While there isn’t a single state in the country that hasn’t experienced a major economic blow in the past few months, economic development agencies in the Southeast say it’s not all doom and gloom. From Alabama to Georgia and Florida, many states are even reporting new investments and expansions as manufacturers, life science companies and tech companies seek to capitalizing on growing healthcare needs and the “stay at home economy.”
Chief Executive spoke with economic development officials in more than 10 states for an upcoming economic development report.
“I don’t think anyone is seeing a one hundred percent rosy picture, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s going to be a big focus on preventing the next pandemic, identifying a vaccine and cures,” says Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
Service-based industries such as hospitality, tourism, retail and restaurants have certainly been hammered. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industry lost 7.7 million jobs in April, representing 47 percent of all job losses.
Yet behind the bad news, many industries are holding up, Chung says. In June, Global healthcare company Grifols Therapeutics announced a $351 million expansion and 300 new jobs at its Johnston County campus. Grail, a healthcare company based in California’s Bay Area, also announced a $100 million investment and nearly 400 new jobs at a new lab in Durham’s Triangle Park to develop a blood test that detects more than 50 cancers.
For manufacturing hubs like Alabama and Florida, most operations are still at their pre-pandemic levels. While some initially shifted parts of their operations to producing personal protective equipment (PPE), others quickly reconfigured plants to safely resume operations. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Embraer are resuming operations on the Space Coast, and in May, high speed jet manufacturer Aerion announced 675 new jobs and a $300 million investment in a new headquarters in Melbourne, Fla. “The multiple launches from the Space Coast by SpaceX in recent weeks underscores how active our aerospace industry continues to be,” says Jamal Sowell, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.
In Alabama, the auto sector remains strong as companies hire again and move forward with new projects. Mazda and Toyota are hiring more than 4,000 workers and are still on track to open their joint venture assembly plant in Huntsville in 2021. As the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in global supply chains, many manufacturers will likely shorten those networks by looking to OEMs in the state, says Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “Make no mistake, the road ahead will be difficult but there are also opportunities for Alabama moving forward…Alabama is well-positioned to take advantage of these trends, thanks to an extensive infrastructure network and available sites,” Canfield says.
Despite devastation in Georgia’s hospitality and travel sector, manufacturing, financial services and life sciences have actually been growing, says Pat Wilson, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Since the state issued a stay at home order in mid-March, it has announced 13 new projects, adding more than 7,700 jobs and $2 billion in investments. As more of the economy moves online, the state’s thriving fintech and cybersecurity industry is also poised to benefit, Wilson says. In June, U.S. government services provider Perspecta announced 178 new jobs at a regional office at the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta.
“As we continue to grow our internet-based economy, the state of Georgia will continue to support that, whether through our fintech academy or our cybersecurity training center,” he says.
The growth in e-commerce shipping has also benefited the logistics industry in states like Tennessee and Kentucky. Jack Mazurak, communications director for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, notes big players like Amazon, UPS, DHL and FedEx are experiencing shipping volumes normally only seen during the holidays. Kentucky announced 19 new expansions and location projects in May and June, totaling more than $406 million in new investments and 1,549 new jobs.
Mazurak notes the continued commitment to investment and creating jobs and growth in ecommerce are “encouraging signs that provide hope for the future during this time of great economic strife.”