Spotlight on Jefferson County: Economic Engines

Health care, biotech, distribution, tourism and more anchor Jefferson County's economy


The University of Alabama at Birmingham, part of the University of Alabama System, is an internationally renowned comprehensive research university and academic medical center. UAB Hospital handles nearly 2 million patient visits a year, and more than 21,500 students are enrolled at the university. Its economic impact on the state exceeds $12.1 billion annually, and for every $1 in state funding UAB receives, the institution generates $39.95 in economic impact that is returned to the state.

With 28,000 employees, UAB is also the largest employer in Alabama.

Jefferson County is a major hub for research taking place at UAB and its affiliate Southern Research. UAB received a record $715 million in research grants and awards in 2022, and over the past five years extramural-sponsored funding at UAB has increased by nearly 50%.

Jefferson County is also served by Children’s of Alabama, one of the largest and busiest pediatric medical facilities in the nation. Grandview Medical Center, Brookwood Baptist and Princeton Baptist Medical Centers, Ascension St. Vincent’s, Encompass Health Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and the Birmingham VA Medical Center also serve Jefferson County.


In August 2022 O’Neal Steel announced a $2.6 million expansion of its Birmingham headquarters that will add a flat laser and press brake for the value-added processing of metal parts. O’Neal Steel is one of several metal and steel companies in Jefferson County.

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American Cast Iron Pipe Co., U.S. Pipe and Foundry, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel and McWane Inc. are among the top industrial employers in Jefferson County. Other big names are Nucor Steel Birmingham and CMC Commercial Metals.

In February, CMC Steel Alabama, which employs nearly 400 people, announced plans to invest $67.75 million to expand and update its Birmingham facility, including modernizing more than two-thirds of its rolling mill.


Alabama is home to five top automotive manufacturers with supplier firms critical to the state’s economy. Jefferson County is home to auto suppliers including MOBIS, Gestamp and Yanfeng, all operating in the Jefferson County Metropolitan Industrial Park.

Kamtek, which makes aluminum structural casting for vehicles, is the third-largest industrial manufacturer in the county with 970 employees.

Birmingham-headquartered Autocar LLC, which manufactures severe-duty specialized trucks, introduced its first Alabama-built EV last year, a battery-electric terminal tractor. The company recently enhanced its Birmingham facility with an advanced EV assembly line, and the company’s in-house-designed powerpacks and HV battery packs are the first EV powertrain components being assembled on the new line.


Regions Financial Corp., the largest banking employer in Alabama, is once again on the annual Fortune 500 list, ranking 483rd of the largest corporations in the U.S. In July, Regions reported second quarter earnings of $556 million and earnings per diluted share of $0.59. Compared to the second quarter of 2022, total revenue increased to $2 billion, reflecting a 12% year-over-year growth.

Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank, has plans to open a Birmingham center next year and five locations in the Birmingham area by the end of 2026. Currently Bank of America does not have an Alabama branch.

Birmingham-based ServisFirst, which recently ranked 15th on the 2023 Forbes America’s Best Banks list, opened its first location in Virginia and 30th in the U.S.

Headquartered in Birmingham, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama employs more than 3,300 and is the largest provider of health care benefits in the state, providing coverage to more than 2.8 million people. Also headquartered in Birmingham, Protective Life has 1,200 employees at its largest core site in Mountain Brook.

Alabama Power is the second-largest electric utility operating under Atlanta-based Southern Company and provides electricity to a 44,500-square-mile service territory in the southern two-thirds of the state. Other utility providers in the region include Spire Inc. and AT&T.

Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer.


The J.M. Smucker Co. announced plans to build a $1.1 billion manufacturing and distribution facility in McCalla in late 2021 — an enormous economic development win for Jefferson County history. The plant is the third in the country dedicated exclusively to producing Smucker’s Uncrustables brand and is expected to begin production in 2025 and bring up to 750 jobs to the area.

With 5,000 employees, Amazon has catapulted to the top of the list of largest industrial employers in Jefferson County since opening its Bessemer fulfillment center in 2020. Shortly after opening the center, the company announced plans to expand its footprint with two new delivery stations in the Birmingham metro area.

Gulf Distributing Holdings, which came to the area in 2017 with the acquisition of Supreme Beverage Co., opened a new 170,000-square-foot facility in McCalla in December 2022. The site supports the company’s operations in the Birmingham area and surrounding 12-counties.

In September 2022, Kroger launched a delivery service in Birmingham, bringing about 160 jobs to the area. The grocery chain opened a 50,000-square-foot facility that serves as a fulfillment center for the new delivery network.

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is the state’s busiest airport and in May broke ground on its first dedicated general cargo terminal. The $27 million facility will serve as the Southeastern U.S. air hub for Kuehne+Nagel, a global transport and logistics company that plans to serve aerospace, pharmaceutical and automotive companies, including Mercedes-Benz.


The growth of the tech industry in Jefferson County shows no signs of slowing down.

Innovation Depot, which calls itself the heartbeat of Birmingham’s entrepreneurial community, has been supporting the development and launch of tech-based businesses for more than 35 years. UAB is a founding partner of the high-tech incubator, which has had more than a $3 billion economic impact in the past five years. In March, the Birmingham City Council approved funding to redevelop the Edwards Motor Co. building so that it can be leased as flexible workspace for start-up businesses graduating from Innovation Depot.

In May, Austin-based Tquila Automation, an automation software company, announced plans for a Birmingham location that will create 200 jobs and is expected to generate up to $21.51 million in overall economic impact over the next 20 years.

Landing’s Bill Smith.

Retail tech company Shipt, which is headquartered in Birmingham, announced the appointment of its first chief growth officer in June. Katie Stratton will lead the expansion of Shipt’s business initiatives and develop growth with retail and consumer packaged goods partners.

Shipt founder Bill Smith has moved to another venture, Birmingham-based Landing, which offers members access to a network of furnished, flexible-lease apartments across the country.


In June, the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau announced that the tourism industry generated a record $2.4 billion in economic impact for Jefferson County in 2022, officially signaling the return to pre-pandemic levels. Total taxes generated for the state by tourism in Jefferson County exceeded $183 million, and local government received $100 million in taxes from area tourism. The industry also supported 51,000 full-time jobs in 2022, another record number, generating $1.2 billion in resident income.

This year, the city of Birmingham is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1963 Birmingham civil and human rights movement. The Birmingham Civil Rights District is a national monument that centers on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and several sites that played a major role in the movement. In March, the Jefferson County Commission approved more than $2.6 million in federal ARPA funding to assist organizations in the Civil Rights District with tourism projects. And in June, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the district will receive a $21.6 million federal grant for street infrastructure.

Birmingham is also a sports destination and, in addition to hosting the 2022 World Games, its recent lineup of events includes the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the USFL, National Senior Games and the Bassmaster Classic. The city is also slated to host the 2024 Transplant Games of America and the 2025 World Police and Fire Games.

Next summer, historic Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the U.S., will host a special regular season Major League Baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. The city is also home to UAB athletics, which joined the American Athletic Conference in July.

Business Briefs:

JUNE 2023: The Department of the Air Force awards two $1.25 million Small Business Innovation Research Direct-to-Phase II grants to Birmingham-based Analytical AI to research and develop an AI-enabled foreign object debris detection system.

JUNE 2023: The City of Hoover, along with Regions Bank and Healthcare Resources, announces the development of Riverwalk Village, a 90-acre mixed-use community of medical offices, walking trails, green spaces, housing and retail areas.

MAY 2023: Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport breaks ground on a $27 million general cargo terminal that will serve as the Southeast hub for Kuehne+Nagel, a global transport and logistics company.

MAY 2023: Bill Noble Park in Gardendale celebrates its opening day after a $32 million redevelopment. The park includes facilities for baseball, softball, tennis, pickleball, football and basketball, plus a putting green and a playground.

MAY 2023: Austin-based Tquila Automation announces plans to open a regional delivery center in Birmingham, creating 200 jobs over the next five years.

MAY 2023: Grandview Medical Center’s 12,500-square-foot Freestanding Emergency Department opens in Trussville, providing 24/7 emergency services.

MARCH 2023: The Jefferson County Commission approves more than $2.6 million in federal ARPA funding to assist organizations in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District with tourism projects.

FEBRUARY 2023: CMC Steel Alabama announces it will invest $67.75 million to expand and update its Birmingham facility, including modernizing more than two-thirds of its rolling mill.

JANUARY 2023: Pack Health announces $5.66 million expansion that will nearly double the size of its headquarters, and add 200 new full-time positions in Jefferson County.

DECEMBER 2022: Gulf Distributing opens a new 170,000-square-foot warehouse at the Jefferson Metropolitan Park at McCalla. The facility will support the company’s operations in Birmingham and the surrounding 12 counties.

NOVEMBER 2022: Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announces plans for a new city-owned family fun center in West Birmingham that is expected to open in 2024. The 20,000-square-foot facility will include a skating rink, jump park, e-sports center, bowling alley, food court and more.

SEPTEMBER 2022: Kroger launches a delivery service in Birmingham, bringing about 160 jobs to the area. The grocery chain’s new 50,000-square-foot facility serves as a spoke fulfillment center for its new delivery network.

SEPTEMBER 2022: Jones Valley Teaching Farm, a local non-profit that provides food education, opens an $8.3 million facility in Birmingham. The teaching farm offers classes, camps and other hands-on learning opportunities.

SEPTEMBER 2022: Hoover city officials and developer Stadium Trace Village break ground on a 2.4-acre Village Green amphitheater and entertainment area that will include a covered stage for concerts, space for 600 to 800 people, a bar and food service area and a 1,400-square-foot play area for children.

This article appears in the October 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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