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    Manufacturing in Montgomery is Moving Full Speed Ahead

    Manufacturing is a mainstay of Montgomery’s economy. Today, companies are rapidly progressing from the industrial era to the modern age, utilizing our area’s tech and talent resources.

    The list of companies who make things right here ranges from brand new ventures to family owned businesses more than a century old. Read on to learn what the buzz is all about.

    When the news broke in 2003 that Hyundai Motor Co. was placing its first U.S. plant in Montgomery, building the 3-million-square-foot, state-of-the-art Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) on 1,700 acres of pasture, it changed the economic landscape in the area significantly. It alone initially had and continues to have a huge positive economic impact on the River Region and beyond.

    It also brought a wave of additional good news that swelled into a tsunami, as automotive parts suppliers flocked to the area in order to meet HMMA’s demand for components, bringing with them even more capital investments and jobs. But the reach of manufacturing here extends beyond the automotive sector. Everything from syrup to surgical equipment is produced in plants large and small all around the region. And the outlook for the future of the sector here seems bright. According to Allen Smoot, Director, South Alabama Division for Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, “The overall state of manufacturing in general is very healthy, particularly for us,” he said. “In the last two years, we’ve added about 90 new positions and we’ve invested a lot in our local operating model.” Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, a privately held Coca-Cola bottler based in Birmingham, is growing everywhere, now doing business in seven states across the Southeast, and has two locations in Montgomery for a total of 455 employees. “We love being here for several reasons, one of which is the centralized location with interstate access. That is a big benefit for us,” Smoot said.


    Mac McBride, director of operations at STERIS, which opened in Montgomery in 1976, echoed Smoot. His company, which manufactures surgical solutions, including operating tables, lights, warming cabinets and equipment management systems, completed an $11 million expansion project in 2013 and now employs 344 area residents. McBride pointed to the positives that have kept the company going and growing in Montgomery. “The workforce diversity is good here. We’ve been able to recruit and retain people for our engineering and assembly positions,” he said.

    He also pointed to the Chamber’s role in supporting existing businesses like STERIS. “Our most recent expansion would not have been possible without the Chamber staff and the work they did for and with us to help us secure that opportunity,” he said.

    Smoot agreed, noting that he’s been plenty of places and found none of them comparable to Montgomery on one integral factor. “I’ve worked in a lot of spots around Alabama and Florida, and what is so special about the River Region and truly unique is the great partnership between the city and the county and the Chamber,” he said, “The Chamber has been an amazing resource for us, and the climate here created by these three entities is focused on business growth.”


    James Uhm at DAS North America also praised the Chamber and its team for its welcome, quick response and willingness to work hard on his behalf. “We looked very hard at a lot of cities when making our decision on where to locate,” he said. “We were new at this and needed all the help we could get. The Chamber communicated with us, listened to us. I reached out to economic development offices in the other places and didn’t get much of a response. In some cases, it was hard to even find the right contact info.”

    But once he connected with the Chamber, almost immediately he had a meeting with Ellen McNair. “She was so helpful, and the city, county, state and Chamber came together to help us work on the infrastructure we needed,” he said. “And the Chamber consistently checks in on us to see how they can help us.”

    DAS, which supplies parts to Kia, started in Montgomery in a temporary facility. It invested $17 million in its plant, completed in 2014, and has been expanding ever since. A second building with new equipment was completed in 2015, and a press shop and two additional assembly lines have just been finished. The company has also added employees and now has approximately 400.

    Uhm pointed to one other major positive in Montgomery. “One thing that doesn’t get mentioned much is how many good commercial builders Montgomery has,” he said. “We went with Marshall Construction, but there were so many good options who could do what we needed.”


    A recent economic development win was the announcement of Gerhardi Inc.’s decision to locate in Montgomery. The German auto supplier is investing nearly $38 million in its capital city facility and will create up to 240 jobs. According to Gerhardi’s CEO Fredy Franke, that workforce could grow depending on customers and products. The parent company, which has 1,400 employees, has increased annual sales from $50 million to $200 million. The plant broke ground in July 2016 and production is estimated to start in 2019.



    So how are current efforts going? Ellen McNair, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Development, weighed in.

    “We recruit world wide and in a very competitive market, so things that go on all over the state, like past political turmoil in our state government, is used against us by other states,” she said. “Instability is an issue and a challenge.”

    Other issues that can affect economic development efforts include negative education news, since it is so closely tied to workforce. “But no matter the temporary obstacles, we still push and promote this area because we believe we have so many positives to offer,” McNair said.


    According to her, one of the city’s major assets is its economic development team, which extends far beyond the Chamber to include the city, the county, state elected officials, utilities, CSX rail, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Alabama Department of Transportation and more. “When we’re recruiting any industry of any magnitude, the people involved are so numerous, and there are so many moving pieces,” she said. “We all work together so well, with one vision. Our key to success is the ability to communicate and work in a seamless and transparent way.”

    And she stressed that while the announcements of a major company locating here only come around sporadically, the expansion of existing business is just as vital to our economy, if not more so. “Eighty percent of job creation here is from existing industry, so the best source of our growth is with the companies already here,” she said. To that end, the Chamber has several people on staff who do nothing but focus on meeting the needs of our current companies. “And it’s not just about job growth,” she said. “It’s about retention.”


    Founded in 1906, Montgomery’s Whitfield Foods is celebrating 111 years in the same location and is still producing the same Alaga cane syrup that became a household name in our region decades ago. But through its many years, the business has changed and grown. It once produced pickles but stopped in the late 1970s.

    Today, a large part of its business model is contract manufacturing and packaging. The company realized that due to similarities between its syrup processes and those used for many beverages, it could use its manufacturing equipment and lines to meet the needs of companies who weren’t keeping up with demand for their products. Through the last 40 years, the company has produced beverages for companies like Ocean Spray, Tropicana, Minute Maid and Snapple. Pepsi Co. is currently Whitfield’s biggest customer, although they produce only non-carbonated drinks, like juices and Gatorade.

    President Les Massey explained the advantages the company sees in its Montgomery location. “We are close to transportation here,” he said. “We’re not too far from Atlanta. We have two major interstates properly situated so that’s good for truck transport. And we’re a part of this community. This is where we started.” 

    He also shared the company’s recipe for success. “We are smaller than many other companies that do the same thing, but we compete because we are committed to doing things right,” he said. “Our customers appreciate our quality and that comes from our management staff and employees. Keeping turnover low is integral, and we do that by treating our people right.”

    The company’s efforts have paid off for a century and were recently recognized by PepsiCo which awarded Whitfield Foods its “Co-Packer of the Year Award” for the third time in six years. “We are very proud of our employees and the obvious effort that they bring forth every day to meet the very high standards required by our industry,” said Massey. “Food industry standards and regulations are increasingly challenging each year, and our employees take a lot of pride in providing the highest level of service to PepsiCo.

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  • Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce
    600 S. Court St, P.O. Box 79
    Montgomery, Alabama 36101
    Tel: 334.834.5200   Fax: 334.265.4745

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