The industrial sector contributed 19 percent to GDP in 1996 and employed 34 percent of the labor force . Bahrain's aluminum industry was launched some 30 years ago as a measure to diversify the economy and take advantage of the country's low energy costs. The government-owned Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA) is one of the largest single-site aluminum smelters in the world and the biggest aluminum producer in the Middle East. Aluminum exports are one of Bahrain's biggest earners, particularly in light of increasing world prices. ALBA dominates the manufacturing sector with a production capacity of 500,000 metric tons per year.
Iron and steel production is increasing, and various free industrial zones have attracted export-oriented light and medium industries. These include plastics, paper, steel wool and wire-mesh producers; marine service industries; aluminum extrusion, assembly, and asphalt plants; cable manufacturing; prefabricated building; and furniture. In 1997, it was announced that the government was investing US$2.8 billion in the construction of a new seaport and a new industrial area in the eastern part of the country, and work was underway by 2000.