Amplify Alabama

Written by Alex Watson

Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield is charged with developing the partnerships and alliances to push the state’s economic development efforts to a new level.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of Commerce for the state of Alabama, spends a great deal of time thinking about the brand of his home state. How is it perceived by others both within and outside of the state? How can perceptions and images be transformed into positives?

The rebranding effort Made in Alabama (developed in conjunction with Birmingham’s Big Communications), has pushed Alabama in the right direction, Secretary Canfield says.

“Made in Alabama was the offspring of our strategic plan called Accelerate Alabama, which launched in January 2012 after having gone through a series of public meetings all around the state. We heard from businesses and the public about what they felt was good about Alabama and what were our state’s shortcomings and opportunities,” Canfield says.

“One of the first things we heard was that Alabama did not always have the best reputation in the national media and did not really have a place for a bookmark in the international media. There was a recognition early on that we should rebrand Alabama.” 

The campaign was launched in March 2014, aimed at three primary audiences: 

•C-suite executives from companies both nationally and internationally looking to expand into or create investment in Alabama or nearby states. 

•Site consultants, a group of third-party professionals that team and partner with companies all over the globe and assist them with decisions about where they are going to locate.

•Alabamians themselves. “We often find we are our own worst enemy in how we tell our story. So we wanted to take that brand and have an inward and outward face and tell the great stories and the true stories about what companies are finding when they invest or locate in Alabama,” Canfield says.

Storytelling is a popular item in marketers’ tool boxes, and Canfield’s efforts make use of that discipline. “We want to tell the story about what a company’s real experience has been. How they found the business climate. Why they made repeated decisions over multiple stages of expanding in the state because they found it to be a great home. It helps us define and shape through the Made in Alabama brand, real stories that tell our audiences what is really happening,” Canfield says.

“I think the ultimate goal for the Made in Alabama brand message is to bring to mind a very positive image of Alabama—the image of a state that is more forward facing, that has a vision for its future and is moving in that direction. Every state has issues, and we have a history that we can’t and should not ignore. But we must look forward and move in a positive direction. So I hope that Made in Alabama is the brand that helps create that point of view. We want that to be embraced in executive suites across the nation and the world. So the next time companies are looking to make an investment, they think, ‘Let’s look at Alabama.’”

How does the state’s largest city fit into this brand message about Alabama? Canfield, a native of Birmingham and graduate of Huffman High School and UAB, has more than a few ideas. 

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“This is an important time in Birmingham. We are moving into a  phase where Birmingham is reinvigorated. To come downtown and see the innovation and technology and the fact people want to live in these districts around the downtown core, it is very exciting. Birmingham is getting the kind of attention that it has deserved for a long, long time,” Canfield says.

From its food and arts scene to its role as a major player in the financial services and healthcare fields, Birmingham is boiling over with a renewed promise. “UAB is the diamond,” Canfield says. “When we talk to companies interested in engineering or innovation they are looking at Birmingham and asking about Birmingham. The city is becoming a destination of choice for companies and their employees.

“As we look at Birmingham’s future we are going to continue to see strong growth around medical research and more opportunities for commercialization of research. There is so much there and we don’t want to leave anything on the table.” Knowledge-based companies, particularly in the automotive sector, can build on the manufacturing prowess already in place in the city.

But, Canfield cautions, the state can’t do it by itself. “We needed a strategy that allowed us to partner with local economic developers. If we did not have the partnerships with local economic development professionals we simply could not do our job. The state can’t do everything alone.

“The Birmingham Business Alliance plays a central role, but we also engage with the county and the city of Birmingham and Mayor Bell’s economic development team. We interface every day with UAB and Southern Research Institute.

“It is really about building strategic alliances and doing everything we can to leverage those resources. We are not the largest state with just under five million in population. And we have a relatively small economy compared to some states, so we are going to be most effective when we leverage our partnerships,” Canfield says.

Canfield stepped into his role at the Commerce Department in July 2011, after a business career in the freight and insurance industries and five years in the state house as part of the Jefferson County delegation. After he was elected to represent Alabama House District 48 in the 2006 general election and re-elected in 2010, he chaired the House Committees for Commerce and Small Business and served on the Insurance Committee. Governor Robert Bentley appointed him to his present post in July 2011.

The next year saw the introduction of the Accelerate Alabama initiative, designed to jumpstart the state’s economic development efforts. A key feature of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s first-ever economic development growth plan, was the identification of 11 target sectors deemed ripe for expansion. Between 2012 and 2016, economic development activities across Alabama attracted more than $24 billion in new capital investment through projects creating nearly 90,000 new and future jobs, according to Commerce data.

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 11.33.39 AMDuring the Accelerate time frame, Alabama has seen massive growth in its automotive sector, which has added around 25,000 jobs and $7 billion in new capital investment, according to Commerce figures.

Aerospace, propelled by Airbus’ $600 million assembly plant project in Mobile, and other sectors such as forest products and steel/metals have also seen strong growth in this period.

This year the state unveiled Accelerate Alabama 2.0, as it’s called, which aims to amplify the success of the original strategic plan.

“Our goal with Accelerate 2.0 is to create a framework for sustainable growth and steer Alabama towards technology-focused, skill-based jobs that result in lasting opportunities for our citizens,” Canfield says.

“We’ve built a solid foundation, and now we want to speed up the progress across Alabama.”

Accelerate 2.0 streamlines the state’s      



•Agricultural and Food Products


•Forestry Products

•Metals/Advanced Materials


Meanwhile, a new concept —“Foundational Targets’’—has been introduced. These represent vital functions that cut across industry lines and are intrinsic to the core competencies of a wide range of corporate activities. These areas are also seen as ripe for growth:

•Corporate Operations


•Data Centers


•Information Technology

•Research & Development

Accelerate 2.0 also seeks to build on the broad engagement that Alabama’s economic development team has developed with the state’s education community, Canfield said. The goal is to strengthen those bonds through closer collaboration with the state’s seven research universities and two major research organizations.

The report outlines the areas of research expertise present at these institutions and includes an extensive database detailing their specific technical capabilities. Economic developers looking for potential research partnerships can utilize this information.

“For the first time, we have a road map showing us the technical and scientific resources available at Alabama universities and research institutions,” Canfield said. “These organizations are powerful partners for the state’s economic development team.” 

Economic development activity across Alabama during 2016, according to Commerce Department data:

•14,707 new jobs created by projects

•$4.2 billion in new capital investment

•$1.6 billion in foreign direct investment (representing about 40% of $4.2 billion total for year)

•High level of activity in automotive and aerospace industries

In addition, 2016 was a record year for Alabama exports — $20.5 billion. The Commerce Department’s International Trade Office assists Alabama companies in finding overseas markets for their products and conducts trade missions to connect Alabama companies with potential partners in foreign markets.

Since 2012, economic development activity in Alabama has attracted $24.5 billion in new capital investment and created nearly 90,000 jobs. (Commerce data)