(Noah Lueker, Townsquare Media)

The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and Regions Bank celebrated a joint ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new facilities in downtown Tuscaloosa Tuesday morning almost a year and a half after the Chamber announced it was leaving its former home on Jack Warner Parkway.

The Chamber celebrated the completion and opening of its all-new Workforce and Community Development Center, which took over the former Regions Bank building on 9th Street.

Chamber President and CEO Jim Page called the new facility a regional hub dedicated to revitalizing Tuscaloosa's workforce and economic development. It will be home to eight different organizations across two floors, each with their own areas of expertise, but all with the common goal of promoting growth in West Alabama.

The Tuesday morning event also marked the grand opening of a new state-of-the-art Regions facility that's unlike any other in Tuscaloosa or the state of Alabama. The new branch was built directly beside their former facility.

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(Noah Lueker, Townsquare Media)

The concept for the state-of-the-art workforce facility came from a benchmarking trip Chamber members took to Lexington, Kentucky in 2018.

While there, Elizabeth Winter, the Marketing Executive for Regions Bank, had the idea to bring those ideas and implement them in Tuscaloosa. Winter is also serving as the 2021 chair of the Chamber of Commerce.

"Today represents a significant new investment in our local economy that will impact our community and businesses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for years to come," Winter said.

The ground floor of the Workforce Development Center houses new officers for the Chamber staff, as well as space for West Alabama Works, which Page said would work hand-in-hand with other organizations in the building.

"From one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of workforce development, it's going to be housed in this building," Page said.

Those organizations include CAMGIAN Microsystems, Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa, The Dannon Project, Junior Achievement of Tuscaloosa County, Junior League of Tuscaloosa, and the Regions Boardroom.

(Noah Lueker, Townsquare Media)

CAMGIAN Microsystems is a company with a shifting focus on AI development that offers high-tech, high-paying jobs aimed at retaining Tuscaloosa's workforce.

Page said that local colleges and universities including the University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College are already providing degree programs that prepare graduates for these developing industries, but Tuscaloosa doesn't necessarily have the jobs and other amenities needed to keep those graduates here.

"One of our problems in this community for a lot of years is we've been losing a lot of that talent, so other communities profit from creating more job opportunities," Page said. "This creates more opportunities for them to stay and call Tuscaloosa and West Alabama home."

Ellen Potts, the Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa, echoed that sentiment, saying that Habitat's new home in the building is will be a place to teach practical trade skills to students.

(Noah Lueker, Townsquare Media)

Specifically, Potts cited Habitat's partnership with Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy as a major step in developing a stronger workforce in the city. For example, Habitat and students with TCTA collaborated to build the 18th National Championship House.

This new facility will house several organizations with long histories of working with the Chamber, but one partnership is new -- the Dannon Project, a nationally recognized nonprofit out of Birmingham, aims to provide sustainable jobs and resources for youth coming out of the criminal justice system.

Working closely with West Alabama Works and Habitat, The Dannon Project is dedicated to reforming youth and young adult nonviolent offenders after they exit the prison system.

Within the program, participants have a recidivism, or prisoner re-entry, rate of only 5%, which is down 63% from the national average. 96% of those coming out of the program who are put into jobs still hold those jobs one year later.

"We already play a leading role in the workforce on the community development side... Having so many different entities under one roof, sharing the coffeemaker, and talking to each other leads to natural collaboration," Page said.

Page said the work on the new facility is not yet complete, and in the coming months residents can expect to see significant improvements to the grounds and exterior of the building. This new facility also has additional, unused office capacity and even more partnerships are in the works.

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