Here is today's summary of economic development news, presented by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
800 jobs expected after Lee Co. groundbreakings
Posted: Oct 31, 2011 1:53 PM CDT Updated: Oct 31, 2011 2:09 PM CDT
AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - There was positive economic news in Lee County Monday as two major companies broke ground on facilities that will ultimately employ more than 800 people. GE Aviation and Pharmavite each put shovels in the dirt to announce the start of construction on manufacturing facilities in the Auburn and Opelika areas.
"It's a banner day for economic development in Lee County," said Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). "Today's groundbreakings begin the work that will soon put several hundred of our citizens into good-paying, desperately-needed jobs. And let's not forget all the good construction jobs that are created to build these high-tech facilities."
GE Aviation is building a state-of-the-art 300,000 square-foot environmental coatings facility in Auburn's West Technology Park. The plant will build precision, super-alloy machined parts for GE jet engines that will power future commercial and military aircraft, and also to support the vast fleet of GE jet engines already in service. The facility, scheduled to open in late 2012, is expected to employ 300 to 400 people at full production.
Pharmavite, which produces Nature Made vitamins and SOYJOY nutrition bars, chose Opelika's Northeast Industrial Park for its $76 million manufacturing and packaging facility. Pharmavite is expected to create 280 new jobs in its first production year, and 400 jobs within a few years.
B.L. Harbert International to build GE Aviation facility in Auburn
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 2:00 PM Updated: Monday, October 31, 2011, 9:40 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The ground that will be broken for the $50 million GE Aviation facility may be Auburn dirt, but the company turning it and building the project after the ceremony is long over is Birmingham's own B.L. Harbert International.
"It's a big, big deal for us and the state of Alabama," said Jim Rein, chief operating officer for B.L. Harbert International. "It's an Alabama effort and our intention is to use all Alabama subs. We intend to show GE what Alabama and our company can do."
The 300,000-square-foot engine coatings plant was designed by Montgomery-based Goodwyn Mills & Cawood and will likely require several subcontractors who will employ hundreds if not thousands of workers.
It is the latest reminder of how an economic development victory in the state is often a big win for companies in Birmingham and throughout Alabama.
"We've been working to win this for quite a long time and the competition was from out of state," Rein said. "It's going to be state-of-the-art. It's going to be awesome."
Rick Kennedy, spokesman for GE Aviation, said the company builds and maintains engines used in commercial and military aircraft and he expects the full array of engines will be part of the Auburn plant's work.
GE has around 18,000 engines in service today and that figure is expected to rise to 24,000 by 2015, he said.
As one would expect, jet engine parts are very precise and are made of the latest in lightweight alloys, so the Auburn plant will be using cutting-edge technologies and processes, requiring well-trained workers.
The plant is expected to open by the end of 2012 with a few dozen workers in place.
Southern Research Institute's new building sets incubator to boost revenue
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 9:15 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The construction of a new, $4.6 million engineering building by Southern Research Institute signals a change in emphasis at the nonprofit's engineering and defense contracting arm, the head of the division says.
About a third of the new building and its laboratories will be used as an incubator for spinoff businesses as the company moves to boost the amount of revenue it gets from the intellectual property it develops, said Mike Johns, vice president for the division.
Intellectual property revenue now represents a small minority of total revenue at the engineering division, which this year is expected to reach about $32 million, he said.
While Southern Research is best known for drug development, the engineering division develops technology for utility companies, the military, NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and aerospace companies, among others.
Foundation work recently began for the new building, which will be built adjacent to the existing engineering research facility at 757 Tom Martin Drive, just off Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham. The new 18,000 square-foot building will sit on 44 pilings that go as deep as 56 feet to support a "large structures lab" where scientists and engineers will test everything from satellite hardware to utility poles. The lab will be large enough to accommodate large sections of aircraft, an unusual feature for labs outside of university settings.
"This is going to allow us to keep expanding at the rate we're expanding now," Johns said. "We've pushed the boundaries of this (existing) building. Right now, if I were to hire a top level person, I'd have to put them in a cubicle."
Alabama Launchpad names 16 finalists for upstart awards
Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 6:44 PM Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2011, 6:54 PM
By Michael Tomberlin -- The Birmingham News The Birmingham News
The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama has announced the 16 members of the 2011-2012 Alabama Launchpad class.
The companies will now submit business plans to try to win $200,000 in prize money, including a $100,000 seed company grand prize and $25,000 in proof-of-concept company prizes.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham led with the number of finalists in the competition with six. The University of Alabama, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of South Alabama each had three teams while Auburn University had one team.
These 16 teams were chosen from a field of entrants by a review panel of entrepreneurs, investors, and university officials from partnering universities with factors that include intellectual property-technology, market potential and management team. Frost and Sullivan will conduct market assessment studies for each team valued at $10,000 each. Teams will then proceed to the final stage of the competition where the class will be grouped by seed and proof- of-concept ready companies.
Alabama Launchpad is a program of the EDPA Foundation and is now in its sixth year. The program operates with support from a grant from the Alabama Research Alliance, a program of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. It also has support from six partnering universities -- Alabama State University, Auburn, University of Alabama, UAB, UAB, and USA.
"The Alabama Launchpad business plan competition is an activity that feeds into a larger plan for economic development in the state of Alabama," said Bill Taylor, president of EDPA. "The governor's Economic Development Alliance is organizing the state's economic development resources around three topic areas -- recruitment, retention, and renewal."
Taylor said the Launchpad companies and similar commercialization initiatives fit in with the theme of renewal
Steel exports booming at Port of Mobile
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 8:31 AM
MOBILE, Alabama -- With a domestic market still struggling to recover from the recession, Alabama's steel producers are looking abroad.
All along the banks of the Mobile River, warehouses are stuffed full of steel waiting to be loaded onto ships to be carried to Mexico, South America, even Egypt and India.
The surge in export business is driven by several factors. First, ThyssenKrupp AG is sending quantities of steel overseas as it gears up production. Second, the weak dollar and greater economic strength abroad make American steel more attractive, although on balance the U.S. still imports more of the industrial building block than it sends out.
"Export is part of our business plan," said Bob Holt, vice president of sales for ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, which processes carbon steel in Calvert. "It fluctuates based on the opportunities that are out there."
Right now, observers say a surplus of steel is helping to drive down prices in the United States, in part because ThyssenKrupp and two other large steel mills are adding production. Severstal OAO opened an expansion of its Columbus, Miss., plant this summer, and new owners have put the Sparrows Point mill in Baltimore back into service.
Honda's Lincoln, Alabama plant now hiring
Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 8:00 AM Updated: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 8:31 AM
LINCOLN, Alabama -- Honda's Alabama auto plant is hiring.
The 4,000-worker factory in Talladega County is looking to fill more than 50 professional-level jobs, including those in manufacturing, engineering, purchasing and production management.
The move will support ongoing projects that are increasing the plant's capacity and revamping assembly operations to build the Acura MDX sport utility, beginning in 2013.
"The increased responsibility we now have as Honda's light truck production source in the U.S. has opened new opportunities for employment," said Mike Oatridge, vice president of Honda's Alabama operations. "We have immediate openings particularly in the professional engineering disciplines and for those with experience in supplier purchasing and parts procurement."
Honda did not pinpoint a salary range for the new positions.
The Lincoln plant now produces three models -- the Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup -- along with the V-6 engines that power them.
Last spring, the Japanese automaker announced plans to shift production of the Acura MDX to Alabama from Canada. The company also announced projects, worth a combined $191 million investment, to expand annual output, improve manufacturing flexibility and transfer production of the MDX.
Acura is Honda's luxury vehicle division, and this will be the first Acura product built by Alabama workers.
Honda began building vehicles in Lincoln in November 2001.
The plant is accepting applications now. For more information, go to
The new jobs are the latest signs of growth in Alabama's auto industry. Earlier this month, Mercedes-Benz said it plans to add a fifth model to its assembly lines in Tuscaloosa County, a move that will create 400 jobs.
Medicare claims processor shifting 155 jobs to Birmingham from Savannah, Georgia
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2011, 5:19 PM Updated: Saturday, October 29, 2011, 5:19 PM
SAVANNAH, Ga. - Savannah will lose roughly 155 jobs when a firm handling Medicare claims for the federal government shifts most of its operations to Birmingham, Ala.
Cahaba Government Benefit Administrators has told state officials that firm will shut its doors on the Georgia coast by March 31. It will keep a Georgia satellite office near Atlanta with roughly 30 to 35 workers.
The company's chief strategic officer, David Brown, said the positions are being moved, not cut. The Savannah Morning News reports that the company's employees have been offered jobs in Birmingham or the new satellite office.
Brown said the resulting reduction in costs for office space, utilities, communications and travel will save the firm more than $1 million annually.
Union election looms at TK
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2011, 9:02 AM Updated: Saturday, October 29, 2011, 2:13 PM
CALVERT, Alabama -- An effort by some workers at the stainless unit of ThyssenKrupp AG's Calvert complex is drawing attention from the German metalworkers union, an organization with a strong influence on running the overall company.
Production and maintenance workers at ThyssenKrupp Stainless USA are scheduled to vote Dec. 13 and 14 on whether they want to be represented by the United Steelworkers.
The National Labor Relations Board recently set the election date.
The vote would not affect the company's larger carbon steel unit in Calvert, ThyssenKrupp Steel USA. Spokesman Scott Posey said that managers in the 1,750-worker carbon steel operation are not aware of any union activity, althoughMichel Yoffee, organizing director for the Pittsburgh-based union, said the steelworkers were also seeking to organize there
The stainless side now has 550 workers, though fewer would be eligible to vote in a union election.
Winning a vote at ThyssenKrupp, even to represent a portion of workers, would be a milestone for the steelworkers.
Unions have struggled to establish footholds at foreign-owned plants in the South.
For example, the United AutoWorkers has so far failed to persuade workers at any foreign-owned auto plants in the South to unionize.
Stephen Silvia, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C., who studies German labor unions, said labor advocates have a hard time persuading workers to organize in new plants, where many recent hires are pleased with pay and working conditions
Brose: New work for Mercedes-Benz means expansion, new jobs in Alabama
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 12:43 PM Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 2:46 PM
VANCE, Alabama -- Brose
became the first official supplier for the C-Class sedan that Mercedes-Benz
will begin producing at its Vance plant in 2014, officials announced today.
Johannes Carl, general manager of Brose Tuscaloosa, said plans call for the supplier's plant to nearly double in size because of the C-Class contract, other Mercedes work yet to be announced and contracts with Volkswagen and BMW. Carl said the C-Class work alone will account for around 80 new jobs at the Brose Tuscaloosa plant.
Today, the company announced only the new work for the C-Class, which will include door module systems, a component Brose already produces for all of the other vehicles made at the Mercedes plant. The new work also adds seat structures for the C-Class.
Jan Kowal, president of Brose's North American operations, hinted during remarks at a press conference today that the seat structures Brose currently produces at its Michigan plant for the M-Class and other Mercedes vehicles made in Vance will be moving to Tuscaloosa.
"This is going to change," Kowal said. "There will be more details later on that."
In an interview, Kowal said the amount of automotive production now in Alabama and nearby states makes it more likely that companies such as Brose will move more operations into the region through expansion or new construction.
"There are logistical advantages to being here now," he said.
Huntsville and Houston mayors ask Obama for quick action to save space jobs
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 11:36 AM Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 12:26 PM
-- Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston, Texas, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama asking for his support to move forward quickly on the Space Launch System
and the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle to prevent further job losses.
"Your support for SLS and the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle is critical to the stabilization of the aerospace industry and the economic recovery for our respective communities," the mayors wrote. "We ask you to urge Administrator Bolden to move forward as expeditiously as possible on all relevant contracts. Speed is imperative to protect the workforce and to ensure our nation's global leadership in space and in technological advancement."
The mayors point out that both cities have already lost jobs because of the end of the shuttle program and cancellation of the Constellation space exploration projects. Meanwhile, a number of components of the SLS are built and await completion of the rockets and trips into space.
"In Huntsville, we have the world's largest group of experienced propulsion experts that can put man into deep space," Battle said in a statement. "When Constellation was canceled and the shuttle program ended, we began losing this knowledgeable workforce.
"While I am happy that we now have a mission for SLS, we want to ensure that SLS funding is used for the program, so that we won't lose more of our talented engineers and technicians, and we can return to space," he said.
Together, Huntsville and Houston, Texas, have lost 5,300 employees and contractors in the last year of uncertainty over the space program's budget and direction, according to the mayors' offices.
Southern Automotive Conference
Nov. 3 & 4, Huntsville, Alabama
Members of AAMA, MAMA, or TAMA - $145.00
NonMember - $195.00
AAMA will host the fourth annual Southern Automotive Conerence on Nov. 3 and 4 at the Westin Hotel. The regional conference is a joint meeting of AAMA, the Tennesee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA) and the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association (MAMA).
Registration and a complete conference agenda are available online at www.saconf.com
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Wendy Wallace Johnson