In the recent past, Alabama has presented immigrants with several challenges in regards to settling down and starting businesses. Recently, however, these views have begun to shift as the state has begun to recognize the financial ramifications of spurning foreign born workers. In 2011, Alabama passed the controversial H.B. 56, one of the nation’s most restrictive immigration laws. The law criminalized many interactions with undocumented immigrants, and was, by 2013, deemed a failure and described by MSNBC as “unconstitutional, unworkable, and politically unsustainable.” In response to outcry from the community, corporations like Mercedes-Benz, police departments, churches, and other organizations and companies, the harsher aspects of the law have since been scaled back, making Alabama a friendlier, more inviting environment for immigrants. In 2018, Alabama legislators are still paying the price for H.B. 56. Because the state is growing at an overall slower rate than states with friendlier immigration laws, Alabama is the only state in the Deep South likely to lose a Congressional seat in the 2020 election. To regain traction and continue to have economic clout comparable to its neighbors, Alabama must embrace the benefits of accepting more foreign-born residents.
In more recent years, several prominent Alabama cities, including Birmingham, Montgomery, Troy, and Livingston, have gathered to show their support for the immigrants in their communities. On August 3, 2016, local leaders from these cities gathered in Montgomery for a Day of Action sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy, during which they showcased research supporting the economic need for immigrants in the state. The event focused on the need for immigration reform to ensure a robust, thriving economy in Alabama.
Most of Alabama’s immigrants come from Mexico, Guatemala, India, Korea, and Germany, and they comprise about 3.5% of the total state population, or about 169,972 people. These immigrants are increasingly able to influence local and state policies by voting. In 2014, about 49,000 foreign born Alabamians were eligible to vote. In 2016, 2,441 immigrants became eligible to vote via naturalization, and it is expected that this number will rise to 7,322 in 2020. This number, combined with the number of immigrants who will turn 18, will result in about 53,233 total eligible new American voters by 2020. These voters will contribute to creating an Alabama that is hospitable and friendly for immigrants and their families.
As the passage and subsequent removal of H.B. 56 proved, immigrants are a valuable asset to Alabama’s economy, and the state was harmed by the restriction of their business activities and financial freedom in ways that it is still recovering from. About 9,906 of Alabama’s immigrants are self-employed, and about 6% of the state’s total entrepreneurs are foreign born. In 2014, these businesses earned over $127.8 million, bolstering local economies and the state as a whole. Immigrants are important employers in Alabama, and the companies they own employ over 37,125 workers.
Alabama’s Immigrant Success Stories
Immigrant success stories are common in Alabama, and the state’s only Fortune 500 company, Regions Financial, was founded by an immigrant. Regions Financial Corporation is, according to Business Insider, the largest company in Alabama, and in 2012 it had over $122 billion in assets. Its subsidiary, Regions Bank, has over 1,700 branches and 2,400 ATMs in the South, Texas, and the Midwest. Regions Financial employs about 23,000 people nationwide.
More recently, JDC Consultancy client Truck & Wheel Group made headlines for its tremendous success since it opened in its 127,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Vance, Alabama in March 2018. The Spain-based company’s Alabama venture is worth over $30 million and is expected to create over 70 jobs for American workers. At the plant’s opening ceremony, plant manager Antonio Montoro thanked the community for its warm welcome. Truck & Wheel Group hopes to replicate the success it has seen in Spain, Portugal, France, and Germany in the U.S., creating even more jobs and bolstering the automotive industry.
Immigrant Taxpayers and Workforce contribution
As taxpayers, immigrants are a vital financial resource, and their contributions go towards the vital programs that benefit all of the state’s residents. In 2014, Hispanics paid $334.9 million in taxes. Asians paid $292.4 million, and Middle Easterners, North Africans, and Sub-Saharan Africans paid a combined $85 million. $252.6 million went towards local and state taxes, and $719.7 million went towards federal taxes. This left them with about $2.7 million in spending power, which they spent at local businesses, further supporting the Economy and helping their neighbors keep their businesses open.
In the workforce as a whole, immigrants are about 35% more likely to be employed than the native-born population. They are also more likely to have attained higher education, and 45.4% more immigrants have graduate degrees than native Alabamians. The industries with the largest share of foreign-born workers in Alabama are animal slaughtering and processing (16%), services to businesses and dwellings (10%), crop production (9%), construction (8%), and colleges, universities, and professional schools (8%). Immigrants are more likely to be of working age than native Alabama residents, meaning that they are often fitter and abler to perform necessary manual jobs.
Because they tend to hold more advanced degrees than local Alabamians, immigrants to the state are more likely to work in in-demand STEM fields. Although they comprise only 3.3% of Alabama’s population, immigrants make up over 6.2% of its STEM workers. This trend is expected to continue. In 2014, 1 in 6 Master’s level STEM students and 41.8% of Alabama’s PhD students were studying on a temporary visa. Creating easier visa pathways for these students would create opportunities for many Americans. If just half of them stayed in Alabama after graduation, over 690 new positions would be created for U.S. born workers by 2021. Alabama’s healthcare industry is also heavily reliant on foreign-born workers. Jobs in healthcare outnumber workers 9:1, and 2.1% of Alabama nurses and 1.8% of health aides were born outside of the U.S. This number is expected to rise, and one in every 7 Alabama residents is elderly and needs some form of extra care.
With 212,157 residents as of 2016, Birmingham is the most heavily-populated city in Alabama. The larger Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had about 1,128,047 residents in 2010, makes up about one-quarter of the state’s total population. Birmingham has heavily industrial roots, and, alongside Atlanta, is one of the primary railroading hubs of the southern United States. Birmingham was founded on iron and steel production, and its economy has become more diverse over the years. The city now specializes in transportation, telecommunications, banking, electrical power transmission, insurance, college education, and medical care.
Birmingham is an educational hub for the southeast, which contributes to its appeal for immigrants. The city is home to the University of Alabama School of Medicine, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University, Miles College, Birmingham-Southern College, and several others. Three of Alabama’s five law schools are located in Birmingham.
The arts are alive and well in Birmingham, and the majority of Alabama’s creative energy is focused within the city. Art galleries abound in Birmingham, and it is home to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is the largest art museum in the region. The opera and ballet are widely popular, and the city houses several theaters, performing arts centers, and concert halls. The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex is one of the largest venues, and it features everything from film screenings to concerts and sporting events. There are museums and exhibitions to suit any interest in Birmingham, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Southern Museum of Flight, the McWane Science Center, the Talladega Superspeedway, and many others.
Recently, Birmingham has undergone a cultural expansion, due, in part, to its growing immigrant populations. This expansion has included the opening of many independent restaurants and shops, which have brought even more variety to an already vibrant area. Other celebrations of culture include the city’s many popular festivals, including the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, the Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival, the Birmingham Folk Festival, and the Southern Heritage Festival. Another popular attraction is the annual Greek Festival; a celebration of Greek culture that attracts over 20,000 visitors each year. For the literarily inclined, the Birmingham Public Library hosts Alabama Bound, an event that showcases popular authors and publishers. Visitors can also enjoy the Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and the historical Kelly Ingram Park. Culturally, Birmingham has plenty to offer and can cater to any taste and hobby.
Historically, large steel companies like American Cast Iron Pipe Company and McWane have served as a major basis for Birmingham’s Economy. In more recent years, the city’s major industries have diversified and include medicine and biotechnology, banking, telecommunications, insurance, construction and engineering, and soft drink bottling. The largest employer in the city is the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which performs groundbreaking medical research. The city’s financial institutions include Regions Financial, BBVA Compass, and Southtrust, making it a major financial center for the southeast and the 10th largest banking center in the country. Birmingham is frequently listed as one of the best cities in which to live and work, based on its low cost of living and competitive salaries. It offers ample opportunities for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs in a broad range of industries, and its ongoing cultural expansion is creating a more favorable, open-minded environment than the city has ever had before.
Assistance for Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Alabama has several resources for entrepreneurs and other immigrants seeking to settle within its borders. Many of these resources help specifically with paperwork filing and legal issues. Some of these organizations include the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Catholic Social Services of Montgomery – Immigrant Services, and Catholic Social Services of Mobile – Refugee Resettlement Program (Mobile Office).
For immigrants seeking to open a business and settle in an affordable, increasingly accessible area, Alabama is worthy of consideration. The state is increasingly recognizing the value of its immigrant residents, and the environment is becoming friendlier and more welcoming with each progressing year.
About the JDC Consultancy U.S. State Featurettes
Moving to the United States to make a new start as a foreign entrepreneur is a challenging process. U.S. visa applicants face a huge number of critical decisions before submitting their visa application, one of the most important of which is deciding which State will offer the best environment for their business to grow and thrive and provide the optimal environment for their families. Each State has its own opportunities and industry specializations, and a company that sees tremendous growth in one State might not see the same results in another.
To help its clients decide which State will serve as the most advantageous home base, both for their businesses and their families, and further streamline the visa application process, JDC Consultancy publishes brief overviews of what each State has to offer its immigrant entrepreneurs. These featurettes showcase each State’s strengths, in this case, Alabama, and provide valuable insight and statistics to help immigrant entrepreneurs make the all-important decision of which State they, and their businesses, should call home.