Alabama: Becoming the Auto Capital of the South
BIRMINGHAM, AL--Some 25 years ago, nobody thought of Alabama as somewhere to build cars. The state was known as a place to make textiles and apparel, reports Jason Margolis for Public Radio International.
But, in 1993, Alabama lured in the German automaker Mercedes-Benz with more than $250 million in incentives, a jaw-dropping offer at the time. Former Alabama Congressman Jo Bonner was at a University of Alabama football game in Birmingham shortly thereafter.
“And they pulled the big drape off the Mercedes star that had been affixed in one of the end zones and there were some boos,” Bonner says. “State officials were being introduced, and there were some people who thought we were crazy and had given the farm away.”
Today, those state officials might feel justified in the high price tag to lure Mercedes. Since then, the state has lost 88 percent of its textile economy, or 82,000 jobs. Auto jobs have replaced some of that: Roughly 40,000 people now work in Alabama’s automotive sector.
Besides Mercedes, Japanese and Korean automakers Honda, Hyundai and Toyota have operations in the state.
“At Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama, we are currently producing 3,000 engines a day. Those go into five of 10 vehicles built in North America,” says Kim Ogle, a Toyota communications analyst, while walking around Toyota’s plant in Huntsville, now the state’s third-largest city.
The Huntsville factory opened its doors in 2003. “Today, we have grown from 300 employees to roughly 1,400.”