Toyota Alabama announced another $288-million expansion to build the new twin turbo V-6 engine for the 2022 Toyota Tundra, making its North Alabama plant the only one in the word to produce the engine.
"This is our future," said Toyota Alabama President Jason Puckett. "This is a testament to our team members and investment of Toyota globally in this plan for northern Alabama."
This new expansion brings another 450 jobs to North Alabama, boosting the plant's total employment to 1,800. But, like many businesses, it's been a challenge to fill those positions for the last couple of years because of the pandemic.
"We made a lot of improvements with our pay and benefits to try and attract that talent here," Puckett said.
August's unemployment rate is close to pre-pandemic levels, but a labor shortage can coexist with low unemployment rates.
"While there are available jobs, the available workforce may not necessarily be qualified — either over or under — for the jobs with openings," said Kelly Betts of the Alabama Department of Labor. "Additionally, some workers are not willing to move to areas of the state with more available jobs due to family concerns, salary concerns or any other reason."
Economists have been predicting labor shortages for years, and Alabama was already facing a critical skilled labor shortage before the pandemic.
"People need to remember that, despite the pandemic, that problem never really went away, and it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic," Betts said.
According to the latest Alabama employment report, the labor force participation rate is at 56.6%. That means a little more than half of Alabama's population is eligible to work and currently employed or looking for work.
ADOL said there is no easy answer to explain why there's a continued labor shortage, as it's a number of issues combined with pre-existing workforce issues. Some contributing factors include a lingering fear of Covid, people moving to other industries, early retirements, issues with child- or elder care and even a smaller available workforce due to the recent amount of deaths.
"It's been a challenge," Puckett said.
However, Toyota Alabama said that won't stop them from moving forward.
"During good economic times and hardships, Toyota remains committed to the communities where our team members live and work," Puckett said. "We've accomplished remarkable things over the past 20 years, and the future is bright here in Toyota Alabama."
The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce is hoping to lend a helping hand to local companies. Erin Koshut said the Chamber is actively working to support companies by assisting workforce recruitment efforts and building awareness of the opportunities available in Huntsville.
ADOL said Gov. Kay Ivey has also launched several initiatives to help recruit workers. On Monday, she said she's not worried about the labor shortage and actually encourages other industries to bring more jobs to our area.
"Alabama is not only open for business, but wide open and the best place to do business," Ivey said.