Mobile, AL: An Ideal Microcosm of Enterprise in America
The article “Wings for an Economic Revival” was taken from The Business Sunday section of The New York Times, issued September 20, 2015.
Journalist Nicola Clark outlines the recent economic history of Mobile, Alabama in her article “Wings for an Economic Revival”, detailing mostly from the severe production decline of postwar Mobile to recent industrial interest in the town today by commercial jetliner giant Airbus. Some sixty or so years ago, during and immediately preceding World War 2, about one in ten of Mobile’s population of 200,000 people were employed or affiliated with the local Air Force base Brookley. The sudden shut down of this base in 1969 therefore prompted not only a sudden influx of unemployed civilians in Mobile but also marked the beginning of a severe economic downward spiral for Mobile. As local resident Mathew Metcalfe recalled, it was “ traumatic to have that big a chunk of [the] economic engine taken out”; it was a blow that Mobile would need nearly a half century to recover from.
As the Cold War era progressed, Mobile was powerless to stop the departure of many textile and paper manufacturers from moving their operations to overseas markets. Slowly the Mobile economy was collapsing; despite even the efforts of lieutenant governor James Folsom Jr who revitalized Alabama’s economy by attracting big-name car manufacturers to the state, little industrial investment was made in Mobile.
That is, until Airbus decided to open up a production plant of its own in the location of the former Brookley Air Force base. This incoming plant, which Airbus says will require up to 4000 employees at all skill-levels to run, was greeted in Mobile by a full-fledged parade: jazz bands and floats preceded the arrival of trucks carrying aviation equipment and machine parts. This move, as far as the population of Mobile is concerned, is the first step towards complete revitalization and restoration of Mobile’s economic prowess. The story of Mobile therefore, is significant because it represents a few different economic ideals: such as the alignment of incentives between the corporation and the workforce. Airbus’s motivation for opening shop in Mobile was not altruism but for an opportunity to compete with rival Boeing for a piece of the American jetliner market and for military contracts. Airbus saw Mobile as the perfect candidate for the operation due to its diverse workforce, union laws, deep-water port and location next to the old Brookley air base. Complimentarily, Mobile saw an interest from Airbus as a way to lower the current unemployment rate (8%) and to boost consumer confidence and improve the overall economic situation.
However, I believe that there is also a deeper meaning underneath this story. This idea of city and corporation, people and business, mutually benefitting from one another is the ultimate ideal of what industrialization should be in relation to society. My last paper responded to the practices of industrial giants overseas in countries like China and Bangladesh, where workers are constantly at odds with their employers over what seems to be the most basic of necessities (decent wages, safe work environment, reasonable hours, etc.). The situation at Mobile is what ought to be the norm in industrialized societies all around the world: that industry and labor workforce should mutually benefit one another, assuring each other’s survival and thriving without exploitation.