By Jerry Underwood
Made in Alabama

Many people may be unaware of the advantages of doing business in Alabama’s rural counties, but corporate decision-makers from around the world are fully tuned in to the possibilities.

Foreign direct investment has been a vital ingredient in Alabama’s economic growth in recent years – and that is true for rural parts of the state. Between 2015 and 2019, Alabama’s 40 “targeted” counties attracted almost $1.5 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) through growth projects with more than 3,800 job commitments, according to Alabama Department of Commerce data.

This investment has primarily flowed from countries such as South Korea, Canada, Japan and Germany. Companies from Finland, Brazil and Ireland have also found their way to rural Alabama.

The impact of that FDI is being felt in the Tallapoosa County cities of Alexander City and Dadeville. Together, the two communities attracted more than $155 million in foreign investment between 2015 and 2019, generating nearly 600 jobs, according to commerce data.

“In the quest to provide jobs for the citizens of the Lake Martin area, we have had sustained success in attracting foreign direct investment,” said Chad Odom, executive director of Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance.

“We are continuing to make strides in workforce development and business-attraction marketing to provide even better opportunities for our workforce in the months and years to come.”

South Korea-based auto suppliers are bullish on Alex City and Dadeville, cities located between the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery and the Kia plant just across the state line in West Point, Georgia. In 2019 alone, three Korean auto suppliers expanded in Tallapoosa County through projects involving more than $58 million investment.

“We have strong partnerships with the South Korean suppliers we have attracted and are continuously working to help them expand and add more value to our citizens through higher-paying jobs,” Odom said.

Other rural counties in Alabama have had success in attracting FDI and the new jobs that come with it. Among them:

  • Between 2015 and 2019, Chambers County landed 17 projects involving nearly $260 million in capital investment and 334 jobs. Auto suppliers found their way to the county, not far from the Kia plant, but so did companies in other industries. Germany’s Knauf, a maker of fiberglass insulation, has become a top employer in the county, with 250 workers.
  • Butler County has benefited from the presence of Hwashin America Corp. in Greenville. Since 2015, the auto supplier has expanded a half-dozen times, investing more than $98 million and creating 220 jobs, according to commerce data.
  • Bibb County has become home to the second Alabama campus of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, just a few miles from the global automaker’s sprawling assembly facility in Tuscaloosa. Mercedes is building a EV battery assembly facility near Woodstock, along with a global logistics center and a parts supply hub.

Hwashin’s facility in Greenville is a Tier 1 supplier for Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery. (Hyundai)

Over the years, FDI has represented a powerful growth engine for Alabama, with foreign companies announcing $16 billion in capital investment in the state since the beginning of 2013, according to Commerce data.

“The success of the companies operating in Alabama is a story that’s being told around the world,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Here at home, that’s meant significant new investments and lucrative jobs for communities across the state.

“In many cases, the growth sparked by FDI has taken place in rural areas of Alabama, adding vitality to local economies that were seeking industries and job-creation potential,” he said.

Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said rural Alabama communities such as Selma, Luverne and Evergreen are among those that have seen their profiles raised by foreign investment.

“The high level of FDI activity shows that rural Alabama is a great location for doing business, and the companies locating there often expand their operations because they are getting the support they need to be successful,” Tuck said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.