Chinese automaker to expand in Baldwin County

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Thousands of new jobs are coming to Alabama. Governor Riley announced today that Chinese automotive company, HK Automotive, plans to build a plant in Baldwin County. The company builds hybrid cars.

The project won't start until HK comes up with $1.5 billion to fund the plant, but it could mean 5,000 new jobs by 2013.

So can Birmingham benefit from this massive new project?

Birmingham Business Journal reporter Craig Ey said the first thing he thought of when he heard that a major economic development project was coming was that it would probably be in Mobile or Huntsville, not Birmingham.

"There's a reason for that," Ey said. "A big reason is that they, over the years, have been able to get their act together. They've been able to get things in such a place where you can shepherd through projects like this and work with the state."

In contrast, is the Birmingham area, where UAB business professor, Dr. Bob Robicheaux, says Jefferson County's financial crisis continues to hamper attempts, attract projects like a car company to the area.

The situation with Jefferson County is not so much a negative as a question mark," Dr. Robicheaux said. "Until we know how that situation is going to play itself out, very few businesses are going to be willing to even make a visit to see what we have."

A "glass half-full" person would tell you that a proposed direct rail line between Mobile and a controversial new rail hub in McCalla could attract suppliers for the new hybrid plant to Birmingham. You can count a job hunte,r John Tyrone, in that camp.

"I am optimistic, and I'm glad to hear the news about that expansion," Tyrone said.

But for Curtis Taylor, who just left the military and is looking for a job, 4 years is too long to wait to find work.

"I'm thinking about leaving Alabama period. I don't think they're gonna really make a difference," Taylor said.

But Ey says there is reason for hope.

"I was going to say when and if, but hopefully it's when Birmingham can get its act together, we're going to start to get these kinds of projects because we do have the advantage of having the largest metropolis in the state," Ey said.

"If we can in fact begin to get companies to relocate and build something in our state at this point in time, it speaks volumes for the near-term and far-term future of Alabama," Dr. Robicheaux said.