Despite its image as a college town, Tuscaloosa boasts a diversified economy based on all sectors of manufacturing and service. Twenty-five percent of the labor force in the Tuscaloosa Metropolitan Statistical Area is employed by the federal, state, and local government agencies. 16.7% is employed in manufacturing; 16.4% in retail trade and transportation; 11.6% in finance, information, and private enterprise; 10.3% in mining and construction; and 9.2% in hospitality. Education and healthcare account for only 7.2% of the area workforce with the remainder employed in other services.
Tuscaloosa was ranked in the November 2009 issue of Fortune Small Business as one of the "50 Best Places to Launch a Small Business" (ranked #11 among metro areas with populations of 250,000 or less).
The city's industrial and manufacturing base includes BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing, GAF Materials Corporation, Hunt Refining Company, JVC America, Nucor Steel and Phifer Wire among numerous other operations.
Another significant contributor to the manufacturing segment of the city's economy is the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International assembly plant located on a site in Tuscaloosa County located near Vance approximately 20 miles (32 km) east of downtown. The plant began assembling the Mercedes-Benz M-Class in 1997 and the R-Class Grand Sport Tourer in 2005 and just recently began production with the GL-Class. Plants that supply components to Mercedes-Benz also make their home in Tuscaloosa and add to the economic strength of the city.
The Westervelt Company, a land resources and wildlife management company has its headquarters in Tuscaloosa. The company was formerly the Gulf State Paper Corporation, with headquarters in Tuscaloosa from 1927 until 2005 when it sold its pulp and paperboard operations to the Rock-Tenn Company of Norcross, Georgia. Gulf States then restructured to form Westervelt.
Health-care and education serve as the cornerstone of Tuscaloosa's service sector, which includes the University of Alabama, DCH Regional Medical Center, Bryce Hospital, the William D. Partlow Developmental Center, and the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.
Midtown Village in Midtown Tuscaloosa
Tuscaloosa is home to two regional malls, University Mall and McFarland Mall, a lifestyle center, Midtown Village, which is anchored by Barnes and Noble and Best Buy, and numerous other shopping outlets, Hillcrest Center, McFarland Plaza, Merchants Walk, South Plaza Shopping Center, Taylorville Corners, Downtown Business District, University Town Center, WaterMark Place Outlet Center, Wood Square Shopping Center, Skyland Plaza Shopping Center, Ridge Village Shopping Center, Parkview Plaza Shopping Center, Parkview Shopping Center, Alberta Plaza Shopping Center, Alberta Shopping Center, Alberta Park Shopping Center, Meadowbrook Shopping Center, The Shops at Lake Tuscaloosa and many, many more.
University Mall and Midtown Village, which are located along McFarland Boulevard, anchor the core retail area of the city. Other retail properties in this area include McFarland Plaza (formerly known as Bama Mall), an open-air mall anchored by Stein Mart and Toys R Us, and many other free standing store and restaurant, most notably SuperTarget and Home Depot, which are located on former east campus of the Shelton State Community College.
Midtown Village is a vibrant, mixed-use community in the heart of Tuscaloosa. The first of its kind in the state of Alabama, Midtown Village offers a combination of specialty retail, pubs, condominiums, outdoor cafés, and restaurants. Students, residents, and visitors alike can enjoy stores and restaurants that are new to Western Alabama, as well as old favorites in a brand new environment. Connecting this unique village is a series of main streets lined with charming store fronts that capture the small town feel, while abundant green spaces encourage visitors to gather and enjoy a sense of community that no other modern retail environment offers.
Other large retail areas in the city are located around the intersection of Skyland Boulevard and Alabama Highway 69/Interstate 359 (Lowe's, Academy Sports and Outdoors, K-Mart, Cobb Theatres) and around the intersection of McFarland Boulevard and Skyland Boulevard (McFarland Mall, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Sam's Club).
As in many cities across the US, the downtown area used to be the main retail area of Tuscaloosa until the opening of McFarland and University malls in what was then the suburbs. While efforts to restore the entertainment and cultural offerings downtown in recent years have paid off dividends, a revival of the retail offering has been less successful.