Mobile: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Benefiting from abundant natural resources, a diversified work force, and a prime location, Mobile enjoyed steady economic expansion throughout the twentieth century. Since 1990 the city has had its healthiest economy in decades, based on factors such as tax revenue, Port of Mobile tonnage, total employment, and residential sales.

Medicine and research, aerospace, retail trade, services, construction, and manufacturing are among Mobile's major businesses. From 1993 to 2003, 87 new companies were created and 399 existing companies were expanded, resulting in 13,983 new jobs. The city's fastest-growing jobs are those in tourism and services.

Austal USA, a joint venture between its parent company in Australia and Mobile's Bender Shipbuilding and Repair Company, will bring 600 new jobs to the area in 2005 and 2006. Austal USA broke ground in early 2005 on a new shipbuilding facility created for design and construction of a new U.S. Navy ship. Also in early 2005 construction began on a new aircraft facility adjacent to the Mobile Regional Airport. EADS CASA North America will occupy the 13,000 square foot center when it relocates its aircraft service and support operation from Chantilly, Virginia to Mobile. An April 2004 article in the Mobile Register quoted Carl Ferguson, director of the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research, as saying that Mobile added 1,700 new jobs from February 2003 to February 2004. The same article offers that the 2004 opening of Carnival Cruise Lines' Mobile operation will not only create direct jobs, but will create more jobs in the port area by spurring new restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions.

Items and goods produced: wood pulp and paper, aircraft engines, aluminum, chemicals and paints, cement, apparel, pumps, batteries, ship-related items, rayon fibers, bakery products

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The Mobile Chamber of Commerce serves as a regional economic development agency, coordinating with city, county and private partners. According to the Chamber, both local and state incentives are available to help firms reduce initial capital costs, develop a labor force, and lessen long term tax burdens.

State programs

Alabama boasts a progressive state business environment as demonstrated by its comprehensive right-to-work laws, one-stop environmental permitting, and a positive state and local government attitude toward new and expanding business. Tax rates are competitive; for example, employers who provide or sponsor an approved basic skills education program qualify to receive a 20 percent credit on state corporate income tax liability. Parts of Mobile have been designated as part of the Alabama Enterprise Zone Program, which helps attract new business to Alabama with tax breaks to those operating within the zone. Information about these incentives and Alabama's state-of-the art industrial training programs is available through the Alabama Development Office.

Job training programs

Top business executives in Alabama applaud the state's Industrial Development Training Program, which supports local businesses by doing everything from advertising, to processing job applications, to training and delivering employees. In Mobile, the Center for Workforce Development (CWD) was launched in January 2000 in response to business community needs for better-trained workers. The CWD's purpose is to form strategic alliances in workforce development with area business, education, and community leaders. These alliances are designed to foster improvements in the quality of Mobile's workforce and ensure that the region remains competitive in a global economy.

Development Projects

The Museum of Mobile expanded in 2000 and moved next door to the Exploreum in the Southern Market/Old City Hall on Royal Street. After massive renovations in the late 1990s and early in the new century, the city of Mobile's waterfront and downtown areas were rebuilt into a venue of cultural, tourist, and entertainment outlets named Mobile Landing. In addition to a host of new restaurants, a waterfront and concert park and the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and IMAX Theater have sprung up. In 2004, Carnival Cruise Lines opened for business with a one-year contract to sail its massive cruise ship, the 1,452-passenger Holiday, out of Mobile Bay. The ship leaves the new $20 million Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal on four- and five-night cruises to Mexico and is expected to help boost what is already a $500 million tourism industry. The Maritime Center, slated to open in May 2006, will offer interactive exhibits, programs, and ferry rides.

In 2000 the Mobile Public Library began work on a multimillion-dollar expansion. Plans were underway in 2004 for expanding the Main Library from 20,000 to more than 63,000 square feet at a projected cost of $7.5 million. By that year, construction had begun on the 58,457 square foot West Regional Library on Grelot Road at a projected cost of $10.8 million, and the new Toulminville Branch opened after construction was completed at a cost of $2 million.

In 2005, funding was still being secured and plans were underway for the University of South Alabama's $100-million USA Cancer Research Institute (USACRI). The 100,000 square foot center will focus on both research and treatment, and is expected to be completed in 2006.

In private investments, in 2001 Ipsco Inc. completed construction of a new plate mill in Mobile County. The steel mill, which cost $425 million to build, generates 1.25 million tons of steel annually and employs 450 people. The company selected Mobile County because of its highly skilled workforce, competitive power rates, good tax practices, and transportation logistics.

Economic Development Information: Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, 451 Government Street, Mobile, AL 36652; telephone (251)433-6951; fax (251)432-1143; email Alabama Development Office, Neal Wade, Director, 401 Adams Avenue, 6th Floor, Montgomery, AL 36130; telephone (800)248-0033; email

Commercial Shipping

Mobile, long recognized as a prime port location, experienced a period of strong growth in the 1990s that continued into the new century. The Port of Mobile is one of the largest deepwater ports in the United States, served by more than 130 steamship lines providing substantial shipping capabilities connected to 376 inland dock facilities. Mobile also boasts two huge ship repair businesses and numerous barge repair companies; more than 300 private firms work to support the maritime industry in Mobile. Mobile's importance as the center of a far-reaching distribution network is further enhanced by the Brookley Complex, a designated Foreign Trade Zone. The 1,700-acre trade and industrial complex is operated by the Mobile Airport Authority and provides connections to air, rail, waterway, and interstate transportation. Sixty-five motor freight lines are certified to transport interstate shipments to and from the Mobile area.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Alabama is a right-to-work state and ranks below half the states in its percentage of nonagricultural union membership. Employment opportunities are plentiful and diverse in Mobile. In the 10-year span from 1993 to 2003, nearly 14,000 new jobs were created by new or expanding companies in the Mobile area.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Mobile metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 224,400

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 15,600

manufacturing: 20,500

trade, transportation and utilities: 49,900

information: 3,000

financial activities: 12,300

professional and business services: 25,900

educational and health services: 54,400

leisure and hospitality: 22,900

other services: 12,600

government: 36,000

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.75

Unemployment rate: 6.0% (November 2004)

Mobile: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Mobile County School System 7,187
Univ. of South Alabama and USA Health System 4,972
Mobile Infirmary Medical Center 3,500
City of Mobile 2,466
Providence Hospital 2,307
County of Mobile 1,700
ST Mobile Aerospace Engineering 1,500
Springhill Memorial Hospital 1,400
Winn Dixie Food Stores 1,052

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Mobile area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $213,394

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 88.3 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.0% to 5.0%

State sales tax rate: 4.0%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 4.0% (city); 1.0% (county)

Property tax rate: $56.50 total for city, county, and state per $1000 assessed valuation; assessment rate, 10% for residential, 20% for commercial (2005)

Economic Information: Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, 451 Government Street, PO Box 2187, Mobile, AL 36652; telephone (251)433-6951; Fax (251)432-1143; email