Alabama's Diamond Days
31 Aug, 2007By: Bob Riley
When Alabama Governor Bob Riley called Alabama Development Office Director Neal Wade in May to inform him that ThyssenKrupp had decided to locate it’s U.S. plant in Alabama, he made a reference to a John Denver song. “Okay, some days are diamond, and some days are stone,” Gov. Riley told Wade. “Which one is it?” Wade inquired. Riley replied that it was a diamond day.
It seems Alabama is having many diamond days lately. In 2007, the state has landed the $3.7 billion ThyssenKrupp German steel mill that will employ 2,700 workers at a site near Mobile, a new Hyundai engine plant in Montgomery and new suppliers for Hyundai and Kia assembly plants, and a new national steel car assembly plant employing 1,800 in the Shoals area.
The state’s economy is solid and strong; in the last four years, nearly 90,000 new jobs have been announced due to new and expanding industries in Alabama. These jobs have ranged from the 1,300-job Verizon Wireless center in Huntsville to nearly 1,100 jobs in the Black Belt region with planned capital investments of more than $107 million.
In the area of biotechnology, the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology now has 75 percent of the work completed, a new Institute director committed, an opening date in sight and some world-class investigators signed up. The 270,000-square-foot institute is scheduled to open in November, just 20 months from the groundbreaking on a building that is unique in design, requires a vast array of technical and laboratory capabilities and is aimed to foster interaction between the scientists and companies it will house.
A little further west, officials with Steel Dust Recycling LLC announced a decision this summer to build a new $35 million plant in Lamar County. The company is filling a need in the area by giving steel plants an option in discarding its steel dust, rather than sending it to a landfill. The new plant will be able to process 110,000 tons of steel dust each year. It is expected to open in the second quarter of 2008.
Wade said it has been a goal of the agency for the past four years to focus job growth on both urban and rural areas of the state. “Even today, we are working more mega projects than ever before that could continue to expand job growth in all areas of the state,” Wade said.
Alabama places an emphasis on its competitive advantages such as strong partnership among ADO and regional, corporate and local partners both in terms of marketing the state and how project incentives are prioritized. In addition to automotive and aerospace, leaders at biotech firms, food processors, chemical companies, and medical equipment businesses are among those who often are sold on Alabama's advantages. Those advantages also include the comparatively low cost of doing business in Alabama, the personal involvement of Gov. Bob Riley in projects both big and small, and a workforce training program that has been ranked as the best in the nation.
Governor Riley’s personal involvement in many economic development projects has been critical to the state’s success. For example, during the 16-month recruitment of ThyssenKrupp to Mobile, Gov. Riley even gave company executives his cell phone number on a visit to Germany and urged them to call at any time. The pursuit was coordinated at the state level by the Alabama Development Office and locally by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
The efforts made by Gov. Riley and his ADO staff are truly becoming more regional. They were joined in France this summer on a business recruiting mission by staff members from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. The fact that they joined Gov. Bob Riley, U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, shows the impact of regional involvement in the recruiting process. As the state pursues larger projects, the economic impact these projects bring often is felt far beyond Alabama's borders, political and business experts said.
As the impact has become wider, so have the recruiting efforts. "It is a new element to our industrial recruitment efforts," said William Stewart, political science professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. "It's a bigger scale now. Recruitment efforts in Alabama typically have been a one-state affair, but recent projects that can benefit neighboring states or require government cooperation at various levels have changed that.”
“Recruiting industry in today’s world requires a much more sophisticated and coordinated approach,” Wade said. “I think the projects we have won lately show how effective that approach can really be.”
These recruiting efforts have taken Alabama delegations across the globe. Gov. Riley has led industrial recruitment trips to France, Korea, China, Germany and Austria. Last year, Gov. Riley led the largest business mission across the globe that the state has ever attempted, traveling to China, South Korea, and London, England. “We live in a global economy and we must pursue these types of partnerships so that Alabama can remain competitive internationally in the world marketplace,” Gov. Riley said.
Work force issues continue to be a top priority for industries seeking to relocate or expand. One of the biggest incentives companies worldwide have found in coming to Alabama is the quality of the state’s workforce and its highly-respected workforce development program, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT). AIDT is the first state training program in the world to be certified in compliance with ISO 9001:2000, the International Organization for Standardization Principle for Quality Management. AIDT was ranked first among workforce training programs in all 50 states.
AIDT services are provided at no cost to employers or trainees. The workforce management system includes recruitment, assessment and training of potential employees, development and production of job-related training materials, provision of training facilities, and delivery of job-specific services. AIDT also provides certified manager training and supervisory and team leadership training.
Advanced engineering, technology, research and development facilities and programs also are available through the state’s extensive university and college network.
The state’s quality of life is also a major draw for business executives, with terrain ranging from mountains in the northern area of the state to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world in the southern portion. The climate is mild, the cost of living is low, and the state has one of the most highly-ranked networks of golf courses in the world, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. One-half of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles and more than two-thirds live within 750 miles. The state is also ranked nationally as having the lowest electricity costs for industrial users. The state has come such a long way in diversifying its economy and providing good paying jobs in a variety of industries that have spawned an even greater variety of suppliers and support businesses.
The state is on the right track in its economic development program, and Governor Riley and Wade said they plan to continue along the same path. Coupled with renewed emphasis on education to make it more relevant to the needs of business, it appears that Alabama is on to something here. And with continued success, it should bode well for the entire state for a long time to come.
“We are proving to business executives across the globe on a weekly basis that Alabama is the best place to live and do business,” Gov. Riley said. “With many projects still in the works, it will just keep getting better and better.”