Made In Alabama checked in with the mayors of the state’s four largest cities to get an idea of their 2016 economic development priorities and how their growth strategies paid off last year.
- Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange believes Alabama’s capital is primed for growth in the technology and automotive sectors in 2016.
- For Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, the year should bring a renewed focus on the Rocket City’s R&D heritage after it landed a series of large-scale advanced manufacturing projects, creating thousands of jobs.
Mayor Stimpson explained: “Certainly everyone recognizes that the aerospace industry is in a prime position for growth, particularly with delivery of the first Airbus A320 from the Mobile final assembly line in early 2016.”
Taking the pulse of these elected leaders is revealing because Alabama’s four largest cities have entirely different economic bases, reflecting the broad diversity of the overall state economy. Plus, their comments provide insight into the types of economic development projects and initiatives they’re targeting as the new year gets rolling.
For Mayor Strange, 2016 kicked off on a high note. On Jan. 7, Hyundai launched a $52 million project to add the Santa Fe Sport SUV to the production lineup at its Montgomery assembly plant.
Two weeks later, Montgomery leaders unveiled an initiative called the “Montgomery Cyber Connection” that will accelerate Internet connection speeds and spur business development, foster research collaboration and stimulate tech start-up activity.
“More companies are going to be locating here because they’re going to be able to connect at the speed of light,” Strange said.
In December, Montgomery officials announced that the area had attracted nearly $150 million in capital investment during 2015, creating more than 1,400 new and future jobs. Strange said the city has a pipeline of projects it’s working on to continue the growth into 2016.
“We’ve been successful because we can demonstrate the quality of our workforce through working with AIDT,” the state’s workforce development agency, Strange said. “We have to continue to do that.”
In the past two years, Huntsville has landed large-scale manufacturing projects from Remington Outdoor Co. and Polaris Industries, as well as a cutting-edge advanced materials project from GE Aviation. While those developments will have a profound impact, Mayor Battle sees a renewed focus on the city’s traditional research and development activities.
“These are the jobs that vaulted Huntsville from a cotton town in the 1950s to a rocket city,” he said. “We have the highest concentration of engineers in the country and our highly specialized workforce is already geared for positions in robotics, biotech, cybersecurity and computer programming.”
Birmingham stands in the center of Alabama’s auto industry, with Mercedes-Benz’s assembly plant 40 miles to the west and Honda’s factory 40 miles to the east. That makes the city an ideal location for suppliers like Kamtek, which is investing $530 million to expand its facility in the city.
Mayor Bell expects Birmingham to see more auto-industry growth this year, and he hopes the vacant Kaiser hangar at the city’s airport will attract an aerospace player. He wants to see Birmingham maintain its momentum after a strong 2015.
“We added more than 2,000 jobs in the city and retained more than 2,700 jobs that could have gone elsewhere, and we attracted capital investments by new and existing companies totaling well over $1 billion,” he said.
As a 2016 priority, Mayor Bell said city leaders are in the final stages of developing a plan that will bring restaurants, a hotel, entertainment venues and more to 38 acres adjacent to the city’s $46 million Crossplex sports facility.
For Mayor Stimpson, 2016 is all about capitalizing on opportunities including the city’s aerospace potential and to build on developments at the Port of Mobile and the waterfront, along with the area’s growing tech community. He also wants to position Mobile as an ideal location for corporate decision-makers.
“It’s a great time to invest in Mobile,” he said.