Alabama could be in store for landing higher-paying jobs during 2016 and beyond.
Thanks to a new initiative by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, jobs in the information technology sector have become a priority for economic developers, as most industries, including Alabama’s robust automotive and aerospace industries, are experiencing greater demand for tech jobs these days.
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Greg Knighton, vice president at EDPA, will deliver the lunch keynote address at the 16th annual Alabama Commercial Real Estate Conference & Expo, presented by the Alabama Center for Real Estate on Jan. 29. The conference will take place at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham.
Knighton will touch on a number of topics, including existing tech industries in Alabama, and will demonstrate how the state is putting itself into position to seal the deal with more computer system design and software publishing companies, just to name a couple.
With Google’s recent announcement of a $600 million data center in Jackson County, the future looks bright for Alabama’s potential for landing these higher-power, higher-paying jobs.
We caught up with Knighton recently to discuss some of the topics he will discuss in late January.
ACRE: What is the benefit of having a tech initiative for Alabama?
Knighton: EDPA sat down with our allies to look at ways to diversify Alabama’s economic development recruitment initiatives. We looked at a number of industry sectors, and for a number of factors, we arrived at the information technology industry, specifically as it relates to computer system design and software publishing. Those industry sectors are expected to grow, and if you look at the sectors that exist already in Alabama, we have a really ripe industry. We have new and established information technology companies. We have small and large information technology companies throughout Alabama. They create lots of jobs, and they are high-paying jobs. Just like Alabama is known for building world-class automotive products and aerospace and aviation products, we want Alabama to be known for its world-class information technology industry.
ACRE: What are job projections for the state in the IT sector?
Knighton: IT jobs are growing, no matter how you slice it and dice it, in Alabama and nationally. Having a workforce pipeline is really critical to meet the short, middle and long-term needs of all industries in information technology across Alabama. Our education community is embracing that. EDPA looked at 11 key IT occupations, and just among those 11 key occupations, more than 40,000 Alabamians are employed, and that grouping of occupations is expected to grow by 10 percent over the next five years, and if you look at a couple of industry sectors, our computer system design sector, it’s expected to increase in employment by over 20 percent over the next five years. And if you look at software publishing in Alabama, that sector is project to grow at 18 percent over the next five years.
ACRE: How do the current power jobs (manufacturing, aerospace etc.) play into the creation of more tech jobs?
Knighton: All of our industries, particularly advanced industry sectors such as automotive, aerospace, healthcare, insurance and finance have a growing reliance on information technology. Just some common need areas include information storage, networking and information security. As those needs grow and evolve, and as automation becomes more critical within various industry sectors and technology evolves, those IT occupations that are required by almost all industry sectors in Alabama are only going to continue to grow.
ACRE: Many expect these tech jobs to come to places like Birmingham and Huntsville. Do you foresee tech companies being more attracted to shovel-ready sites in rural Alabama or the bustling metros?
Knighton: Certainly our large urban areas are going to benefit from information technology job growth, but our less urban settings are definitely ripe for it. It’s really a matter of having the right ingredients for the information technology industry, and it’s not all that different from any other industry. It’s really tied to a positive business climate, quality of life, the right infrastructure and most importantly probably is workforce.
There are some recent examples in Alabama that validate the fact that less urban settings can benefit from technology jobs. In 2009, Canada-based CGI announced a global onshoring IT delivery center in Troy. It’s one of only two small town America locations where CGI has located. In 2010, they opened up with a few hundred employees and have grown now to over 400 employees. Just this year, they announced they would expand and add another 200 employees and that they would add an additional 10,000 square feet to their physical footprint. In 2015, Equifax announced it would locate a global IT talent center in Auburn. They will start out with about 45 employees and will grow to about 150 over the next two to three years and will create great opportunities for graduates at Auburn and students at Auburn. Again, great locations for IT companies.
From a data center standpoint, which really looks at shovel-ready sites or sites that have been validated, there is a network of sites across Alabama that have been identified for data centers, and Alabama has had great success in locating data centers. One of the most recent ones and certainly one of the most noteworthy ones is Google, which located in rural Stevenson, in Jackson County. When that $600 million facility is completed, it will employ 75 to 100 people with high-paying jobs in rural Alabama. As companies like Equifax, CGI and Google announce locations in Alabama, it proves that our state is a great location for world-class companies in the IT industry.