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"Should I stay or should I go" Growing high tech workers, part 2

France Airbus
Frederic Scheiber/AP
Workers on Airbus' double-deck A380 plane assembly line inspect a wing, in Toulouse, western France, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Fred Scheiber)

The Alabama Public Radio news team is examining the issue of keeping skilled and educated workers from leaving the Gulf coast. This on-going series of reports is called “Should I stay, or should I go.” Last month, APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby looked efforts by Airbus and Novelis aluminum are working with local authorities to grow good paying jobs to keep local youngsters from leaving the area. Today, Guy continues his examination, by looking at similar efforts in the Mobile area that involve Governor Kay Ivey….

A third Airbus assembly line at Brookley, more Navy ships being built at Austal, the country’s first aluminum rolling mill in 40 years in Bay Minette. Industry expansions will bring thousands of jobs to the Gulf Coast. All of those workers are going to need training and preparation to keep up with demand and keep these jobholders from migrating to the other parts of the country.

Kay Ivey
Kim Chandler/AP
FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala. Republicans balked when Democrats passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, calling it liberal “pet projects” disguised as pandemic aid. But now that GOP governors and local leaders have the money in hand, they're using it for things on their wish lists, too. Alabama lawmakers are advancing a plan to use $400 million of the state's share of coronavirus relief funds toward building new prisons in what Ivey says is a great deal for taxpayers. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)

“This is truly an exciting time for the Mobile area,” said Governor Kay Ivey during a recent visit to the Gulf coast. She says she’s excited about the potential for the region.

“When we make a serious commitment, not just lip service, to improving our infrastructure, we're setting up ourselves in other ways for success, like our economy,” the Governor said. “It's projects like Airbus's decision to add 1,000 more jobs and a third final assembly line for expanded A-320 production. It's Austal, getting into the production of steel warships. It's Evonik continuing to invest in its specialty chemistry factory. It's Canfor announcing plans for a new $210-million sawmill complex. We also saw a massive announcement from Novelis in your neighboring counthy of Baldwin and as I highlighted earlier, the port continues to get major upgrades and the airport is being shifted to Brookley.”

APR recently focused on Airbus’ Flight Path 9 program that prepares higher school students to work at the company’s Mobile area plant. Ivey says local four-year and two-year colleges are also expanding programs to train those employees.

“Schools like the University of South Alabama and Bishop State are readying our young people to work at places like Austal and Airbus. As a state, we're setting big goals, like my Success Plus plan, which aims to add 500,000 more newly credentialed Alabamians to our workforce by the year 2025,” said Ivey. “I'm proud to report that since 2018, we've added more than 200,000 newly credentialed folks putting us well on our way to reaching and surpassing our goal.”

Ivey says that not all of the young people graduating from Alabama high schools are ready for those jobs.

“Just last week, the state Board of Education meeting, we took an important vote to close the gap between our graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate. Let me explain what the problem is,” she explained. “The classes of 2020 and 2021 the graduation rate was 92%. The college and career readiness rate was 76%. That's a 16-percentage point gap. We've got to prepare our Alabama students and workers for the jobs of tomorrow. The single most important issue in this state and across the nation is our students' education and I'll tell you again today that you have a governor fully committed to ensuring every student has an opportunity for a quality education.”

“Today, we've added 300 more people to our facility in 2022 and we stand right at around 1,500 employees, which, again is a long way from where we stood seven years ago at about 300 employees,” said Daryl Taylor, general manager of Airbus Mobile. The company’s planned expansion will soon make Alabama one of the top aircraft manufacturing sites in the world.

Governor Bridge
Republican candidate for governor Bradley Byrne holds a news conference Friday, May 14, outside a radio station in Montgomery, Ala., where he said one of his opponents, Tim James, got an insider deal during the administration of his father, Gov. Fob James, to build a toll bridge to the Alabama coast. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls)

“The state of Alabama is well on its way to become the second largest commercial aero-manufacturing state in the country,” Taylor said. “The fourth largest commercial manufacturing city in the world. Not too bad when the others had about a 100-year head start.” “Mobile, Alabama in three years will be the fourth-largest producer of aircraft in the world. Ten years ago, we were producing none. That's amazing,” said Bradley Byrne, former U.S. congressman and is now the director of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. “We're literally on the world map. We know at this point with Airbus going to the next level of production that we're now going to be getting a lot of international aviation suppliers coming to Mobile. We know the University of South Alabama is going to build out its biotech and biopharmaceutical tech parks. We know that Austal's about to add 2,000 more employees, producing an array of ships for the United States Navy. So, we're on the move and we're not slowing down one little bit,” Byrne observed.

Byrne says the expansion at places like Airbus and Austal will mean more jobs than just those on the assembly line.

“If you look at what's happening around the state at these automotive manufacturing centers, they have as many supplier jobs as they have manufacturing jobs in the final assembly line,” he said. “So, we're looking forward to that same sort of activity here in aviation and I think we will.”

Plans to move the Mobile Airport from its current location west of the city to the field at Brookley near downtown and just off I-10 should also mean more jobs.

“So, it's clearly in our business interests, in the interest of our economy to move that airport,” said Byrne. “I can tell you we've got some corporate headquarters that we're chasing around the country and moving that airport is a key part of our ability to get corporate headquarters to move here.”

All of that expansion and the goal of keeping Gulf coast workers on the local payroll and not somewhere else, will depend on a trained workforce.

“We've got to make sure we produce the workforce that we have to have to make sure that we can produce this level of economic activity but I'm confident that with the University of South Alabama, Bishop State, all of our schools in this area, Coastal Alabama Community College, I'm confident we will do that,” said Byrne.

Local leaders say that the region will meet the challenges to train that workforce and keep potential employees in the region. Again, Gov. Kay Ivey.

People are talking about Mobile because in spite of all the challenges some of the cities might be facing, your leadership has that bold vision and is always forward thinking. Mobile County grew slightly over the last 10 years and I predict this committed leadership of local officials and dynamic businesses and industry, this area will grow even more by the time we have our next census in 2030,” said the Governor.

And Governor Ivey view isn’t limited to the Gulf Coast. In the last several years, 65,000 new jobs have been created in the state with investments totaling more than $32 billion. Those current jobs and the ones expected in the future are going to require trained workers as well as in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Guy Busby is an Alabama native and lifelong Gulf Coast resident. He has been covering people, events and interesting occurrences on America’s South Coast for more than 20 years. His experiences include riding in hot-air balloons and watching a ship being sunk as a diving reef. His awards include a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists as part of the APR team on the series “Oil and Water,” on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Some of his other interests include writing, photography and history. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Silverhill.
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