With three busy vehicle assembly factories, a major engine plant and a vast supplier network that stretches across the state, it’s no surprise that a large part of Alabama’s recent job growth has been driven by the auto industry.

The state’s durable goods manufacturing sector has grown by nearly 26,000 jobs over the past five years, according to the latest data from the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Most of the growth in Alabama jobs was in automotive or transportation-related manufacturing, said Ahmad Ijaz, the center’s executive director and director of economic forecasting.

(HudsonAlpha)

Employment in bioscience fields in Alabama has been rising. (HudsonAlpha)

But other areas are growing, too.

  • Figures show that employment in professional, scientific and technical services has been growing, with 20,000 jobs in the broad professional sector added in Alabama between January 2011 and July 2016, according to Ijaz.
  • Some technology jobs are growing. Over the past 10 years, computer system design jobs in Alabama climbed from 16,100 to 23,100, according to data from Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s an increase of 43 percent.
  • Employment in bioscience fields in Alabama climbed 7 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to a report by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and TEConomy Partners LLC. Growth was significantly higher in medical devices and equipment (26.8 percent) and drugs and pharmaceuticals (26.3 percent).
  • Auto is not the only manufacturing segment that’s seen job growth. Figures from the St. Louis Fed show that employment in plastics and rubber manufacturing has risen by 2,600 jobs in the past five years, a gain of nearly 20 percent.

Rising employment

In another positive sign for Alabama’s job market, August’s state unemployment rate dropped to 5.4 percent for the best showing since May 2008. The preliminary, seasonally adjusted number is down from 5.7 percent unemployment in July and 6 percent in June.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tours Hyundai's Montgomery plant in June. The facility this year resumed production of the Hyundai Santa Fe after a six-year hiatus. (Jamie Martin/Governor's Office)

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tours Hyundai’s Montgomery plant in June. The facility this year resumed production of the Hyundai Santa Fe after a six-year hiatus. (Jamie Martin/Governor’s Office)

“We continue to see decreases in Alabama’s unemployment rate, and increases in both of our employment measures over the year, which is a testament to the strong economic development efforts we have prioritized,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.

Over the year, wage and salary employment increased 15,600, with gains in the manufacturing sector (+4,900), the education and health services sector (+4,200) and the trade, transportation and utilities sector (+3,400), among others. Wage and salary employment increased in August by 8,000.

Job horsepower

A clear indication of the job-creation strength of Alabama’s auto industry can be seen in economic research supplied by the St. Louis Fed. Auto manufacturing is a key target sector in Accelerate Alabama, the state’s strategic economic development growth plan.

In the past five years, employment at motor vehicle parts manufacturers in the state has nearly doubled, from 14,400 in July 2011 to more than 26,000 in July 2016, according to St. Louis Fed data.

And more growth is on the horizon.

Over the past year alone, the Alabama Department of Commerce has announced auto supplier projects worth at least $924 million and more than 2,500 new jobs in activities ranging from precision machining to engineering.

These projects will create jobs in communities including Jasper, Oxford, Opelika, Auburn, Shorter, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.