In with the new decade

Published 4:45 pm Friday, January 8, 2010

Here we are not only starting a new year but a new decade. Let us hope that the next 10 years go better than the last couple of years have.  Though, when we look back at the past decade, we saw some amazing progress that everyone should hope is duplicated.

The very structure of our state economy went through some fundamental changes during the decade.

We started out the 2000’s with the Alabama auto industry kicking into high gear. The first Honda Odyssey minivans built in Alabama came off the assembly line in 2001, and throughout the decade more and more Honda lines were built in Lincoln. Toyota located one of its largest engine manufacturing plants in Alabama. Then in 2002, Hyundai located its massive manufacturing facility in Montgomery and began building its SUV and sedans.

At the beginning of the 2000’s, Alabama was in the middle of the pack when it came to automotive manufacturing, with the lone Mercedes plant in Vance making up all the production our state could count. Now, we are fifth in the nation in auto production, and when the next expansion in Mercedes is online, we may yet jump another notch. Adding to the economic impact of the plants are the hundreds of parts suppliers that have also located in Alabama.

All told, the modern auto industry saw a remarkable expansion during the 2000s. Autos are now a prime economic force in the state, and the future of the companies that now call Alabama home is bright.

Economists now look back on much of our nation’s economic growth during the decade as part of the housing bubble and other kinds of speculation. However, before the boom turned to a bust, we saw huge increases in income and sales tax revenue, the two foundations of the Education Trust Fund.

For the first time, we were able to fully fund the Alabama Reading Initiative. Developed by Alabama education officials more than a decade ago, the initiative takes the most effective early literacy teaching methods and works with teachers and schools to build a successful culture of reading success in the early grades. It has since become a national model.

With the new funding, the program was put into every school by mid-decade, along with an influx of books and support materials. What we got for this investment was the nation’s highest jump in elementary reading scores.

We saw similar returns on investment in things like math and science education and distance learning opportunities. When we had the money, we put it into our schools, and we saw remarkable results.

However, like with just about everything else, education took a beating in the last years of the decade. As the economy sputtered and unemployment skyrocketed, the funding faltered.

We will have $1.4 billion less for classrooms this year than just two years ago, an 18 percent cut. We have done everything possible to protect the educational gains made in the 2000’s during the tough times.

Hopefully, our state economy will follow the example of our state’s auto industry. After reducing shifts and cutting back production, the state’s manufacturers are up and going again. Hyundai just recently announced it will be one of the biggest sponsors of this year’s Super Bowl, in part because it has seen some of the strongest sales increases of any auto company in the world.

So as we look toward the 2010’s, we hope to see the growth and progress that marked the middle years of the 2000’s, and not the way the decade ended. We found out what Alabama progress looks like, and we certainly want more of it.