One of the Deep South's most embattled cities now offers opportunity and diversity.
Isaiah Sankey was born December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala. -- the same day fellow African American Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving her seat to a white person on a city bus. "They call me the civil rights baby," Sankey says. "That's important to me." Thirty-seven years later, Sankey and his wife, Johnnie, broke ground for New Visions Nursing Service, a 16-bed assisted-living facility within the city's small-business incubator zone. Sankey believes race relations in Montgomery have greatly improved during his lifetime, as a bustling economy has moved the city's most compelling news from the front page to the business page. According to Sonya Buckner, director of the small-business incubator, new business registrations have increased 10% annually during the last decade.
Thanks in part to the Hyundai Motor Company's recent arrival, Alabama's capital city is ripe for related business growth. The automaker's $1 billion manufacturing plant, set to open in 2005, will bring 2,000 new jobs. "This area has a good work force with good, qualified candidates," says Greg Kimble, a Hyundai representative. "Alabama is really growing when it comes to the auto industry." (Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Honda all have a presence here.) Other Montgomery notables include Brown Trucking, which in 2001 made a $5 million, 70-job investment, and Norshield Security Products, which added $3 million and 50 jobs to its plant in 2002.
Chicago native Michael Traff decided to stay in Montgomery after finishing his service at local Maxwell Air Force Base, and in l996 founded T-Tek Material Handling Inc., which sorts products for shipping. Although he located his business in an area of town not serviced by Montgomery's sewers, the city paid to link his building to the system. The former four-person operation now has 50 employees and, according to Traff, $4.7 million in annual revenue.
Montgomery residents enjoy low state and local property taxes -- though that savings translates into what some locals call an underfunded public school system. Charter schools and a handful of college-preparatory and private institutions help pick up the slack.
From January to June 2001 to the same six-month period in 2002, crime in Montgomery increased 23.3%, mostly because of larceny theft and burglary. But the city's crime rate still compares favorably against other Southern cities of its size, notably Birmingham and Raleigh, N.C., according to recent FBI statistics.
The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, and a Shakespeare festival help while away hot summer days -- when temperatures can hit the muggy 90s. As part of a city waterfront-development plan, a 500-seat amphitheater, river walk, and baseball stadium will open in April 2004.
But the real sport here is college football. Residents live and die for the Auburn University/University of Alabama football rivalry. Traff, the former Chicagoan, jokes: "Down here they don't know what pro football looks like. When you walk into the state, they want to know who you're for -- Alabama or Auburn."
Cost of living: 97.6% of national average
Corporate income tax: 5% of in-state net annual income
Corporate property tax: $3.45 per $100 assessed value
Commercial property sales: $10,000-35,000 per acre for developed property
Commercial rentals: $13.25 per square foot (industrial), $18-22 per square foot (office)
Notable business incentives: A small-business incubator, two industrial grant programs, an enterprise-zone development program (which grants an employer $2,500 per new permanent hire and exemption from sales and use taxes), a 10-year tax-abatement program, an industrial-development bond, and a corporate income-tax capital credit program
State personal income tax: 2-5%
Retail sales tax: 4%
Typical price for a 4-bedroom home: $200,000 (new); $125,000 (existing)
Religious life: About 150 churches, five synagogues, one mosque
Weather: Low risk for hurricanes or tornadoes. Average winter/summer temperatures: 49.2/83.6 degrees.