Industry growth spurt drives opportunities for Alabama auto workers

Industry growth spurt drives opportunities for Alabama auto workers
Tanina Cordule says her job at Toyota's Alabama engine plant has given her and her family new opportunities. (Toyota Alabama)

Alabama’s robust auto industry has transformed the state economy over the past two decades, as well as communities scattered from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf Coast.

But perhaps nowhere has the industry’s prosperity been more acutely felt than in the lives of the companies’ employees who each year build about 1 million cars, nearly twice as many engines and countless parts for customers that span the globe.

As Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA embarks on plans for its new, $1.6 billion joint-venture manufacturing plant in Huntsville, people eyeing one of the 4,000 jobs there can expect a similar path of growth and opportunity as the Alabama auto workers who have made the sector what it is today.

For Tanina Cordule of Huntsville, a career with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama has allowed her to provide a better quality of life for her family.

Now employed in human resources as a team member relations specialist, Cordule has worked her way through several jobs at the Huntsville engine plant, starting with assembling V-8 engines.

“Since my employment with Toyota, I have become more financially stable,” she said. “I’ve been afforded the opportunity to provide top-notch health care benefits for my family, and I’m looking forward to retiring from Toyota someday.”

At the same time, Cordule said, her career has challenged her on many levels.

“I have truly grown as an individual. I’ve also acquired a great deal of knowledge about engines. I can talk engines with my husband!”

As for her future career plans, Cordule says she wants to continue growing and advancing in the area of human resources.

“I am excited to see where this journey will take me,” she said.

Toyota’s Alabama engine plant, which now employs 1,400, has been in constant growth mode. (Toyota)

Providing opportunities

There are similar stories at the state’s other major automotive plants operated by Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, which continue to add jobs, investments and innovations that broaden opportunities for their workforces.

For instance, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has significantly increased its team of engineering professionals since starting up operations in Talladega County in 2001.

As the technology of Alabama-made Hondas has advanced, so too has the sophisticated skill sets of the automaker’s local workers.

At Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, plans are under way to launch electric vehicle production, a $1 billion project that is expected to create 600 jobs at a battery plant and a nearby global logistics center.

The state’s auto workers also get additional training and gain new skills when the plants take on new products, as was the case when Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama brought back the Santa Fe SUV to its Montgomery assembly lines two years ago.

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa County, which got the wheels rolling on Alabama’s auto industry in the 1990s, will add about 600 jobs with its new electric vehicle project. (Mercedes-Benz)

Swelling workforce

Alabama’s auto industry employment exceeds 40,000 jobs, a total that has increased 150 percent since 2000. That includes 13,300 positions at the automakers and 27,300 at suppliers, according to data from St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.

And the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the average weekly wage for motor vehicle manufacturing in Alabama is $1,288, while the average weekly wage for motor vehicle parts manufacturing in the state is $895.

“Alabama’s automakers have provided enormous opportunities for residents all over the state to receive advanced training and contribute to the latest innovations in a fast-paced global industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“And these employees, in turn, have made those investments well worth it. They continually surpass expectations with products that achieve the highest levels in design, quality and performance, which is why you see so many automotive companies locating and expanding here in Alabama.”

Alabama’s auto industry employs more than 40,000 people today, reflecting a 150 percent gain in employment since 2000. (Mercedes-Benz)

‘This great team’

Cordule, who previously worked for another manufacturer in Huntsville, said she wanted to join the Toyota workforce because of the company’s stability and the quality of its products.

Last year alone, the Toyota plant turned out nearly 700,000 engines, which powered one-third of the Toyota vehicles built in the U.S. The plant also reached a key milestone – production of its 5 millionth engine – and announced a $106 million investment to install a new 4-cylinder production line for advanced engines. The project will create 50 jobs.

“What impresses me the most about our manufacturing facility is the cleanliness and how everything has its own unique place and purpose,” Cordule said. “I’ve worked in other manufacturing plants in the past and none of them compares to Toyota. The focus on these areas helps ensure the highest quality and safety, which are equally impressive.

“I feel proud to be a part of this great team.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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