Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Mercedes-Benz Suppliers Helped Transform West Alabama

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Mercedes-Benz Suppliers Helped Transform West Alabama

Article excerpt

The future looked bright when Mercedes-Benz announced 20 years ago that it would put its first North American auto plant in Tuscaloosa County.

The German luxury automaker planned to spend about $350 million to build a plant that would open four years later.

There also was the anticipation of a network of auto suppliers that would follow with new plants of their own.

Few, if any, however, foresaw the economic transformation that would occur over the next two decades -- a more than $2 billion investment by Mercedes; five models being made or in the planning; more than 3,000 workers and rising. And all that was just at Mercedes.

"We were hopeful that it would help change our state and knew it would attract some others, the suppliers," said former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., whose administration helped bring Mercedes to Alabama. "But I don't think anyone could have forecast the total impact it has had on our state."

Dozens of automotive suppliers opened operations in Alabama following Mercedes. Today, there are at least 20 of them in Tuscaloosa County.

Within a decade of Mercedes' arrival, Honda and Hyundai built new auto plants in Alabama while Toyota added a new engine plant. Just across the state line, foreign automakers Nissan, Volkswagen and Kia built plants in neighboring states, creating a Southeastern automotive corridor.

Before Mercedes, many viewed Alabama as an economic backwater, Folsom said, but Mercedes gave the people of Alabama the chance to prove those critics wrong. Mercedes not only started Alabama's automotive industry, it helped Alabama to attract industries like steelmaker Thyssen-Krupp and aircraft manufacturer Airbus, Folsom said.

Today, Alabama's auto industry, which before 1993 was almost non- existent, is one of the state's largest manufacturers. It employs more than 33,000 people -- about 11,300 in its auto plants and about 22,000 at its automotive suppliers, according to the latest figures from the Alabama Department of Labor.

It is perhaps the brightest spot in the state's manufacturing picture, said Ahmad Ijaz, an economist with the University of Alabama's Center for Economic and Business Research. …

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