County jobs growing slowly

Published 8:55 pm Friday, March 22, 2013

Escambia County is one of 55 counties in Alabama that added jobs last year through new or expanding manufacturing facilities — but the county added only four new jobs, according to figures from the governor’s office.

Sizemore Creek Beverages in Atmore expanded, with an investment of $1.5 million and three new jobs, while Thompson Engineering in Flomaton added one new job.

Across the state last year, 77 new companies announced plans to locate in Alabama, bringing 6,558 jobs and more than $2.732 billion in capital investment.

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Also in 2012, 355 companies announced expansions, with 14,289 new jobs and more than $2.672 in capital investment.

While it might be disappointing that Escambia County did not see more jobs, Brewton Mayor Yank Lovelace said the regional concept begun several years ago with Escambia’s partnership with other counties in the Coastal Gateway Economic Development Alliance benefits locally.

The five counties in the Coastal Gateway partnership got a total of 497 new manufacturing jobs in 2012 — with the lion’s share going to Clarke County, where Lakeside Steele and Louisiana Pacific both expanded.

“I don’t care where people in Brewton work, as long as they have a job,” Lovelace said, noting that many people have commuted to jobs outside the city and county. “If you happen to want to build (a plant) in Brewton, we will do everything we can to help.”

Making sure Brewton’s workforce is ready for new jobs — either here or in the region — is essential to improving the employment rate, Lovelace said.

The mayor said he has been meeting with officials from the local school systems and Jefferson Davis Community College and Alabama State University on a regular basis, making workforce development a main priority.

“How can we access the resources to be workforce ready?” he said. “And what can the city do to play a role in making that happen?”

David Stokes, chairman of the Escambia County Commission and a former chairman of the Coastal Gateway alliance, said making sure the county stays in the loop for new jobs and opportunities is important. He agreed that the regional concept can work for Escambia County.

“(Coastal Gateway Director) Jim Searcy is doing a great job at knocking on doors for our area,” Stokes said. “Things don’t always go the way we would hope in bringing jobs to the area. Even though you don’t like the way the cards are dealt, you still need to have a place at the table. That is what Jim is doing for us by being proactive and by being available to those interested in this region.”

The governor’s office said the new jobs report included only manufacturing jobs, so commercial and retail jobs — such as those at Wind Creek Casino and Hotel — were not included.

The report for 2012 shows a 32-percent increase in capital investment over 2011 and a 148-percent increase as compared to 2010.  In 2012, companies announced 20,847 new jobs and $5,405,382,649 in investment coming to Alabama. That was up from 17,248 jobs and $4,083,056,603 in investment in 2011.

“Job creation remains my number-one priority, and these figures reflect the tremendous progress we’re making in Alabama,” Bentley said.  “We’re constantly recruiting new companies and encouraging existing companies to expand and hire more people. We have the best workers and the best workforce training programs of anywhere in the world. We have a positive business climate, and we have competitive incentives. We have a low cost of doing business. All of this combined helps us recruit more jobs. We will continue working with lawmakers, economic development agencies, industries and educators to build on this progress.”

The largest economic development announcements in 2012 included the announcement of Airbus’s first stateside assembly plant in Mobile, which will create 1,000 new Airbus jobs and thousands of additional construction and supplier jobs. Major announcements in 2012 also included a $1.2 billion expansion at Walter Energy, along with expansions at Austal USA, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama and many other companies.

The top-ranking county in 2012 based on capital investment was Tuscaloosa with projects totaling $1,406,980,000.  Other top-ranking counties and investments included Mobile, $777,766,000; Jefferson, $611,616,000; Morgan, $434,255,000; Madison, $236,077,749; Lee, $198,300,000; Jackson, $178,500,000; Talladega, $151,500,000; and Montgomery, $131,862,056.

The top-ranking county in 2012 rated by the number of jobs announced was Mobile with 2,586 jobs announced. Other high-ranking counties included Jefferson, 2,351; Montgomery, 2,068; Madison, 1,346; and Tuscaloosa, 1,338.