Here is today's summary of economic development news, a free service of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, representing Alabama's private sector investment in economic development. If you enjoy NewsFlash, thank an EDPA Partner.
Is Huntsville becoming a 'Pentagon of the South'?
Published: Sunday, January 01, 2012, 9:05 AM Updated: Sunday, January 01, 2012, 9:11 AM
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville, long known as "Rocket City," lately also is saluted as a "Pentagon of the South."
The title sneaks into conversations and even into print every once in a while as a shorthand way of referring to the growth of commands, programs and influence at Redstone Arsenal and, by extension, area defense contractors and businesses.
"That phrase is a bit over the top," said Dr. Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State University and longtime observer of the region.
He points out that, after all, we are mostly Army here - HOOAH! - while the Pentagon is headquarters for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and all the services. The famous five-sided facility is also where the U.S. military's ultimate geopolitical strategy is formed in consultation with civilian leadership in the nation's capital.
"I actually don't have a problem with 'Pentagon of the South,' " said former Col. John Olshefski, now Huntsville's District 3 City Councilman. He spent 27 years in the Army - including "a year of penance in the Pentagon" - and served as Redstone Arsenal Garrison Commander before retiring in 2008.
He said that, other than the Pentagon itself and really big installations such as Fort Bragg - also often called the Pentagon of the South - there aren't many places with more generals on post than Redstone Arsenal.
Expansion could mean 200 new jobs
by Elsie Hodnett The Daily Home
Jan 01, 2012
PELL CITY - A local industry is looking at expanding its operations and possibly adding 200 new jobs.
"We are hoping for an expansion announcement by WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc. the first week of next year," St. Clair County Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith said.
Smith said WKW Erbsloeh in Pell City was granted a tax abatement by the Pell City Industrial Development Board at the beginning of December.
"The expansion has not yet been officially announced, but the tax abatement was granted in hopes that the company will move forward with expansion plans," Smith said. "The tax abatement is for a total investment of $6.6 million in new equipment and a building expansion. The expansion would also create about 200 new jobs. It is a proposed 24-month project."
WKW Erbsloeh is a manufacturer of aluminum decorative and functional parts for the automotive industry. The tax abatement is contingent upon the company moving forward with the expansion.
"They do automotive aluminum trim for Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW and other domestic OEM's or original equipment manufacturers," Smith said.
He said WKW Erbsloeh has added employees and equipment since the company first located in Pell City in 2008.
"We knew they had been continuing to be successful winning contracts and breaking into new supply chains because they are a quality company with a quality product," he said. "When they first came to Pell City, they thought they would max out with 500 employees in five years. Not even five years later, they are at 600 employees and are possibly adding 200 more."
TOP STORIES OF 2011: Number 4 - Massive Topre expansion, industry growth
By Trent Moore The Cullman Times The Cullman Times Thu Dec 29, 2011, 02:00 PM CST
CULLMAN - Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series of the top 10 local stories of 2011.
Despite the sluggish state and national economy, 2011 saw one of the biggest industrial projects in Alabama come to Cullman.
Tokyo-based automotive parts manufacturer Topre America announced a $109 million investment expected to create 250 new jobs in Cullman, drawing Gov. Robert Bentley and numerous state and local officials to a city hall press conference to confirm the news in August.
"I think it's very uplifting, especially when people look up and see people losing their jobs," Bentley said. "I mean, 250 jobs, the effect on the community will just be tremendous. For a community that size, those people live there and pay taxes there - it's extremely significant."
Bentley credited city and county officials for their work on the deal, noting virtually all projects begin and end in the local community.
"One thing I've realized is everything is local, and I want to thank the local economic development office, city council, county commission and everyone involved," he said. "One of the greatest compliments an industry can give a community is to expand there. It's a great partnership we have with your country and the Japanese people."
Topre America opened in 2004. Since then the Cullman plant has expanded three times to meet growing demand by customers Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
Home Depot's McCalla distribution center in line for $16 million in improvements
Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011, 9:16 AM Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011, 9:31 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Home Depot is getting ready to do some building of its own to the tune of nearly $16 million at its 657,000-square-foot distribution center in McCalla.
The Atlanta-based home-improvement retailer has been issued two building permits totaling more than $15.7 million, according to Southern Exposure, a Huntsville firm that tracks public construction documents.
Efforts to reach Home Depot for details about the project were unsuccessful, but Jerry Cross, development director with the county industrial development authority, said officials told him the work is not a physical expansion of the facility. Instead, the millions will be spent to improve the interior by adding equipment and conveyer systems to help make it high-tech and more efficient, Cross said.
The regional distribution center has created nearly 300 jobs and services around 150 Home Depot stores in portions of Alabama, Arkansas, the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The facility could experience another boost when Norfolk Southern's $97.5 million Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility is completed next year across the railroad tracks from the JeffMet McCalla park.
Honda's Alabama factory rolls out 262,000 vehicles in 2011
Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011, 2:01 PM Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011, 2:12 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Honda's Alabama factory produced 262,047 vehicles this year, a figure that was slightly lower than the previous year, the company said today.
Preliminary production results show that the Honda plant in Lincoln turned out 130,442 Odyssey minivans; 118,405 Pilot SUVs; and 13,200 Ridgeline pickups in 2011. The plant has ceased production for the year, so the figures represent a total for 2011.
The 3.5 million-square-foot facility in Talladega County produced about 10,000 more vehicles in 2010. Production at all of Honda's North American factories were reduced in mid-2011 after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, disrupting the automaker's supply operations. Later in the year, production was slowed because of flooding in Thailand, which also caused disruptions.
"Honda experienced unprecedented challenges in 2011from natural disasters both in Japan and here in Alabama," Tom Shoupe, Honda's Alabama president, said in a statement. "But through all the difficulties, our associates embodied Honda's challenging spirit in working as one team to build high quality products for our customers."
This year, Honda's Alabama operation announced investments totaling $275 million to support the addition of the Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle to its production lineup in 2013.
The investments also will support an increase in annual production capacity to 340,000 vehicles and engines by 2013. The company also announced plans to hire at least 140 production workers, adding to its total of 4,000.
Economic 'energy' growing in Guntersville
Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011, 7:50 AM Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011, 7:57 AM
By Budd McLaughlin, The Huntsville Times The Huntsville Times
GUNTERSVILLE, Alabama -- A "Top Five" ranking in a national publication is the latest accolade for Guntersville, which has seen an increase in "energy" in economic development of late.
Expansion Solutions magazine recognized the city's Conners Island Business Park as an "ideal location" for a data center. The park was cited in the magazine's Data Center category for its fifth annual "Top Five" Awards of Excellence.
"We're excited about this," said Grant DeMuth, Guntersville's economic development director. "This is an opportunity to get in front of a national market."
Conners Island was also named a TVA Primary Data Center Location by Deloitte Consulting, one of only 12 initial sites across the seven-state TVA region to meet that program's demanding criteria. The city manages the development for the Guntersville Industrial Development Board, which owns the park.
"TVA is marketing this also," DeMuth said. "They're excited about the recognition.
"... it underscores the commitment Guntersville has made to set Conners Island apart in this important growth industry."
On the record: Rick Davis, Birmingham Business Alliance senior VP of economic development
Published: Sunday, January 01, 2012, 9:25 AM more...
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Rick Davis says the economic future is looking brighter in 2012 as the Birmingham-Hoover area slowly emerges from the worst recession in decades.
The new senior vice president of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, which leads business recruitment for the seven-county metro, says job losses have stopped and more businesses are in a hiring mode.
In an interview, he talks about how the BBA is addressing challenges such as Jefferson County's filing of the nation's largest ever municipal bankruptcy.
He also talked about projects under way such as a plan to build a $64 million baseball stadium near Railroad Park, the Children's Hospital expansion, and the $70 million Westin Hotel/entertainment district under construction near the BJCC. He also discusses how these projects will help the BBA sell Alabama's largest metropolitan region to business prospects.
Q. Give me your assessment as head of economic development at the BBA on how our region is faring compared to others in the state and across the country.
I'm not an economist, but here's what I know: Our economy here is good, maybe very good. It's not great, or off the charts, or syrupy phrases like that, but it's good. People are making things in Birmingham and throughout central Alabama, and companies are selling those things both domestically and internationally.
It's easy to track the unemployment rate, but I would suggest digging deeper into some of the statistics we see. One of the more recent stories related to the unemployment rate had a small paragraph about how manufacturing employment in our MSA had gone up. That's key for me, when I see things like manufacturing coming back, even if by only minimal numbers.
Bibb County says it's ready for an economic turnaround
Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011, 6:30 AM
CENTREVILLE -- Judging by its unemployment rate, Bibb County seems to have turned a corner and could be on track to rebound from the longest economic downturn in recent memory. The jobless rate in the mostly rural county fell to 8.7 percent last month, its lowest in about three years.
But that improvement has yet to be reflected in the mood of the county's residents, who say they're still hanging on and trying to ride out hard times.
"It's still pretty bad," said Crystal McMeekin, whose family owns G&H Building Supply in Centreville, the county seat.
The store, which has sold lumber, hardware and appliances since 1985, saw its revenue drop 5 percent in 2010, then fall another 10 percent this year, the fourth year of the economic slump, McMeekin said. She and her brother Tommy Hartley, who was working the register Thursday, said that longevity is what sets this downturn apart and has made its impact resonate.
Like many business owners they've adjusted the size of their work force and inventory, and watched as customers and other area businesses have gone under. They've also seen their core business shift from supplies for new home construction to materials for remodeling -- a common occurrence for the building trades during hard times -- and they've seen cash-short suppliers insist on quick payment instead of running months-long tabs.
While Bibb County has to ride out the slump like every other county in the state, it has tried to position itself to bounce back quickly when the economy turns, said Hubbard and County Administrator Mark Tyner.
The brand new Scott G. Davis Industrial Park -- named after chip mill owner Scott Davis, who died just before Christmas -- sits off Alabama 5 near the Bibb County Industrial Park. So new that the soil around the gate is still freshly turned, the privately owned park exceeds 500 acres and was built with the cooperation of the county, which is improving the highway and installing water and sewer services. The county also is prepared to offer prospective tenants economic incentives.
Boeing wins $3.48 billion Missile Defense Agency contract for development, sustainment of GMD system
Published: Friday, December 30, 2011, 5:05 PM Updated:
By Kenneth Kesner, The Huntsville Times The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The Missile Defense Agency today awarded a team led by Boeing and its strategic partner Northrop Grumman a $3.48 billion, 7-year contract for the continued development and sustainment of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.
The size of the contract aside, it's an important win for Boeing, which since 2001 has been prime contractor for GMD - the nation's only operational defense against long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles. The system is designed specifically to protect against attacks by rogue states, such as North Korea or Iran.
The announcement is a major disappointment for Lockheed Martin, the only other competitor for the GMD Development and Sustainment Contract. The company formed a strategic partnership with Raytheon and developed teams of support contractors and proposals in the competition.
In a statement, Lockheed Martin did not address whether it might seek a review of the MDA decision, but said it was honored to compete "and to have worked with an outstanding industry team to formulate a proposal that leveraged our strengths in missile defense, strategic weapon systems and performance-based logistics."
Boeing maintains its headquarters for the GMD program and a full training operation - including a working missile silo - in Huntsville. A Boeing spokesperson said Friday the company has about 900 GMD employees across various sites, including approximately 525 in Huntsville, 80 in Alaska, 200 in California, and 80 in Colorado Springs. Boeing has a total of about 2,700 employees in Alabama, mostly in Huntsville.
"In selecting the Boeing and Northrop Grumman GMD team, the Missile Defense Agency retains the knowledge, skill and expertise of the world-class men and women who developed this one-of-a-kind system - the only industry team capable of affordable innovation for GMD's future," said Norm Tew, Boeing vice president and program director of GMD in Huntsville.
Walker County's economic recovery vision adds manufacturing to its forestry and mining base
Published: Friday, December 30, 2011, 8:00 AM Updated: Friday, December 30, 2011, 8:52 PM
JASPER, Alabama -- Off the soon-to-be christened Interstate 22 in Jasper, a lonely road construction crew is laboring out in the woods, putting in an innocuous access road that is nonetheless a powerful symbol of the evolving economy of Walker County.
The road will carry traffic into the new Jasper Industrial Park that area authorities hope to pack with growing and relocating companies offering high paying jobs with lush fringe benefits, jobs in strong and stable industries such automotive components, high tech goods assembly and machine tool manufacturing.
"The park will include our area's fifth spec building," said David Knight, director of the Walker County Economic & Industrial Development Authority, referring to the practice of putting up a building without a firm tenant committed to buying or leasing. "It is our plan to market it and sell it just as we have the other four."
One of the latest industrial snares for Walker County is Amtex, an automotive supplier selling parts to the Toyota factory in Tupelo, Miss. The company signed on last year, investing $12.8 million in the Bevill Industrial Park, expecting to employ 45 people when operations ramp up next year.
Historically, the area's economic fortunes have been tied to nature and the distant markets that consumed the timber and coal severed and troweled from the land of Walker County. Coal mining still counts -- about 400 people draw paychecks from the county's 13 surface mines. Timber is big and so is farming.
But much is changing, much of it tied to the ribbon of asphalt linking Memphis to Birmingham, now known as Corridor X but eventually to be called I-22, which cuts a direct swath through Walker County, through Jasper even, the county seat. It is slated for completion in 2013 or 2014, when the final connections are made to I-65 just north of downtown Birmingham.
"I have been getting updates on I-22 construction for 10 years now," Knight quipped.
Really big shrimpin': Coden boat-maker building first shrimp boat in years
Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 8:05 AM Updated: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 9:01 AM
CODEN, Alabama -- The 105-foot, hulking shape has a long way to go, but Dale Williams said that it's destined to be the first shrimp boat built in south Mobile County since the 1990s.
Williams, 61, a Coden boat-maker whose mother was a member of the Zirlott family of boat builders, has spent the better part of 40 years honing his craft. He has owned Williams Fabrication since 1988 and has enjoyed recent successes producing scallop boats for sale and use along the New England coast.
More than a decade ago, he built the 105-foot Gulf shrimp boat "Miss Hannah" for Dominick Ficarino, who owns one of the largest seafood processing plants in Bayou La Batre, Dominick's Seafood. Now, Ficarino has commissioned a similar boat, with a few modifications, to be completed this summer.
Ficarino's business has been a hot topic in recent months, due to the History Channel reality series "Big Shrimpin'," which follows three of his shrimp captains as they toil in the Gulf of Mexico, one of them at the helm of the "Miss Hannah."
Williams said that Ficarino commissioned the new boat before "Big Shrimpin.'" Amid the show's notoriety, however, he's asking for an additional cabin for a camera crew to sleep in and a 3-foot extension to the deckhouse.
2011 proved to be a successful year Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 7:46 AM
Industry expansions to bring 71 new jobs to 3 Montgomery companies
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 10:29 AM Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 11:15 AM
MONTGOMERY, Alabama - Expansion projects at three companies in the Capital City are expected to bring 71 new jobs to the area in coming months, city officials announced this morning.At his weekly press briefing, Mayor Todd Strange provided information on the following projects at existing plants, which will represent a total capital investment of $9.26 million at the facilities.
- PHA Body Systems, a door module supplier to Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama of Montgomery, is expanding to produce a new door module line for the 2012 Santa Fee. The new work will require an additional 25 positions added to the current staff of 140. PHA Body Systems is located on Folmar Parkway.
- Hartzell Engine Technologies, which manufactures new and refurbished electrical components for general aviation aircraft, plans equipment upgrades and increased production that will require 20 new employees. Current staff is 110. The company,located at 2900 Selma Highway, produces parts for piston engine aircraft, helicopters, military applications and light jets, its website says.
- Rheem - a maker of gas furnaces, heat pumps, air conditioners and gas and electric water heaters - plans a new production line for residential high-efficiency water heaters. The expansion will mean 26 jobs will be added to current employment, which total 1,200 workers.
"What we wanted to do is to give a Christmas present, or Hanukkah, or whatever celebration you want, in the form of jobs," said Strange.
ACREcon: Alabama Commercial Real Estate Conference & Expo to focus on Global Business
Published: Monday, January 02, 2012, 8:32 AM
BIRMINGHAM, AL. (January 2, 2012) - The new mindset of interconnected global thinking is considered by some to be the "new normal" and is the focus for this year's Alabama Center for Real Estate conference, "Alabama Commercial Real Estate enters The Shift Age", being held Friday, Januray 27, at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham.
The state's premiere commercial real estate conference, known as ACREcon, is in its 12th year, and annually hosts a day of intense networking, education and professional development for 400 business and real estate industry leaders.
The keynote speaker for the 2012 event will be Jim Wilson, CBRE's COO & Global Director of Client Accounts. Wilson's extensive responsibilities include oversight of client services, account team recruitment, employee relations, client development, portfolio growth and profitability.
Attendees will also hear from David Houle, author of two books, "The Shift Age" and "ShiftEd." Houle, a renowned futurist and strategist, describes three forces of change impacting the world:
- The acceleration of electronic connectedness - change as the only constant
- The flow to global - a reorganization of everything global
- The flow to individual- innovative intellectual property as the highest valuation of wealth
Rod Santomassimo, founder and president of the Massimo Group, the premier commercial real estate brokerage coaching and consulting organization in North America, will discuss his book "Commercial Real Estate Brokers Who Dominate - 8 traits of top producers."
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Wendy Wallace Johnson