Alabama has a lot to brag about

Published 1:08 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The economy is on everyone’s mind. We look with resentment at the hikes at the pump. We look with unease at rising prices in the grocery store. We hear of problems with mortgage underwriters and the value of our houses, and we look with worry at the most important thing to a family’s economy: a good paying job.

Like the rest of the economy, the job market has had its problems, too. However, Alabama is doing better than the rest of the nation. The Alabama Department of Industrial Relations said the unemployment rate was steady last month and remained at 4.7 percent. Last year, Alabama hit an historic low of 3.5 percent, which was basically full employment. While the Alabama unemployment number has increased over the past year, it is still well below the national rate of 5.5 percent.

State government’s responsibility for jobs comes in two areas: industry recruitment, education, and job training.

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Alabama has led the nation in industry recruitment. We landed the largest industrial development in the country with the German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp locating in Southwest Alabama. We landed the largest new boxcar manufacturing facility in North America with Alabama National in The Shoals. There is also a coal-to-coke plant in the Black Belt, expanded technology companies in Huntsville and a growing healthcare industry in Birmingham. Hopefully, when the Air Force finally finishes its competition process for its new airborne supertanker, our state will be a center for aircraft manufacturing.

Of all the industries locating in our state, the largest and most successful is the automotive industry. Starting with Mercedes in 1993, Alabama has led the nation in attracting major automakers and their suppliers. Alabama came in second in the last two major competitions for automakers, and as it turns out that may not be that bad.

Alabama was in the running for the new Kia plant, but it went to a site in Georgia just across the state line near Lanett. Just last week, Volkswagen chose Chattanooga, Tenn., over a site in Limestone County. There was great disappointment, but it doesn’t mean there will be no job benefits for our citizens. Both of these manufacturers located close to our borders, and many of their suppliers can and will locate here. State officials said that Alabama got more than 4,000 Kia supplier jobs, and that number could continue to grow. Also, about 20 percent of the Kia workers are expected to be Alabamians who commute across the border.The same could happen for VW, which will not be that far from the Northeast corner of the state. We just need to be vigilant, make sure these companies understand how we can work with them, and make sure our citizens are trained and ready for these jobs.

That is where education comes in. According to industry analysts and experts, Alabama has the nation’s premier skill preparation program with the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT). AIDT works with companies and industries to make sure hard-working Alabamians have the knowledge they need to work in the modern manufacturing facility. The program has been a huge benefit to the state.

We also have been aggressive with our community college system to educate and train people for growing industries like healthcare, making sure people have opportunity to get qualifications needed to get that better job.

Let’s hope the economy turns around soon, energy prices drop and the job market heats up again. But no matter what happens, Alabama will still keep doing what it has been doing on the job front, making sure the greatest amount of opportunity exists for our citizens to get good jobs.