Place-Based Investing | August 24, 2021

Building an ecosystem for workforce development and opportunity for all in Alabama

Tequila Smith
Guest Author

Tequila Smith

If you are an impact investor seeking ways to make a difference, come to Alabama.

A year ago, Gov. Kay Ivey created the Alabama Innovation Commission to find ways to enhance the state’s economic prosperity through entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation. An Alabama Innovation Corporation has been created to accelerate the growth of the state’s innovation economy, and a state matching program has been set up for small businesses that have received federal grants to stimulate innovation.

The ecosystem is firming up as partners curate and support access to small business resources, including capital, incentives, education and support, wraparound services, and other innovative solutions. These resources range from microlending to sharing resources like back-office management, to investments in continuing education programs.

That is the motivation behind a new Alabama Benefit Corporation Association. In 2020, Alabama became the 38th state to pass benefit corporation legislation. Benefit corporations track their impact on all stakeholders and are increasing in popularity across the country. Gaps in information impede the growth of the movement. There’s not even a directory of benefit corporations to allow for networking together.  

This presents an opportunity to nurture and support the nascent growth of Alabama’s benefit corporations. Alabama Power Foundation is anchoring an association for the state’s benefit corporations, confident that through networking we will surface a multitude of investable opportunities and occasions to provide technical assistance for workforce development. That, too, can help close the wealth gap, as minority-owned firms are more likely to become benefit corporations.

Black wealth-creation

Alabama Power Foundation is part of an ecosystem that is building institutions and policies that work to unravel systemic inequality and provide access to opportunity for all. As president of Alabama Power Foundation and a native Alabamian, I want everyone to know there are exciting opportunities to participate and invest in our state’s promising future. 

There are growing opportunities to further thriving entrepreneurship, to establish equal access to education and economic prosperity, and to expand optimism for our children’s futures.

An independent corporate foundation, Alabama Power Foundation is empowering our state’s economy by cultivating an ecosystem that supports quality job growth, prepares workers for an innovation economy, and ultimately elevates our communities. 

As the foundation seeks opportunities to bridge the gaps of inequality for all Alabamians, we are committed to supporting individuals and institutions that serve and grow opportunities for wealth creation in the Black community.

That is especially important in Alabama, where there are more than 70,000 Black-owned businesses. African Americans comprise roughly 27% of the population, but make up just 11% of business owners here. Many of Black owners are solo entrepreneurs.

Investment opportunities

Biotech, cybersecurity, digital health care, education technology are some of the emerging sectors in which we are investing with our partners. Those investments map to the missions of fellow foundations and impact investors everywhere that also seek to catalyze progress in addressing racial equity, education, economic opportunity and developing human capital.

Our approach is to identify, stabilize and grow minority-owned businesses within sectors poised for revenue growth, with opportunity for workforce expansion and with the potential to expand into new out-of-state markets. 

We are collaborating on a range of dynamic initiatives, including making program-related investments, or PRIs, in emerging tech companies and making loan guarantees to help municipalities purchase personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alabama Power Foundation used a PRI to create a line of credit for Build UP, a local workforce development-focused educational nonprofit. They accept donated dilapidated houses, relocate them to new neighborhoods, and student apprentices refurbish them into like-new homes. The property donors receive a tax benefit. To ease cash flow challenges that come from timing discrepancies between the donation and tax refunds, the line of credit gives Build UP flexibility to use federal funds to improve efficiencies, lower costs and ultimately move four or more homes a year.

There are many more impact investments like this across Alabama. Through the connections we’ve established and our active partnerships, we are helping expand our state’s brand as a national philanthropic leader in workforce and economic empowerment. 

Tequila Smith, president of Alabama Power Foundation, leads Alabama Power’s philanthropic, volunteerism and community support initiatives. She also is executive director of the Alabama Business Charitable Trust, which works to help low-income individuals and families with their utility bills.