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Summit: Rural Alabama poised for job growth as project momentum builds

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Growing businesses injected nearly $1.7 billion in new capital investment into Alabama’s rural counties last year in a sign of continuing vitality, according to data released today by the Alabama Department of Commerce in conjunction with a summit for the state’s rural developers.

These projects will create over 1,600 jobs in rural communities, Commerce says. The growth builds on robust project activity recorded in 2020, when $615 million in new investment and 1,940 job commitments were announced for Alabama’s rural counties.

“I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making in Alabama’s rural areas, but I know that achieving all our goals for elevating prosperity in these communities will require a long-term effort,” said Governor Kay Ivey, who attended today’s rural summit.

“That won’t be easy but make no mistake — we’re willing to put in the work.”

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Gov. Kay Ivey stands with Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, at the 2022 Rural Alabama summit, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (Image: Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said project activity in Alabama’s rural counties has been energetic.

“Companies focused on growth are seeing real opportunities in rural Alabama, which in turn benefits from projects bringing an invigorating economic spark,” Secretary Canfield said.

“It’s clear that the conditions for growth are ripe in rural Alabama, and we want to make sure its communities are harvesting the fruit of new investment and good-paying jobs.”

He said the momentum has continued in 2022 as high-impact projects have located in the state’s 40 “targeted” counties, which have fewer than 50,000 residents and are eligible for enhanced incentives.

These include:

  • Ecore International is investing $25.5 million to open a state-of-the-art manufacturing and recycling facility in Ozark, where it will create 84 jobs. Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Ecore specializes in transforming reclaimed materials into high-performance flooring and surface products.
  • Valdosta, Georgia-based Advanced ATC Inc., an air traffic control academy, plans to set up the nation’s first Remote Tower Air Traffic Control Center at Craig Field, a former U.S. Air Force base, in Selma. The center will be equipped to support air traffic control services for up to 40 airports across the U.S. The project will create at least 28 jobs.
  • Oregon-based ISA Corp., a manufacturer of nitrile and latex gloves, plans to open a production facility in Geneva County, creating 80 jobs in Hartford.

While 2022 project data is not yet available, Commerce figures show that job creation from economic development projects has been spread throughout rural Alabama.

Franklin County was the top rural county for job creation in 2021, attracting projects with 256 job commitments, according to the report. Franklin was followed by Clay (210), Chambers (174), Covington (135) and Randolph (130).

In addition, rural Alabama continues to be an attractive destination for foreign direct investment, with over $247 million in new investment announced by foreign companies in 2021. Japanese companies were the top investor, with projects valued at nearly $96 million, according to the data.

UNLOCKING GROWTH POTENTIAL

Brenda Tuck, Rural Development Manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said her office has been active on many fronts to help facilitate economic development efforts in the state’s rural areas.

This includes the development of the Simulated Training and Readiness (STAR) program, which provides valuable training to economic developers working in rural areas to help prepare them to better compete for business growth projects. Already, one third of the state’s rural developers have completed or entered the program.

In addition, Tuck’s office has coordinated with state workforce agencies, supported entrepreneurial programs in rural areas, launched a business retention and expansion effort, and much more.

“We’ve made good progress over the past couple of years, but we’re not ready for a victory lap,” Tuck said.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can to advance and accelerate strategic economic development in Alabama’s rural counties, so the hard-working citizens there can benefit from new investment and jobs.”

Secretary Canfield said recent project results demonstrate Alabama’s deep commitment to unlock the growth potential of the state’s rural communities. He said Tuck and her team have worked closely with allies across the state to better position rural areas for growth projects.

“Having served as Alabama’s Commerce Secretary since 2011, I know that economic development efforts in rural communities often face specific challenges that are not present in more populous areas,” Canfield said.

“But I am more confident than ever that the partnerships we have developed — and the strategies we’ve up into place — are helping to overcome many of those challenges.”

Tuck’s team organized the rural summit, which has attracted economic developers from across Alabama. The event continues on Wednesday.

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