As Alabama grows its automotive industry, people in Hamilton, Sulligent, Fayette and other towns in Marion, Lamar and Fayette counties believe they are the “Crossroads of the Automotive South,” and they have plenty of facts to back up that claim.
“We’re within 230 miles of 11 automotive manufacturers, we are surrounded by five metros within an hour’s drive of the borders of our region (Tuscaloosa, Tupelo, Memphis, Birmingham and Huntsville), and we are on a new interstate here in Marion County that is wide open for future opportunities,” said David Thornell, president and CEO of C3 of Northwest Alabama. “As suppliers are looking, we feel like we are in the bullseye for those folks to look and take advantage of what we offer.”
Thornell’s group was created in 2010 as a cooperative marketing effort between the cities and counties of Marion, Lamar and Fayette to create and promote an environment wherein businesses will choose to invest and create jobs for area residents.
“It’s always great to have people here to take a look, to learn more, to dig beyond the initial numbers in terms of population that may turn people off, and show them that that’s not really an issue and that the rural environment is probably better in terms of cost and the welcome that they’re going to receive.”
Thornell said the availability of gigabit internet service through Freedom Fiber is very attractive to both businesses and employees.
“We have the very best available in terms of technology,” Thornell said. “You look at the educational advantages — the K-12 and the assignments are given are much easier to carry out when the students have that high-speed connection at home. There are also benefits in the health care industry and just so many things decided today with companies. It’s a must-have. It’s something that we do brag about.”
“I don’t know where our state would be without AIDT,” Thornell said. “When we are able to meet with a company and talk about training needs, to get them the capable people they need, trained and ready to go to work when they open up shop, they are taking notice.”
Dan Raburn, an Employment Security representative with the Hamilton Career Center, said he is seeing a growing number of people asking for career training in a variety of areas.
“There are a lot of options, especially here in the rural area where we are,” Raburn said. “The medical field is very lucrative. People are very interested in training for the automotive industry. We see a lot of that.”
Earlier this year, the Alabama Power Foundation awarded Bevill State Community College in Hamilton a $50,000 Challenge Grant to expand opportunities for workforce development and provide resources to bridge the gap between students and employers. Raburn said his group works closely with Bevill State and other two-year colleges around the state to have people “job-ready” in two years or less.
“These are things like nursing, RN, LPN, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, the trades like machine, tool, electrical and heating and air conditioning,” Raburn said. “I’ve also had some very good success with the electrical program and tractor-trailer driving. There are avenues where you can make $50,000 a year.”
Raburn said it’s never too late to make a career change.
“We are on the cusp here of the next generation of workforce development,” Raburn said. “If you’re not happy where you are, if you’re not making enough money where you are, it’s very important to come into the career center now and let’s look at what your options are and what we can do to help you.”
Thornell said cooperation in workforce development is what continues to attract businesses to northwest Alabama.
“That just shows that this area can support manufacturers,” Thornell said. “They continue to come to northwest Alabama because of the environment and the workforce and the convenience in terms of location and connectivity, not only by highway but also by broadband. We feel like our best days are ahead of us.”