The Javelin anti-tank missiles that helped Ukraine turn the tide of war, the next-generation U.S. hyper-sonic weapon system, and a revolutionary air traffic control technology all have one thing in common.
They’re all being made in rural Alabama.
Fact is, some amazing developments are taking place in Alabama’s rural communities, and the momentum is gaining strength. Workers at factories, workshops and labs across rural Alabama are building products and developing technologies that are delivering major impacts across the world.
Let’s start with those Javelin missiles. These Alabama-made Javelins have proved their usefulness on the battlefields in Ukraine, helping to slow the advances of the Russian invaders. More than 5,500 of the anti-tank missiles have been committed to Ukraine since the conflict started.
In May 2022, President Joe Biden visited Lockheed Martin’s missile assembly plant in Troy, located in rural Pike County. Developed in a joint venture with Raytheon, Lockheed has produced 50,000 Javelins in Troy, with expanded production on the way there.
“Some of the best, most effective weapons in our arsenal are those Javelin missiles like the ones manufactured right here in Pike County,” President Biden said during his visit to the Alabama plant.
“I came for a basic reason from the bottom of my heart to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for what you do, thank you for what you continue to do. Unless you go out in the field and see it, you don’t realize what a difference you’re making,” he told the workers.
The 600-worker plant in Troy is the manufacturing, final assembly and storage hub for several Lockheed Martin missile programs, including Javelin, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM).
Brenda Tuck, Rural Development Manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the Troy facility is just one of many locations in rural Alabama that is making a lasting impression on the global stage.
“Game-changing work is taking place in rural Alabama, and companies in many different industries are waking up to the fact that our rural communities have a lot to offer in terms of advantages,” Tuck said. “At the top of that list are factors such as a low cost of doing business and motivated workforces that get the job done.”
Consider these developments, all taking place in rural Alabama:
In the Lawrence County town of Courtland, Lockheed Martin recently opened one of the nation’s smartest factories to power development of hyper-sonic strike technologies. The new “digital first” center’s focus is a high priority for the U.S. military, as hyper-sonic strike weapons fly at five times the speed of sound to intercept and destroy enemy missiles.
In Dallas County, Selma’s Craig Field will become home to the nation’s first Remote Tower Air Traffic Control Center, which Georgia-based Advanced ATC will equip to support airspace control services for up to 40 airports across the nation. Through remote tower technology, air traffic controllers can perform all the functions of a traditional control tower from a different location, using cameras, real-time video and other equipment.
In Coosa County, Colorado-based Westwater Resources and its Alabama Graphite Products subsidiary are investing $202 million in the first phase of a project to build a 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 100 people.
These projects, and others, underscore the robust level of activity taking place in Alabama’s rural communities. Growing businesses injected nearly $1.7 billion in new capital investment into the state’s rural counties during 2021 through projects that will create nearly 1,700 jobs, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce.
The results build upon the robust economic development project activity recorded in 2020, when $615 million in new investment and 1,940 job commitments were announced for Alabama’s rural counties.
“I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making in Alabama’s rural areas, but I know that achieving all our goals for elevating prosperity in these communities will require a long-term effort,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “That won’t be easy but make no mistake — we’re willing to put in the work.”
Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said these results demonstrate Alabama’s deep commitment to unlock the growth potential of the state’s rural communities. He said Tuck and her team have worked closely with allies across the state to better position rural areas for growth projects.
“Having served as Alabama’s Commerce Secretary since 2011, I know that economic development efforts in rural communities often face specific challenges that are not present in more populous areas,” Canfield said. “But I am more confident than ever that the partnerships we have developed — and the strategies we’ve up into place — are helping to overcome many of those challenges.”
“The conditions for growth are ripe in rural Alabama, and we want to make sure its communities are harvesting the fruit of new investment and good-paying jobs,” he added.
Canfield said Alabama is taking concrete steps to ensure that outcome. For one thing, the state is making a major investment to expand the availability of high-speed internet service, a critical element for sustained economic growth today.
Other steps include transportation infrastructure improvements and the recent launch of the Alabama Innovation Corporation, a public-private partnership that counts supporting rural development as a core goal.
Tuck said her office has been active on many fronts to accelerate economic development efforts in the state’s rural areas.
This includes the development of the Simulated Training and Readiness (STAR) program, which provides training to economic developers working in rural areas to help prepare them to better compete for business growth projects. Already, one third of the state’s rural developers have completed or entered the program.
In addition, Tuck’s office has coordinated with state workforce agencies, supported entrepreneurial programs in rural areas, kicked off a business retention and expansion effort, and much more.
“We’ve made good progress over the past couple of years, but we’re not ready for a victory lap,” Tuck said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to advance and accelerate strategic economic development in Alabama’s rural counties, so the hard-working citizens there can benefit from new investment and jobs.”