BCA’s new president, CEO advocates for businesses in Alabama

Helena Duncan relies on her experience in the financial industry to advocate for businesses of all sizes in Alabama

Helena Duncan at her office in Montgomery. Photo by Art Meripol.

Helena Duncan had spent 35 years in the financial industry, and she was ready for a change.

Her youngest son had gone off to college, and she and her husband were empty nesters.

“I decided I better quickly find something different to do with my life now that I didn’t have children to manage at home,” she says.

That’s when she had a conversation with Katie Britt, then president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, whom she was working with on the transition team for Montgomery’s newly elected mayor, Steven Reed.

“We began our conversations there,” says Duncan, who went to work for the BCA three years ago.

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Britt soon left BCA to run for — and win — a U.S. Senate seat, and in December, Duncan was named president and CEO of the group that advocates for Alabama businesses.

Born and raised in Opelika, Duncan went to Auburn University and graduated from Auburn University at Montgomery, working as a bank teller while she was in college. That began a three-decade career in banking and finance, which included stints with Colonial Bancgroup, American Legacy Mortgage and First Tuskegee Bank. Just prior to joining BCA, she was the regional president of Liberty Bank & Trust.

All of that, she says, contributes to an understanding of what businesses face when it comes to legislation.

“Being on the executive team of a $22 billion company and then being a president, you understand how these laws impact what we do,” she says.

That became crystal clear during the banking crisis of 2008.

“Obviously, there were guardrails put up and a lot of regulatory requirements on banks, and it was hard for us to do banking as we knew it because of all of those regulatory requirements,” Duncan recalls. “We were clear on how decision-makers or policy makers could impact how our business ran. We also saw it with our clients, as well, as they were trying to maneuver through different policies and how that would impact their day-to-day cash flow.”

Now, in her role at BCA, she’s doing that for the entire Alabama business community.

“We advocate for businesses to make sure our state remains a business-friendly, job-creating, strong-economy state,” she says. “It’s our job to work with lawmakers to make sure these things remain in place.”

As the legislative session opens, Duncan and the BCA will be right there, advocating for legislation that is conducive to strong businesses. She’s spent her first few months as president and CEO getting to know legislative leadership and making sure they know her and the BCA.

“I wanted them to understand our mission and understand our position on different things,” Duncan says. “I want them to know about my passion about trying to make this a better environment with every decision that we make, that we will be steadfast, we will be steady. We want to lead, not be the tail. We’re going to do what it takes to protect our businesses in this state.”

Tops on that list for this session is securing renewal of the Alabama Jobs Act. Passed in 2015 and sunsetting (or expiring) in July, extension of the act would continue to create economic incentives to recruit businesses to the state.

“This is something we have to get renewed this session,” Duncan says. “It has proven to be a very good decision. Tons of businesses have come to Alabama, and many have been able to maintain their businesses here.”

Duncan says more than 34,000 jobs have been created as a direct result of the Alabama Jobs Act.

“It’s critical right now for us to get this passed, and it’s critical for Alabama to continue to grow,” she says. “That’s what’s top-of-mind for us right now.”

Improving workforce development also is an issue that BCA will be keeping its eyes on.

“That seems to be a constant denominator across our state,” Duncan says. “Because of our economic growth, workforce development has obviously come to the top. Our members are concerned about it; therefore, we are very concerned about it.”

BCA will also “pay close attention to any mandates” that come out of the legislative session, Duncan says.

“We like for our businesses to make business decisions based on their business model, not because of things they are mandated to do,” she says. “We’ll continue to watch very closely bills that may come through that may be a mandate of changing the business plan and model of our businesses in the state.”

BCA is an advocacy group for its membership, which ranges from one-man shops to the largest companies in Alabama, according to Duncan.

“Growth of BCA is obviously important, but most important for us is staying focused on protecting these jobs and creating a strong economy for other businesses to want to relocate here,” she says. “We have a dynamic staff with one focus every day — Alabama’s business community.”

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama and Art Meripol is a freelance contributor. Both are based in Birmingham.

This article appears in the April 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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