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Tuscaloosa and Auburn have a lot in common.
That assessment could give a break for avid fans on either side of college football’s greatest traditional rivalry. However, when it comes to small but thriving communities that are expanding their established industrial base while nurturing new businesses in emerging innovation sectors, the two cities – along with Tuscaloosa and Lee counties – offer a similar set of compelling benefits.
Start with the fact that both major universities – the University of Alabama and Auburn University – have all of their associated implications for everything from K-12 education to arts and culture to economic development. Add in low cost of living and doing business, numerous location advantages and numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation all year round and the term “quality of life” becomes apparent in all its facets.
“If you dive deep into the quality of life, look at the real facts,” said Arndt Siepmann, deputy director of economic development for the city of Auburn. “They look at schools, homes, public safety, and the way these things add not only to profitability, but also to the ability to attract and retain great people. A healthy community and a healthy business climate go hand in hand. “
The same goes for Tuscaloosa, where Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA). What Winningham describes as the “small town feeling with the convenience of a bigger city” is reflected in housing, the availability of parks and the variety of retail options, alongside a growing population and a reliable, skilled and skilled workforce.
“It’s that combination of factors that makes this area so vibrant,” said Winningham.
Both communities are in the heart of the Southeast and offer easy access to larger markets. Tuscaloosa is located near the western border of Alabama and is served by Interstate Highway 20/59, one of the busiest trade corridors in the country. It is 50 miles from Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city and home to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Throughout the state, near the eastern border, Auburn is connected to Atlanta and its international airport, just over 100 miles away, via Interstate Highway 85.
Satisfy the coming demand
Looking ahead, Tuscaloosa and Auburn have strategically developed assets and partnerships that position them for long-term growth in areas such as technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Universities are playing an increasingly active role in promoting, supporting and accelerating a wide variety of high-growth sectors – including software development, defense and cybersecurity, IT, and medical and other advanced manufacturing – as well as finding new ways to build outstanding strengths over the long term in the automotive sector.
In addition, both communities are recognized as developing labor markets for computer programmers. Currently, Auburn ranks # 1 and Tuscaloosa # 3 among all major US metropolitan areas for computer programming costs. By 2026, well over 500,000 new jobs are to be created in this area of the state economy. Alabama and Auburn have strong undergraduate and graduate levels of computer science programs and are very poised to meet the demand to come.
“We place great emphasis on diversifying into knowledge-based industries,” said Winningham. “We recognize that both our existing industry base and the sectors that are just emerging play an important role in ensuring that our community continues to thrive.”
One of the results of this strategy, as Winningham points out, is The Edge, a 26,300-square-foot incubator and accelerator that provides knowledge-based startups and young companies with offices, workspaces, conference rooms and wet laboratories. The Edge, a partnership of the University of Alabama, the City of Tuscaloosa, and the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, continues to see steady growth in the number of companies and individuals it serves, from 28 companies and 50 employees in June 2019 to 39 companies and 90 People a year later.
In addition, the University of Alabama Technology Incubator, Edge Labs, founded five university spin-offs in 2019: 525 Solutions, a research and development company developing liquid technologies for the medical, pharmaceutical and materials industries; ThruPore Technologies, which produces innovative specialty materials for industrial purposes; JAQ Energy, developer of new technologies for power electronics and energy systems; and ForeSense Technologies, which commercializes technologies developed by researchers at the University of Alabama in collaboration with US Army scientists that use electrical signals to quickly detect dangerous chemicals in the air.
“These companies are great examples of our vision for the future,” said Winningham. “It’s about connecting creators, builders and visionaries with the resources they need to be successful.”
In Auburn, a twofold strategy is accelerating the creation of an already robust innovation infrastructure. The 170-acre Auburn Research Park, a partnership between the City of Auburn and Auburn University and administered by the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, supports the development of knowledge-based workplaces in a neighborhood adjacent to the university campus with its fifth new facility – the 100,000-square-foot facility Research and innovation center – opened in autumn. The city and university are working with local manufacturing companies to optimize collaboration on innovation.
“A manufacturing innovation is taking place here,” said Siepmann. “We find answers to questions like ‘Where are the best employees? ‘and’ What is the best workout? ‘ Increasing automation means an increased demand for engineers and technicians from technology-based manufacturing companies with added value. Supporting this also helps drive innovation in other areas. “
Siepmann unwinds three companies that illustrate Auburn’s growing success in using and expanding its innovation infrastructure:
- GE Aviation recently completed a $ 50 million expansion of its aerospace additive manufacturing operation to include 3D printing technologies. The project created 60 new jobs.
- RAPA, the US headquarters of Rausch & Pausch in Germany. The company produces high-precision auto parts in research and development, based in Auburn.
- Sio2, a local company that has been manufacturing glass vials for medical and scientific use for many years. In July, the company announced a $ 163 million expansion after winning a contract with the federal government to supply glass-coated plastic bottles to aid efforts to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The project will create 220 jobs.
Siepmann also mentioned Auburn’s Additive Manufacturing Accelerator, which is funded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The program is currently working with 10 existing companies and three startups.
“We offer companies and founders springboards to find out more about the feasibility of technology in their businesses,” said Siepmann. “Auburn is a great example of how business developers can use the assets of a university and state government to accelerate innovation and business development.”
All of this adds up to one more thing that Auburn and Tuscaloosa have in common: a bright future.
(For more information on innovation and opportunity in Alabama, contact Amendi Stephens.)
(Courtesy of the Alabama NewsCenter)