The $120 million Autocar plant in Birmingham’s Pinson Valley cut the ribbon for an official grand opening today, but that doesn’t mean the factory hasn’t already been churning out trucks.
“Our rapid growth meant we had to be up and running really fast,” said Andrew Taitz, chairman of Autocar. “We knew we could do it because of the people of Alabama and all of the great leaders of this state assured us that we would have partners on the road to building this fast. As you can see by looking around, when Alabamians make a promise, they keep it.”
Autocar started producing trucks in September about the same time the plant formerly known only by the code name “Project Sunrise” was announced as an expansion of the Indiana-based Autocar.
“As you can see, Autocar has wasted no time in establishing its operations,” said Lee Smith, East Region CEO for BBVA Compass and 2018 chairman for the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA). “The company is already building trucks for 46 states and provinces and plans to reach all 50 states from right here in Center Point.”
Autocar was able to get off to such a fast start for a few reasons.
First, it had an existing 1 million-square-foot facility in the former Meadowcraft plant that was large enough to accommodate its operations.
Second, it worked closely with the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) program to get skilled and trained workers on board to begin production.
Also, officials praised the team effort that included Birmingham, Center Point, Jefferson County, the BBA, the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Power and others to make getting up and running easier.
“This facility and this project is a prime example of regional cooperation,” Center Point Mayor Tom Henderson said. “The rewards of having this company and any of its suppliers in the future in our community will be realized by our citizens for many years to come.”
Josh Carpenter, director of the Birmingham Office of Economic Development, noted that the city has a large industrial park next to the Autocar plant that would be a perfect place for suppliers.
He said Autocar is a perfect fit for the metro area.
“Birmingham is and has always been a city of builders, so it stands to reason that the biggest, baddest trucks in America should be built nearby,” Carpenter said. “I think this a great testament to what can be done with regional cooperation.”
Autocar is expected to generate $645.1 million annually, which includes nearly $229 million to Alabama’s gross domestic product (GDP) and $130.1 million in earnings to Alabama households from 2,655 direct and indirect jobs, according to an impact study from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce.
For the Birmingham metropolitan area, operations at the company will generate $600 million annually in economic impact, which includes $224 million contributed to the metro’s GDP and $123.9 million in earnings to households from 2,538 direct and indirect jobs.
“Autocar already has a significant impact on Jefferson County, and will continue to do so with this new manufacturing plant,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “By continuing to invest in Alabama, Autocar further proves that what we’re doing in our state is working. Autocar, and its expansion because of its success, is a fantastic representation of our commitment to help businesses not just survive but thrive.”
Jim Johnston, president of Autocar, said the company’s hiring and production are running faster than expected.
“We’re actually way ahead of schedule,” he said.
Johnston said for now the plant is producing only its refuse cab-over-engine line of trucks but will add other models within the year.
For now, Autocar is using only one of the two Meadowcraft buildings, but Johnston anticipates at the rate they’re growing, it won’t be long before the other building will come into play.
“That is for growth and we will use that as needed,” he said. “We expect that this was the right choice for growth for many years.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight said it’s good to see those buildings buzzing with activity again.
“It is indeed refreshing to see the resurrection of this icon of a building together with its new owner that will now breathe new life into our community,” he said.
Johnston said they already feel like a member of the community.
“We’re proud to be part of this great Alabama family and look forward to building trucks, communities and dreams together,” he said.