Our cars on parade: Alabama is solidifying its place in U.S. auto industry
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 15, 2011 | 7995 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The auto industry isn’t dead. Not even close. Last week, Time magazine tickled car-lovers’ fancies with the headline: “How America started selling cars again.”

Below that, it read, “The auto industry was running on empty. Now it’s the new growth engine.” Inside, an article explained how the auto industry was not only recovering, but is prospering.

The importance should be obvious.

To see how selling cars translates into jobs, look at Alabama. Two years ago as the recession descended upon the state, auto production in Alabama went flat; about 468,000 vehicles were produced. Now it is on the rise again — and rising rapidly.

Last year, Alabama’s auto output was more than 677,000, which put it fifth nationally behind Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

In the next few years, Alabama’s annual auto production is predicted to reach 900,000, The Birmingham News reported recently. When that happens, the state will be one of the top three auto-making states in the nation.

Pretty good when you realize that all this happened in the last 15 years.

Pretty good? How about remarkable?

There is more to this growth than jobs on the assembly line. As the demand for Alabama-made cars grows, more suppliers will come in, and those already here will expand. Moreover, with the growth of the auto industry in adjacent states, Alabama’s central location will enable suppliers to serve other manufacturers as well.

Close to home, the Lincoln plant in Honda was forced to scale back production after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the flooding in Thailand caused a parts shortage. Now it is bouncing back. The company raised the annual capacity at the Alabama plant last month from 300,000 to 340,000. Production growth means more people at work.

Of course, recovery is not complete. Alabama’s auto industry is still below what it was before the recession. However, people need cars, and Alabama is in good position to supply much of what people want.

It will be a challenge for the state’s economic developers to continue to recruit aggressively. The state Legislature must do more than offer tax breaks and other incentives. Legislators who claim jobs are their top priority must make sure they do not pass laws that damage our reputation as a state open for business. No doubt, the illegal-immigration law is a prime example of what not to do.

Despite all the talk in Montgomery about wanting a business climate that will attract companies, Forbes magazine’s 2011 assessment of the best states for business lists Alabama as No. 37. That’s behind every state in the Southeast but, you guessed it, Mississippi.

Industrial recruiters and economic developers need to look closely at what other states are doing that Alabama is not. They should look carefully at what it took to bring the auto industry here, and they should begin planning for how the state can advance up on the Forbes list.
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