Success Not Confined
to Automotive Sector
in Montgomery, Birmingham
State Docks Announce
Confined to Automotive Sector
The "ripple effect" of Mercedes is leading Alabama's economic development officials to pursue high-paying jobs in other industries. Among the industries being targeted this year are aerospace and semiconductor plants.
A prime example is GKN Aerospace in Tallassee. The United Kingdom-based company produces aircraft parts such as the transcontinental engine for the Bombardier Continental business jet and components for the Pratt & Whitney engine.
In Tallassee, some 450 workers produce aircraft parts for a number of companies including Airbus inside a 260,000-sq.-ft. (24,154-sq.-m.) facility a few miles off Interstate 85. The $7.4 billion company expects sales from its Alabama operation to climb from $45 million in 2000 to $65 million in 2001.
"We've had great support from the state with the training they offer, the benefits we receive from low taxes, and the ability to call anybody, including the governor, when we need to," says Tony Cacace, CEO of GKN in Alabama.
The AIDT program has played a key role in preparing GKN workers. For example, an AIDT team set up a classroom in the plant on short notice and taught laminating and composite work and assembly to the employees.
Another strong selling point for Alabama is the relatively low cost of electrical power. GKN estimates that it pays about one-fourth of the price for power that it would cost elsewhere in the United States.
Sewell says Alabama hopes to recruit other aerospace firms to join GKN in the high-tech manufacturing sector. The state's principal magnet for doing so is the 3,800-acre (1,539-hectare) Cummings Research Park (CRP) in Huntsville -- the second largest research park in the United States and fourth largest in the world.
Established in 1962 on the city's west side, the park is now home to 220 high-tech companies and more than 22,500 scientists, engineers, technicians and support personnel. The 17 Fortune 500 companies who maintain operations in CRP include Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Northrop Grumman, WorldCom and Motorola.
The presence of CRP makes Huntsville the fifth most concentrated market in the nation for software employment. According to a recent study by the Software & Information Industry Assoc., software-related workers in the Huntsville metro area have a population density 2.5 times the national average. Only Boulder-Longmont, Colo.; San Jose, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina rank higher.
The average annual wage in CRP is $50,000, well above the Huntsville average of $33,798 -- second in the South only to Atlanta. The total annual payroll of CRP companies is estimated at $2 billion.
The park's largest tenant is Adtran, which occupies more than 1 million sq. ft. (92,900 sq. m.) of space. "This is a very desirable and attractive location as far as the high-technology-oriented personnel we're trying to hire and attract to work for our company," says Howard Thrailkill, president and chief operating officer of Adtran.
The company provides deployment and access solutions for carrier and enterprise networks, which means it must recruit high-tech talent to fill its 1,200 positions. That makes doing business in Huntsville a good fit, says Thrailkill.
Sewell says Alabama is also a good fit for another industry: semiconductor manufacturing. "We feel like we can be competitive in that industry," he says. "We have formed the Alabama Semiconductor Alliance and launched a two-year curriculum with the local community colleges. Alabama has some excellent sites that are being certified for semiconductor plants, although we are not identifying those communities publicly just yet. We have an abundance of high-quality water and abundant, low-cost electricity -- two essentials for any semiconductor manufacturer."
Alabama offers something else of value to industrial manufacturers: high numbers of under-employed workers. "A recent Pathfinder report shows that we have an under-employed work force throughout the state," says Sewell. "That's why there were more than 40,000 applicants for jobs at the Mercedes plant and more than 30,000 applicants for Boeing."
Honda was blanketed with applicants for assembly line jobs at the new facility in Lincoln last year. AIDT, which handled hiring for Honda, received 17,000 applicants for the coveted jobs, or more than 11 applicants for every opening.
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