SouthBound - Spring 2023

The Rural South Rules the Economic Development World

By Michael Randle, Editor

We are witnessing at this very minute a miraculous manufacturing surge. I have never seen anything close to what is happening in the rural South with regard to project activity over the last two years.

To repeat, in my 40 years of reporting on economic development in the region, nothing like the massive number of jobs announced and especially the hundreds of billions (that’s with a “B”) in capital investments in the South’s rural areas has ever occurred.

The entire rural South would be fortunate to capture two of these massive projects shown below over a two- or three-year span. All of these — and so many more — have occurred in just over two years.

In fact, over the last two years, nearly 50 percent of projects meeting our thresholds of $30 million and/or 200 jobs or more have been captured by rural communities in the South. That has never happened! The 30-year average (and we have that data) is just over 80 percent metro and just under 20 percent rural.

These deals will generate hundreds of similar projects as mobility and other industry sectors shift to clean energy. And these have all been announced in just over two years:

Company / Investment / Jobs / Location

Ford and SK / $5.6 billion / 6,000 / Stanton, Tenn.

Ford and SK / $5.8 billion / 5,000 / Glendale, Ky.

Hyundai / $6 billion / 8,000 / Bryan County, Ga.

Rivian / $5 billion / 7,500 Morgan, / Walton Counties, Ga.

GM, Ultium Cells / $2.5 billion / 2,000  / Spring Hill, Tenn.

Hyundai/LG Energy / $4.3 billion / 3,000 / Bryan County, Ga.

Hyundai/SK / $5 billion / 3,500  / Bartow County, Ga.

Toyota / $4 billion / 2,500 / Randolph County, N.C.

Envision AESC / $2 billion / 2,000 / Bowling Green, Ky.

Vinfast / $4 billion / 7,500 / Chatham County, N.C.

Total for 10 projects / $44 billion / 46,000 jobs

The above don’t even count the dozens of suppliers, many of which are billion-dollar deals themselves, or any of the other clean energy projects like carbon capture, LNG, solar and wind.

So, why is this happening and developing so quickly? The moon, the sun and the stars have all aligned. Reshoring and clean energy have shown up at the same exact time, meaning all of this is centered around “Make it where you sell it!” (I wrote that phrase for the first time in 2010.)

This and more will be discussed at SB&D’s Rural South Economic Development Summit in Cleveland, Miss., August 17-19 at the Cotton House Hotel. Email me at or call at 205-370-6039 if you would like an invitation to attend. All kinds of economic development legends will also be in attendance.

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