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Alabama Hosts Southern Automotive Conference Full House

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, top photo, welcomes automotive executives from around the South.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, top photo, welcomes automotive executives from around the South.

Photos by Joe De Sciose

Last month’s Southern Automotive Conference in Birmingham drew 1,200 attendees to hear from the industry’s leaders about how the challenges of electrification, ever-longer supply chains and changing consumer demand will be met.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced, on the last day of the conference, that the state automotive manufacturing associations of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi were joining together to form the Southern Automotive Manufacturers Alliance. They’ll soon add Georgia, an apprentice member putting on next year’s Southern Automotive Conference in Atlanta. Other groups to participate include the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum, the South Carolina Automotive Council and the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association.

Ivey also announced that Alabama will be the first state to offer Manufacturing Skills Standards Council credentials at each of its community colleges, beginning this spring. The standards are a federally recognized training, assessment and certification system centering on the sorts of skills and basic information that technicians need to excel in manufacturing. Students will have the option of earning certifications as production technicians or logistics technicians.

The conference had many highlights but perhaps the most impressive feat was gathering together chieftains from Alabama’s four automotive assembly operations and Georgia’s nearby Kia factory to field questions from veteran reporter Lindsay Chappell with Automotive News in a 90-minute session. Their jobs, which were already hard, aren’t getting easier as the industry prepares to go electric and incorporate self-driving technology while dealing with the usual headaches of keeping high-quality workers, cutting costs and adjusting to changes in model design and customer demand.

SAC 2017 did have its softer side. A cadre of 3-foot robots patrolled the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex hallways, using their scanning and GPS skills to navigate around people and furniture, all the while making the comforting beep-and-whistle noises first heard from the Star Wars astromech droid R2-D2.

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