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OM in the News: Alabama Opens Its Wallet to Airbus

April 29, 2013

airbus alabamaFollowing a year of secret negotiations, Airbus broke ground this month in Mobile, Alabama, for its new plant that will produce the popular A320 jet.  Businessweek (April 22-28, 2013) provides the details of the final location decision and incentives: After looking at “just about every site in the US that had industrial capacity,” Airbus promised to bring an estimated $600 million in investment and 4,000 jobs to the state, no fewer than 1,000 permanent. Alabama, for its part, offered incentives totaling $158 million. They include $82 million in funds for capital investments in the plant and other expenses; and $51.9 million for a 40,000-sq.-ft. on-site training center where workers will be prepared, at state expense, for their new jobs. Faculty from the aerospace departments of colleges in the state will provide the training. The deal also includes tax breaks on manufacturing equipment and a state corporate income tax credit.

The State’s governor says Alabama taxpayers will recoup the investment more than 2-fold within 3 years.

Settling in Alabama, a right-to-work state, will mean lower labor costs for Airbus since plant employees won’t be unionized. Yet opening up shop in Alabama isn’t just about saving Airbus money. The facility won’t make entire airplanes—it will assemble pieces made overseas. Partially completed sections, from cockpit to tail, will be transported by barge from the company’s European factories to Alabama, where they’ll be put together. The cost of transporting the pieces means that even with lower labor costs, planes completed in the U.S. will cost more to manufacture than those made start to finish in Europe.

But having a presence in the U.S. is worth the cost and complications if it helps the company to sell more planes. “Being close to the customer always works—in any industry,” says one French industry analyst. “We believe, similar to other industries, including the auto industry, that if we create an industrial presence in the U.S. our market share will go up.”

Discussion questions:

1. Why did Airbus open a factory outside of Europe?

2. Were the incentives provided unusual or unreasonable?

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