6 months ago

Alabama counties target Mazda Toyota supply chain in jobs push

The groundbreaking for the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA auto assembly plant in Huntsville took place just days ago, but the $1.6 billion, 4,000-worker project is already making a big impact across North Alabama.

Business recruiters in the 13-county region have been working for months to lure suppliers for the facility. Their efforts include readying industrial sites and speculative buildings, along with a digital strategy that is reaching around the globe.

The North Alabama Industrial Development Association (NAIDA) created a microsite that specifically targets companies interested in supplying the Japanese automakers’ operation, which is expected to launch production in 2021 with an eventual output of 300,000 vehicles annually.

NAIDA President and CEO Brooks Kracke said his team went to work right away following the Mazda Toyota plant announcement in January.

“We contacted the 13 counties we cover and asked them to give us their top five buildings or sites to put their best foot forward,” he said. “We put all of them on the microsite, along with additional data for each county, and we put everything in a searchable format.”

GROWING INTEREST

Since then, the microsite has drawn interest from companies and organizations from the U.S., Japan, India, China, Israel, Germany, Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic and beyond.

Some companies have contacted NAIDA directly, asking for additional information, and some are scouting out the region in person, too. Meanwhile, NAIDA is contacting the companies who have looked at the microsite, including a Detroit firm that Kracke recently called on during a trip to Michigan.

“This has given us a good segue to creating contacts and creating awareness that North Alabama is a good place to consider for their supplier operations,” he said.

North Alabama is home to more than 100 automotive companies, in nearly every county. Anchors of the industry are the Toyota and Navistar engine plants in Huntsville; there are also numerous top suppliers for Alabama’s other automakers, which include Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai.

The supplier impact of the Mazda Toyota plant could very well reach beyond North Alabama. Communities in other parts of the state are preparing to attract new firms and help existing companies land new business related to the new facility.

Kracke said the full supplier picture for the new Mazda Toyota plant is not yet clear. Companies are still determining their own plans and whether they will aim to supply the new plant from existing facilities elsewhere or establish new operations nearby.

But there’s no doubt that some will make a move to Alabama. It’s just a question of where.

“The synergy is starting to happen, and I think the next five years or so will really be something,” Kracke said.

‘CATBIRD’S SEAT’

In Marshall County, the strategy to attract suppliers includes promoting a workforce that is well-versed in the automotive industry, said Matt Arnold, president and CEO of the Marshall County Economic Development Council.

Over the past 20 years, the county’s auto sector employment has seen significant growth, amid continued expansions at two Tier 1 suppliers for the Honda auto assembly plant in Talladega County, and at a few Tier 2 and aftermarket suppliers.

“Following the Mazda Toyota announcement, we immediately updated our website with specific information and a page for suppliers, and we designated three industrial sites that we feel are our optimal sites for suppliers,” he said.

“We are also showcasing the fact that we have been in automotive for quite a while, and we have the training programs in place in our technical schools and career tech programs in our high schools.”

As for location, Arnold said the most obvious choice for suppliers is west of Huntsville, around the Shoals, since that’s in between the new Mazda Toyota plant and a Toyota plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

But on the other hand, Marshall County is a prime location for suppliers who want to be in close proximity to Mazda Toyota and Honda Alabama, he added.

“If that’s the case, we’re in the catbird’s seat. We’re right in the middle,” he said.

DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS

Recruiters in the Shoals also went to work quickly following the Mazda Toyota announcement, creating their own web page targeting suppliers, said Forrest Wright, president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority.

The Shoals has a solid automotive industry presence, an attractive location and more.

“We have multiple highway corridors to the Mazda Toyota facility from this area of Alabama, which helps with just in time delivery,” Wright said. “The chance of delay is reduced if you have multiple ways to get there. We’re also just far enough away from the facility to not have to directly compete with that labor market.”

Wright is a regular participant in the annual joint meetings of the Southeast-U.S. Japan and the Japan-Southeast associations, known as SEUS Japan. He was a part of the Alabama delegation that traveled to Tokyo last month for SEUS Japan 41.

“One of the things we try to do as a community is to maintain good communication with our existing companies,” he said. “Doing business with companies from Japan has its own unique style, and one of the things you must do is develop and maintain relationships.

“While we were in Japan, we visited the headquarters of Japanese companies located in our area. We’ve seen that bear fruit in the past.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

7 hours ago

Bill to abolish marriage licenses passes Alabama House, heads to Ivey’s desk

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed SB 69, State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Atmore) bill that would end marriage licenses in the Yellowhammer State.

The bill previously passed the House on a 67-26 vote. The legislation previously passed the Senate 26-0.

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After Obergefell v. Hodges essentially created a protected legal right to marriage, judges in some Alabama counties decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether so they would not have to approve licenses for gay couples.

Instead of the local probate office issuing marriage licenses in each county, the new system proposed by SB 69 would simply provide for affidavits of marriage to be filed with the probate office. So, instead of needing a probate judge’s approval for marriage, spouses would only have to register with the probate judge’s office.

This means judges who have religious objections to gay marriage will no longer have to issue marriage licenses in violation of their religious beliefs. Proponents of the bill said SB 69 will ensure federal law is being followed in the state while taking away the burden of approval or rejection of marriages from individual probate judges.

Opponents of the legislation have said the bill was born out of prejudice.

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), the only openly gay member in the Alabama House, told reporters the bill itself is not prejudiced but that it originated from “homophobia.”

However, no members of the House debated SB 69 on the floor, making for a surprisingly quick final passage. State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) handled the bill in the chamber.

The bill now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Byrne, Shelby file bill to ensure terrorists like the ‘American Taliban’ are never again released early

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on Thursday introduced the No Leniency for Terrorists Act that would prevent convicted terrorists from being released from federal prison early for good behavior.

Yellowhammer News was the first to report on this legislation when it was imminent on Wednesday.

The legislation being filed comes the day John Walker Lindh, known as the “American Taliban,” was released years early on his original 20-year sentence.

“A convicted terrorist walking free before his sentence is completed should never happen again,” Byrne said in a statement.

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After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was held responsible for the death of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus who was the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“The Spann family asked me to address this injustice, and I want to make sure no other family has to go through what the they have been through,” Byrne concluded. “The No Leniency for Terrorists Act will prevent terrorists from taking advantage of our laws to avoid paying their debt to society. We must ensure that terrorists will remain behind bars where they belong.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Congressman Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) joined Shelby and Byrne in introducing the legislation.

“The early release of convicted terrorists sends the wrong message to those who have fought against terrorism and those who want to cause us harm,” Shelby remarked. “This legislation will help us prioritize the safety and security of our nation above all else. Today’s early release of John Walker Lindh is disheartening and unacceptable, and I am proud we are taking this step to make terrorists ineligible for early release.”

Under existing federal law, any federal prisoner can be released early for “exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.”

There are no exceptions to this law, including those who have been convicted of terrorism charges, and there are 108 other terrorist offenders who are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prison over the next few years. The No Leniency for Terrorists Act amends federal law to say those currently serving or those convicted of crimes related to terrorism in the future cannot be released early for good time served.

As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that ISIS is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Mountain Brook High School band members prepare to perform on the beaches of Normandy

Mountain Brook High School’s marching band is gearing up to participate in the D-Day 75 Normandy Parade, which will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019, according to a CBS 42 report.

Expected to leave June 4 and return June 11, the 24 students from Mountain Brook High School taking part in the event will reportedly march on the beaches of Normandy as they are looked upon by cheering crowds.

Band director Jason Smith shared his excitement of the opportunity and said he was “proud” of the kids.

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“I’m so proud, these kids are the hardest working kids at Mountain Brook High School,” Smith said via CBS 42. “The parents have stepped up to support there travels, and their ability to do something like this is unspeakable.”

D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944, and 160,000 forces, including 70,000 Americans landed on 50 miles of Normandy coast. More than 2,000 Americans lost their lives when they stormed the beach to reach high ground. Over 8,000 others also lost their lives in the days after.

Donations can be made to support the Mountain High School Band by calling 205-414-3810 to speak with Jason Smith or by emailing smithj@mtnbrook.k12.al.us.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

9 hours ago

Montgomery selected by military for major software development project

Alabama’s capital city has been selected by the Air Force for a new software development project that will attract top IT talent to the area, spurring increased new-age economic development in Montgomery.

TechMGM, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to connect and leverage the city’s unique technology assets, on Wednesday announced a partnership with the Air Force Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate Program Executive Office to host a new military software development project that will offer private sector collaboration called BESPIN.

Marking a shift in the way the Air Force approaches software development and acquisition, BESPIN (Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation), pairs in-house developers with private sector developers and uses an agile development methodology in a collaborative and innovative environment to turn projects into new solutions to support the Department of Defense.

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The Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate based at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base has been charged by the secretary of the Air Force for acquisition to stand-up a software factory focusing on Business and Enterprise Systems (BES) applications. BES runs the systems that run the Air Force.

The local chamber partnered with BES to provide an initial off-base space at their facility, where work is already underway to create mobile applications for BES with the first focus being logistics systems used on the flight line, including those at Maxwell Air Force Base and the Alabama Air National Guard.

Through BESPIN, previously slow and costly products can now be met with flexible solutions that allow developers to adapt on the fly – and deliver real results more quickly.

By training and encouraging in-house talent to develop software using agile practices, the Air Force is starting to attract top IT talent. Meanwhile, they are also collaborating with digital services market leaders to transform their process and train their workforce.

In April, BES awarded a contract to Fearless, the company responsible for 1). redesigning the SBA.gov site, 2). modernizing Medicare beneficiary API products for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and 3). building software for other federal, nonprofit, city and healthcare clients.

“Fearless is excited to partner with USAF, TechMGM, and the City of Montgomery at large to support in the growth of the local tech ecosystem. The BESPIN and TechMGM visions align well with our mission to build software with a soul, and to see a world where good software powers things that matter,” Delali Dzirasa, president of Fearless, stated.

BES is also a founding member of the national Digital Services Coalition and is passionate about assisting the government in making its technology work better for all residents.

“We’re essentially replicating a structure that has proven successful in the commercial sector and applying it to the Air Force and building upon the foundation set by our peers at Kessel Run. What previously worked just isn’t cutting it anymore – we’ve got to be faster and more efficient,” Richard Aldridge, BES program executive officer, said in a statement.

He outlined, “Launching BESPIN has reimagined our view on software acquisition and the way we solve problems. We’re confident that the brightest minds in the creation of business software and mobile solutions will be attracted to serving our country by solving some of the most pressing issues that the Air Force faces today.”

Not only will BESPIN have significant implications for the Air Force, the connection with TechMGM and Fearless will strengthen the community in several ways.

“Montgomery prioritizes military missions, so we are honored to host this important project for the Air Force to advance their efforts in creating solutions for our nation,” Willie Durham, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, advised.

Through partnerships with TechMGM and other key area resources within Montgomery’s unique tech ecosystem, BESPIN will aim to support the city’s infrastructure to eventually lead to lasting change in the region.

“The chamber supports any type of partnership that advances the military because it is not only good for our country, but also for our community,” Durham added. “Initiatives like BESPIN allow our region to attract and retain talent, spark new businesses and create a cycle of economic development that will have lasting effects in Montgomery for years to come.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

With the lottery dead, what about the illegal gambling in Alabama?

When the session started it almost seemed certain that there would be some form of lottery passed through the Alabama legislature, signed by the governor and voted on by the people in March 2020.

But in Alabama politics the only certain thing is uncertainty and now, by all accounts, the lottery is more dead than Doug Jones’ 2020 reelection.

The questions that doomed this lottery are the same as always, “Who gets the money?” Schools or the general fund? Prisons or college scholarships?

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It is hard to believe it has been 20 years since Alabama narrowly rejected a lottery, a gambit that sent a corrupt former Governor Don Siegelman to the clink.

In those 20 years, it appears we are no closer to forcing Alabama residents who play the lottery to drive across state lines and send their money to other states.

Regardless, this chapter in the saga appears to be over.

But, there was also a bonus question: “Will Alabama grant legal status to illegal electronic bingo in the state?”

The answer was “no.” The answer to that question seemed to be decided early on. There were multiple attempts by legislators to protect various illegal gambling entities. And oddly, in Jefferson County, the sheriff’s brother even tried to start up new gambling entities, however, that was shut down.

So, what now?

A short synopsis would be “The attorney general is coming!” But Steve Marshall himself rejected that premise in an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Thursday morning.

Marshall explained that he was already working on this form of gambling.

Leaving nothing to chance, when asked if these electronic bingo machines were illegal, he responded, “Absolutely.“

He also believes he and his office are already working on these issues.

“We are going to pursue the remedies that we have right now,” Marshall revealed.

If that course does not produce the desired result, the attorney general is prepared to move.

“We will investigate just like we would the situation in Birmingham, prepare search warrants as they come and then be able to take action from there,” he stated.

So whether Marshall likes the framing or not, he’s is preparing to shut down illegal gambling in this state.

This could take the form of a court action or a new version of the bingo raids we saw during former Governor Bob Riley’s time in office. Either way, the attorney general is coming.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN