March 17th, 2010
06:16 PM ET

Building up America: How Hyundai changed the world...in South Alabama

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

You don’t have to travel far in this country to find heartfelt concern about the number of jobs that have been shipped overseas by American businesses. But in south Alabama, the biggest economic blessing in years has come from a foreign firm that decided to ship thousands of jobs here.

The Hyundai plant just below Montgomery began rolling out shiny new cars in 2005, hit full capacity in 2007, and the results have transformed this region. Dozens of companies which supply Hyundai with everything from sunroofs, to dashboards, to bumpers have sprung up across the landscape, creating jobs and a hedge against more sharp rises in the state’s unemployment rate.

The main plant is a marvel of robotics, efficiency, and an intense focus on quality that has pushed Hyundai from a brand that was ridiculed some years ago, to one that is now respected and admired throughout the industry…and even more importantly, by consumers.

For workers, the changes are most dramatic. Although they are aware of the nation’s economic woes, on the job most say they feel secure, optimistic, and dedicated to keeping their company on the rise. If their words sound like a sales pitch, most will quickly assure you that that is just a measure of how incredibly important this plant has become to the economy of everyone and everything here.

But forget their enthusiasm for a moment, and just consider the numbers. A new car comes off the line about every minute. Making that happen has brought more than 2,700 jobs to the Montgomery plant, and another 5,500 to suppliers across the state. Beyond that, company officials point to economic estimates of 22-thousand other jobs now relying on the ripple effect of Hyundai’s presence.

Now, with a new Kia plant just across the Georgia line, the growth promises to continue.

Alabama has a statewide unemployment rate around 11 percent which is well above the national average. But many will say in a heartbeat, without Hyundai it would have been so much worse.

And with it? South Alabama is building up…one car at a time.

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Filed under: Building Up America • Tom Foreman
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    There is another car plant in western Alabama – BMW I think but am not sure. Between the 3 plants there are a lot of blue collar jobs out there but white collar jobs like computer programmers are still going overseas quicker than new ones can be created here.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  2. Tracey

    Thank you for the positive story on Alabama. We rarely are shone in a positive light. The people of Alabama are supporting Hyundai by purchasing their vehicles. America is a "working " people if given the opportunity.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  3. Sunny Flynn

    My whole family of 5 people all drive Hyundai cars. These cars have great quality and give good service. I hope my family helped the Alabama plant workers.

    Sunny Flynn
    Chicopee, MA

    March 17, 2010 at 8:15 pm |