Skilled to Work: New advanced manufacturing facility helps improve state labor force participation

Right now, Gov. Kay Ivey's office said Alabama's labor force participation rate is the fourth lowest in the country.

Posted: Jun 20, 2019 3:05 PM
Updated: Jun 20, 2019 6:53 PM

As the ribbon was cut to welcome Aerojet Rocketdyne to the Rocket City, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield knew the moment brought the state one step closer to overcoming a big hurdle.

“One of our big benchmarks is to measure labor participation. And so labor participation in Alabama unfortunately has been about five and a half percentage points lower than the U.S. average,” said Canfield.

Governor Kay Ivey, along with other state and local dignitaries, cut the ribbon for Aerojet Rocketdyne's new Advanced Manufacturing Facility on Friday, June 7, 2019. Governor Kay Ivey, along with other state and local dignitaries, cut the ribbon for Aerojet Rocketdyne's new Advanced Manufacturing Facility on Friday, June 7, 2019.

The labor force participation rate (LFPR) is the percentage of everyone, 16 and older, who either has a job or is looking for one.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate has been falling for nearly the last 20 years. It has been steadily climbing since the mid-60s and reached a peak of 67.3 percent in 2000 from January through April.

Since then, it has been falling until it his its most recent low of 62.4 percent in September 2015. It sits at 62.8 percent as of May 2019.

As of January in Alabama, the LFPR is 57.4 percent. That’s the fourth lowest in the country, only above Mississippi, West Virginia and South Carolina.

To fix that, in 2018, Governor Kay Ivey introduced the “Success Plus” initiative.

“Governor Ivey has been pretty bold in establishing that we need to have a half a million Alabamians with advanced skills ready by 2025,” said Canfield.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new Advance Manufacturing Facility is emblematic of that goal. About 160 of the 400 jobs for the new facility are transplants from Virginia and California.

Tony Sivesind brought his skills in additive manufacturing from Sacramento to the Rocket City.

“I have an uncle who works here, been here for a long time, and said, ‘We do composites, you do composites. Come build rockets instead of sailboats.’ So now I build rockets that are a lot faster than the sailboats,” said Sivesind.

One of AR’s Huntsville hires is Greg Freeman. He started out as a machinist before moving into the quality inspector field.

“And fortunately, I had the opportunity to get involved in the shuttle redesign work at Marshall and get into the composites field. And that led me to Aerojet,” said Freeman.

AR CEO Eileen Drake said they plan to work not only with the University of Alabama in Huntsville, but also the community colleges as they continue to expand their workforce.

“We’re going to really ramp up big time here in Huntsville, Alabama, to look at all avenues that we can get great employees from,” said Drake.

And Canfield said once companies like AR really take off, they will spur even more growth.

“[T]here’s going to be a brighter future and other opportunities that will come our way that we believe will actually create even more job opportunities for Alabamians in this region,” said Canfield.

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