Tuscaloosa County is home to the University of Alabama and is the epicenter of the state’s youthful automotive sector.
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International was the state’s first major automaker in a sector that now boasts five OEM plants. Now MBUSI is expanding into the electric vehicle market, and supplier firms are expected to bring 3,200 jobs to the area within the next three years, officials say.
Even though many industries surrounding vehicle manufacturing are expanding, the rebranded Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority is also looking to attract other advanced manufacturers, energy, corporate operations, health care, information technology and research/development, says Danielle Winningham, the authority’s new executive director.
“This year our organization rebranded and produced a marketing strategy that aligns with diversifying our target industry sectors,” Winningham says. “The new brand puts our community in a better position to attract more knowledge-based industries, facilitate business retention and expansion, support business formation, and enhance overall quality of life for the citizens of Tuscaloosa County.
“We are in the process of conducting site due diligence, making access improvements and generating project leads to attract new investments. Collaborating with our strategic economic and workforce development partners is paramount as our region sets the tone for talent attraction, retention and development,” she adds.
To get ready, the county and surrounding areas are embarking on a new model of industry-driven technical training, Modern Manufacturing Center of Excellence. It offers high school students a path to modern manufacturing careers, says Donny Jones, COO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and executive director of West Alabama Works. This new program features stackable credentials and associate degrees along with a high school diploma, making students more marketable.
About 130 students have signed up so far in Tuscaloosa County and officials plan to start programs in Pickens, Fayette, Bibb, Dallas, Hale, Greene, Lowndes and Wilcox counties, as well as other parts of the state, Jones says.
“This program grants us autonomy to train all students on the same module,” Jones says. “There are thousands of manufacturing jobs that need to be filled, and we want to get more students into these programs. They will be well trained for a great future and it will keep graduation rates high.” Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda Toyota also are partnering.
All high schools participating in the programs so far – in Tuscaloosa and nearby counties – get a new Mercedes-Benz GLE for the classroom, where students can earn credentials by taking the vehicle apart and putting it back together, along with many other skills.
As in every area, COVID-19 has affected everyone, but county officials ensured needed county services continued, and many projects were completed via the city of Tuscaloosa’s Elevate Tuscaloosa program, a strategic community plan that enhances the city in three areas — economy, experience and education. It’s paid for with a one-cent sales tax increase that is earmarked specifically for projects under Elevate Tuscaloosa.
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This story appears in the September 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.