When Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. traveled to Germany in 1993 to convince Mercedes-Benz officials to locate their first U.S. automobile plant in Alabama, he was criticized in many quarters for providing so many financial incentives to the company. His efforts paid off, though, and Mercedes officials selected a location near Tuscaloosa for the $300-million sports-vehicle assembly plant that was expected to provide as many as 1,500 jobs for Alabama workers.
No one remembers what those financial incentives were then, but everyone can see now the results of those early efforts. The Mercedes plant has far exceeded its initial projection for jobs and investment. Other automakers took notice, and today Alabama is home to major Hyundai and Honda auto manufacturing plants and a Toyota engine plant, as well as more than 160 plants that supply various components to the vehicles assembled here.
And it continues. Last Wednesday Toyota and Mazda announced they had selected a site near Huntsville for a joint venture--a $1.6 billion auto-manufacturing plant that will create 4,000 jobs and be operating by 2021. Quality of life and quality of the workforce were cited by a Toyota official as deciding factors, along with a shovel-ready Òmegasite,Ó highway and rail access, and proximity to suppliers.
Although the new plant is not near us, Randolph County is situated between two major auto manufacturers: Kia in nearby West Point, Ga., and Honda a little farther away in Lincoln to the north. Although we lack the large workforce Huntsville provides and our highway system could use improving, our industrial park, like the one selected near Huntsville, has been designated an Advantage Alabama site, and we can make a strong case for one of the many parts suppliers that support the large manufacturing plants.
An announcement like last week's draws renewed attention to Alabama as a major player in the auto industry. That can only help us in the future.