Spotlight on Jefferson County: Economic Engines

From health care giant UAB to automotive suppliers to high-tech startups, Jefferson County continues to prosper as an economic powerhouse in the state.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is in the heart of downtown Birmingham.

Health Care

The health care industry in Jefferson County is one of Alabama’s largest employers. In Birmingham alone, an estimated 59,000 people are employed in health care.

One of those health care organizations, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System, serves patients from around the state with the latest technologies and medical advances. Moreover, it is home to the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Other major hospitals in Jefferson County includes Children’s of Alabama, St. Vincent’s Health System, Brookwood Baptist Health, Grandview Medical Center, Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, UAB Medical West and Encompass Health.

The county is also a major hub for medical research taking place at UAB and Southern Research. In addition, the business incubator Innovation Depot in Birmingham houses several medical-related startup companies. And, more than 70 health care companies are currently doing business in Birmingham.

Metal and Steel

Metal and steel production have been a major industry almost since the founding of the county’s largest city, Birmingham. Today, U.S. Pipe and Foundry Co. is among the county’s largest industrial employers with an estimated 1,400 workers. Other companies producing steel and metal products in the county include ABC Coke, U.S. Steel, McWane Inc., Nucor Steel Birmingham Inc., CMC Commercial Metals and O’Neal Industries.

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Auto supplier Mobis Alabama has begun work on a $15.8 million plant in Jefferson County Metropolitan Industrial Park, its second site in the state.


Several companies in Jefferson County supply parts to the auto industry. They include companies like Gestamp, Kamtek and Yanfeng Automotive Birmingham. Kamtek is just one of many suppliers to the state’s auto manufacturing industry, which has plants in Tuscaloosa County, Talladega County, Montgomery and Huntsville. And from its Birmingham plant, Altec Industries performs a number of services, including designing, fabricating and finishing truck bodies for electric and utilities companies and other markets.

Recently, automobile supplier Valeo North America announced its plans to invest $5 million in its production facility in Bessemer. The move will bring 70 jobs to the area.

Meanwhile, MOBIS U.S. Alabama LLC is scheduled to construct a new $15.8 million facility at the Jefferson County Metropolitan Industrial Park. The new facility will employ 120 people over three years.


Regions Financial Corp. is a major jobs creator in Jefferson County with approximately 9,000 employees in the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area. It also is the state’s largest employer in the banking industry.

PNC Bank, based in Pittsburgh, recently completed its acquisition of BBVA USA for more than $11.5 billion.

Wells Fargo has 1,978 employees in the county. Other banks in the area include Synovus/First Commercial, ServisFirst and Iberiabank.

In the insurance industry, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, with its headquarters in Birmingham, made headlines last year when it announced that it would cover all telephonic consultations by its network in full and with no co-payments. BCBSA has more than 10,000 physicians in its network. Other major insurers in Jefferson County are Protective Life Corp., State Farm Insurance, Kemper Insurance and Allstate.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County residents are served by several utilities, including Alabama Power Co., a subsidiary of the Southern Co., headquartered in Birmingham, as well as Spire Inc. and AT&T.

Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, just after opening.

Trade, Transportation &
Distribution/Diverse Manufacturing

In the last several years Jefferson County has attracted distribution and fulfillment facilities representing some of the nation’s biggest retail brands.

Amazon opened a new, 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Bessemer in 2020. Now it is constructing a $40 million logistics center in Birmingham. The home improvement company Lowe’s is making plans to construct a $61 million distribution center in Bessemer. FedEx Ground is building a $40.6 million distribution center that will straddle Birmingham and Bessemer along Lakeshore Parkway.

Besides distribution, the Birmingham metro area is also a major center for transportation. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is the state’s largest airport. Before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the airport flew as many as 3 million passengers in 2019. The number of passengers dropped more than 50% in 2020 but is now rebounding.

Railway companies CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern are some of the metro areas large employers with 462 and 723 employees respectively in the county.

In addition, Jefferson County is host to a wide array of manufacturing companies, from foods to chemicals to mining.

Bill Smith (center) with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin (right) announce plans to bring Smith’s newest venture, Landing, to Birmingham.

High-Tech, Digital

Jefferson County is building the research support and workforce necessary to foster new high-tech startups in the area.

Innovation Depot Inc., the business incubator near downtown Birmingham, focuses on accelerating tech and bio-focused, high-growth startups. The Depot has 138 member companies and generates 1,901 jobs in the city.

At UAB, the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides the structure and expertise that students, staff and faculty need to commercialize their ideas and launch both new startups and “disruptive technologies.”

The e-commerce grocery service Shipt is based in Birmingham. Now Shipt’s founder, Bill Smith, plans to relocate his latest startup, Landing, to Birmingham from San Francisco. The move will bring 800 jobs to the metro area. Landing maintains a network of furnished apartments for its membership.

Joonko, a human resources tech startup, moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Birmingham in 2018. It recently completed a funding round of $10 million.

Opened in 1955, The Birmingham Zoo is a 501(c)3 organization that continues to upgrade facilities for both animals and humans, currently in its third phase of a renewal plan.


In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and tourism revenue for Birmingham and Jefferson County was $2.4 billion, says John Oros, president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But after the pandemic began, the bottom dropped out, he says. While eating and drinking establishments in Birmingham and Jefferson County in 2019 generated more than $645 million in revenue, in 2020, that number was down 45% to $357 million. The hotel industry had a record year in 2019 with nearly $322 million in revenue. But the pandemic caused that number to fall 43% to $185 million in 2020.

As a result, jobs in Jefferson County’s travel and tourism sector experienced a slump. In 2019, direct employment in the travel and tourism industry was 33,000. By the end of 2020, says Oros, that number had dipped to 20,000, a loss of 13,000 jobs.

Oros says however that the industry is beginning to make a comeback as more people begin traveling again. In addition, the region is holding more sporting events these days.

Jefferson County has a number of attractions that are major draws to the region. They include the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, the Birmingham Zoo, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, McWane Science Center, Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum and Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

This year, Birmingham is celebrating the opening of the new $200 million Protective
Stadium at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) downtown. And in 2022, Birmingham will play host to the World Games.


August 2021: The Birmingham area startup Wyndy wins $3 million in financing from New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson’s venture fund. Wyndy also has a new CEO, Missy Polhemus. The company developed an app that lets parents find and hire vetted college babysitters.

August 2021: TA Services Inc. acquires Canadian firm Scout Logistics Corp., which specializes in transporting perishable freight. The move is estimated to bring TA Services, a subsidiary of the Birmingham-based PS Logistics, $500 million in revenue.

July 2021: The Baton Rouge information technology company General Informatics holds a grand opening event for its new facilities at The Offices at 3000 Riverchase.

July 2021: Davenport’s Pizza Palace in Mountain Brook announces plans to open a second location in the Vestavia Hills City Center. The pizzeria will occupy 3,800 square feet in the center.

July 2021: Protective Life Corp., in Birmingham, debuts a new subsidiary company, Concourse Financial Group, with Doyle Williams as its CEO. Concourse consolidates Protective Life’s insurance and financial planning entities.

June 2021: Regions Bank announces its intentions to acquire Salt Lake City-based EnerBank USA, a home improvement lender for contractors and homeowners.

May 2021: The specialty insurer ProAssurance Corp., headquartered in Birmingham, acquires NORCAL Mutual for $441 million.

May 2021: The nonprofit scientific research organization Southern Research has tapped Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., as its new president and CEO and Allen Bolton as executive vice president for strategy and finance. Carpenter is former director of innovation and economic opportunity for the city of Birmingham. Bolton was UAB’s senior VP for finance and administration.

April 2021: KKR, an international investment firm, acquires a majority stake in Birmingham’s Therapy Brands, which develops software for health care practices and electronic medical records for health care providers nationwide. Bloomberg estimates the deal to be around $1.2 billion.

April 2021: Engineered Plastic Components, which has a plant in Leeds, is planning to build a second 125,000-square-foot facility in Bessemer, costing $8 million. The company makes thermoplastics and thermoset products for the automotive and medical industries and consumer products.

March 2021: Brasfield & Gorrie and HPM are named as official partners to the World Games 2022. The Games will take place in the city July 7-17, 2022.

February 2021: Habitat for Humanity announces plans to build 125 new houses in Bessemer’s Hopewell community. The $25 million development project is set to start this fall.

January 2021: UAB Callahan Eye Hospital opens a new clinic in Trussville, offering services for adults and children, specialty services such as glaucoma screenings and a full-service optical store.

January 2021: Trucking firm CRST Flatbed Solutions is investing more than $5 million to relocate its divisional headquarters to the Daniel Payne Industrial Park in Birmingham.
The company plans to use the new location for staff and training.

December 2020: U.S. Steel Corp. opens the company’s first electric arc furnace in Fairfield.


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