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Report from researchers at Alabama A&M University about Anniston, Alabama: a Southern manufacturing community

This report, by Dr. Emily Erickson at Alabama A&M University, takes an in-depth look at the costs and benefits of the manufacturing industry’s growth by surveying workers across one city and residents living in the shadows of large manufacturing plants in Alabama.

The Southern United States is experiencing rapid growth in heavy manufacturing industries as firms take advantage of the region’s business-friendly policy environment, large public incentives, and low wages. The
automotive industries alone represent $13 billion in capital investments in Alabama (Smith, 2019). As the growth of heavy manufacturing industries in the South continues, there has been little research into the costs of public investment in local manufacturing jobs and the benefits to local communities.

The global companies that open manufacturing plants in the American South – including in Anniston – earn higher profits on the backs of both white and Black low-wage workers.

This paper addresses that gap by presenting original data collected from one manufacturing community – Anniston, Alabama.

The report identifies unsafe working conditions and unequal opportunity. Public investment in manufacturers has winners and losers. In general, the businesses are the winners, but the employees (whose jobs typically do not pay a livable wage) and the general public (whose tax dollars subsidize these companies rather than local schools, libraries, public safety, and street repairs) are the losers.

The companies want the workers and community residents to be grateful that they have brought jobs to Anniston and other Alabama cities. However, many of the jobs they provide do not allow families to make ends meet – pay the rent or mortgage, pay for health care, get the car fixed, put three nutritious meals on the table, and other essentials. It is extremely difficult to support a family on less than $20 an hour.

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