Alabama’s largest county looks to continue economic development momentum

Alabama’s largest county looks to continue economic development momentum
Packages move along a conveyor belt at an fulfillment center. The company this year announced plans to build a fulfillment center in Bessemer. (Bess Adler/Bloomberg)

With the recent announcements of thousands of jobs coming into Jefferson County in connection with Amazon’s advanced robotics fulfillment center, DC BLOX’s data center and Shipt’s decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Birmingham, local officials are working from a playbook that has four steps, they say.

It all begins with Alabama’s business climate that has been ranked as best in the United States for growth potential and workforce training by Business Facilities magazine, said Commissioner David Carrington, chair of the county’s Finance, Information Technology and Business Development Committee.

The second is that Jefferson County is the economic center of the state, with the largest population and number of jobs.

In 2016, companies announced they were going to create 14,500 jobs and invest $5.1 billion in Alabama. The Birmingham-Hoover metro area accounted for about 20 percent of those jobs and 25 percent of the capital investment. Jefferson County alone was responsible for 1,436 announced jobs and $506 million in capital investment.

“In fact, the metro area’s gross domestic product is greater than Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville combined,” Carrington said. “In 2017, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce, Jefferson County led the state with 2,200 new announced jobs in targeted industries.”

The next step is collaboration among partners that often include the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and, if a proposed site is in a city, the city.

“As in most successful projects, it was a well-coordinated community effort that led to a successful conclusion, and we’re very grateful to our partners and allies for their great work on this project,” said Lee Smith, East Region CEO for BBVA Compass and 2018 chairman of the BBA, after the area secured Amazon’s $325 million investment.

“The county actively listens to the prospect’s needs and then participates in the development of an aggressive marketing plan with (those) partners,” Carrington said.

Fourth, a project team is in place that “leverages our community’s assets,” Carrington said. “. . . We will talk about our enviable road and rail transportation network when talking to a distribution company; or UAB, Southern Research and Innovation Depot when talking to a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) company; or our central, geographic proximity to Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Kia and the soon to be open Toyota/Mazda plants when talking to an automotive supplier.”

All of those steps are done under a positioning umbrella, he said.

“Even if we don’t win a project, we want the company and their consultants to ‘have a good feeling’ about the community so we will be considered for a future project,” he said.

Carrington pointed to the community’s Amazon HQ2 “BringAtoB” campaign.

“The primary project team knew that Birmingham was at best a long shot, but, despite the odds, we put together an innovative vision and proposal for the company to consider,” he said. “While we didn’t win the headquarters, we caught Amazon’s attention and less than a year later announced an 855,000-square-foot advanced robotics fulfillment center in Bessemer.”

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