Alabama has historically been successful in economic development and attracting new industry. That success was better than other states in the region two decades ago when Alabama’s tax incentives and advantages for creating new jobs were superior to those available in surrounding states.
The 2008 recession slowed economic development in the state. Other states have
become much more aggressive in offering new and enhanced incentives to attract
expanding industry and locate new jobs. Competition for good paying jobs has never
been greater, but recently Alabama has again become more successful in its economic development efforts.
Birmingham has expanded and added jobs around its medical centers and hospitals.
UAB is a world leader in genetic and cancer research and is an excellent hub to expand around. Bessemer, an old steel town that has fallen on hard times, recently landed 1,500 jobs with a new Amazon distribution center.
Huntsville, the city that put men on the moon, is still a leader in high-tech aerospace
and defense jobs. It is also a leader in medical and genetic research with Hudson Alpha and the jobs that have expanded around developments in that field. Huntsville has also become a growth center for heavier manufacturing industries around the
aerospace and automotive industries.
Montgomery has good base of automotive manufacturing with a Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery and a Kia assembly plant just across the Georgia state line in LaGrange. Montgomery is also growing aerospace jobs with the new F-35 fighter jet program locating at Dannelly Field and the Air Force’s computer command
center at Gunter Annex.
The aerospace business continues to expand in Mobile with Airbus’ expanding aircraft engineering and assembly facilities at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Also, military ship building continues to be a growing industry with Austal building
advanced combat naval vessels in Mobile. The Alabama State Docks at Mobile also provide a solid catalyst for new jobs with export and import opportunities.
Tuscaloosa and Auburn have world class universities and all the academic and research opportunities that come with outstanding educational institutions. Tuscaloosa has a history of large heavier manufacturing facilities and the jobs they bring. More recently, Auburn has attracted automobile suppliers. Both high-tech and manufacturing favor university driven communities. Tuscaloosa and Auburn should continue to thrive.
The Quad Cities – Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia – are located
in strategic areas to supply automobile manufacturing assembly operations in
Mississippi and Tennessee. The area has a workforce familiar with heavy industry and
will likely hold its own into the future.
But what about the rest of Alabama? What about Selma, Eutaw, Greensboro, Andalusia, Greenville and so many other communities? Those communities have succeeded in the past with textiles, agriculture, military and lighter industries. However, many of them have fallen on hard times. What will rural Alabama look like in 20 years?
It is clear that good-paying jobs locate in areas with better education, medical care
and communications services. Specific industries will need other things, but all
are looking for these basic elements in communities they consider.
Expanding industry needs smart and capable people. Without good people
capable of doing the jobs, companies have no hope of success. It is difficult to move large numbers of qualified people into an area they are not currently in. Therefore, you rarely see an industry import large numbers of workers. Industry may move in more skilled specialists, but communities without strong qualified workforces are rarely a target for industrial expansion.
To build workforces, rural Alabama must do a much better job with education.
Rural communities continue to fall farther behind the urban areas in educating
children and preparing them for successful careers. Communities cannot grow without improving their education systems.
Rural hospitals and healthcare providers are struggling with more treatment moving
to urban areas. Industry has little interest in expanding into communities with
substandard healthcare. Rural communities must change their approach to healthcare to be successful in providing basic services and partnering with other facilities for more specialized services. Otherwise, changes in health insurance and Medicare will starve out the local hospitals and health providers.
Finally, industry is increasingly dependent upon faster and more capable communications infrastructure. Information is a necessity for modern business. Communities without strong information infrastructure are rarely viable candidates for economic growth. Businesses will only locate where they can communicate. Rural communities must reassess their communication infrastructure and how they can improve their capabilities.
Obviously, I have left important factors off the list. Alabama’s rural communities have many obstacles to building better business bases and expanding economic development. Some communities will succeed, and others will fail. Those that improve education, healthcare and communication infrastructure have the best chances of success. Rural Alabama needs it.
I hope you have a good month.