By Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce
Today, Alabama’s rebounding economy is gaining strength as significant growth projects begin to take shape in key strategic industrial clusters across the state. What’s more, as this recovery gains steam, Alabama is gearing up for next-level developments in these sectors, which include automotive, aerospace and bioscience.
Unfolding all across Alabama, these cutting-edge developments showcase the remarkable capabilities of a workforce equipped with the skills needed to overcome the challenges of the most technologically advanced workplaces.
In Alabama, these workers are using additive manufacturing to mass produce jet engine components and exploring how these sophisticated technologies can be used to advance a new era of space exploration.
Alabama workers are building next-generation rockets to blast critical satellite payloads into orbit and developing hypersonic technologies to counter foreign threats and enhance national security.
In Alabama laboratories, scientists are making discoveries that will usher in broad-based adoption of personalized medicine, improve crop yields and unlock the stubborn mysteries of genetic disorders.
Alabama’s auto industry is racing toward the future of mobility, with plans to begin production of electric vehicles—and build out networks of suppliers to make that rapidly possible.
In short, engineers, researchers and factory workers across the state are already shaping the future.
Hotbed of Innovation
Projects taking place in Alabama are poised to make a major impact both in individual industries and on the nation.
- Lockheed Martin has designated North Alabama as its flagship location for work on hypersonic technologies, a key national security priority to reverse the lead adversaries have built with ultra-fast weapons. Huntsville-based Dynetics is also playing a role in this strategic effort, roducing prototypes of a glide body capable of flying faster than Mach 5.
- Alabama’s HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology is building a new state-of-the-art laboratory and greenhouse space for its agriscience team, which applies genomic techniques to plants and crops. The new facilities will be used to propagate and grow research plants to improve existing crops and develop new uses for plants. The team’s scientists are working to advance genomics enabled breeding pipelines for new varieties of crops, maximize fuel production from plant biomass, reduce fertilizer use, and reduce or eliminate fungicides to increase grower yields.
- When Colorado-based Westwater Resources Inc. wanted to expand its mission to deliver minerals for clean, sustainable energy production, it looked to what was once called “Alabama Graphite Belt.” Westwater’s $124 million graphite processing plant in Coosa County—the first of its kind in the U.S.—will deliver a key component in EV batteries and other devices.
Of course, these are not the only game-changing developments going on in the state.
The next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket, assembled at the United Launch Alliance’s factory in Decatur, will blast off for the first time this year, powered by Blue Origin engines built in Huntsville.
Next year will see both Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai produce the first electric vehicles at their Alabama plants.
And this year, Alabama is becoming home to another one of the world’s most advanced auto assembly plants. With a total investment of $2.3 billion, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has taken best practices from both Mazda and Toyota and applied them to technologically advanced assembly lines that will produce up to 300,000 in-demand vehicles per year.
At the same time, Alabama’s economic development team has made it a top priority to recruit more technology-focused jobs and to help existing companies create more of these kinds of jobs.
These efforts are already paying off. Landing, a new company started by the founder of the app-based delivery platform Shipt, recently announced plans to move its headquarters from San Francisco to Birmingham. The move will turbocharge Landing’s growth plans and create over 800 high-paying jobs in the Magic City.
Landing’s move also underscores a new reality: The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that tech-focused companies don’t have to be anchored in traditional industry hotspots, where the cost of doing business can be painfully high.
Alabama has been preparing for this moment.
A host of robust talent attraction and workforce development platforms, along with accelerator programs, are positioning communities across the state for tech-sector job growth. New incentives for high-tech companies are also elevating Alabama’s attractiveness to tech firms.
More than ever, Alabama is fully committed to this strategic effort, following the establishment of the Alabama Innovation Commission, the first high-level, statewide panel focused on nurturing the state’s innovation economy.
Alabama’s Legislature supported the effort by approving new policies designed to expand entrepreneurship, drive economic growth and transform the state into a hub for technology and innovation.
Lawmakers created the Alabama Innovation Corp. as a public-private partnership to drive these efforts. It will oversee the Innovate Alabama Matching Program, which will match federal awards to Alabama-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) recipients.
Both represent new tools that will help boost statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, R&D activities and new tech capabilities.
Foundation for the Future
Alabama workers, meanwhile, will be ready for any challenge that comes at them, thanks to high-tech job training.
AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce development agency, is using virtual reality technology to train workers at advanced manufacturing facilities such as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and Hyundai Power Transformers.
AIDT has teamed with startup firm TRANSFR to make cutting-edge job training accessible to thousands of workers across the state. The firm built a simulation of HPT’s entire seven-story manufacturing facility to show workers the demands of the job, while VR is being used to train Mazda Toyota Manufacturing workers to maintain paint robots.
AIDT is the central pillar of workforce training programs that are providing a foundation for the support system Alabama has in place to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success.
Fortunately for Alabama, AIDT’s culture of innovation will allow it to deliver results far into the future, acting as a crucial support for the state’s robust economic growth.