Mobile is officially one of 12 communities designated by the United States Department of Commerce as a “manufacturing community,” sharing the list with cities like Portland, Cincinnati and Chicago.
More than 70 communities applied, and 12 were selected based on the strength of their economic development plans, the potential for impact in their communities and the depths of their partnerships across the public and private sector to carry out their plans.
Lynne Chronister, vice president for economic development at the University of South Alabama, helped coordinate the project and said achieving the designation wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of several public and private entities.
The “Partners for Growth Consortium,” which applied for the designation, consisted of the University of South Alabama, Page and Jones, Mobile County, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council, Mobile Works, the Alabama State Port Authority, Bishop State Community College and the City of Mobile.
“It’s a brand new designation that provides short and long-term benefits,” Chronister said. “Companies look for cities that are supportive and complementary to industry, and by giving this designation, the government is saying, ‘Mobile is industry friendly and has the infrastructure necessary for industry to grow.’”
Coordinated support from 11 federal agencies is now available to Mobile, and with it $1.3 billion in federal economic development assistance the cities that received the designation are now eligible to apply for.
Each community will also receive a dedicated federal liaison at each of the agencies to guide them to what federal assistance is available to help make the development strategies operational.
“There are certain funds that are designated for economic development, and with this distinction we’ll have a strong advantage,” Chronister said. “One of the reasons we consider somewhere a major manufacturing city is marketing and national recognition. For years, Mobile has done a phenomenal job of recruiting manufactures, and this is only going to enhance that ability multiple times.”
The main focus of the plan the Partners for Growth Consortium outlined centered on what the area would need to execute its current economic development strategy.
Chronister said without a doubt the greatest economic need in Mobile is more workforce development.
“The only thing Mobile needs to take the next step is the ability to enhance our workforce,” she said. “There’s an issue with a lack of education and a lack of skills training. That includes soft skills as well as hard skills, whether it’s learning to weld or being a good corporate citizen.”
The research center at USA was outlined in the plan as one of the means to enhance workforce development, while organizations like Bishop State the Alabama Industrial Training Center who are already on the task were another part of the strategic plan.
Bill Sisson, president of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the designation says a lot about the level of corporation the public and private sectors have seen in Mobile.
“Being one of 12 in the country holds a tremendous amount of marketing potential,” he said. “We’re in the big leagues now. A lot of those are very large metropolitan areas, and we’re also one of only two communities in the South to receive the designation.”
A press release from the USDC was published on May 20 announcing the 12 designated manufacturing communities, which include the following areas:
The Chicago Metro Region
The Great Portland Region in Maine
The New York Finger Lakes Region
The Southwestern Ohio Aerospace Region
The Tennessee Valley
The Washington Puget Sound Region
The Milwaukee 7 Region