Sorry Rustbelt, but the Southeast is the new car kingdom. You had a good run, but it turns out people don’t like depressing-ass places with 10 feet of snow, bitter winds, and even more bitter people. Just a few days ago, I made a YouTube video about why the Buffalo Bills should leave the roughneck bums that make up the unintentionally hilarious “Bills Mafia” (which near as I can tell are good at spending their last dime to go to Jacksonville to smash port-a-johns and sitting around blue-collar bars commiserating the loss of yet another factory to the South) and head to Birmingham, America’s football capital that has never had a pro-team. [And even if you scoff, keep in mind that Oakland, San Diego, and St. Louis were all much bigger cities than Buffalo and their teams actually turned a profit, and none of that kept Raiders, the Chargers, or the Rams there.]
Earlier this week, Toyota announced plans to build a massive new factory in Huntsville, AL (the nearest bigger city to my home mountain) that’ll be worth billions, produce an estimated 300,000 new vehicles, and employ 4,000 people. Long-time readers know that it’s not just the jobs a new business creates, but that it means 4,000 newly employed people buying houses, groceries, movie tickets, restaurant meals, clothes, and even cars. It has a trickle-out effect (much more than a trickle-down tax cut) that can revive or grow an area completely.
And if you don’t believe me, just look at what’s happened to all the Rustbelt towns that’ve lost all those quality manufacturing jobs: the Flint, Michigan of Michael Moore documentaries is scarier than any horror movie and part of the reason Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio went for Trump is lingering resentment over the city-killing trades of NAFTA. [Cleveland seemed ready to fight a war with Miami when Lebron James left, and you might ask yourself how bad things are for a place when their city-spirit seems to revolve around one basketball player.]
No matter how you slice it, this is a huge win. And it comes on the back of several huge wins for Alabama–like the National Championship victory (back-to-back wins, and a near-decade of dominance) and the election “upset” of a sane senator over Roy Moore. Alabama residents are tired of being laughed at by smug New Jersey and Northern New Yorkers (who probably eat more squirrel than a rural Alabamian ever has), and I wonder just how many factories we’ll have to snake out from under them before they quit laughing.
In the long-term, I see Toyota and some of the other Japanese car manufacturers (the Huntsville plant will also produce Mazdas) setting Alabama up as their go-to production facility. [Let’s not forget that the last Democratic Governor, Don Siegelman, went out of his way to aggressively recruit car manufacturing plants.] Add to that already going-strong facilities for Mercedes, and Alabama is expected to pass Indiana as the nation’s second biggest car manufacturer. I just wonder how long until Corolla, Honda, and other luxury brands like Mercedes’ rival BMW come to Alabama, and we finally surpass Michigan too. Maybe Ford and GM would even like to make cars in a place other than Detroit–which has become synonmous with “places you should avoid.” Like every time they show footage of a hurricane hitting a Southern city and people say “My God, it looks like Detroit.”