Alabama scores high in Business Facilities ranking as ‘rising automotive powerhouse’

Hyundai workers on the assembly line at the automaker's Montgomery plant.
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Arik Sokol

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Expanding production in Alabama’s auto industry means the state is “coming on strong as a rising automotive powerhouse,” according to a new Business Facilities ranking.

The publication, which targets site consultants and economic developers, ranked Alabama No. 2 in its annual state Automotive Manufacturing Strength ranking, up from No. 7 in the previous year. The state’s auto industry had a record year in 2012, producing more than 880,000 vehicles — a figure that is likely to be eclipsed this year.

Alabama’s rise in the rankings is due to increasing output at assembly plants operated by the state’s three international automakers – Germany’s Mercedes-Benz in Vance, Japan’s Honda in Lincoln and South Korea’s Hyundai in Montgomery. Japanese giant Toyota operates an engine plant in Huntsville, which is currently undergoing another expansion.

“Mercedes-Benz’s long-term commitment to Alabama was followed by a parade of auto giants who have vaulted the state into the top tier in U.S. automotive production, with 880,000 vehicles produced in 2012,” Business Facilities Editor In Chief Jack Rogers said in the article. “The state has laid out the welcome mat for foreign investment and is working proactively to make sure a skilled workforce is readily available by offering on-site training.”

AIDT, the workforce development division of the Alabama Department of Commerce, has earned a reputation for delivering qualified workers for the state’s auto industry, with training facilities at each of the three automakers with Alabama plants.

“We expect Alabama to be a leading player in the U.S. automotive industry for years to come,” Rogers added.

Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said that the state’s long-term economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama, has positioned the state for continued growth of the automotive industry.  He said the state is also ideally situated in the center of the Southeast auto corridor for new auto industry projects and expansions, particularly suppliers. Several suppliers have recently picked the state for projects.

“Our automotive industry has the distinction of being the fifth largest in the country, soon possibly moving in on the spot of third largest,” said Canfield.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told Business Facilities that the 1993 decision by Mercedes to locate its first North American manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa County prompted other international giants to set up operations. That established Alabama as a “front-runner in foreign direct investments” and opened the gate for a “torrent of exports from Alabama to the world.” (Vehicles are the No. 1 export category for the state.)

“Had Mercedes not come to Alabama in 1993, we probably would not have had all these great international companies. When you talk to Mercedes, they will tell you that their best manufacturing plant in the world is at Tuscaloosa,” Gov. Bentley told the magazine in an interview published in April.

“When you see companies like Mercedes adding new lines, when you see Hyundai put a third shift in, adding 800 new jobs, and when you see the level of automation at these plants, you know that we’re producing high-quality vehicles here in Alabama.”

Mercedes, which is gearing up to produce the C-Class sedan and another SUV model, also is now adding a logistics hub with 600 workers. In May, Honda began producing the Acura MDX at its Alabama plant, the first time it has made a model from its luxury line in the state.

Business Facilities says its rankings place a heavy emphasis on growth potential as well as production figures and industry trends. Tennessee was No. 1 in this year’s rankings.

Read the full story here.