Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit
Wednesday, May, 31, 2017 6:00 p.m.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center – Huntsville, AL

Good evening and welcome to our Sweet Home Alabama! Thank you for that warm introduction and for sponsoring tonight’s event, Ward. It is an honor for our state to host you, and for me to share with you tonight. Each of you are to be commended for your commitment to making the Tennessee Valley Corridor a destination for science and technology jobs, and investments. To Steve Cope, Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Corridor Board of Directors, and former mayor of our neighbor city of Tullahoma, Tennessee, thank you for all you do. Mayor Tommy Battle, thank you for what you and your team have done to ensure growth takes place here in Huntsville. I look forward to continuing to work with you, in my role as Governor and yours as mayor, so that together we can continue to make Huntsville a magnet for STEM jobs in the years ahead.

Friends, I grew up in rural Wilcox County in a small town called Camden, part of Alabama’s Black Belt. I remember many times when my parents would depend on our neighbors for something and them on us. Sugar here, butter there, maybe some milk. Neighbors are more than friends; they are people you can depend on, and work with to achieve a common goal. Neighbors are united to live in harmony, watch out for each other, and seek the best for everyone. Tonight, on behalf of the people of Alabama, I welcome you as our neighbors. Whether you hail from Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, or from Tennessee, we are proud to have you in Alabama.

As your organization is focused on expanding opportunities in the space industry, it is fitting that your annual meeting returns to our state. Alabama is known for its many accomplishments in the area of Aerospace, and we have always been on the forefront of innovation with Aerospace Technology. Alabama is home to hundreds of aerospace related businesses. Our aerospace industry has attracted companies like Airbus, Boeing, and GE Aviation, just to name a few.

Aerospace in Alabama has not been, pardon the pun, a fly by night proposition. As far back as 1910, we’ve had the space bug as the Wright Brothers based their night time flight training center in Montgomery. Alabama is home to Airbus’ first American jetliner production facility, and in 2016, delivered its first Alabama-assembled A321. Alabama is home to Redstone Arsenal, Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center. It is critical that our state, and all our states, support our military installations that are pursuing future directed technologies. The amount of jobs the Space and Rocket center has brought to not only Huntsville but also Alabama is astounding. Not only jobs, but the contribution and impact it has had on our state’s economy are monumental!

Alabama’s, and indeed the Tennessee Valley region’s, storied legacy of space exploration, is apparent in the very room in which we now find ourselves. We in the Tennessee Valley Corridor are a people of wonder, innovation, and exploration. It just makes sense that our states would work together to attract those who want to invest in space related industries. On Friday, I was pleased to sign HB176, the Alabama Space Authority Act. This new law, which passed both houses of our legislature unanimously, creates an Alabama Space Authority. The Authority will support both private and government entities throughout our state which are involved in space exploration. As a unified voice for our State’s space community at the national level, the Authority will work on the state level much like this organization does for our region. 

We embrace companies from all over the world here. These companies become much more to us, as we begin to build life-long relationships with business leaders and their employees. Here in Alabama we are a family, we support one another in every way we can for the betterment of this great state. Tonight, we signal that we are uniting as a region to bring about mutually beneficial space related investment. All of us must seek to build relationships with each other and with those who would seek to invest in our various states.

Some of us here tonight have a deep appreciation for horse racing, while others would rather watch a racecar zoom around a track. Some of us like a little vinegar in our BBQ sauce, while right here in Huntsville we prefer it with mayonnaise and a little sugar. For some, football is a fun sport to watch. For others, it’s a way of life. (War Eagle, by the way!) In East Tennessee, you-ins, beats out Virginia’s you guys, but we should agree, y’all is best. Banana pudding for you is, for those of us from rural Alabama, ‘nanner puddin’.

Yet, regardless of our differences, we have one major uniting factor. We all live in the Tennessee Valley Corridor, and investment in one community is good for all our communities. No matter where we live, we must be united to work together to bring good jobs to our region. Investment in Alabama may create larger neighborhoods in Tennessee. A new business in Eastern Kentucky may create more spending by those traveling through Western Virginia. And a student educated in North Carolina could land her first job right here in Huntsville’s growing high-tech sector.

That’s why events like this Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit, now in its 22nd year, is so important. Together, we must raise awareness for and bring about a positive impact for all federal missions and spending in the Corridor. Together, we must attract businesses that want to invest in science, engineering, and math related trades. Together, we must continue to lead the nation in space exploration, and in advancing the high-tech business sector. Together, we must work to bring about good paying jobs, and to increase the quality of life of our peoples. We may live in different places, but it is when we are working together we make the biggest difference. What we achieve together affects the entire country, and I dare say, our world.

Aerospace products and parts manufacturing employed more than 12,300 people in 2015 here in Alabama, while more than $867 million in Aerospace equipment and parts were exported from our state. Also in 2015, we had $8.4 billion in Department of Defense Contracts. But to keep this kind of investment coming to our state, and to our region, we must all join in supporting an increase in education in the STEM subjects. As a former public school teacher, I understand that businesses which are looking to grow in the STEM areas need well prepared employees.

As government and business leaders, we must collectively commit to doing all we can to improve access to engineering and math education. As just the second female governor in Alabama, I especially hope you will join me in encouraging more young women to enter the STEM fields. This quest must start early life, and Huntsville provides us a grand example of this approach. The city in which we find ourselves is at the forefront of attracting students to high-tech careers by utilizing tools such as the Space and Rocket program. Since opening its doors in 1970, nearly 17 million people have toured the facility, and too, we recently announced that Alabama is partnering with Airbus to build an aerospace education center in Mobile. This center will be geared toward inspiring young people to pursue careers in our state’s growing aerospace industry. We in the Tennessee Valley Corridor are connected economically, and our joint commitment to education is vital for all of us to have diverse, and growing economies. To ensure that an educated and desirable work force is available, we must invest dollars in the classroom, and remove unfunded mandates on teachers. States should encourage innovation and provide adequate dollars to fund learning in science and technology. Education and a skilled workforce are economic development issues.

I truly believe that the best asset of any state is its people. For us in Alabama, our goal is that our asset is educated, trained, and ready to go to work. To have a 21st Century workforce, we must have a 21st Century education system. And, by the way, we have excellent programs at our colleges and universities in this state, and would love for the kids from your states to come and join us. Tell them Kay sent you! In all seriousness, if we want to attract space related investment to the Corridor, we must first make the corridor an incubator for STEM related instruction.

If we are committed to working together, there is no doubt the Tennessee Valley Corridor will be the preferred choice for space related investment. I told you earlier about my memories of giving and receiving from our neighbors. I also remember watching our neighbors’ kids grow up and leave our small town, never to return. Tonight, let’s resolve collectively, resolve as a region, that we will do everything in our power to keep our kids right here, by attracting good, high paying jobs, supporting our military installations, and working together to grow our economy.

Thank you for coming to Alabama. I hope you stay a while. Enjoy some of our food, try our iced tea, visit our mountains, lakes, and our beaches. But most of all, enjoy some time with our people, because, after all, we are your neighbors. May God bless each of you, your home state, and these United States of America