Alabama: Coming Off a Landmark Year

18 Jul, 2016

By Lori Culpepper

In 2015, Alabama attracted more than $7 billion in capital investment, along with nearly 20,000 new and future jobs, as the state’s economic development team secured high-caliber projects in key growth sectors such as technology, aerospace and the automotive industry.

This includes approximately 2,000 jobs in north Alabama where Polaris is building a $127 million ATV factory at a new production hub in Huntsville. There will be 300 more jobs coming to the Tuscaloosa-area Mercedes plant, the automaker that put Alabama on the world map as an industry contender. In 2016, Alabama workers will finish the first Alabama-made Airbus A320 jetliner at the $600 million Mobile plant. By the end of 2017, 50 of these high-tech jetliners will roll off the assembly line, stamped “Made in Alabama.” GE Aviation has chosen Alabama to help revolutionize how jet engines are manufactured at two new plants to be built this year, and the Alabama-made Honda Ridgeline truck made its debut in showrooms across the country. Google decided last year that Jackson County, Alabama, is the best place in the world to locate a $600 million call center.

BASF Corporation, Home Depot, Honda, Hyundai, Outokumpu, Equifax, Remington, Toyota and Webster Industries are among others that have recently announced new or expanding investments in the state.

Alabama attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) approaching $3.5 billion in 2015, with companies from 18 countries represented. Germany was the top source of FDI, with more than $1.6 billion, and the top source of new jobs, with 951.

Gov. Robert Bentley says it is with this list of economic development projects and accomplishments that the state earned the title “State of the Year” by Business Facilities magazine. He says this can be attributed partly to a state that values the companies that locate in Alabama and public and private sectors that are committed to helping them succeed.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, says recent economic development success reflects several significant trends taking place in the state’s economy. A major development is accelerating expansion in Alabama’s aerospace sector, which is linked to the production start-up at Airbus’ new Mobile manufacturing facility. There will also be continued growth in the automotive industry, including the expansion of the Mercedes plant.

Alabama is also attracting a rising number of projects that are creating “brainpower” jobs in fields such as engineering and research and development. The Mercedes expansion, for example, involves the creation of new engineering jobs. There will also be opportunities for brainpower following Google’s decision to build a data center in Jackson County and Equifax’s decision to open a Global IT Talent Center at Auburn University.

Canfield says Alabama is coming off a landmark year, and the economic development team intends to keep the momentum going. They continue to create an environment that will set the stage for growth in targeted economic sectors with the goal of acquiring more high-paying jobs for Alabamians.

Coffee, Geneva, and Dale Counties

By Rachel Hamilton

“I think that probably the biggest thing is that the local communities and governments are extremely business-oriented and focused on helping business owners succeed,” says Jonathan Tullos, executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp. Wiregrass covers Coffee, Geneva and Dale Counties in southeastern Alabama just north of the Florida panhandle.

“We’ve had some great success in the aerospace industry,” Tullos says, citing Rotary Wing and Vista Aviation, which have an estimated 200 workers employed in airplane maintenance, overhaul and repair.

In the automotive industry, the area has seen expansions in Tier I and Tier II suppliers, adding hundreds of jobs, according to Tullos, who cites Inzi Controls, HS Automotive and Advanced Carrier Products as examples.

The area has “a very diverse range of industries,” says Tullos, which in addition to aerospace and automotive, also includes metal fabrication, textiles, agriculture and food processing, as well as food distribution.

The area’s workforce has “very good school systems” with “a lot of dual enrollment training,” says Tullos. Area high schools and community colleges have partnered to “streamline support for industries in our area.”

The area is positioned between institutions of higher education such as Troy University, Florida State University, Huntington College and the University of Montgomery.

Fort Rucker is located near the middle of Wiregrass’s tri-county territory. “Because of Fort Rucker, we have lot of people who are trained and educated in the aerospace industry,” Tullos explains. This draws in a culturally diverse population, and when personnel exit the military, Tullos says, they like the area because “the cost of living is low and the quality of life is good.”

At least three successful companies were started by such individuals in the area, Tullos says: Communication Ear Protection, Seitz Scientific and Aureus International, all of which manufacture products that support the aerospace industry.

Walker County

By Rachel Hamilton

Interstate 22 connects Birmingham, Alabama, with Memphis, Tennessee, and it “runs right through the middle of [Walker County, Alabama],” says David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Development Authority. The state government and Alabama’s Dept. of Transportation opened the final segment that connects I-22 with Interstate 65 in Birmingham in June 2016.

Walker County is just northwest of Birmingham, and the now fully opened interstate provides advantages for businesses. “A lot of the projects that we see want or need interstate access,” Knight says.

Yorozu Automotive Alabama, Inc. has invested more than $100 million in a plant currently under construction. “They make suspension components and other metal components for the automotive industry; they’ll supply OEMs like Nissan, Honda, Toyota,” says Knight. The plant will create about 300 new jobs and facility construction should be finished by the end of 2016.

The City of Jasper and the Industrial Development Board have added an additional 400 acres to Walker County’s Jasper Industrial Park. Yorozu is on 50 of those acres.

The opening of the I-22 corridor will also allow for a greater “availability of workforce,” Knight says. “Now with the interstate being open we’re only 25 min from downtown Birmingham.”

“We have a lot of folks who out-commute; they would much rather work closer to home,” Knight says. “We have that potential to tap into for available labor.” He describes Walker County and its county seat of Jasper as a rural community with a high quality of life and now with easy access to the metropolitan amenities of Birmingham.

Walker County works with the state to maximize the state incentives for businesses, Knight says, and locally they “try to develop a custom package for each project” based on a company’s specific needs.

For workforce training, they leverage the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) Program, which provides employee recruitment and training free of charge for businesses. Walker County has two Bevel State Community College campuses as well.

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