Q: A lot of things are happening with the auto industry in north Alabama. What's driving it?
A: It's many different interests all working together in automotive, trying to get a piece of that pie. We're made up of 13 counties. The city of Huntsville. The railroad. The state is working on it. Our U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby is working on it. The auto industry has been moving south for decades. But north Alabama kind of got passed over on all those projects. That's changing now.
How many automotive projects have come into the 13 counties?
We have seen 16 projects come into this area as a result of the Mazda-Toyota investment. We expect more to come. Those are a combination of both companies on new sites and those co-locating on the Mazda-Toyota site.
Is it just the Mazda-Toyota project that's driving activity?
No, we're also seeing suppliers come in to supply Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and others in the region. After all these years in Alabama, Mercedes still has suppliers moving in. Dura Automotive just located in our area to manufacture aluminum battery trays for Mercedes. Another company, from Germany, is coming here to make aluminum castings.
The Mazda-Toyota project started well before the pandemic, and it continued during it. Did COVID-19 complicate things?
There were no real problems. Maybe some travel challenges. There were a couple of hundred project people who needed to come here to the site from Japan, but COVID prevented them from entering the country.
Is economic recruitment for north Alabama a new effort?
No, no. We were formed in 1949. It's been on our minds for a long time. We've just upped our game.
We were always a good location with good infrastructure, good logistics, good people and an attractive cost of living. But we offered a certified megasite. And it brought Mazda-Toyota into Huntsville. You're talking about what was mainly big cotton fields, and I believe at the center of it was a little barbecue joint. If we hadn't offered a certified site, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation.
The site also required the construction of a new interchange on Interstate 65, a reworking of the interchange on I-565, the expansion of a two-lane road into five lanes, a couple of new bridges built, and the creation of a new five-lane to connect them.