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Mercedes-Benz adding third production shift at Alabama plant
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012, 2:26 PM Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012, 3:04 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance is adding a third production shift for the first time in its 18-year history, officials said today.
The temporary move come as Mercedes' workers at the Alabama plant have been working overtime and Saturday shifts through the first three months of the year. Two of the vehicles produced there -- the M-Class and GL-Class sport utilities -- have been posting solid sales gains.
"We charged through the first quarter at high speed. Due to the ongoing high demand, we will continue to implement an extremely demanding production program at our plant, which also drives the operations of our suppliers," Markus Schaefer, CEO of the Alabama production operation, said in a statement.
In July, the plant will introduce a third production shift in assembly as part of a "flexible working model" to allow the plant to continue to keep pace with demand. One of its two assembly lines will be idled for a time so that Mercedes can prepare to begin production of the C-Class sedan there.
Mercedes says the third shift is requiring what it calls "significant changes" to the way the plant has operated in the past - new parking arrangements, adjustments to on-site services such as cafeterias, on-site banking, medical, fitness center and childcare facilities.
more... Birmingham News
UA team works to take agriculture research from lab to farms
By Patrick Rupinski Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 3:30 a.m.Last Modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | Research rooted to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II may someday lower the costs of growing crops, making agriculture more efficient and more sustainable.
That's the hope of a team of researchers at the University of Alabama who formed a company called MicroGreen to take their research from the laboratory to commercial development.
Robert Martinez, a post-doctoral fellow who heads MicroGreen, said the team has isolated a bacteria that exists naturally in soil. The bacteria has properties that allow it to attract phosphorus, one of the three key ingredients in commercial fertilizer.
Phosphorus, the most expensive ingredient in commercial fertilizer, is a mined mineral whose supply is being depleted, particularly in the United States.
Martinez, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology from Georgia Tech, said MicroGreen addresses that issue by reducing the amount of phosphate-containing fertilizers farmers need to use to get the same yields.
Summit to gauge progress of Blueprint Birmingham
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012, 6:00 AM
The first-ever Blueprint Birmingham Summit aims to provide a realistic look at whether Alabama's largest metro area is making economic progress when measured against other major cities in the state and the Southeast.
The Friday event will offer a progress report on specific elements in the Birmingham Business Alliance's five-year economic development plan, which was unveiled in September 2010. The summit will take place at 7:30 a.m. at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center on U.S. 280 and is open to the public.
"I'm encouraged about the future, but I'm not satisfied with where we are today," said Brian Hilson, the BBA's chief executive. "We're making progress. We understand a lot of the issues we face. We understand where we're strong, and we know what we have to work on." Measurable goals
The Blueprint plan outlined numerous actions and goals in four overarching areas -- economic prosperity, work force development, community and regional stewardship, and public and private leadership. A key element of the plan is that the metro area's progress can be measured against cities in the state and region.
For purposes of comparison to other cities, Hilson said an index was created and the seven-county Birmingham metro area given a score on that index.
Hilson declined to reveal Birmingham's scores in the four key areas, saving that for the summit. He said the Birmingham area is benchmarked against Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery, as well as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Oklahoma City and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Alabama ranks 14th in US for exports to China
Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 7:30 AM
U.S. exports to China topped $100 billion for the first time last year, and Alabama companies played a role in that growth.
The state shipped $2.3 billion in exports to China during 2011, ranking it No. 14 among its peers, according to a new report from The U.S.-China Business Council.
China was Alabama's second-largest export market, as state exports to the country have grown more than 1,340 percent since 2000.
Vehicles, mostly those produced by Mercedes-Benz at its Tuscaloosa County factory, are the top export, with a value of more than $1 billion last year.
But shipments of other goods -- such as plastics, chemicals, metals, soybeans, paper products and even live chickens -- have surged in China over the past decade.
Nationwide, top exports to China last year were agricultural products, computers, electronics, chemicals and transportation equipment. Since 2000, U.S. exports to China have risen 542 percent to $104 billion last year, making it the third-largest U.S. export market, behind Canada and Mexico.
Alabama's economy to grow 2.5% in 2012, University of Alabama researchers say
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 11:30 AM Updated: Saturday, April 14, 2012, 12:41 PM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Alabama's economy is likely to grow at an accelerating rate of about 2.5 percent in 2012 as the recovery slowly takes hold, but don't expect to see shorter unemployment lines as a result, researchers at the University of Alabama say.
New hiring in transportation and health care this year won't be enough to outpace increased numbers of people resuming the job search after having temporarily given up, according to an analysis by the university's Center for Business and Economic Research.
"The state's unemployment rate is not likely to fall much from its current 7.6 percent" for the remainder of the year, the quarterly analysis states.
Economists and forecasters at the UA research center predict that the remainder of the year will be good for the state's auto industry, though most new hiring will be in health care, food services and primary and fabricated metals.
"Relatively strong sales of vehicles produced in Alabama should continue well into 2012," the report indicates.
Automakers Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda make a combined eight models of vehicles at assembly plants in the state, and demand for most of them have been steadily increasing for several months. The three automakers sold a combined 71,650 Alabama-made vehicles in March, up 4.5 percent from March 2011, according to reports released this month.
Ahmad Ijaz, director of research at the UA center, said the state's economy clearly is improving, but the recovery remains tenuous. The biggest risk the recovery faces is gasoline prices, he said. Higher gas prices could "derail consumer spending" and send the state back into economic decline.
Dothan deals with economic wins, losses in 2012
By: Lance Griffin | Dothan Eagle
Published: April 14, 2012 Updated: April 14, 2012 - 9:51 PM
Nothing illustrates the flux of the local economy - and the importance of being able to adapt on the run - than the passage of House Bill 39.
The bill, which provides a state sales tax exemption for items associated with the maintenance and repair of aircraft, languished in the Alabama Legislature for six years. At any point during that time, the bill would have been a boon to Dothan's Pemco Aviation location.
The bill finally gained traction in 2012, and local leaders hoped for a quick passage to boost the struggling company. But less than a month before the bill cleared the Senate, Pemco filed for bankruptcy protection and announced the Dothan location would be closing.
Practically overnight, local leaders shifted from touting HB39 as a business-saving tool to an industry recruitment tool.
It has been that kind of year for the Dothan economy in 2012. For every major victory - such as the future location of Hyundai and Kia supplier Yura - there has been a setback, such as the Pemco closing.
"This is the environment we are in right now," said Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker. "You have to be adaptable and flexible. And, you can't dwell on the past."
Although unemployment has recessed from its peak numbers last year, job creation remains at the top of almost everyone's agenda. Chamber leaders and others are using a multi-pronged approach to job creation that includes rehabilitating and remarketing properties that held former businesses, assisting in the retraining of employees who recently lost jobs and accentuating the future opening of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine.
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