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Here is today's summary of economic development news, presented by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. 
in this issue:
Alabama auto suppliers rev up -- cautiously - Birmingham News
Hyundai's Swift Growth Lifts Alabama's Economy - New York Times
Regions Financial's chief economist urges incentives for job training, hiring - Huntsville Times
Huntsville celebrates 'Engineers Week' - Huntsville Times
Bud's Best Cookies plans expansion in Hoover - Birmingham News
Phase 3 vital to robotics park success - Decatur Daily


Alabama auto suppliers rev up -- cautiously


Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 9:30 AM
By Dawn Kent -- The Birmingham News

Alabama's auto suppliers are ramping up their operations as the global industry recovers from a deep slump, aiming to keep pace with rebounding vehicle output in the state and elsewhere.

At the same time, suppliers are finding new business opportunities in new products, both on the Alabama assembly lines of Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, as well as at factories just outside the state.

Suppliers are upbeat but cautious about the additional opportunities, said Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

"We're seeing growth, but deliberate growth," he said. "There is a lot of effort to be strategic in how they're growing their operations now, both to meet demand from current customers and also to diversify."

Most of the growth has been limited to hiring back employees and, in many cases, putting them on overtime, said Sewell, who also is on the board of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association.

But suppliers remain wary when it comes to capital investment in their facilities, he said.

One local exception, however, is Birmingham auto parts stamper Kamtek, a unit of Canada's Magna International.

According to a recent building permit, Kamtek is doing a $2.2 million addition at its plant on Sterilite Drive.

James Tobin, chief marketing officer and president of Magna Korea and Japan, said additions at the Birmingham plant are tied to work the company is doing for Mercedes-Benz and its redesigned M-Class SUV, due out later this year.


Hyundai's Swift Growth Lifts Alabama's Economy


Published: February 18, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Few people in this city 800 miles south of Detroit cared much about the auto industry until Hyundai announced it would build cars here nine years ago.
These days, Montgomery cannot stop talking about it.

Hyundai and its sister company, Kia, which opened a plant last year just across the Georgia state line, have brought thousands of well-paying jobs to the region and even helped nurture a little Korean culture in Montgomery, the first capital of the old Confederacy. Hyundai is running its Montgomery plant almost nonstop. Rarely do more than a few weeks pass without word that another parts supplier has dozens of new positions to fill, typically offering good benefits and double the pay that the average Alabaman earns.

Hyundai, which will observe its 25th anniversary selling vehicles to American drivers on Sunday, was little more than an ambitious, second-tier brand when it chose to build its first United States car factory just south of Montgomery. But during the recent recession, the South Korean company thrived as Americans sought out cheap cars just as Hyundais were improving in quality.

In 2010, Hyundai and Kia each posted their highest sales in the United States and, taken together, surged ahead of Ford Motor to become fourth-largest automaker worldwide. Hyundai built 300,000 cars in Montgomery last year and sold most of them in the United States.


Regions Financial's chief economist urges incentives for job training, hiring


Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 6:30 AM
By Marian Accardi, The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Unemployment continues to plague the economy, said Regions Financial's chief economist, who advocates a package of incentives to help the U.S. "job engine."

"Unemployment is holding up the whole economy," said Robert "Bob" Allsbrook, chief economist of the Birmingham-based bank, "because it affects consumer spending."

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of total economic activity, though "ultimately all spending is dependent on the consumer," said Allsbrook, who was in Huntsville last week to talk to a group of North Alabama legislators and members of Regions local advisory board.

One of Allsbrook's charts showed the nonseasonally adjusted jobless rate for the Huntsville metro area was 7.1 percent in December, while Alabama's rate was 8.9 percent and the U.S. rate was 9.1 percent.

"I think we're stuck at these levels for the rest of the year," Allsbrook said, though they may fluctuate up or down by half a percentage point. Factors that may cause fluctuations for individual metro areas are teacher layoffs and increased tourism-related summer hiring. Here in Huntsville last week, the school board voted to lay off 137 probationary support employees as part of a reduction in force, or RIF, plan.

The jobless rates for the Huntsville metro area and metro areas of university towns such as Auburn and Tuscaloosa will continue to fare better than the state and much better than the national rate, Allsbrook said.

Allsbrook expects Alabama's jobless rate to fluctuate between 8 and 9 percent and the national rate to bounce between 9 to 10 percent for the rest of the year.


Huntsville celebrates 'Engineers Week'




Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 6:10 AM

By Budd McLaughlin, The Huntsville Times


HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Not to say that engineers are a major cog in Huntsville's economy, but they are a major cog in Huntsville's economy.


And we're not talking sales of pocket protectors, either.


"I don't think I can say how important engineering is. ... The city was basically built on it," said Phil Williams, the co-founder of Synapse Wireless and not an engineer.


And another business owner takes it a step further.


"It's critical ... it's the backbone of Huntsville," said Michael Durant, president/CEO of Pinnacle Solutions. "I see companies looking at us because of engineering. It's a huge discriminator for us."


Starting today, the city and the University of Alabama in Huntsville celebrate the 60th anniversary of Engineers Week. There are several events on tap, including the annual civil engineering challenge and E-week professional banquet.


"The College of Engineering at (UAH) has an outstanding record of reaching out to students in grades K-12, and in local community colleges. We view these students as potential future engineers, who will be working in an interconnected world on developing technologies and solutions to increasingly complex problems," said Dr. Shankar Mahalingam, dean of the College of Engineering.



Huntsville Times link 



Bud's Best Cookies plans expansion in Hoover


Published: Friday, February 18, 2011, 3:39 PM Updated: Friday, February 18, 2011, 3:45 PM
By The Birmingham News

Bud's Best Cookies says it is expanding its Hoover cookie factory in a project that will add between 40,000 to 60,000 square feet to the existing building, depending on what is possible after site preparation is completed.

The company said in a prepared statement that it is in growth mode and able to fund the expansion on its own. The Baking and Snack trade magazine reported in November that Bud's Best revenue this year is expected to top $32 million, though sales growth is restrained because of capacity concerns.

The company said in its statement that 100 Atlanta area Publix stores now carry Bud's Best Cookies, a move that prompted Atlanta area Kroger stores to carry the cookies as well.

Bud's Best began operations in 1993 in a 130,000-square-foot facility in Hoover. The company is run by founder Bud Cason and son, Al Cason.


Phase 3 vital to robotics park success


By Bayne Hughes

A graded strip of dirt at Alabama Robotics Technology Park represents the missing piece - Phase 3 - of what developers say will complete their economic-development puzzle.

Phase 1, the Robotics Manufacturing Training Center, opened in November. Phase 2, the Advanced Technology Research and Development Center, is scheduled for completion in June.

That leaves the unfunded and on-hold Phase 3, the Integration and Entrepreneurial Center. Those involved in its development said they believe the $8 million third phase is vital to the park and area.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said at a recent park board meeting that he believes he has found a funding source - the state's Capital Improvement Trust Fund - to construct Phase 3. However, the fund, which gets its money from oil and gas revenues, is depleted. It may be two or three years before money would even be available for the project.

"The first two phases are like the walls, and Phase 3 is like the roof," said Jason Putnam, president of the park's executive board.

The park on U.S. 31 North across from Calhoun Community College is a partnership of the Alabama Industrial Development and Training Institute and Calhoun.

AIDT Executive Director Ed Castile said Phase 1 could stand on its own and that the park easily could operate with the first two phases, but Phase 3 "makes the park truly unique."

"We would really have something that no other state could put in front of an industrial prospect," he said.

Castile said completing the park is another way to keep manufacturing jobs that provide high wages for a highly skilled work force in the state.

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