top of page

21st-Century Economy


The late 20th century introduced to Alabama a new era of international connections. Statewide opportunities in higher education, engineering jobs in Huntsville, and healthcare innovation in Birmingham attracted immigrants and visitors from around the world. Refugee Vietnamese fishermen and their families found homes on the Gulf Coast. Hispanics, drawn by agricultural, construction, and poultry-processing jobs, became the state’s largest immigrant community.


The benefits of new global trade policies were not immediate. In the six years after passage of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, Alabama lost seventeen thousand manufacturing jobs, with the largest cuts coming at apparel and textile plants.


New opportunities arrived with the 1993 announcement that Mercedes-Benz would manufacture automobiles at a facility in Tuscaloosa County. Within a decade, Alabamians were assembling vehicles or engines for three more auto manufacturers at locations around the state, setting a new direction for economic development and creating a mandate for high-tech workforce development.


As Alabama neared its bicentennial, the state’s economy flourished in ways that were unimaginable three decades earlier. Forty thousand Alabamians worked in the automotive industry. Already assembling the newest generation of warships, Mobile became a center for aviation manufacturing and the fastest-growing container port in North America. The Tennessee Valley built rockets for commercial satellites and was home to trailblazing research in biotechnology. Already a leader in the fields of healthcare and medical research, Birmingham emerged as a hub for e-commerce and software development. Nearly twenty-eight million out- of-state visitors flocked to the state’s mountains, beaches, golf courses, and historic sites.


Growth was uneven, however. Lacking the educational, infrastructure, and healthcare resources needed to attract new industry, some rural parts of the state struggled to gain a foothold in 21st-century prosperity.


Automation has rapidly changed the way Alabamians work in the manufacturing sector. People monitor and repair robots that do the lifting, assembly, and welding formerly performed by humans.

bottom of page