Best & Worst States for Business Regional Report: The Southeast

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While the Southeast is sometimes overlooked in national conversations about economic development, it is a powerhouse of manufacturing economic growth, home to two of the country’s fastest-growing state economies and lures investment with a low cost of living and engaged workers.

#22 KENTUCKY: Training Initiatives Fuel Manufacturing Sector
Economic development in Kentucky is gaining momentum. Terry Gill, secretary for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, says the Bluegrass state attracted nearly $7 billion in new investments in the first half of 2017, shattering the full year record set in 2015. Gill attributes this to initiatives like right-to-work legislation and the Red Tape Reduction Initiative. “We move at the speed of business—not of government,” says Gill. “That’s been pivotal in our ability to take major projects from corporate inquiry to closed deal in as little as 90 and 120 days.”

Toyota recently announced a $1.33 billion investment in its Georgetown plant to refurbish and replace equipment to prepare for the company’s new global platform. Ford Motor also announced a $900 million investment in its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville. Gill says the state’s aluminum industry is “on fire” and being fueled by demand from automakers, parts suppliers and the aerospace industry. Braidy Industries will construct a $1.3 billion aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County that will create 550 advanced manufacturing jobs. Craig Bouchard, CEO, said that the passage of the right-to-work legislation was a key factor in bringing the project to the state.

#32 MISSISSIPPI: Quiet Growth in Aerospace and Automotive
Economic growth in Mississippi has trailed national averages in recent years, but the state’s manufacturing sector continues to expand. Glenn McCullough, Jr., executive director of Mississippi Economic Development, says it is the only state with both a Nissan and Toyota assembly plant and that it has seen more than $2 billion in auto manufacturing investments since 2012. Mississippi is also experiencing strong growth in aerospace manufacturing. Northrop Grunman, which recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its advanced manufacturing facility in Moss Point, announced a lease extension and additional investments to expand production of its unmanned systems. The aerospace sector also continues to grow at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

Aerojet Rocketdyne announced last year that it would expand its Center of Excellence for Large Liquid Rocket Engine Assembly and Test to assemble its ARI advanced liquid rocket engine. “Man will go to Mars one day but the road there travels through Hancock County,” McCullough says. “The rockets that have powered every manned flight to outer space for the past 50 years, and the next 50 years, will be tested there.” Continental Tires is also performing site prep work on a $1.45 billion state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Hinds County that is expected to start production in 2020 and create 2,500 jobs.


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