Folsom’s Claim: On his campaign website, Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. claims that his outreach to Mercedes-Benz led to a $7 billion flood of auto industry investment that brought more than 50,000 jobs to Alabama. “When I served as Alabama's Governor,” Folsom claims on the site, “I was told it was a dream to believe Mercedes would choose Alabama to build its first American manufacturing plant, but my administration rolled up our sleeves and made it happen. Today, Alabama is home to multiple auto plants and over 50,000 direct jobs because that vision and persistence led the way with Mercedes. Since then, the automobile industry has invested over $7 billion in Alabama.”
Summary: Fifty thousand jobs? Folsom’s estimate agrees with numbers collected by statewide industry organizations, though there’s a small amount of leeway in the numbers.
Analysis:Before Mercedes-Benz started making sport-utility vehicles in Vance in 1997, the idea of Alabama as the next Detroit seemed speculative at best. It’s true that, as governor, Folsom had a hand in bringing that first auto plant to the state. Among other things, in 1994 he signed various pieces of legislation offering Mercedes-Benz $252 million in incentives for opening its auto plant in Vance.
Since then, Alabama has welcomed several other automotive and large machinery manufacturers: Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and International Diesel, according to the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, or AAMA.
If Mercedes-Benz created a “domino effect” bringing other manufacturers to the state, that effect would be hard to quantify.
Counting total investment and job creation is a little easier. Ever so often, the AAMA, working with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, conducts a statewide survey to estimate the impact of the auto industry. The survey includes a Web-based questionnaire for operators of auto plants and their suppliers, as well as e-mail and telephone surveys to collect more information.
Folsom’s spokesman, Chip Hill, said the AAMA numbers were the source for the candidate’s 50,000-job, $7 billion claim.
Economist Ahmad Ijaz, of the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said the AAMA is probably the best source for an estimate of the industry’s size.
According to the latest available AAMA survey, the auto industry employed 48,457 people in 2007 –- in the ballpark of Folsom’s figure, but more than 1,500 jobs short. The survey does confirm the $7 billion investment estimate, though.
More recent figures were not available, but Hill claims the Alabama Development Office has identified an additional 4,000 auto jobs created since 2007.
Maybe. ADO information specialist Cheryl Hatfield said her organization tracks hiring announcements by industries within the state. By her estimate, 4,300 new auto-industry jobs have been announced in Alabama since the last AAMA report. But that doesn’t mean all those jobs are up and running yet.
“We track announcements, not follow-through,” Hatfield said.
If all those jobs come to pass, Alabama’s auto industry will hit the 52,000-job mark at some point in the near future.