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.
Nissan engine plant in Tennessee will supply engines to Mercedes
Published: Wednesday, May 09, 2012, 6:11 AM Updated: Wednesday, May 09, 2012, 6:11 AM
DECHERD, Tennessee - Nissan breaks ground Wednesday on an engine plant in Decherd, Tenn.
The plant will assemble engines for Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti models when production likely begins in 2014. The number of potential employees has not been announced.
The engines will be supplied for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is built at a Daimler plant in Tuscaloosa.
The Alabama plant is receiving $2.4 billion in new investment, including projects that will expand its capacity, add production of the C-Class sedan in time for a 2014 launch and, in 2015, add production of an unnamed model that is believed to be a variant of the M-Class.
An existing plant in Decherd already makes engines for the Infiniti JX.
Nissan and Daimler first began a partnership in April 2010.
Plastics company begins expansion of Auburn plant
Work scheduled for fall completion, which is expected to bring about 40 jobs
Ed Enoch | Opelika-Auburn News Published: May 08, 2012 Updated: May 08, 2012 - 4:41 PM
A company that makes injection-molded plastic parts for automakers and other industries broke ground Tuesday on an expansion of its Auburn plant that is expected to create an additional 40 jobs when it is completed.
Weidmann Plastics North America broke ground on a 48,750-square-foot expansion at its plant in Auburn's Technology Park South on Tuesday. The company expects to spend about $15 million on the expansion, which Weidmann executives say is needed to accommodate more demand for automotive parts, according to a release from the city. The Auburn plant's expansion is second since it opened in 2003.
The work is scheduled for completion in the fall.
"This day marks an important milestone in the long-standing partnership between Weidmann and the city of Auburn," Mayor Bill Ham said in the release.
The plastics company is an American subsidiary of Swiss company WICOR Holding AG.
Opelika Auburn News
Eastern Shore Chamber unveils economic development plan
Published: Tuesday, May 08, 2012, 11:05 AM Updated: Tuesday, May 08, 2012, 11:47 AM
DAPHNE, Alabama -- The Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce wants to capitalize on the education level of the people who live there with its new Blueprint for a Better Tomorrow economic development strategy.
At a news conference Tuesday, Bradley Byrne, the chamber board's vice chairman for economic development, outlined four areas of concentration. They are:
- Aerospace and high-tech precision manufacturing.
- Film, music and entertainment.
- IT and technical support centers.
Statistics show that of the 88,000 people living between Blakeley and Barnwell, 91 percent of adults age 25 and older have at least a high school diploma, and 38 percent of those have a bachelor's degree or higher.
"Most of your economic development comes from people who are already here," Byrne said.
Coastal Resiliency Coalition continues mission two years after spill
Published: Monday, May 07, 2012, 9:59 AM Updated: Monday, May 07, 2012, 10:12 AM
GULF SHORES, Alabama -- The Coastal Resiliency Coalition, formed in the wake of the 2010 oil spill, sent out its last newsletter in April, on the second anniversary of the disaster, but the group has no plans to stop efforts to promote cooperation and planning among local businesses and government, members said.
In the days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, concerned officials met in an office at Meyer Real Estate to discuss how to deal with the oil spill. The group included the mayors of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Foley, as well as representatives of the Alabama Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism, Faulkner State Community College and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.
"When we got started, we kind of expected that the well would be capped in a couple of days and we'd all be back to normal by summer," Bob Higgins, coalition chairman, said.
Instead, the Coastal Resource Coalition has met for two years -- twice a week at first, and now twice a month. The meeting place became known as "the War Room," a designation that has stuck, Higgins, vice president of the Economic Development Alliance, said.
The coalition announced that the April 20, 2012 newsletter would be its last. The group will continue, however, with efforts such as the Business Support Center on the Faulkner Gulf Shores campus, Higgins said.
On the Record: Steven Ceulemans, vice president of innovation and technology, Birmingham Business Alliance
Published: Sunday, May 06, 2012, 11:30 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama --The Birmingham Business Alliance's Steven Ceulemans is a rare specialist in Alabama's economic development community -- his sole focus is on the area of innovation and technology.
Last September, Birmingham's biggest business organization recruited Ceulemans from the New Orleans BioInnovation Center as its first vice president of innovation and technology. In this role, he works with UAB, Innovation Depot, Southern Research Institute and other agencies to help nuture an innovation-driven regional economy.
Ceulemans said he is excited about helping established companies and budding entrepreneurs realize the benefits of technology to build business success. He sees it as an expansion of his previous role in New Orleans, where Ceulemans managed economic development programs designed to help grow start-ups in that city.
In an interview, Ceulemans said metro Birmingham is a hidden gem when it comes to innovation and discussed his work with UAB to create new ways to commercialize research work on the campus.
Ceulemans, who speaks five languages, also talked about growing up in Belgium.
One of the first things you've done is working with UAB to create the i2i initiatives, a new effort to turn brainpower at UAB into a wave of new business start ups. Bring me up to date on that project.
The i2i initiative stands for Invention to Innovation. It's centered around a concept that you take resources that already exist and cultivate them to create business opportunities.
We will work with UAB to build teams (of entrepreneurs) and match them with businesses in the community. That's where the BBA comes into play.
Mexico's Audi plant raises question of whether Alabama is topped-out in auto manufacturing
Published: Sunday, May 06, 2012, 7:00 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Alabama's auto industry will get an infusion of 877 new jobs starting later this year when Hyundai expands its Montgomery work force, the company said last week, but could announcements like that grow few and far between as the state sector matures?
Last month, German automaker Audi selected Mexico as the site of its first North American manufacturing plant, a project for which Alabama was believed to be eyed.
That decision came less than four years after Audi parent Volkswagen selected Tennessee over Alabama as the site of its new U.S. factory in a high-profile sweepstakes.
In fact, it's been a decade since Alabama landed an auto assembly plant, the granddaddy of economic development projects thanks to a large multiplier effect in the form of new suppliers and related business.
In the meantime, thousands of jobs have been created and millions of dollars spent in expansion and supplier projects for the state's existing three automakers -- Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai -- as they all continue to ramp up their state operations.
The rise of Mexico as a center of auto manufacturing, as well as a dearth of existing auto assembly plant projects at the moment, has some wondering whether Alabama is nearing a topping-out of its automaking potential.
But business recruiters believe the state has room for another auto assembly plant, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
"The market for automotive manufacturers is ever-changing," he said. "We believe that there will be other opportunities that will potentially come our way."
Mercedes-Benz to donate two SUVs to Shelton State
Published: Friday, May 04, 2012, 11:29 AM Updated: Friday, May 04, 2012, 11:29 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Alabama operations of Mercedes-Benz is donating two SUVs from the Tuscaloosa County factory to Shelton State Community College for training purposes.
The vehicles -- a 2006 R-Class crossover and a 2011 GL-Class full-sized SUV -- will be used in Shelton State's Industrial Mechatronics Program. The vehicles will help students learn some of the complexities in today's vehicles.
Mercedes is a partner in the Shelton State program.
The goal of the partnership is to provide high-quality employment training for all of West Alabama, filling current work force needs and preparing students for the future, Dr. Mark Heinrich, Shelton State president, said.
Mercedes also has donated training vehicles to two other schools: Bell Brown Career Technical Center in Livingston and Tuscaloosa Center for Technology.
Alabama Film Office rep visits Cullman Local officials trying to attract film projects to area
By Trent MooreThe Cullman TimesThe Cullman TimesWed May 09, 2012, 09:00 AM CDT
CULLMAN - With legislation making the state more attractive to movie projects now in effect, local officials are trying to keep Cullman on the minds of those who help filmmakers find shooting locations.
A representative from the Alabama Film Office (AFO) visited the area last week, meeting with local economic and government officials in an effort to make Cullman a more viable movie location.
Kevin Jackson, with the Cullman Economic Development Agency, said locals requested the meeting to provide the state liaisons with any information they might need about the area.
"We had seen where Baldwin County did something similar, and we think we have a lot to offer, so we wanted to bring them in so they'll know what we have if something comes through," Jackson said.
Alabama typically loses southern movie location shoots to neighboring states, mostly because of a lack of competitive incentives, but the recently passed HB 243 bill hopes to change that. The amount of incentives per project has increased from $10 million per project to $20 million per project, while the rebate amount is set to increase from $10 million to $20 million by 2015 - comparable to surrounding states.
"We talked a lot about the incentives they're offering now, and what we would need to be prepared to do to be involved," Jackson said. "I think this puts us on par with surrounding areas, and really makes Alabama more attractive."
Alabama gets 'A-' for small biz friendliness
Birmingham Business Journal Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 9:45am CDT
OUTDOORS COLUMN: Master National coming to Alabama
With his sleek, black coat shimmering in the west Alabama sunlight, the Labrador retriever shivered with energy as he eyed his handler.
As I watched a hunt test recently at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area, I imagined what was zipping through the retriever's brain.
"C'mon; c'mon; c'mon. Let me go; let me go; let me go, master. I saw exactly where those ducks fell. I can get 'em; I can get 'em; I can get 'em! Please, please, please!"
Finally, the handler issued the retrieve signal, and the canine bolted from the starting position as if launched from a catapult and raced to pick up the first mallard at the Black Warrior Retriever Club of Alabama's Hunting Test.
The Labrador performed the retrieve flawlessly for all three ducks and then had no trouble following the handler's signals to the hidden duck. When the dog stayed put as the next hunt test started, the well-trained Lab successfully completed that portion of the American Kennel Club (AKC)-licensed hunt test.
As big a deal as the Black Warrior hunt test, with its 516 retrievers, was to the folks in Alabama's Black Belt, it was only a precursor to the "big show" that is headed to Alabama in October.
"I think the tipping point was the support the state provided to host the Master National here," Holland said of the winning bid. "The letter from Commissioner Lawley made quite an impact. The club couldn't have done it without the partnership with Forever Wild. In my view, they have done an outstanding job of getting the grounds ready for a Master National."
Holland said they are expecting at least 700 entries, which will have a conservatively estimated economic impact of $6 million in the Black Belt.
Dekalb County Times Journal
Calhoun, UAH seek deal to send more students to robotics park
Sightings of Calhoun Community College students at Alabama Robotics Technology Park have been rare in the park's first 18 months.
Calhoun President Marilyn Beck wants that to change. The park is a Calhoun partnership with the Alabama Industrial Development and Training Institute.
Meanwhile, Phil Farrington, a robotics center board member and University of Alabama in Huntsville professor, wants to see an agreement that would allow his engineering students to take certification classes at the park.
Both educators would get what they want under the robotics park executive board's revised strategic plan for Phase 1, the Robotics Industrial Training Center.
Farrington presented the proposed plan to the board at its bimonthly meeting.
Bethany Shockney, dean of technology and workforce development, said Calhoun has 70 students in its Automation and Robotics program. Only about 15 have taken classes at the park so far.
"We're making some progress," Beck said, "but I would like to speed that up a bit now that we've got everything up and running."
Shockney said the plan is for the Calhoun students to continue taking most of the their classes at the main campus and, starting summer term, come across U.S. 31 for the final project class in the degree.
A group of Calhoun instructors recently spent a day at the center receiving training from vendors.
Rick Maroney runs Phase 1 as project manager for AIDT. He estimated the center is operating at about 70 percent capacity.
Classes so far have been for certification or industry-specific training.
He said many of the robotics classes taught by the vendors are full.
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