Alabama has had some unwelcome press in the past couple of months as its contentious senate race raised questions about its culture in the national spotlight. While some speculated the race had the potential to damage the state’s reputation among site selectors and business leaders, it’s unlikely to slow growth in its manufacturing sector.
Throughout November, Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls that allegedly took place in the ’80s. Moore retained support of his party and many citizens as articles in the national media said it reinforced Alabama’s image as being “backward” and behind the times in social progress.
Alabama has worked hard over the years to shed its image and has risen in many business rankings. It is one of the top states for manufacturing and is ranked #19 in Chief Executive’s 2017 Best & Worst States for Business. Jennifer Skjellum, outgoing president of Tech Birmingham, told NPR in early December that while she didn’t think the election would have a big effect on business, there was concern that it could drive away talent.
“Anything that shows Alabama voters or leaders not really thinking that this matters, that this is serious enough, is a problem,” Skjellum said.
“We have developed an almost unmatched track record in economic development over the years, and we’re going to work hard to continue that winning streak.”
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield told Chief Executive regardless of the news in the past couple of months, the state retains one of the strongest business climates in the country and will still be a top location for manufacturers. Alabama remains one of the top states for auto and aerospace manufacturing, and according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the sector accounts for 17 percent of total output and employes 13 percent of the state’s workforce. Companies that call Alabama home include Coca Cola Bottling, AT&T, HealthSouth and Vulcan Materials.
“News cycles, both positive and negative, are focused on topical interest of the day and they move on to whatever is topical in the next cycle,” said Canfield. “Companies are taking a long view and are basing decisions 20 to 40 years into the future as they make decisions on locating projects of substantial capital investment.”
Alabama has been awarded a number of big manufacturing projects in recent years. In December, Hexcel announced a $200 million expansion of its plant in Decatur, and Shaw Industries recently announced a $184 million investment in its manufacturing facility in Andalusia. Global auto supplier BOCAR Group recently announced a $115 million facility in Huntsville, and aerospace manufacturer Leonardo announced plans in March to construct its T-100 trainer jets in Tuskegee. Alabama also is one of two states being considered for a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda auto plant.
And while some may hold the perception its a backward state, Alabama has no shortage of highly skilled and educated workers. A recent analysis by SmartAsset put the Talladega-Sylacauga region as number one in the top best places to work in manufacturing. This was ahead of Rockford, Ill., Greenville, N.C., and Napa, Calif.
Canfield said it’s “business as usual” for the Department of Commerce and that they are actively working on a strong pipeline of projects in various industries across the state.
“We believe Alabama’s many advantages, including its skilled workforce and pro-business environment, will continue to attract investment from around the world. We have developed an almost unmatched track record in economic development over the years, and we’re going to work hard to continue that winning streak,” Canfield said.