Montgomery County, in central Alabama, is part of the state’s River Region and is home to the state’s capital city, Montgomery. The birthplace of the civil rights movement, Montgomery continues to make headlines by celebrating that movement, by building a significant automotive industry and by crafting a sophisticated IT sector with the expertise of its Air Force facilities.
The city has recently marked several firsts — its first Black mayor, Steven Reed; its first comprehensive plan; and its first voter-approved ad valorem tax for schools in three decades.
“Montgomery is in a rebirth mode,” says Anna Buckalew, president of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. “There are many surface changes that you can see, but there also is a change in mindset. There is a lot of confidence in our new mayor. He came in on a good foundation left by our previous mayor. We are focused on not only being a vibrant capital city, but also a model for others.”
Montgomery is home to state government offices and the state Capitol, an extensive service industry, wholesale and retail trade, several colleges and universities, and an industrial base that includes Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, the area’s largest industrial employer.
Distribution is also a growing sector here.
Built along the Alabama River, the city is now served by Interstates 65 and 85, all boosting economic activity. “These corridors are untapped areas of vast potential,” says Buckalew.
Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, the area’s largest overall employer, is home to Air University, a strong IT presence and the Alabama Air National Guard.
Partnerships between the county, city, chamber, Maxwell and many other entities have laid the groundwork for new tech initiatives. Recently, working with public and private partners, the city launched the Montgomery Techlab, an accelerator focused on app development. Those same partnerships helped build Montgomery Internet Exchange, one of the few in the Southeast, along with several other tech startups and programs.
“We want to be sure we continue to strengthen ties with the U.S. Air Force and be a great hometown to them,” Reed says. “Passing the referendum on schools helps.”
Downtown, the site of many well-preserved historic places, also is growing by leaps and bounds. The Montgomery County Commission has partnered with other entities to plan a world-class whitewater and outdoor lifestyle center along the banks of the Alabama River. In addition to the whitewater course, it will feature climbing areas, ziplines, ropes courses and trails for hiking and biking — plus festival space.
Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama & Suppliers
HMMA, in Montgomery, is Hyundai’s first automotive assembly and production facility in the U.S. and an independent manufacturing operation of Hyundai Motor Co. It produces the 2020 Sonata and Elantra sedans and the 2020 Santa Fe crossover utility vehicle. It also will begin producing the Santa Cruz pickup in 2021 and the Tucson SUV for 2022.
With about 3,000 employees, HMMA is the county’s largest manufacturing employer. Its payroll is about $260 million; its economic impact is calculated at 14,436 direct and indirect jobs in Alabama with an economic impact of $4.8 billion annually. Addition of the Santa Cruz, a $410 million expansion announced in 2019, is expected to add 1,200 direct and indirect jobs.
HMMA added a cylinder head machining plant in 2019, supporting production of 650,000 engines per year.
Hyundai has also attracted an array of supplier firms. German auto supplier Gerhardi Inc., which opened a $41.6 million facility in Montgomery, is among the most recent.
Military Installations & Missions
Maxwell Air Force Base is home to the 42nd Air Base Wing, which serves as the host wing and provides all base operating,
infrastructure and services support for 42,000 active duty, reserve, civilian, contract personnel, students and families at Maxwell and Gunter Annex.
Maxwell is the headquarters of Air University, a major component of Air Education and Training Command. Air University provides military and professional education for 50,000 resident and 160,000 non-resident personnel each year, with all but one of its programs at Maxwell or Gunter.
Gunter Annex is home to sophisticated IT services for the Air Force, as well as defensive cyberspace operations in support of both the Air Force and the new Space Force.
The 908th Airlift Wing is one of 40 other mission partners located at Maxwell AFB. The state’s only Air Force Reserve unit, it provides airlift and related services through the dedicated efforts of eight, C-130 Hercules aircraft. Unit Reservists fly approximately 1 million miles annually engaging in training operations and supporting real-world missions.
Some 12,500 active duty, reserve, civilian and contractors are linked to Maxwell.
TechMGM is a collaboration of local industry, education and government entities working to leverage Montgomery’s technology assets to expand the local economy.
Current technology initiatives include:
• Montgomery Internet Exchange (MGMix). With 100 Gbps capacity, MGMix is Alabama’s only open exchange and one of only four in the Southeast. Established in 2016, the Mix now has more than 20 connected members working from the RSA Dexter Avenue Data Center.
• Open Data Portal 2.0, a web-based portal that provides transparency into city operations, was released in the Spring of 2020. This portal allows users to learn about city functions such as budget information, public parking and streetlights, providing data to help make informed decisions within the community.
• MGMWERX is a joint venture of the city, county and chamber with a goal to innovate and commercialize thoughts and technologies, connecting academia, industry and military leaders in the city.
• BESPIN, the Business Enterprise Product Innovation Center, is the USAF’s latest agile software factory located within the Montgomery Area Chamber to provide high-speed commercial internet and develop Department of Defense business operations.
• Montgomery Techlab, launched in late 2020, is a tech accelerator for digital services and application development.
In recent years, the distribution/warehouse sector has grown so quickly that at least nine companies in this sector are among the largest in the county, with total sector employment at 3,400.
Montgomery warehouse and distribution operations support a variety of supply chains, including the food and beverage, medical supply, consumer goods and automotive industries.
Sector leaders include Big Lots Stores, US Foods, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United and Russell Brands. Big Lots operates a 2.5 million-square-foot consumer goods distribution facility in Montgomery. Most recently, Dollar General opened a 450,000-square-foot fresh distribution facility in Montgomery.
Other companies include Glovis Alabama LLC, which is involved with
warehousing, logistics and distribution of parts for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing
Alabama and has more than 1,300 employees. Montgomery also is strong in customer call centers.
Montgomery County’s hospitals employ more than 7,000 people. Baptist Health, the largest in the county, is the region’s
largest private sector employer with more than 4,900 employees.
In addition to the three hospitals in Baptist Health, this important sector includes Jackson Hospital, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital and a unit of the Noland Hospital system.
Montgomery is home to public and private colleges and universities, including Auburn University at Montgomery, Huntingdon College, Trenholm State Community College, Alabama State University, Faulkner University, Amridge University and Troy University Montgomery.
Together, these schools employ hundreds and offer programs ranging from job skill certifications to advanced academic degrees.
Alabama State Government
The second-largest overall employer in the county, state government is concentrated in the capital city of Montgomery. Government operations attract an array of professional organizations and agencies, making the field a key economic sector.
Retirement Systems of Alabama is a standout among the agencies headquartered here. It owns an office building here and in the state’s other major cities. A key player in statewide tourism, it owns the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and its hotels and spas, and invests in industry in Alabama and beyond.
In 2019, Montgomery saw nearly $1 billion in travel expenditures, with the new Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum helping lead the way, bringing 400,000 more visitors to the capital city. Tourism also is a major employer in Montgomery.
While COVID-19 has limited that growth for now, the sector is still growing. As heritage tourism grows, Montgomery is well positioned because of its existing attractions focused on history. In recent years, the “travel with a purpose” concept has caught on and is a way for the city to offer diversity and inclusion training and programs to corporations, conventions, travelers and families, says Dawn Hathcock, senior vice president, Destination MGM. “We want to build on our history and go to the next level of what we have learned,” she says. “We are shifting the focus at some of our other attractions, also.”
The city also is an in-demand Southeastern destination for meetings, sports events and leisure travelers. Two hotels opened in 2019, with an Autograph Collection Marriott Hotel under construction downtown.
The city has also established itself among the South’s hottest sports destinations and hosts two special college football games broadcast by ESPN.
The next attraction on the horizon is a world-class outdoor whitewater course and entertainment district near Maxwell Air Force Base. Projected to be open in 2023, it is going to be a game changer, Hathcock says. “We are so excited,” she says. “We also have great parks and trail systems, and riverfront opportunities.”