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Tables turned on northern exodus

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
Back in the late 1940s and throughout the ‘50s Alabama’s coal miners, small farmers and manufacturing workers began a significant exodus northward, seeking the good-paying jobs in the industrial states of Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, but mostly in the booming auto manufacturing plants in Detroit where Ford and General Motors were at their zenith.
In many areas of northern Alabama the prevailing reason was to get husbands and sons out of the deadly coal mines. That was particularly true with some of my relatives in Marion and Lamar Counties. Cousins I had played with on family visits were now out of reach in Detroit or Moline or Toledo. The pay and the benefits offered in the vast auto industry became the catalyst for improving the lifestyle of thousands of poor southerners for nearly a half-century.
In the past decade the northern exodus is starting to reverse. Two stories this past week accentuated this reversal of fortune and the continuing migration from the “rust belt” heading south for jobs and opportunity. The first was the announcement by Volkswagen that it will build its first North American plant in either Michigan, Tennessee or Alabama.
Analysts are saying that Tennessee and Alabama will likely have the best shot at grabbing what is expected to be a crown jewel of economic development that could help the states expand their auto industry presence. And Erich Merkle, vice president of auto industry forecasting for the consulting firm IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., was quoted as saying that Alabama is the likely front-runner followed by Tennessee. He said Alabama may have an edge because Mercedes Benz has had a successful run in the state and has a German supply base that’s already pretty well-established. And the decision by German steel-manufacturer ThyssenKrupp to build near Mobile certainly won’t hurt.
Alabama lured Mercedes to Alabama under the administration of former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. to build its sports utility line at Vance and the good news hasn’t stopped. Under the Siegelman administration Honda built a plant in Lincoln to manufacture SUVs and under the Riley administration Montgomery landed Hyundai to build passenger vehicles and SUVs. Hyundai is also building a plant at West Point, Ga., just a stone’s throw from Alabama, for its low-cost Kia. Nissan is in Tennessee with plants at Smyrna and Dechund and a GM assembly plant is located at Spring Hill.
There are other factors which are attracting foreign auto manufacturers to the south. These companies are lured by multi-million-dollar incentive packages, an eager work force, an absence of unions, and information released last week, which revealed that the business tax rates in the south are among the lowest in the land.
A study done by Ernst &Young reports that the business tax in Alabama and Tennessee is 4.6 percent of the gross state product, 14th lowest in the Nation. In Mississippi it amounts to 6.3 percent, Florida, 4.9 percent and Georgia, 4.2 percent.
Justice clears Martin in perjury inquiry
On May 9, 2007, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) at the U. S. Department of Justice initiated an investigation into allegations that U. S. Attorney Alice Martin perjured herself under oath in an EEOC hearing involving an employee she had dismissed. Deirdra Brown Fleming, an assistant U. S. Attorney in Martin’s Huntsville office made the allegation following the hearing in which she prevailed against Martin.
Fleming based her complaint on language placed in the record by the hearing officer, stating that Martin’s testimony in the case was not credible.
Martin’s office refused to comment on the status of the complaint as did the Department of Justice after inquiries by this writer (in writing) and other journalists.
Last week, at Martin’s request, the OPR released a letter from Associate Counsel James G. Duncan, stating that the investigation was closed on Nov. 28, 2007, “with no adverse finding concerning USA Martin”…adding “We further note that USA Martin fully cooperated throughout the course of our investigation.”
When asked if the OPR ever contacted her about her perjury complaint against Martin, Fleming’s answer was “no.”

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