Economic development activity in Alabama’s rural counties ticked higher during the first half of 2021, building on growth projects that were launched in these areas last year despite the challenges of a pandemic.
Preliminary, year-to-date results from the Alabama Department of Commerce show that projects locating in Alabama’s 40 “targeted” counties will generate at least $850 million in new capital investment in these areas. That figure has already eclipsed the total for 2020, according to Commerce data.
Projects already announced in 2021 will also bring close to 1,000 new jobs to these rural counties, which all have fewer than 50,000 residents.
Combined with job creation from 2020, the total rises to almost 3,000 new jobs for rural communities across Alabama, along with around $1.5 billion in investment in that time frame.
“Already home to many of the world’s best-known companies, rural Alabama is primed for business growth and economic development,” Governor Kay Ivey said.
“I am firmly committed to helping the state’s rural communities realize their growth potential, and our team will work to build on this progress.”
Governor Ivey spoke to economic developers from around the state today at a Rural Economic Development Summit hosted by Commerce, encouraging them to continue building on the momentum generated in recent months.
Significant economic development projects announced in 2021 include:
- Packaging Corp. of America (PCA) plans to invest $440 million in its mill in rural Clarke County, positioning the Jackson facility for the long-term production of linerboard used in corrugated packages.
- Westwater Resources said its Alabama Graphite Products subsidiary will invest $124 million in two phases to open an advanced graphite processing plant to produce a critical component in EV batteries. The Coosa County facility, the first of its kind in the U.S., will employ at least 100 people.
- Mohawk Industries is creating 130 jobs at its factory in Roanoke as it introduces yarn production and expands its investment at the Randolph County facility. Total employment will reach 300 with the new hires.
These projects, and others, are reinforcing growth stemming from economic development activity in rural communities that began last year.
An analysis from the Alabama Department of Commerce shows that economic development projects in the state’s rural counties during 2020 generated nearly $615 million in new capital investment and over 1,900 job commitments in a range of industries.
Commerce’s 2020 Rural Economic Development Report provides an in-depth look at 48 new facility and expansion projects launched last year in “targeted” counties, so named because they are eligible for enhanced incentives under the Alabama Jobs Act.
The report shows that project activity in rural Alabama remained high despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 1,940 new and future jobs stemming from 2020 projects in rural communities exceeded the 2019 figure of 1,842 and the 2018 total of 1,128, according to Commerce data.
“While economic development in rural areas often comes with a special set of challenges, high-impact projects landing in these communities can be game-changers,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“We have made it a priority to position rural Alabama for these kinds of projects and the jobs that come with them,” he added.
Alabama’s rural counties have long been a favored destination for auto suppliers, and that trend continues to unfold. New auto supply chain projects will bring more than $150 million in capital investment and over 300 jobs to communities such as Selma, Alexander City and Greenville, according to Commerce data.
But the growth was not limited to the state’s expanding auto industry. Projects locating in Alabama’s “targeted” counties during 2020 included:
- Japan-based SHOWA Group is making a significant investment in its nitrile glove factory in Fayette, where it plans to double production to 2 million gloves per day.
- Cullman-based HomTex is opening a facility in Selma to produce high volumes of N-95 and 3-ply masks as part of a $10.5 million project that will create 300 jobs. HomTex, whose traditional production focused on bed linens, is positioning itself as a domestic source of FDA-approved PPE.
- In Randolph County, SteelFab Inc. plans a $24 million expansion creating 30 jobs in Roanoke, while JELD-WEN Inc. is adding a new production line for patio doors at its Wedowee facility and creating up to 40 jobs.
“We’re working hard to showcase the many advantages that Alabama’s rural communities offer companies looking for motivated workforces and sites where they can find success,” said Brenda Tuck, Rural Development Manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“We could not do what we do without the support of Governor Ivey, our Legislature, and Secretary Canfield. They understand the importance of every county in this state and are leading the charge for us to assist these counties to help achieve results like we see here today,” Tuck added.
To accelerate the momentum, Commerce earlier this year launched a digital marketing campaign, including a web site, that highlights the business advantages of Alabama’s rural communities.
The “RurAL” campaign is meant to add a new dimension to Commerce’s long-running “Made in Alabama” brand.
“Our RurAL campaign aims to help corporate decision-makers and site selection consultants all over the world understand — and unlock — the growth potential of Alabama’s rural communities,” Secretary Canfield said.
(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)