March 19th, 2010
12:03 PM ET

Is that a banjo on your knee?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/18/hyundai.al.jpg caption="Hyundai employees work on a car on the assembly line at the Montgomery, AL plant"]

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

I spent the week in Alabama, and let me tell you it was an eye-opener. With all the cheese grits, fried shrimp, and barbeque, it was also something of a heart-valve-closer, but that’s a different story. I was there to find ways in which people are thriving despite the bad economy, and let me tell you I found plenty.

Now you might say “What does that have to do with me?” Go ahead. Say it aloud, and watch the person next to you nervously sidle away. It’s fun!

Alabama has plenty to do with you, because in difficult times it makes sense to look for those who have experienced great difficulties before to guide us toward recovery; and when it comes to difficulties, Alabama has had a sackful.

So what are they doing there now? For starters, they are pulling together. To attract a huge new Hyundai plant a few years back, they had to unite across political, business, community, racial, and economic lines. And it worked. That plant set up shop south of Montgomery and today is credited with fueling more than 20-thousand jobs in the region. With a new Kia facility now roaring to life just across the line in Georgia, even more positive ripples are expected.

They are looking to markets beyond their borders. Alabama’s exports have grown by 36-percent since 2004; directly creating 1,000 new jobs, and indirectly protecting many more.

They are keeping their young. It’s hard for smaller towns to hold onto talent. All the kids want to race off to the big cities, get cool loft apartments, and pay twenty dollars to park. But Alabama is getting serious about offering its young professionals more entertainment, more opportunities, more input, and more reasons to keep their feet…and skills…in Dixie.

And they are engaging some of their most serious, hard core issues; problems with education, race relations, and poverty.

Sure, all of this is in the early stages, and many daunting hurdles remain. Their unemployment rate, for example, is around 11 percent, well above the national average. But Alabama knows what it is like to be down, and other states which have been generally more fortunate over the years, may find it worthwhile to take a look at how Alabama is clawing back up from this recession.

Filed under: Building Up America • Raw Politics • Tea Party • Tom Foreman
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