John Norris: Alabama has two economies

May 9, 2017, by John Norris

Over the years, readers have asked me to be more of a homer in my columns, meaning I should accentuate the positive to a much greater degree than I do. When I respond, I typically say I can rah rah with the best of them. However, in my opinion, we get enough of that already. Besides, ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

We know our state lags the national averages in a lot of economic measures. There is little reason to list all of them here. Still, the data suggests Alabama basically has two economies: one for our metropolitan areas and another for everyone else.

If you happen to live in one of the five largest metro areas in our state, life is actually pretty good. These are: Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa (the Big 5). According to the data I could glean from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Big 5 represented 53.9% of the state’s population and 67.8% of its economic output in 2015.

That year, if my math is correct, the Big 5 had a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $46,238 in constant 2009 dollars. This would have ranked somewhere between Kansas and Wisconsin, which aren’t our normal comparisons, and be good enough for 28th place nationally. Further, it would be well above Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and, as you might imagine, Mississippi. Rah rah, right?  (Read the full article as previously published in the Montgomery Advertiser on May 9th, 2017)