Alabama has clear strengths to capitalize on the current trends in economic development, but the state also faces challenges in landing today’s lucrative jobs and capital investment projects.
That was the message at today’s Alabama Economic Growth Summit hosted by Yellowhammer Multimedia at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa in Hoover.
During a panel discussion among site selection experts, moderated by Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, participants cited the state’s competitive strengths.
AIDT tops the list, said Ron Starner, executive vice president of Conway Inc. and Site Selection magazine. The worker training agency is widely respected and held up as the “gold standard” nationwide, he said.
Alabama also has a strong reputation when it comes to foreign direct investment, Starner said, including major manufacturing plants for Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, Airbus, and others.
Meanwhile, the state is well-positioned to attract data centers, a growing project sector.
Starner called Google’s plans to build a $600 million data center in Jackson County a “game-changer” for the state.
“I think the fact that Google has given its stamp of endorsement for this state has opened the doors for others to follow,” he said.
Starner also noted the increasingly competitive position of the U.S. Midwest, particularly Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. The election of pro-business governors and a focus on new right-to-work laws has raised the region’s profile.
Southeastern U.S. states have long been the most competitive in economic development, but that’s slowly changing.
“There’s not the gap that there used to be,” Starner said. “Clearly the Midwest is getting more looks than it used to.”
Mexico also continues to come on strong, said Mike Mullis, president and CEO of Memphis-based J.M. Mullis Inc, a site selection firm that completes about 50 projects a year.
The country is extremely aggressive in courting projects, with a federal economic development organization, much lower wage rates than the U.S. and major automotive industry growth that includes a host of new plants and rising production.
Mullis added that improvements in education and workforce training will be key in Alabama moving forward.
A separate panel discussion was held on public/private partnerships in workforce development.
Participants cited the Alabama Workforce Council as a prime example of such a partnership. The 40-member board, established in 2014, is made up of business executives and others to facilitate collaboration between government and industry and help Alabama develop a sustainable, globally-competitive workforce.
Governor Robert Bentley, who spoke at the event, said Alabama’s workforce training programs are critically important to the state’s economic development efforts. “We train workers better than anybody,” he said.
Other economic development trends noted during the summit that will affect Alabama include:
- A strong pattern of reshoring continues, driven by low energy prices, wage inflation in Asia and concern about economies in Europe.
- There’s an increasing urbanization of suburbia, with employers gravitating toward the live/work/play communities that can provide amenities for their workforce.
- Companies also are increasingly looking for competitive costs when scouting sites for their headquarters, so more Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are getting looks over major population centers.