Governor Kay Ivey is deliberately prioritizing the economy and education for the next four years after the COVID-19 pandemic demanded so much attention during her first term in office.

Ivey was at the Tuscaloosa Rivermarket Monday morning for the annual State of the State luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and presented by the University of Alabama System.

There, she addressed hundreds of regional leaders and dignitaries and said for the next four years, she and the Legislature will be doing as much as they can to improve education in Alabama, especially at the Pre-K level, and to create, protect and fill a never-before-seen number of jobs.

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"These are historic times in our state. Our economy is breaking new ground and we're facing challenges and opportunities not seen in many generations," Ivey said. The record pace of job creation and opportunity from the Tennessee River to the Gulf Coast is stunning."

Over 2 million people are employed in the state, Ivey said, and our seasonally adjusted March unemployment rate is 2.3%, a record low even better than pre-pandemic numbers.

"Our top priorities for this legislative session and for this term go hand in hand. Increase investment in economic development and in education," Ivey said. "We have already laid a solid foundation in both areas and we must double down on our efforts if we're to make a lasting difference."

Ivey pointed to "The Game Plan," a series of four economic growth bills she signed into law last month, which aim to prolong pre-existing incentive programs, authorize proactive site development for industrial development, encouraged innovation and enhanced transparency.

Those bills, coupled with an already well-oiled economic recruitment engine, could led to championship-winning results, she said.

"Alabama has maintained a winning, long-game strategy of providing economic incentives to attract major new industries from Florence to Orange Beach," Ivey said. "It's like Coach Saban's legendary recruitment here in Tuscaloosa -- our state's industrial scouts have brought home many star performers that continue to score points with jobs and expansions."

Ivey, an alumna of Auburn University, joked that the Tuscaloosa crowd should not take her use of an Alabama athletics metaphor lightly.

The other major plank in her platform is improving education, which Ivey aims to do by increasing access to Pre-K courses and dramatically increasing teacher pay.

"The success of our long-term industrial recruitment efforts is directly linked to our commitment to building a top-notch education system, and for this reason, I have set the goal of Alabama reaching the top 30 states in educational advancement by the end of my term as governor," Ivey said.

"Alabama's First Class Pre-K program, which has led the nation for the last 16 years, is generating positive results for our earliest students and I am committed to ensuring that every parent who wants to enroll their child will have access to it," Ivey said.

That will make children more ready for kindergarten, more likely to be proficient in reading and math, and less likely to be held back or face major discipline issues. Ivey said she wants to see 70 percent of Alabama's 4-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K by the end of her term in 2027 -- a more than 50 percent increase over current levels.

Ivey also praised Nick & Terry Saban and the Tuscaloosa community for their commitment to the in-development Saban Center, which will be a learning hub for Alabama's children.

Another step Ivey plans to take is championing pay raises for teachers across the state before her time as governor ends.

"My goal is to have the starting salary for all Alabama teachers to be the highest in the southeast by the end of my term," Ivey said, a process that starts with a teacher pay raise she included in this year's budget.

Ivey also opened and closed her remarks by recognizing Representative Kyle South, who is resigning from the Legislature at the end of this session to become the next president and CEO of the Tuscaloosa Chamber, who formally adjourned the meeting shortly after her comments ended.

For more coverage of the Chamber and its impact on the community, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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