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Alabama Economic News Is Still Good

March 3, 2008

Last week, the Air Force chose companies that will base production of aerial refueling tankers in Mobile. When the plant opens at the long closed Brookley Field, Alabama will become just the third place in the world where giant jets are built. Northrop Grumman and Airbus won the $35 billion contract that will bring an estimated 1500 high paying jobs, and will be a major engine to continue the rebirth of the port city for years to come.


The Tennessee Valley has a long history with aerospace, with Huntsville known as America’s “rocket city,” and dozens of major companies in the area working in the industry. With the new major tanker contract, Alabama has now become one of the premier aerospace players in the world. Many are likening the advent of jet aircraft manufacturing in Mobile to the coming of the automotive industry with Mercedes in 1993, a transformative event.


The automotive industry continues to grow in our state. Mercedes now manufactures three popular models in Vance. Honda added a new line for its popular Pilot model at its sprawling plant in Lincoln, and recently announced it would start manufacturing its Ridgeline truck model there as well. Hyundai in Montgomery has brought dozens of its suppliers to the state, and has attracted its subsidiary Kia to build a major plant just across the state line in Georgia, providing hundreds of jobs of our citizens in East Alabama.


Even older automotive companies are doing well. Goodyear has been a staple of manufacturing jobs in Gadsden for decades. Just a few years ago, the plant was threatened with closing. Now the plant is just finishing a major modernization including a 205,000-square-foot addition, making the plant almost 3 million square feet, with modern equipment and the flexibility to make new tire designs in the future. 


One of the world’s largest railroad equipment manufacturing facilities is being built in the Shoals area in Northwest Alabama. National Alabama is building a $350 million project slated for completion in late 2008 or early 2009. The company plans to employ 1,800 people, producing approximately 8,000 railway freight cars annually.


The largest steel plant under construction in the world is being built by the German manufacturer ThyssenKrupp in Southwest Alabama. When they selected Alabama, company officials predicted a 2010 opening, with as many as 2,700 workers when fully running. This new plant will add to the thriving iron and steel manufacturing base of the state, with U.S. Steel, American Cast Iron Pipe, and U.S. Pipe continuing the long steel tradition of Birmingham.


Birmingham has become one of the major players in the biotech and health industry, with premier research facilities and clinics that employ thousands. Innovative healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices continue to be engines for growth.


Alabama’s military facilities—Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal, Ft. Rucker in Southeast Alabama, and even including Ft. Benning right across the river from Phenix City—are expanding, and should see major growth under the base realignment process.


In addition, the tourism industry is booming, with the Retirement Systems of Alabama leading the way with its Robert Trent Jones Golf Trails and resorts in every corner of the state. The construction industry is better here than in most other states because of the work accompanying the plant openings and revival of our state’s cities and towns.


The work ethic of Alabamians and the choice industrial locations available in our state are primarily responsible for attracting so much growth in manufacturing. However, the state has been a good partner, using economic development incentives and the recent $750 million industrial bond passed by Alabama voters to help attract companies. The Legislature has been quick to act when opportunity has knocked, and everyone in the statehouse knows that when we invest in infrastructure and workforce development, it paves the way to making Alabama a world manufacturing center.


So as the rest of the nation tries to get its economic house in order, we still have a lot of work here to do, and that is a very good thing.