DECATUR, Ala. — Toyota-Mazda and Bocar plan new plants in north Alabama as jobless rates hover at 3.5 percent statewide and even lower in some places, but the state’s top labor official believes recruiting should be successful for these high-paying, high-demand jobs.
“High-wage, high-skill jobs usually recruit well, despite low unemployment rates,” Alabama Labor Department Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said. “These jobs will have high wages and good benefits. Employees from other sectors will likely be willing to shift into new industries if necessary in order to reap these benefits.”
Toyota and Mazda announced last month they will invest $1.6 billion in a joint venture to build Toyota Corollas and a new Mazda crossover, with the plants expected to employ about 4,000 people, at an average salary of $50,000, not including benefits. A timeline shows operations to start in 2021.
And Bocar, an automotive supplier, last year announced its plans for a $115 million plant, creating about 300 jobs. At full production, the Germany-based company expects to have at least 305 full-time equivalent employees, earning an average hourly salary of at least $19.05, not counting fringe benefits. Construction at that facility is scheduled to start this spring.
Both plants will be located in a part of Limestone County annexed by Huntsville.
Despite the low unemployment rates, “there are still tens of thousands of Alabamians without jobs, and even more who are underemployed,” Washington said. “Some of the underemployed may simply need training or may already be trained but working at an unrelated job and would like to move into another industry.”
Alabama Industrial Development and Training, an independent agency under the supervision and oversight of the secretary of commerce, has committed to help recruit, screen and train employees for the Toyota-Mazda plant, as part of an incentives package for Toyota-Mazda. The state’s Labor Department provides tuition assistance, apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training to job hunters through its 49 one-stop career centers across the state, Washington said.
When estimating available labor force, you have to look at both unemployed and underemployed workers in the area, said Ahmad Ijaz, the executive director and director of economic forecasting in the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research. Even though the number of unemployed in Limestone County, for example, is 1,274, the number of underemployed — people who are working part time but would like a full-time job, and people who aren’t satisfied with their current jobs — is much higher, he said.
“The number of underemployed and available labor force for Limestone is 11,456,” he said.
Success in economic development does bring its challenges.
Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, has heard that some 20,000 people across north Alabama and southern counties in Tennessee may be applying for the Toyota-Mazda openings.
And, as people apply for jobs at Toyota-Mazda and other new operations, seeking better pay, benefits and schedules, “that leaves existing industry with openings they have to backfill,” Kracke said. “That’s not just an issue for north Alabama and the state, but across the nation as new companies move in.
“It’s part of the evolution of growth,” he said.
While located in Limestone County, the plants will need to draw workers from Morgan County, where industrial developer Jeremy Nails said recruiters will have to concentrate on secondary and post-secondary graduates, plus people who are underemployed.
“Given the ramp-up to production at Toyota-Mazda,” Nails said, “we have time to be strategic with our various partners in our talent recruitment and retention efforts and prepare for these new jobs becoming available.”
The challenges are not just in Limestone and Morgan counties.
Dale Greer, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency, said he remembers when, in the 1970s, Cullman faced a 22 percent jobless rate. Cullman County is now home to three top-tier automotive suppliers that employ more than 2,000 people, and a grand opening last week was held for Sequence Health’s new medical call center, which is expected to bring in 128 employees over the next several years.
“It’s a lot more fun to be at (a jobless rate of) 2.8 percent,” he said.
Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml