Since its establishment in 1969, the Alabama Department of Commerce (DOC—formerly the Alabama Development Office) has played a major role in reshaping Alabama's once-declining economy by recruiting diverse new industry to the state. In the twenty-first century, industry media and development organizations rank Alabama as a top locale for business expansion. DOC itself has received numerous awards, including a recent designation by Site Selection magazine as the premier state economic development agency in the United States.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Alabama's traditional agricultural and industrial base was in transition. Production of crops such as cotton decreased and the state's textile industry experienced a major decline as a result of foreign competition. Many of Alabama's historic steel mills closed, and thousands of workers lost their jobs. During the 1960s, the state began vigorously exploring new opportunities for business investment. On October 1, 1969, a legislative act established the Alabama Development Office, which combined the responsibilities of two existing state agencies, the Alabama Program Office and the Planning and Industrial Development Board.
By 1979, the functions of the former Planning and Industrial Development Board were separated from DOC to form a new state department that today is known as the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). DOC then acquired new responsibilities in the 1980s. The state legislature added small business advocacy duties to DOC in 1984 and an executive order moved the former Alabama Film Commission under DOC oversight in 1987.
The Alabama Department of Commerce operates as a state agency reporting to the governor and is supported by the Alabama General Fund budget. The office is organized around a divisional structure comprised of a director who oversees the heads of five project and service functions. In recent years, DOC has adopted a broad definition of economic development that emphasizes the expansion of existing state industries and international trade relations in addition to recruitment of new business. The agency's objective is job creation, and its strategic plan incorporates goals for job growth in new and existing business, expansion of Alabama export industries, support for small business, and promotion of film investments in the state.
DOC's strategic objectives are reflected in its divisional organizational activities. DOC's recruitment division promotes foreign manufacturing investment but also stresses the importance of retaining and expanding Alabama's existing businesses. The department partners with economic developers across the state in cooperative efforts to attract both U.S. and foreign-based firms.
The Office of International Trade promotes state exports by providing assistance to Alabama firms in establishing trade relations with foreign buyers. DOC produces a trade directory, hosts trade events, and sponsors other activities designed to expose Alabama markets to international businesses. Additionally, DOC maintains offices in Europe and Asia to support development efforts abroad.
The Office of Small Business Advocacy provides assistance to small businesses, including information services and consultation. The office works with the state's Small Business Development Consortium, which has offices at 11 state universities, as well as ADECA's Office of Minority Business Enterprise. The Alabama Film Office within DOC promotes Alabama to the entertainment industry as a site for the production of feature films, television programs, music videos, and similar ventures. The office maintains a photographic file of more than 20,000 potential production sites and publishes a resource guide to locations and technical services available in the state. Alabama has served as a setting for more than 100 films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Norma Rae, Under Siege, Four Little Girls, Big Fish, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
The Research and Communications Office conducts research and provides technical support and information services for use in the office's divisional projects and by outside agencies. The office's base of information includes a comprehensive statistics and data base, marketing materials, tax analyses, and surveys on Alabama industry and business opportunities. Community and Information Services provides support for local and county development efforts, including strategic planning, partnership building, and business development and retention. The office is a partner in the Alabama Communities of Excellence program, which focuses on small community growth and sustainability.
The expansion of Alabama's business and industrial base, especially its success in attracting international automotive, steel, and technology firms, has been documented by numerous industry groups, media outlets, and studies. Over the last decade, Alabama has been ranked in the top 10 among states for corporate diversity, pro-business climate, business expansion, and entrepreneurial development. In fact, Southern Business and Development magazine designated Alabama as "State of the Year" for four years running from 2002 to 2005 and again in 2007 for meeting such objectives. In addition DOC received Site Selection magazine's Competitiveness Award in 2006 and 2007 for its success in attracting new capital investment. These recognitions underscore the hard work of DOC which has not only transformed Alabama's economy, but continues to make the state competitive nationally and attractive internationally.