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Auto industry will lead state recovery

Since the recession started back in 2007, Alabama has seen some pretty tough times. We had a record spike in unemployment, our exports and manufacturing staggered, and the overall health of our economy has made families worry about the future.
There have been recent signs of recovery in our state. Alabama’s jobless rate fell to 9.7 percent in July, which is down from 10.3 percent in June.  Even though the figure is still too high, it is the lowest level in 15 months. The figures show that there are 20,000 more Alabamians at work than there were a year ago, and the long-term trend is one of continued strengthening in the job market.
Our state is getting back to work again, and the recovery is being led by our state’s number one industry, automobiles.
Output in Alabama’s auto plants rose more than two-thirds than a year ago, jumping from 140,961 last year to 236,152 vehicles this year through the end of May. Shifts and hours are up for Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, and the dozens of suppliers who operate in our state. More than 140,000 Alabamians are hard at work in the auto industry today.
It wasn’t that long ago when Alabama didn’t even have an auto industry. In 1994, Alabama did not manufacture one car or truck, not one. Today, Alabama has become second in the nation in the number of autos it makes, a remarkable pattern of growth that is unmatched in our state history, and is the model for every other state in the country.
Back in 1994, then Gov. Jim Folsom landed Alabama’s first auto manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz, making a deal to build a groundbreaking plant in Vance. Folsom was criticized by many at the time about state government taking such an active role in industrial recruiting. The naysayers believed that state government should have no role in working with the private sector, and providing recruitment incentives somehow interfered with the free market. Some just didn’t believe Alabama could compete in something as complex as auto manufacturing.
What Folsom did in landing the Mercedes plant was organize our state to enter the modern world economy, and forever changed Alabama. He showed that we could prepare outstanding industrial sites. He set up tax structures that supported manufacturing. Most importantly, he highlighted to the world the skill and effectiveness of the Alabama worker. Alabama has the nation’s top rated jobs training program, AIDT, and is one of the biggest draws for new industries to come to Alabama.
The state’s efforts to build an infrastructure of workforce development to complement our prime industrial locations has moved Alabama from last to second in the auto industry within a span of just fifteen years.
Alabama has continued the streak of landing auto companies by bringing Honda, Toyota and Hyundai to the state.
Anyone who continues to doubt the role state and local government can play in moving the state economy forward only need to look in Vance, Lincoln and Montgomery, and the dozens of other cities and towns that have an auto supplier located there. Today, a vibrant auto industry reverberates throughout the state economy, and while it is not in and of itself enough to lift us out of the doldrums, it is certainly helping to move us forward. State government and the hard working people of Alabama are responsible for this success.
There is little doubt we have a long way to go before our state has a full recovery from the recession. There are many sectors still anemic, many people who can’t find jobs who want them. We’ll need other aspects of our economy to follow what autos have done. And we’ll continue to make sure state and local governments play a vital role in moving Alabama’s economy forward.
AJ McCampbell is a state representative serving Marengo County.