From its long history as a linchpin of the pre-Civil War segregated South, its economy dependent on plantation agriculture, and later as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, Alabama has emerged as a new center for automobile manufacturing, space technology and medical research.
In 1954, Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the “white section” of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, an incident that ultimately led Martin Luther King, Jr. and fellow activists to challenge racial inequalities throughout the South, including the 1965 freedom march from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights. Less than 40 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, Alabama had the highest percentage of black elected officials in the nation - 17.2 % in 2001 compared to a black population that has held steady at 26%. Whites make up 69% percent of the population, and the percentage of foreign-born individuals is low by national standards at just 3.5%.
The Cotton State once owed its economy to King Cotton but now claims automobiles and car parts as its top export, worth $7.3 billion in 2014, with vehicles being shipped to 99 countries worldwide. Alabama turns out hundreds of thousands of Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Honda and Toyota vehicles annually along its Interstates 20-59 industrial corridor between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. In 2013, Alabama automakers manufactured over 918,000 cars and light trucks, putting the state 5th in car and light truck production in the country.
In addition, Alabama is home to a growing science and technology industry, notably NASA's U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, and the top-notch medical research programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Southern Research Institute. UAB was ranked 1st for public universities in “The Best Places to Work for Postdocs” survey conducted by The Scientist, and its AIDS treatment program was recognized as eighth best in the country by U.S. News and World Report's annual survey.
Alabama’s “Black Belt” region, named for its rich black topsoil, continues to be productive agriculturally. The state ranks #2 in the nation for freshwater catfish production, #2 for commercial forest land, #3 in poultry production and #3 in peanut production. Tourism also brings billions of dollars into Alabama's economy annually. Visitors are lured to the state by beach resorts along the balmy Gulf of Mexico, the history and architecture of the Port of Mobile and Alabama's world-famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, described as the “largest golf course construction project ever attempted.” Consistently rated as a top golf destination, the trail consists of 26 public courses, 11 sites and a total of 468 championship holes all over the state.
Real estate in Alabama remains far below the national average. In 2015, the statewide median home value was $123,459, and the median rental price was $863. It’s no wonder then that Forbes named Birmingham, Alabama, the most affordable city for 2015, citing the fact that 81.5% of homes were affordable to families who were earning the area’s median pay. In addition, groceries cost approximately 5% less than the U.S. average in this city of 212,113 people, and transportation and healthcare costs are 13% and 16% less, respectively. Prefer to be by the water? CBS News ranks Mobile, Alabama, which has an average temperature of 66.7 degrees, as one of the 10 cheapest beach towns for owning a home.