The COVID-19 pandemic threw a monkey wrench in Alabama’s economy last year, interrupting a golden period of substantial growth and casting doubt on whether the momentum could be regained.
Fortunately for Alabama, the economic foundation built over the past several years looks resilient. Plus, the economic development pipeline for 2021 continues to flow with high-caliber projects that are poised to bring new jobs and investment to Alabama.
“Right now, there are many exciting developments unfolding across Alabama that showcase next-level innovation, highlight the extraordinary capabilities of our workers and contribute more horsepower to the state’s evolving economy,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“While there are still many obstacles to overcome and healing to be done, sparks of vitality are lighting up in many sectors of Alabama’s economy,” he added.
Here are five major trends that are reviving Alabama’s growth potential amid the recovery.
TREND NO. 1: HIRING WAVE
No one is plugged into the state’s hiring outlook quite like than Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency.
Here’s the picture he’s seeing:
“Commerce, and AIDT specifically, are as busy as we have ever been as a program assisting companies with hiring workers for new and expanding jobs,” Castile said. “AIDT is working with over 130 projects that are hiring Alabamians in almost 40 counties.
“In AIDT’s 50-year history, this level of activity is record setting,” he added.
Castile said the companies being assisted by AIDT are creating jobs that pay average to well above average wages for their respective areas, which is a positive for citizens seeking employment.
“Credit goes to Governor Kay Ivey, Secretary Canfield and the scores of local economic developers that demonstrate each and every day that Alabama is open for business,” Castile said.
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— AIDT (@aidtedu) January 12, 2021
TREND NO. 2: AUTO GROWTH
Alabama’s auto industry remains a dynamic growth engine for the state’s economy, overcoming challenges posed by the pandemic. Alabama’s automakers were able to resume production after adopting new safety measures, setting the stage for hiring to begin again in this vital industrial sector.
In fact, Alabama’s auto sector is poised to add more than 6,000 jobs in coming months, according to Commerce’s projections.
The 2021 production launch at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing in Huntsville represents an important milestone in the history of Alabama’s auto industry. But that is hardly the only development that is adding spark to the sector’s growth trajectory in 2021.
Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, is ramping up to build two new electric vehicles at its Tuscaloosa County plant, which is generating activity among its suppliers ahead of the 2022 production launch.
Mercedes is also involved in a venture to open a $54 million EV parts facility in Vance that will create 373 jobs.
TREND NO. 3: DISTRIBUTION NODE
During 2020, there was strong growth in Alabama’s distribution and logistics sector, with several significant projects in the Birmingham/Bessemer region but also spread across the state.
Altogether, these projects involve an estimated $545 million in new capital investment and the creation of at least 2,000 jobs in the state, according to Commerce estimates.
Internet retail giant Amazon plans a pair of delivery stations in Jefferson County, making a significant investment and creating hundreds of jobs in Birmingham and Bessemer. These stations will complement the massive fulfillment center Amazon opened earlier this year in Bessemer.
In addition, Lowe’s Home Improvement is investing $61 million to open a distribution hub that will create 150 jobs, also in Jefferson County. The county is already home to distribution centers for Carvana, Dollar General and Home Depot, as well as a new $40 million logistics facility for FedEx Ground.
Other recent projects in the state include ALDI, which plans a regional headquarters and a distribution center in Baldwin County, and Dollar General, which has opened a cold storage facility in Montgomery. Meanwhile, distribution and logistics projects have landed in Tuscaloosa, Mobile and Coffee counties.
“Thanks to our central location in the Southeast, a robust infrastructure network and a motivated workforce, it looks like all roads are leading to Alabama,” Secretary Canfield said.
TREND NO. 4: TECH ACCELERATION
Recruiting high-tech jobs has long been a priority for Alabama’s economic development team, and those efforts are poised to pay off in 2021.
“We expect to see a new wave of growth from technology-focused companies that are increasingly viewing Alabama as an attractive place for investment. In a way, this represents the ripples from the Shipt success story,” Secretary Canfield said.
“In addition, the pandemic has demonstrated that tech companies simply don’t have to be anchored in traditional hotspots, where the cost of doing business is often exorbitant,” he continued.
Talent attraction and workforce development platforms, along with new accelerator programs, are positioning communities in Alabama for tech-sector job growth. New incentives for high-tech companies are also elevating Alabama’s attractiveness.
TREND NO. 5: RURAL ATTRACTIVENESS
The growth potential of Alabama’s rural areas was reflected in several impressive projects launched in 2020, with investments announced in a range of industries across the state.
Alabama’s rural counties have long been a hotbed of activity for auto suppliers, and last year was no exception. New auto supply chain projects will bring more than $132 million in new investment and over 285 jobs to communities such as Selma, Alexander City and Greenville, according to Commerce data.
Other significant growth projects include:
- Resource Fiber, which has been working for years to commercialize bamboo, is opening a facility in Sulligent to manufacture bamboo nail laminated timbers and bamboo rail ties, creating 111 jobs in Lamar County.
- Coastal Growers LLC plans to build an $87 million peanut shelling plant in Atmore, bringing over 100 jobs and turning the Escambia County city into a hub for peanut shelling in southwest Alabama.
- Two expansions are coming to Randolph County – SteelFab Inc. plans a $24 million growth project, creating 30 jobs in Roanoke; and JELD-WEN Inc. is adding a new production line for patio doors at its Wedowee facility and creating up to 40 jobs.
- Canada’s Pinnacle Renewable Energy is joining two Alabama companies to construct a $95 million industrial wood pellet production facility in Demopolis that will create at least 45 jobs.
“We’re committed to helping create jobs in Alabama’s rural areas through strategic economic development, and we are working hard to showcase the many advantages that these communities offer companies looking for motivated workforces and locations where they can find success,” said Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.