Airbus: 'The Time Is Right' To Open Alabama Plant

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is making a bold move into North America. It will build its first U.S. assembly plant on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Ala. Officials in Mobile have courted Airbus for nearly eight years, but their hopes appeared dashed last year when the European firm lost out to rival Boeing in a bidding war for a lucrative Air Force contract.

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Jobs and the economy are big issues in this election. And from Alabama, we have a story of jobs coming from overseas to the U.S. European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is making a bold move into North America to compete in the largest market in the world for passenger jets.

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The firm will build its first U.S. assembly plant on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports the region has been working for years to attract Airbus.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The event declaring Mobile as the first U.S. site for Airbus was more like an early Fourth of July celebration than an industrial announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JET AIRLINER")

STEVE MILLER: (Singing) Oh, oh big ol' jet airliner...

ELLIOTT: Music blared in a giant convention hall decked in red, white and blue while the crowd waved little American flags.

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier explained why Mobile would be the firm's new American home.

FABRICE BREGIER: The town is right, the talent is right and the time is right.

ELLIOTT: And if anyone needed clarification that Airbus was planting a foot on American soil, a short patriotic film drove the point home.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a story. A story about people. A story about people from an American town...

ELLIOTT: Officials in Mobile have courted Airbus for nearly eight years. But their hopes appeared dashed last year when the European firm lost out to rival Boeing, in a bidding war for a lucrative Air Force contract. Yesterday, you could feel that cloud lift as politicians, like Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, took to the stage to welcome the $600 million investment that will bring a thousand jobs.

MAYOR SAM JONES: As Airbus lands here, we're now prepared to take off.

(APPLAUSE)

ELLIOTT: The plant will be at the site of the old Brookley Air Force base, closed in the 1960s. Airbus will ship sections of its A320 family of single-aisle planes from Europe to the Port of Mobile. They'll be assembled at the Brookley site.

Alabama offered more than $100 million of incentives to sweeten the deal for Airbus, a practice it started nearly 20 years ago to lure German automaker Mercedes Benz to the low-labor cost state.

Republican Governor Robert Bentley said this is another opportunity to showcase the state's workforce.

GOVERNOR ROBERT BENTLEY: And when those planes take off, Alabama's pride and workmanship will soar right along with them.

(APPLAUSE)

ELLIOTT: The comment is a not so thinly-veiled swipe at Boeing supporters who disparaged Alabama during the Pentagon bidding war, and now say the new Airbus plant will cost American jobs. Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, of Mobile, says that's just wrong.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: It makes jobs in America. It doesn't reduce jobs. It enriches our competitive foundation for aircraft production, and can only be good for the whole country, not just Mobile.

LOREN THOMPSON: When Airbus builds a plant in Mobile, it will also be building a political constituency.

ELLIOTT: Loren Thompson is a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank.

THOMPSON: A political base in the local congressional delegations from Alabama and Florida - maybe some other nearby states too - and that will become very valuable when it decides to compete for the next big military aircraft program.

ELLIOTT: Already Florida officials believe they can give Airbus a leg up. State lawmaker Doug Broxson represents a district nearby in the Florida Panhandle that includes a large military workforce.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DOUG BROXSON: And those people not only work on our bases, they retire here. And they're educated, they're young, they're energetic. And we have a ready made ability to service what they're doing.

ELLIOTT: The first Airbus planes are expected to roll off the Alabama assembly line in 2016.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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