Jefferson County has seen a lot of activity in the past two years, from hosting the World Games in 2022, to commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham civil and human rights movement in 2023, to announcing the largest capital investment in the county’s history, the $1.1 billion Smucker’s plant scheduled to begin production in 2025.
While the county’s economy was historically forged in iron and steel, today it centers on health care. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, an internationally renowned comprehensive research university and academic medical center, is the largest single employer in the state, and one of every 20 jobs in Alabama is either held directly by a UAB employee or is supported by UAB’s presence.
Jefferson County is a major hub for research taking place at UAB and its affiliate Southern Research. Last May, the nonprofit scientific research organization broke ground on a flagship biotech center. The 200,000-square-foot, $84 million facility will double the organization’s lab space for infectious disease research and expand its work on developing treatments for cancer and other illnesses. It will also double the institution’s annual economic impact to $300 million and is expected to create 150 jobs.
The county also continues to attract companies from the distribution, manufacturing, technology and financial services industries.
Findings reported this spring by the Alabama SBDC Network in the University of Alabama’s Research and Economic Development Department revealed that the Jefferson County Economic & Industrial Development Authority, which owns and develops two industrial parks — Jeff Met McCalla, home to the future Smucker plant, and Jeff Met Lakeshore — has a direct impact of $14.5 million annually on the county and $23 million on the state. The report also states the parks have generated a total of $4.5 billion in outside capital investment since the authority’s inception in 1999. The two parks have nearly 5,000 employees.
Small privately-owned companies based in Jefferson County are also getting support through the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Supplier Scale Program, part of the BBA’s Business Advisory Services initiative and made possible by the Jefferson County Commission. The six-month program, which launched in the fall of 2021, is offered at no cost through a partnership with Prosper and has set a goal to serve 250 companies and create 1,300 new jobs over the next five years.
Signaling a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel to the area, Jefferson County saw a record $2.4 billion economic impact from tourism in 2022, matching a record set in 2019. Of all the travelers to Alabama, some 14% visit Jefferson County, making the Greater Birmingham area the second-largest market for tourism in the state.
Last summer, Birmingham hosted the 2022 World Games and welcomed more than 140,000 ticketed visitors as well as an additional 24,400 spectators who attended the World Games Plaza, according to an event evaluation report commissioned by the International World Games Association and the Birmingham 2022 Organizing Committee. An additional 227,000 tickets were purchased by corporate sponsors. The overall economic impact is reported at $165 million. Birmingham was the 11th host city in the World Games’ 41-year history and the second U.S. city to host the event.
Located in north-central Alabama, Jefferson County is home to more than 660,000 residents and is the state’s most populated county.
Katherine MacGilvray is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville.
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This story appears in the October 2023 issue of Business Alabama.