Why Alabama? A Q&A With Greg Canfield, Alabama Department of Commerce

Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield discusses how the state fosters skilled labor with a workforce development agency buttressed by a 21st century Jobs Act.

By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2023 Issue
Business Facilities: Tell us about the status of economic development in Alabama. How’s it going?
Alabama Department of Commerce
Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce

Greg Canfield: In Alabama, we view economic development as a team sport—and the team is excelling. In fact, despite the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we managed to turn in a strong performance during 2021, with $7.7 billion in new capital investment through projects across Alabama. It was our second-best annual performance, trailing only the $8.7 billion recorded in 2018. As it turns out, the best was yet to come.

During 2022, Alabama secured several high-impact growth projects that will create career opportunities in key industries while preparing a path for long-term economic expansion. We believe 2022 will establish a new record for capital investment from economic development projects in Alabama, with a figure topping $9 billion.

We’re committed to keeping this winning streak rolling.

BF: Why should companies consider Alabama for relocation or expansion? What are recent developments business should consider? What are the target industries?

Canfield: When large employers consider Alabama, one of our key advantages is a proven track record of delivering workforces that are both highly motivated and prepared for the job at hand. This is particularly evident in the auto industry, where we have helped Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing assemble talented workforces.

Alabama Jobs Act
The opening of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville, AL contributes $2.3 billion in new investment to the state along with 4,000 direct jobs. (Photo: Mazda Toyota)

Our not-so-secret weapon is AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce development agency. It’s been on the job since 1971 and remains one of the nation’s most highly regarded job-training agencies, with specialized training centers for robotics, automotive manufacturing, aviation, shipbuilding, and more.

Today, AIDT is operating with a record level of activity—144 growth projects creating almost 30,000 new jobs. AIDT’s Number 1 priority is recruit, recruit, and recruit as it works to find qualified citizens for these jobs.

In addition, Alabama offers large employers a pro-business climate, a low-cost environment, competitive incentives, and a support system that helps companies find success. All these factors are important as we pursue companies in our target industries, which include automotive, aerospace, metals, chemicals, bioscience, and forest products, among others.

“Our not-so-secret weapon is AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce development agency. It’s been on the job since 1971 and remains one of the nation’s most highly regarded job-training agencies, with specialized training centers for robotics, automotive manufacturing, aviation, shipbuilding, and more.”

BF: What is a recent relocation or expansion project that reflects the activity in Alabama’s business climate?

Canfield: Atlanta-based Novelis selected Baldwin County, Alabama last year for the site of a $2.5 billion aluminum mill that will employ 1,000 people and generate massive economic ripples for the region. The project is significant because it represents the largest initial investment in a new facility in Alabama in many years.

Also, the facility will be the first fully integrated aluminum mill constructed in the U.S. in over 40 years. Plus, the company has committed to making its Bay Minette plant the most sustainable of its kind, with a significantly lower carbon footprint than similar mills operating today.

The jobs being created by Novelis are projected to pay an average annual wage totaling $65,000, not counting benefits. Our analysis estimates the project will deliver major financial benefits, including $342 million in new revenue to the state over 20 years. Payroll associated with the project—construction plus direct permanent jobs—is projected to total $1.67 billion over 20 years.

The magnitude of this project makes it a game-changing development for Alabama’s industrial sector and a dynamic jobs engine for the region.

Alabama Jobs Act
Governor Kay Ivey (center) joined Novelis’ leadership for a ceremonial groundbreaking in October 2022 at the 3,000-acre South Alabama Mega Site in Bay Minette in Baldwin County.

Alabama Jobs Act
At the Novelis aluminum plant groundbreaking ceremony, a display made from Coke and Sprite boxes spells out “Made in Alabama.” Slated to be operational in 2025, the plant will primarily produce aluminum cans for beverage makers. (Photos: Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

BF: Would you highlight an incentive or program that’s having an impact on Alabama’s business climate?

Canfield: Our main incentives platform, the Alabama Jobs Act, has been a powerful catalyst for growth since we rolled it out in July 2015. Since that time, the Act has helped us secure growth projects involving over $17 billion in new capital investment and 34,000 job commitments. And these are good paying jobs. We calculate that the average wage of jobs in projects receiving Jobs Act support between 2015 and 2021 is almost $24 an hour—36% higher than the state’s average wage. It’s also benefited the state’s rural communities, generating 6,000 jobs for those areas.

We’re currently looking at ways to renew and improve the Jobs Act and other tools in our incentives arsenal. We’re putting the world on notice that we aim to supercharge our economic development efforts by becoming even more competitive.

BF: What does the future hold for the state’s business climate? And quality of life?

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Canfield: I’m very optimistic about Alabama’s future. There are so many exciting developments taking place across Alabama that showcase next-level innovation, highlight the extraordinary expertise of our workforce, and add horsepower to the state’s evolving economy. I think Alabama’s growth potential is greater than ever before—and we’re determined to take advantage of opportunities that will empower individuals and invigorate communities.