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Rural Development

Chambers County trades spindles for suppliers as Alabama auto industry rises

LANETT, Alabama – In East Alabama’s Chambers County, the textile industry facilities are all gone, many of the last survivors wiped away in one brutal year of rapid-fire plant closings. In their place have come a string of companies that use plastic injection molding machines to make automotive parts and firms that stamp out metal body panels.

Valerie Gray, executive director of the Chambers County Development Authority, has had a first-hand view of the dramatic shift that began reshaping Alabama’s manufacturing sector when Mercedes-Benz announced on Sept. 30, 1993, that it would build vehicles in the state.

The shift has played out in many rural communities across Alabama as the old-line textile industry, a longtime provider of bread-and-butter jobs, accelerated a decline that had started years before. At the same time, the rise of Alabama’s auto industry, powered by Mercedes’ arrival, began bringing many supplier companies to communities such as Alexander City, Opelika, Greenville and Selma.

Photo by: AIDT trains job candidates and Mercedes workers at a training center on the automaker’s Tuscaloosa campus.

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