Alabama gets Airbus factory, defying critics of immigration crackdown

Alabama is getting a new high-tech aircraft factory and 1,000 high-wage jobs, despite warnings from progressive groups that the state’s immigration reform would frighten away investors.

“The naysayers were hoping it would,” said state Rep. Mike Ball. But “the immigration law doesn’t make any difference to the foreign companies — if they’re legal, they know they’re welcome, and we have a competitive environment where they can make a profit,” said Ball, a former police detective.

“More jobs for sweet home Alabama,” said Chuck Ellis, a councilman in the city of Albertville.

“Once again the state of Alabama has taken the ‘but’ out of the liberals’ [warning] — ‘So you’ve got your immigration reform law, BUT now industry will go to other states to do their business,’” he wrote.

The aircraft factory was announced July 2 by Airbus, which is Europe’s largest aircraft maker and the primary worldwide rival to Boeing. Other states competed against Alabama for the factory, partly by offering state aid.

The 1,000 Airbus employees will assemble four A-320 jets a month by 2017 and will support many additional jobs in the state, whose unemployment rate has fallen faster since 2009 than nearly any other state in the country. The state’s drop is only outdone by Michigan, which benefited from huge federal subsidies for the auto industry.

The Airbus decision was a defeat for progressive groups and ethnic lobbies, who had urged companies to boycott the state until it abandons its effective immigration-reform law that curbs employment of illegal immigrants.

The critics included Mitch Ackerman, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, and Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The state already has a significant high-tech sector, mostly located around the Pentagon’s missile-development center in Huntsville. Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda have factories in the state.

Other firms are establishing factories in the state, where the GOP legislature and governor generally oppose regulations and lawsuits. For example, officials are touting the recent decision by a Chinese company, Golden Dragon, to build a copper-tube production factory that would employ roughly 300 people.

GOP officials — including state Attorney General Luther Strange — are also trying to boost Alabama’s education sector, partly by pushing to create prestigious trade schools.

The state’s popular immigration law, HB 56, was passed in July 2011, despite fierce opposition from Democrats. It was intended to curb companies’ use of illegal immigrant labor, and has successfully opened up many jobs to Alabama residents, including Hispanics and African-Americans.