The automotive industry has taken off in a big way in Walker County, driving job growth, opportunities and investment.
Yorozu Automotive is the fourth and newest tier one supplier to locate in Walker County, and its $100 million metal stamping facility will create at least 300 new jobs for area residents.
“It is the aim of the Yorozu group for the Jasper plant to be the No. 1 suspension parts production facility in the world, using state-of-the-art technology with respect to production automation and logistics,” says Jack Phillips, president of Yorozu America Corp., parent company of Yorozu Automotive Alabama.
The new Yorozu plant is under construction and scheduled to begin production in mid-2017. Officials point out that the convenience of Interstate 22 for distribution purposes was one of the major reasons Yorozu chose Walker County.
“We are centrally located in the heart of the new automotive South and are within 250 miles of 10 major automotive manufacturing plants,” says David Knight, executive director of Walker County Development Authority.
Access to 10 Major Automakers
The Jasper facility is currently under construction and scheduled to begin production in mid-2017, and officials point out that the convenience of Interstate 22 for distribution purposes was a major reason for choosing Walker County.
“Our location in northwest Alabama is actually within 250 miles of 10 different major automotive manufacturing facilities, so I-22 is providing a number of excellent opportunities for us from an economic development standpoint,” says David Knight, executive director of Walker County Development Authority. “More automotive suppliers and other companies will consider locating in our area, especially since we have much more space in Jasper Industrial Park to accommodate future tenants.”
Knight adds that other automotive suppliers such as HTNA (carpet and interior trim components) and Nitto Denko (electrical and insulation systems) are also manufacturing and distributing out of Jasper.
“Walker County is centrally located in the southeastern U.S. and accessible to a variety of geographic areas, including the Midwest,” he says. “We expect our economy to continue growing strong, so we are also constructing a new 53,000-square-foot spec building in Jasper Industrial Park. It’s the fifth spec building we’ve built over the years, with the other four quickly occupied.
A retail initiative has helped economic development leaders effectively balance retention and expansion of existing business with recruitment of new retail, commercial and technology-based businesses to the community.
“New stores that have arrived include Hobby Lobby, Petco, Shoe Carnival and TJ Maxx, and all of this recruitment has significantly stimulated new job growth,” says Linda Lewis, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County. “These recruitments also increase local sales tax revenue and help to prevent the need for residents to shop outside the county.”
Training the Workforce
Every year, all schools in Walker County participate in a Groundhog Job Shadow Day that allows all high school sophomores the opportunity to explore the world of work through a job shadow experience with local business. Groundhog Job Shadow Day creates a connection between academics and careers, getting students excited about learning by making their class work more relevant. The program builds partnerships between the schools and businesses, which in turn enhance the educational experience of all students.Students also learn about the requirements of specific professionals and industries.
When it comes to workforce readiness, the chamber took a lead in convening Bevill State Community College, Walker County and Jasper City school systems, Walker Center for Technology and the Alabama Technology Network to maximize funding for Walker County through a $50 million “Career Technical Bond” approved by the Alabama Legislature. The bond allows schools to apply for grants to be used exclusively for equipment used in technical edcuation. With the partnership and collaboration of educators with the business and industry sectors, the county received $675,000 to create an industrial maintenance program at the Industrial Park.