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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) would like to see the creation of a pro-business caucus – the sooner the better.

BCA President and Chief Executive Officer William J. Canary wants legislators who are willing to reach across the aisle and come together for job creation. He sees a pro-business caucus making “informed and intelligent decisions that are going to have a dramatic effect on increasing the ability of us to employ individuals.”

What can a pro-business caucus accomplish?

 “We will lower unemployment by putting more people to work,” Canary said. “We will make this state more competitive in the international market. We will improve education. We will create the next generation work force. We will guarantee with the pre-K investment that children are in fact reading by the third grade; and some way, somehow we will drop the dropout rate.

“That’s what a pro-business caucus can do.”

-David Zaslawsky

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Reading, Writing and Returns on Investment

"It's our job to watch and pay attention; and to candidly fight for these 1 million working
Alabamians that we represent in terms of job creation and job sustainability."

Business Council advances learning curve with Pre-K education 

February 2010

by David Zaslawsky

With an election looming this year, the state legislature likely will refrain from proposing controversial bills.

That’s the expert opinion of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), a business advocacy group which is also the official advocate for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Because lawmakers will be consumed by running for re-election, that dynamic has “a monumental effect on productivity or lack thereof during the legislative session,” said William J. Canary, president and chief executive officer of the BCA. He said the organization can play offense in the last year of the Legislature’s four-year cycle.

That’s a stark contrast to the first two years of a legislature, according to Quentin Riggins,

BCA legislative and political consultant. “The first year is when you really have to be prepared for seeing some of the most aggressive legislation. Once you get into an election year, you’re going to see a lot of conservative legislation. You’re not going to see controversial issues.”

But that doesn’t mean all is quiet on the BCA’s legislative agenda for the legislative session that began Jan. 12. As always, the BCA, along with its partners, including 124 chambers of commerce, will remain ever so vigilant – protecting its five core tenets:

>Fighting for fair and predictable tax policy.

>Keeping Alabama a right-to-work state.

>Supporting policies that promote sound and sustainable funding for public education.

> Supporting meaningful health care reform.

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

“If we see legislation that we think would stifle business, we are going to do our very best to try and make sure it doesn’t pass,” Riggins said. “We try to (glean) what is going on and communicate concerns or support. We don’t just try to stonewall or kill things.

“We try to figure out if there’s a way that we can work with you and try to get solutions. Absolutely opposing things tends to be our last resort. We will do that, but before we get to that point we’ll go and sit down and talk about it.

Last year, the BCA tracked nearly 300 key bills and in its 90-page book, “What If No One Was Watching?” proclaimed that “not a single job-killing, anti-business bill passed.”

Canary points out that the BCA, including its partners, represents “more than 1 million working Alabamians” and the message this year is education, education, education. At an economic forum, Canary said that the BCA wants the Legislature to be pro-business and pro- 


“That’s the message that we need to send to those who we are recruiting to this state and those who are looking to expand.”

He repeated that message during an hour-long interview that was dominated with the organization’s renewed commitment to education.

“Business and education are compatible,” Canary said. “The reason it’s compatible is that we, the business community, are the largest consumer of a product called education. We want to help to improve it. We want to make sure that those 750,000 young people that are in that system of K-12 get exactly what they need.”

The organization’s two primary education objectives are pre-K programs and reducing a high school dropout rate that Canary said is about 40 percent.

He is so serious about pre-K funding and programs that he co-authored an op-ed piece in the Montgomery Advertiser along with Ralph Stacy, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.

“We feel strongly that for every $1 we invest in pre-K that we are going to see anywhere from a $7 to $9 return on that investment,” Canary said. “One of the things that we strongly believe and know for a fact – if you are going to try to improve the current status of our schools – the way to improve our schools is to improve the preparedness and readiness of those children when they arrive.”

Of course, education funding is a key issue. Riggins said it is unfortunate and detrimental that various entities compete for the same precious dollars. “Higher-ed and K-12 should be working in a partnership to turn out the best product that we possibly can,” he said.

Canary talked about the implications of reducing the state’s dropout rate. “What a great, positive advantage we would have in the competitive work force.”

The push for educational goals is coming from both the BCA leadership and its members and “it’s just the right  

thing to do,” Canary said. “We just haven’t done enough. We need to step up to the plate and be much more aggressive in our advocacy – speak about it and then put our words into action.”

He said the BCA has the “standing to be one of loudest voices” because businesses invest $6 billion annually in the state through corporate income taxes and other means.

“How prepared are our kids?” Riggins asked. “We talk about companies wanting to come here and companies want a trained work force and a skilled work force.”

This session, the BCA is supporting a pre-filed bill proposed by Rep. Greg Canfield (R-Vestavia Hills) that is an amendment to the state constitution requiring all elections to be conducted by a secret ballot.

Riggins said another “front-burner issue” among BCA members was last year’s defeat of a $100 million road construction bond. “We have to figure out how to get engaged on that front.”

Canary said the proposal “is a commerce issue, an investment issue for infrastructure, and it’s a job creation issue.”

As the Legislature gets under way this month, the BCA will be paying close attention to the General Fund and education budgets, according to Riggins. He said the organization is deeply concerned about Medicaid and funding for Medicaid because it supports “a huge health care structure,” Riggins said.

“It’s our job to watch and pay attention; and to advocate; and to candidly fight for these 1 million working Alabamians that we represent in terms of job creation and job sustainability,” Canary said. “And for people to make informed, educated decisions in the legislative process – that’s why we’re here. That’s why this organization was created ...”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) recently announced senior staff changes. Quentin Riggins, former senior vice president of governmental affairs for the BCA, has been named legislative and political consultant for the organization. He will also be the political adviser for ProgressPac, BCA’s political action committee. The BCA has hired Anita Archie as senior vice president of governmental affairs and legal adviser. For details on the senior staff changes, see “Members on the Move.”