high hopes as well as high expectations of seeing its legislative agenda embraced by the new Republican-dominated Legislature, the organization also a much more modest request – being heard.

“There is a new group of individuals in the House and Senate who are going to be much more open to listen, which is a totally different paradigm,” said William J. Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). “We believe in this new paradigm of change – openness will take place and hearings will be held. Opportunities to exchange thinking will take place and that’s a dramatic change.”

Canary said that the BCA, whose members combined employ more than 750,000 people, has strived for a level playing field. “Our belief working in the legislative process is that no one should win for showing up, but no one should lose for showing up. You need to win or lose on the balance of the equities.”

Anita Archie, senior vice president for governmental affairs for BCA and the organization’s legal adviser, said, “We’re advocates and hopefully with this new Legislature we will be sitting and talking to them across the table and saying, ‘Here is our issue. This is what we like about it and this is what we think might be potential problems’ and they are listening and hearing. We’ve done this all along, but now we believe we have a more friendly ear.”

Canary and Archie said the organization’s agenda will get that fair hearing and not be dismissed or ignored or have their ideas, suggestions and recommendations “dead on arrival.”

The BCA does have an aggressive legislative agenda this year and Canary said there is a good reason. “At the end of the day, the business community contributes anywhere between $5.5 billion and $6.5 billion annually into state and local government, which means that we believe we have a voice that needs to be heard.”

With an overwhelmingly Republican Legislature, the BCA and its pro-business agenda will be heard – loud and clear.

When you ask what the organization’s top priority is in this legislative session, you get a three-word response: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

“Our basic simple premise of the business community is continually trying to find those opportunities where we as business can sign the front of a paycheck so that others can sign the back of the paycheck,” Canary said.

“We talk about jobs. We talk about the ability of creating a free market with true economic development opportunities that allow an entrepreneurial spirit to exist, which allows the free flow of capital so that people can put people to work. We look to work with government as partners in creating that positive environment to create jobs and sustain jobs.”

There are five key goals for the BCA:

> Fair and predictable tax policy.

> Keeping Alabama a right-to-work state.

> Support sound policy to promote public education.

> Supporting meaningful health care reform.

> Supporting environmental and energy legislation that is consistent with economic growth.

The organization also supports among other things crafting state budgets on actual receipts instead of projections; integrating all agencies, organizations and entities involved in work force development and training; adopting a new definition for small business so those companies would be eligible for a wide variety of credits/incentives and the BCA is fervent about having a debate about charter schools.

“Right now we will have opportunities to educate the new members of the Legislature on what our agenda is,” Archie said. “We will say these are our priorities and they (lawmakers) will tell us what their priorities are.”

For the BCA, that means education – a continued focus on pre-K programs, which according to Canary that for every $1 invested there is a return of $7. “There is a higher level of guarantee that that child who’s in the pre-K program – early childhood development – will be reading by the third grade, which is critical for educating our next generation’s work force.”

He said passionately that investment in pre-K programs “should have a dramatic effect” on reducing the high school dropout rate.

The BCA also is emphasizing post-secondary education. “Most individuals who are looking at this competitive international global work force structure suggest that in order for this generation to compete in this global economic environment … you need to have a minimum of a 13-grade education,” Canary said.

“Now a 13-grade education takes you one year beyond high school. In order to be there - you can’t get there with a 40 percent dropout rate. You have to do everything in your power to eradicate that and at the same time looking at the work force development training opportunities.”

Canary said that business and education need to be partners. “I’ve often said that my dream of where we’re headed is creating a business-education alliance to deal with: Universal pre-K early childhood investment; a charter school discussion; diminishing of the dropout rate to the lowest possible number imaginable; and excelling and expanding the two-year system in work force development.

“That’s a pro-business agenda because it’s a pro-Alabama agenda; it’s a pro-growth agenda; and it’s a pro-jobs agenda.”

Archie said there are many good-paying, high-skilled jobs that require some post-secondary certification or associate degree. She said there are work force development training dollars from federal and state governments and “we want to make sure that those dollars continue to flow into those areas.”

She would like to see a dialogue between the various agencies and entities involved in career technical programs, which includes colleges and universities.

“Our job at the BCA besides job creation and job sustainability efforts is to educate and advocate,” Canary said. “We don’t perceive ourselves as much as lobbyists as educators and advocates for our legislative agenda, which goes through a very significant process.

“We want them (lawmakers) to make informed decisions that are part of a general, common sense approach.

“Remember, there are three things that matter whether you’re governor or a legislator that you need to equally pay attention to: The three legs of the stool are ethics, education and economic development. Successful governments get all three right and we believe that when you create that positive, healthy environment – good comes from that.”

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