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"Should I stay, or should I go?" -- An APR news series on retaining workers along the Gulf coast

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Keeping educated and skilled workers from leaving the Gulf coast appears to be an on-going concern. Efforts are underway at the State, regional, and local levels to attract and hold onto workers, including the Mobile area. Surveys of those leaving Alabama for other parts of the U.S. cite a range of complaints as reasons for looking elsewhere to work and live. The Alabama Public Radio news team will examine problems and solutions to this issue in an on-going series of reports titled “Should I stay, or should I go?”

February 15th of this year was a typical day on the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. The University of Alabama announced an end to its mandatory COVID-19 mask policy, an Alabama man was facing a judge in West Texas over a sex trafficking charge, and then something else broke.

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A panel discussion was taking place along the Gulf coast on keeping educated and skilled Alabama workers. The State Commission on Higher Education had its own report on the problem. The panel was followed two months later by a fellowship program designed to keep Alabama graduates from leaving the state.

Clearly, a pattern was developing.

The appendix of the Alabama State Commission on Higher Education’s 2021 report on retaining workers was filled with anonymous statements of people who had been interviewed on why they might stay and pursue careers in Alabama, and perhaps most importantly, why they’d leave.

The “no crowd” was brutal.

“Alabama is a slow evolving state and there are better opportunities elsewhere,” said one respondent.

“I think Alabama is behind on everything from social issues to education,” added another. “I think that a high majority of citizens in this state blindly support individuals in power only because of their political party instead of focusing on real issues. I hope to move out of this state as soon as I can.”

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“Alabama is consistently ranked in the bottom when compared to other states in the country. Why would I choose to live here? The state is painfully behind in many social programs such as paid family leave, paternity leave, sex education, welfare, education,” another added.

“It's boring. No events, not diverse, cost of living is awful, political influence is awful, the pushy religion aspect is awful, the horrible education, and the low wages are horrible,” said one more.

And, that’s just to name a few.

Alabama’s problems with retaining workers were further illustrated by a survey by the financial website Wallethub. The group’s researchers focused on the best and worst cities in which to raise a family. Alabama ranked poorly in the study that looked at metrics including cost of living, education, air and water quality, healthcare, violent crime, homelessness, and the number of uninsured children.

Of the 186 cities included in the study, Mobile came in near the bottom at 165.

Over the next several months, Alabama Public Radio will be examining the issues most likely to prompt valuable workers to leave the state for other opportunities. And, we want to hear from you. What would make a difference to you, when it comes to conditions around the Gulf coast that would keep you living there. You can write me directly at pduggins@apr.org.

More to come.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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