A manufacturing boom means Alabama is poised to produce more automobiles, engines, ships, railcars and airplane components. It also means thousands of new manufacturing jobs across a state whose economy continues to be reshaped by industrial projects.
“Industrial development throughout the state remains in high gear with many companies announcing expansions to their existing operations or opening new facilities,” Wells Fargo economists wrote in a February report titled “Alabama’s Big Wheels Keep on Turning.”
The Wells Fargo economists project that Alabama will add 30,000 jobs in 2013, with the state’s manufacturing sector acting as “a key growth engine.” They cite expansions by companies in a diverse mix of fields ranging from aerospace and advanced materials to life sciences and food products.
Much of the manufacturing jobs growth is centered in Mobile, where shipbuilders Austal and BAE Systems are each adding hundreds of jobs to increase output at their yards. Plus, Airbus will start construction this year on a passenger-jet manufacturing facility at Mobile’s Brookley Aeroplex that will create 1,000 direct jobs – and could act as a catalyst for thousands more.
“I think you can never overestimate the value of having a big name project involving an internationally recognized leader in a given sector locate in your state and the positive impact that is built from that,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Job growth is spread throughout the state, thanks to major projects such as:
- In Athens, Carpenter Technology is building a $500 million, 200-worker manufacturing facility that will make premium alloy products for customers in the aerospace and energy industries. Carpenter looked at 240 other locations across the globe before selecting Alabama.
- In Colbert County, FreightCar America will set up a railcar manufacturing operation with 400 jobs by the end of 2014 at a factory where Navistar could one day make work trucks.
- The Auburn-Opelika area has landed projects that are starting to come to fruition. GE Aviation will start production this year at a jet engine components factory in Auburn that will eventually provide 300 to 400 manufacturing jobs. In Opelika, vitamin and supplement maker Pharmavite will open a manufacturing and distribution facility that is expected to have 280 employees. SIOS2 Medical Products will create 250 jobs at an Auburn facility slated to open this year.
- Auto industry-related expansion, meanwhile, is taking place across the state. In Vance, Mercedes-Benz announced plans for 1,400 new jobs as it adds new models. An expansion at Toyota’s Huntsville engine plant is creating 125 jobs. Projects by auto parts makers are creating hundreds of jobs in cities such as Cullman, Talladega and Clanton.
The Wells Fargo economists say Alabama has become an attractive location for manufacturers because of its excellent transportation system, its right-to-work status and low taxes. The state’s workforce development agency, AIDT, has also been a factor, they say.
“Numerous industrial announcements cited the existence of this program as being a key part of their location decision and their commitment to utilize the program,” they noted.
To help with future recruitment for manufacturing jobs, Canfield said the state plans to strengthen the partnership between economic development and education, ensuring that the proper workforce development programs are in place. Earlier this year, Gov. Robert Bentley announced the creation of the College and Career-Ready Task Force, which unites the business and education communities in an effort to better prepare students for the workforce.
“We are poised for another successful year in recruiting and expanding industry,” Canfield said.