Here is today's summary of economic development news, presented by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
Mercedes plant expansion under way
By Patrick Rupinski, Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 3:30 a.m. Last Modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 2:18 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | Additional construction gets under way this month at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance in preparation for the start of C-Class sedan production in 2014 and possible other new models.
As the work starts, a Tuscaloosa construction company, Amason & Associates, will play a major role.
Amason formed a joint venture last year with Walbridge, a large, privately owned construction company based in Detroit that is one of the country's leading construction contractors for the auto industry.
The joint venture's purpose was to bid on the Mercedes project, said Robert Amason, president of the local company.
Walbridge brought its reputation and experience as one of the foremost construction companies serving the auto industry to the table, while Amason & Associates brought its experience in doing other construction projects at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance.
"We have done similar projects with Mercedes," Amason said.
Those projects included construction of the second plant expansion, which doubled the size of the plant to about 3 million square feet in 2005, and the 225,000-square-foot expansion of the paint shop in 2009.
For the latest expansion, a $289 million project, the joint venture submitted its proposal, and Mercedes awarded it the construction management contract earlier this year.
NASA in Huntsville tells aerospace companies $200 million in work on new heavy-lift rocket is on the table
Published: Monday, December 05, 2011, 12:40 PM
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Is your company experienced at helping the government design and engineer complex rocket systems? NASA 's Marshall Space Flight Center is about to put $200 million of work in that area on the table. The work, part of the new heavy-lift rocket component of NASA's new Space Launch System, could make a strong contribution to companies' bottom lines through 2015.
NASA announced its intentions Dec. 1 and modified the announcement Dec. 2 on the government contracting website fbo.gov. Specifically, the space agency said it will issue a "Draft Research Announcement" on or about Monday, Dec. 12.
NASA is seeking research proposals to meet the "goal of reducing risk in the areas of affordability, performance, and reliability" in the new rocket's booster. Marshall is leading the development of the new rocket scheduled to make its first flight by the end of 2017. Industry will have until Jan. 12 to respond to the initial announcement with questions needing clarification.
NASA said it expects to spend between $25 million and $100 million to fund proposals received under the solicitation. That means it is possible for two companies to win $100 million contracts each for work to be done between October 2012 through March 2015.
Venture help hard to come by in Alabama
By Russell Hubbard -- The Birmingham News
Published: Sunday, December 04, 2011, 6:00 AM
Jeffrey McAnnally doesn't need money -- his business is profitable and debt free and has been since day one -- but he still can't find the help he needs from the venture capital support system: management expertise.
McAnnally is the founder and owner of Gardendale-based Macular Health, a vitamin company he started in 2003. The 16-employee firm sells a one-a-day nutritional supplement found to be effective in improving retina function compromised by the eye ailment macular degeneration.
The tablets contain a proprietary blend of vitamins A, C and E, along with copper, lutein, zinc and zeaxanthin. Distribution for now is through doctors, who refer patients they think can benefit from the supplement.
Problem is, McAnnally said, he can't grow any further as is. He needs the kind of help typically associated with the venture capital industry, which provides not only pools of money raised from private investors to invest in fast-growing companies that can later be sold at enormous profits but also top-level management guidance.
"We were going crazy in 2008, then the economy tanked and the venture industry went with it," McAnnally said. "They were all very interested, but said I needed to wait until they could get back on track."
In 2008, venture investment in the Southeast amounted to $1.26 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. That was an 27 percent drop from the $1.72 billion in 2007, and little changed from the $1.18 billion in 2006. The next year, 2009, it went fell again, down 22 percent to $977 million.
Investment crept back up last year, to $1.18 billion, but still has not reached 2007 levels, leaving many fledgling companies begging for the kind of support that the venture capital support system can offer.
The "getting back on track" line McAnnally heard is venture industry shorthand for raising additional money from investors, called limited partners, typically pension funds, charitable endowments and wealthy people. Unfortunately for entrepreneurs such as McAnnally, investor interest in venture deals waned with the decline in the general economy, which just happened to coincide with Macular Health's most explosive growth.
Angel investors in AlabamaPublished: Sunday, December 04, 2011, 8:30 AM
Investment cash is available for Alabama start-up companies, but writing a check isn't automatic because many factors come into play as funding decisions are made, according to leaders of Birmingham's angel investment group.
Above all, it's a matter of matching the right money with the right startup, said Matthew Wright, associate director of the Birmingham Angel Network.
"It's about who's interested in what, not just that the money's there," said Wright, who is president of NuVault Financial LLC in Birmingham.
The group's members have funded eight companies and invested total equity of $3 million. That number could increase to just below $4 million by the end of this year or early next year if the organization closes two deals in the works.
Although Birmingham Angel Network's accredited members manage a variety of funds ranging in total value between $1 million and upwards of $100 million, many of the companies who present ideas for funding don't yet have strong business plans, said Josh Watkins, a Birmingham lawyer who serves as the group's executive director.
Other times, entrepreneurs might have unrealistic visions about the funding process, meaning they might be looking for too much or too little funding, or it could be the wrong type.
Vaxin Inc. wins $1 million research grant for animal contraceptive vaccine
Published: Monday, December 05, 2011, 8:30 AM Updated: Monday, December 05, 2011, 9:34 AM
-- Vaxin Inc.
, a vaccine development company in Birmingham, has won a $1 million grant toward further developing a vaccine that researchers hope might be an alternative to spaying and neutering pets.
The Michelson Grant
money from the Found Animals Foundation
will go to a three-year project that Vaxin is working on with Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine's Scott-Ritchey Research Center
. The research will continue findings from Vaxin's vaccine technology -- which has already been tested in humans -- and the work the Scott-Richey Research Center does toward developing contraceptive vaccines for cats and dogs.
Vaxin and Auburn researchers can now pursue an even larger prize from the Found Animals Foundation worth $25 million. As a condition of any funding from Found Animals Foundation, the organization gets the first right to buy a license on any products that come from research it funds. The foundation says it will fund up to $50 million in grants, which were first announced in 2008.
"For a decade scientists at the Scott-Richey Research Center and Vaxin have collaborated in the design and testing of dog and cat contraceptive vaccines" said Henry Baker, one of Auburn's lead researchers on the project.
"The goal is to create a vaccine which will induce long-term sterility and block breeding behavior in both male and female dogs and cats after a single dose."
North Alabama International Trade Association sets its annual meeting
Published: Monday, December 05, 2011, 8:31 AM Updated: Monday, December 05, 2011, 8:46 AM
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Maj. Gen. Frank D. Turner III, commanding general of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, will speak at the North Alabama International Trade Association's annual meeting on Monday, Jan. 9
Registration for the lunch and program will be at 11:30 a.m. at the Westin Huntsville at Bridge Street Town Centre.
USASAC, which moved to Redstone Arsenal in September of 2009, is responsible for the Army's foreign military sales effort.
Sponsorship and corporate reserved tables for the annual meeting are available during NAITA's sponsorship campaign through Dec. 15. A limited number of reserved tables may be available after that date at an increased price.
For sponsorship, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-532-3505. Individual reservations are $35 for NAITA members and $50 for non-members.
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Wendy Wallace Johnson