Economic Development Academy




Neal Wade
Neal Wade, Director is director of The University of Alabama Economic Development Academy and served eight years as the state’s chief economic development officer.

Just a year ago, The University of Alabama made the strategic decision to focus on preparing the next generation of economic development leaders as well as those partners that influence a community’s competitiveness. Now, with a year of preparation and planning the Economic Development Academies will begin classes in 2016.

Over the past two decades, Alabama has made great strides in the automotive, aerospace and manufacturing sectors laying a foundation that is ripe for further growth. However, states throughout the Southeastern U.S. have become equally competitive during these growth years for both talent and job creation projects.

We are in a footrace for the best and brightest economic developers. The new University of Alabama Economic Development Academy is being established to ensure that Alabama economic development agencies have prepared professionals, supportive elected officials and robust communities to lead us through the next decades.

In partnership with the Economic Developers Association of Alabama (EDAA), the Academy will launch a new teaching program in 2016 for the state’s emerging economic developers called the Applied Economic Development Honors Program. An experiential teaching method will focus on today’s job creation issues imbedded in the most comprehensive curriculum available. The faculty will be comprised of the best experts in each curriculum subject and will examine every approach to sustaining and growing new jobs, and thus, the local economy.

If we can teach emerging and mid-level practitioners to become change agents in their communities and focus on the broad definition of economic development, we can expand on the foundation that has been laid over the past few decades. This new program will employ a strong definition of economic development: “Economic Development is the process of creating and expanding wealth, effectively utilizing assets and resources in a community, state or region to grow the economy.”

In addition to the professional economic developer, The University of Alabama Economic Development Academy will also begin separate sessions for elected officials, economic development volunteers and Chamber leaders to help shape a unified community approach to job creation. Through a cooperative effort with the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, we will begin building that unique foundation from the community level that is necessary in today’s competitive environment.

These working and applied knowledge sessions are designed to equip community leaders with the necessary skills to support competitive economic development. Everyone has a distinct role in growing and sustaining the local economy just as each player has a defined role in a successful football program. It’s a team effort that creates new jobs, not the result of any ONE person or agency.

In the new world of economic development, the successful community employs the broad definition including sustaining/growing existing industries, entrepreneurship, innovation, retail/commercial expansion, workforce/education excellence as well as recruiting new jobs.

We recognize that there are other training programs that play a role in teaching the basics in economic and community development. UA has designed its program to compliment and expand the programs that are available from other institutions and national organizations. The curriculum has been created by national site consultants, senior economic developers, elected officials and impacted business leaders.

We will be part of the fabric of preparing the next generation of professional economic developers and community leaders. And, together, we will work to help make Alabama’s “good” communities become Alabama’s “great” communities.