Mobile County, in the southwest corner of the state, is Alabama’s second most populous county and has the state’s only seaport. It’s known for shipbuilding, aerospace and aviation, tourism, steel production and a very robust healthcare sector. Higher education also has a huge impact on this area, led by the University of South Alabama and its medical school.
In its long, rich history, six national flags have flown over Mobile, including the United States, to which it was annexed in 1813. Alabama’s oldest city, Mobile claims honors as America’s original Mardi Gras. Outdoor recreation abounds, and sports tourism is popular.
Recently, however, Mobile has been catapulted into the international scene with one word – Airbus. The European-based commercial aircraft company began construction in April on a $600 million assembly facility at Mobile Brookley Aeroplex, with plans to bring more than 1, 000 jobs. It is the company’s only U.S. assembly plant. In fact, Airbus is the first new manufacturer of large commercial aircraft in the U.S. for more than 40 years.
“We consider Airbus a community changer, ” says Mobile Mayor Sam Jones. “We get inquiries every week from suppliers, engineering companies and service providers — we expect huge growth.”
Airbus is projected to have a $409 million economic impact on the Alabama economy, and $348 million in Mobile County. At full production, the company’s annual payroll will be about $61 million, according to Auburn University Montgomery economist Keivan Deravi. The new industry also will spawn millions in retail, an increased demand for housing and will create about 3, 000 to 4, 000 indirect jobs, as well as 3, 200 construction jobs.
“We have completely redeveloped Brookley’s infrastructure, IT and roads, ” Jones says. “We already have some suppliers setting up offices here, and we expect that to continue. AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) is building an aviation training school at Brookley for Airbus and other companies.”
Mobile, however, enjoys a diverse economy, and no one is forgetting the impact shipbuilder Austal USA has had. Austal employs 3, 200 workers and will be adding hundreds more. The company, with 16 Navy contracts for Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High Speed Vessels, is poised to continue growth.
Mainly because of Airbus and Austal USA, Mobile ranked at the top of the 2012 state rankings for economic development announcements that will account for an estimated total of 2, 586 new jobs. Airbus made for 1, 000 of that total, and Austal USA’s expansion, another 1, 000 expected jobs.
Local schools are getting into the act of preparing students for promising careers in sectors close to home. Mobile County Schools are developing college-ready “signature” high schools, where students can earn their high school degree and focus on career areas that will correspond with workforce needs in the area, says Martha Peek, superintendent of Mobile County schools. The program will eventually be in all 12 high schools.
“We are partners with government, industry and others to develop this program, ” Peek says. “It gives them a head start with dual enrollment, where they can earn credit and be trained for work here. There is real competition for trained workers, and we want our students to be ready and able to enter the workforce or have a head start on more education.” Students also are trained in skills such as interviewing, writing skills and other needs to land jobs.
As a result of the twin punches of hurricanes and the BP oil spill, Mobile and Baldwin counties have formed the Coastal Alabama Partnership, a not-for-profit organization led by a diverse, volunteer group of private sector, civic and business leaders. Its job is to identify, prioritize and address regional challenges and opportunities. The partnership opened its doors in March, with Wiley Blankenship as president and CEO.
“CAP works to bring the counties together to work for common goals, ” Blankenship says. “It doesn’t just bring people together in the case of disaster, it also addresses issues that impact both counties, to improve the quality of life, and make this wonderful region even better. We are that central point of contact.”
Blankenship says Mobile County by itself has the second strongest economy in the state, and as for both counties, of about $9 billion spent by tourists in the state, a third is generated in Mobile and Baldwin counties. “Our region has a lot of impact, and we want to pay attention to issues that help things stay that way. The crises we have had brought us together, and so now we can work together on other things.”
Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt