Airbus opening signifies new day for southwest Alabama

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015

By Bradley Byrne

I have proudly called Southwest Alabama home for my entire life, but I don’t know that I have ever felt as much pride for our area as I did last week while standing on the stage at the grand opening ceremony for the new Airbus Manufacturing Facility in Mobile.

It wasn’t an easy road to get to this point, especially when you consider that our part of the state has faced a number of challenges over the last decade. We had to significantly rebuild after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. Many local businesses and homeowners took a major hit from the financial collapse of 2008. And I doubt anyone could forget the frustration of losing out on the contract to build aerial refueling tankers for the United States Air Force.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Despite these challenges, the people of Southwest Alabama showed our resiliency and never gave up on the dream of bringing a major aviation company to our region. Now that that day has finally come, words cannot adequately describe how transformative this will be for Mobile, the State of Alabama, and the entire Gulf Coast region.

For those who weren’t able to watch the grand opening ceremony, it was a superb event. We had over 80 news outlets from all over the world in attendance, and many of the television stations were carrying the ceremony live. Our part of Alabama was truly on the world’s stage in grand fashion.

I was really glad to see so many people in the room who helped bring Airbus to our area. I was especially pleased to see Governor Bob Riley and my predecessor, Congressman Jo Bonner, in attendance. They both worked so hard to make that day a reality, and I am glad we were all able to see their perseverance pay off.

The ceremony also gave us an opportunity to get a first look at the completed facility, which cost around $600 million to build. Construction has already begun on the first two planes, and as the workforce grows and manufacturing ramps up, this remarkably large facility will be full from wall to wall with some of the most popular aircraft on the planet.

My favorite part of the ceremony was being able to meet the men and women who will actually be building the airplanes. It was very appropriate that the employees were the ones seated on the stage, not elected officials or business leaders. The spotlight certainly needed to be on the workforce.

I can’t say enough about these workers. They are a shining example of the importance of topnotch jobs training programs. Going back to my time as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, we have made really impressive strides in creating jobs training programs that are consistently ranked among the top ten workforce agencies in the United States.

Now some of you who aren’t from Mobile County may wonder why Airbus matters to you, so let me explain. The impact from this Airbus facility will be felt all over Southwest Alabama. You will see companies and suppliers locate throughout our region, and you will see people from all across our area actually working for Airbus.

I am really impressed by Airbus’s commitment to hiring local workers. Over 60% of the 260 employees currently working for Airbus are from Southwest Alabama. The number of total employees will end up being around 1,200, so there are going to be plenty of opportunities for our local residents.

The sky is literally the limit here, and as Airbus expands and grows its Brookley presence, we will grow and expand with them. Aviation excellence has come to the Gulf Coast and as a region we will be forever changed for the better as a result.