The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 months ago

Alabama aerospace exports surge as industry growth gains pace

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Exports of Alabama-made aerospace products and parts increased in markets around the world last year, as the industry continued to invest in the state. The growth comes amid strategic efforts to expand Alabama’s aerospace presence.

The total value of the shipments, which went to 97 countries, rose to $2.4 billion, a 28 percent increase from the previous year. It’s also nearly $1 billion higher than 2016’s total, according to figures from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

The state ranked No. 12 in the U.S. for aerospace exports, showing the greatest year-over-year increase, except for North Carolina.


“The aerospace industry in Alabama is thriving, with companies developing new technologies and advanced products that are highly sought after by customers across the globe,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“As exports continue to grow, so do the jobs and investments created by these companies in communities around the state.”

Secretary Canfield was among a group of Alabama economic development specialists engaging in pre-arranged appointments with industry leaders at the 2019 Paris Air Show, which kicked off on Monday.


Earlier this year, three firms involved in exporting aerospace products were among the eight winners of the 2019 Governor’s Trade Excellence Awards, offering a glimpse of the success and breadth of the firms and products behind the trade numbers.

Mobile-based Aerostar provides component maintenance on civilian aircraft, with customers in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The company has grown from two employees in 2011 to 35 now, and it plans to reach 60. Aerostar is targeting new business in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific Rim.

Another winner was RMCI Inc. of Huntsville, which developed a system that tracks the mechanical health of aircraft and has analyzed data from more than 3,000 helicopters. RMCI targets business in Colombia, New Zealand, Morocco, Spain, France, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, the Netherlands and Malaysia.

And GKN Aerospace-Alabama, a prominent and longtime member of the state’s aerospace industry, continues to flourish in Tallassee, where more than 800 employees produce composite aerostructures for major aerospace industry partners, such as Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky, HondaJet, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and GE Aviation.


The trade data for 2018 demonstrate the continuing popularity of Alabama’s aerospace exports, said Hilda Lockhart, director of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Office.

Germany was the top market for exports of Alabama-made aerospace products and parts, as the value of shipments increased nearly 98 percent to $378 million. The rest of the Top 5 looked like this:

• India: $348 million, a surge of 110 percent
• France: $332 million, an increase of 28 percent
• China: $182 million, a jump of 332 percent
• Canada: $134 million, a decline of 8 percent

Lockhart said she believes many of the increases are related to military and defense spending.

“With so much tension and unrest in the global marketplace, it seems that many countries are increasing their defense budgets,” she said. “Also, the civilian aircraft market is growing at a very rapid pace, so the global outlook is good.

“The demand comes from the rise in passenger and freight traffic, along with improved global trade.”
The effect of proposed U.S. tariffs on these numbers is uncertain, she added, but the forecasted industry trends are promising.

“In addition to the size of markets growing in this industry, the demand for fleet replacements are expected to help boost aircraft production,” Lockhart said. “Manufacturers are trying to fill backlog orders that remain at an all-time high. There has been an increase in defense spending in China, India and Japan, which is also helping drive the growth.

“Thus, the demand for more aerospace parts will grow and the supply chain will be stretched.”


Among the top-growing future markets for Alabama, Lockhart singled out India, China and France.
Alabama is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. for aerospace exports to India, which included civilian aircraft, engines and parts in 2018.

With a $16 billion market, India is the fastest-growing and currently the ninth largest civil aviation market in the world. By 2025, it is expected to become the third-largest aviation market, and the demand for new aircraft could be as high as 2,000 planes over the next two decades.

Lockhart said the U.S. and India are working together to strengthen trade ties. India wants more connectivity within the country for regional, tourism and medical reasons.

China has the second-largest defense budget after the U.S., and that budget is expected to continue to grow. The country’s aerospace market is forecast at more than $150 billion by 2020.

Alabama’s exports to China have been rising rapidly each year, although they are down 50 percent for this year’s first quarter, amid the ongoing tariff issue.

As for France, Alabama ranked No. 11 in the nation for aerospace exports to this market. The ties between the state and the country keep growing as French aircraft manufacturer Airbus continues to build up its Mobile operations.
Last year, Airbus announced it would add a second production line for A220 aircraft in Mobile. Read an update on the A220 project.

“I’m sure this relationship will grow for two-way trade with Airbus now in the state,” Lockhart said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Delta connection: Auburn University teams with airline to train future pilots

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

A strategic partnership between Auburn University and Delta Air Lines aims to inspire and train the next generation of pilots and aviation industry professionals.

The company and university recently dedicated the Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building, a 23,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility designed exclusively for aviation education.


It features classrooms enhanced with advanced technology, debriefing rooms for student pilots and flight simulators, including one for the Airbus A320 passenger jet like those the company produces at its Alabama manufacturing facility.

The project followed a $6.2 million grant from Delta, The Delta Air Lines Foundation and the Jacobson Family Foundation to support aviation programs, advanced research and a student leadership initiative at Auburn.

“This raises the bar overall on what we can do for our students, as we prepare them to be leaders across the industry,” said Auburn University Regional Airport Director and Aviation Center Director Bill Hutto.

“It also elevates our program in the public eye, and I think it elevates our state as well.”


Auburn, the only four-year institution in Alabama that offers degrees in aviation, has been teaching flight training since 1941.

Delta’s investment comes amid a significant increase in enrollment, with nearly 400 students combined in the professional flight and aviation management degree programs, Hutto said.

Officials are expecting 136 freshmen this fall, as well as 30 to 40 transfer students.

Auburn graduates are well represented in the global aviation and aerospace industries, in the cockpit and beyond.

Aviation management alumni work in airline management, crew scheduling, at the Federal Aviation Administration and many other regulatory agencies.

“For those who can’t fly, for whatever reason, there’s a place for them and we want to provide that onramp for them to get involved,” Hutto said.

Hundreds of Delta employees are Auburn graduates, including Paul Jacobson, Delta’s chief financial officer, trustee of The Delta Air Lines Foundation and chair of the Jacobson Family Foundation.

“As a graduate of the Auburn Aviation Management Program, I am proud to be a part of a partnership that will help provide exceptional training and support Delta’s continued investment in education in our communities,” he said.


The Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building began full operations in January. There are three classrooms, an FAA testing center and a simulator bay with the Airbus A320 plus six other simulators used in flight training environment.

“We chose the A320 since they are assembled at the Airbus plant down in Mobile. We’re proud of the fact that they’re assembled in Alabama, and we thought that would be a nice tie in,” Hutto said.

The programs have an active advisory board, he added, with members who invest their time and resources with students.

There also are opportunities for internships and mentorships.

“We welcome input from people hiring our students. Part of our goal is to be helpful across the state to those who are trying to attract and retain business in Alabama,” he said.

The Delta grant also is funding endowed professorships, a student leadership development program called Emerge at Auburn and the Delta Air Lines Aviation Sensor ID Bay. The bay serves as a dedicated space for students to research and further development Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

Auburn’s aviation program received $4 million of the $6.2 million grant, while $2 million went to the RFID Lab and $200,000 to Emerge at Auburn.

In addition, Delta has selected Auburn as one of the initial eight universities to participate in its Propel Pilot Career Path Program, which will help identify, select and develop the next generation of pilots.

Students chosen for the program will receive a Qualified Job Offer, detailing a defined path and accelerated timeline to becoming a Delta pilot in 42 months or less.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Alabama operations support Boeing’s critical aerospace missions


Boeing continues to build its legacy in Alabama with new products and services that are helping to transform the future of the global space and defense industries. With more than 3,000 jobs based in Alabama, Boeing is one of the state’s largest private employers.

The company last month revealed the Huntsville-built Gateway Demonstrator, a prototype of the deep-space outpost that is key to U.S. plans to return astronauts to the moon’s surface within five years. Boeing was the only company among the five contractors selected to build full-scale ground demonstrators to base their module in Alabama at the Marshall Space Flight Center.


Additionally, Boeing is the prime contractor on the core stage of NASA’s powerful new exploration rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will return astronauts to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

The SLS program represents a significant portion of the work done at MSFC and the state’s space jobs and economic impact. Just as in the Apollo program, Boeing is continuing its role in building the critical stages for the most powerful rocket in the world in Huntsville.

Elsewhere, Boeing has a stake in United Launch Alliance, which recently shipped from its Decatur factory an Atlas V rocket that is bound for the milestone mission of restoring the nation’s human launch capability.

And the company’s state operations also continue to make innovative strides in systems that are crucial to the safety and security of the homeland and beyond.

This year the Huntsville site supported the U.S. Air Force during four missile flight tests, including a historic “two-shot salvo” engagement where two Ground-based Midcourse Defense system interceptors were launched and successfully destroyed.

“Boeing is proud to provide defensive and strategic systems that protect the U.S. and allied nations,” said Norm Tew, vice president and general manager for Boeing Missile and Weapon Systems.

“In early 2019, the Boeing Missile and Weapon Systems team supported four significant, incredibly challenging missile tests in less than four months,” Tew added. “It’s unprecedented, and it shows the world that this Boeing team honors our commitments to our nation’s defenders.

“This season of tests across the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) and Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile programs (ICBM) has been a clear demonstration that Boeing delivers results with integrity, quality and safety.”


Boeing’s presence in Alabama stretches back 57 years, and today there are 3,049 employees in the state. This year Boeing completed an expansion of its location at the Jetplex Industrial Park.

The $70 million project includes the new Huntsville Electronics Center of Excellence, cafeteria and additional conference space. At this center, a team of electrical engineers and technicians who develop circuit boards for Boeing weapons, space and aircraft programs.

The company’s operations in Alabama span a wide range of research, design, development and manufacturing activities, including space and defense work, commercial airplanes and supporting services.

Boeing Research & Technology in Alabama includes hundreds of engineers who develop artificial intelligence, autonomous technologies, modeling and simulation, advanced materials and cybersecurity technologies.

The company works with nearly 200 businesses across the state and recorded making $689 million in vendor purchases in 2018, directly and indirectly supporting 20,000 jobs.

Community outreach is a key component of Boeing’s impact in Alabama as well, as the company had $1.7 million in charitable contributions last year.

“It’s hard to overstate Boeing’s influence on Alabama’s economy and aerospace industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This company helped form the foundation of our state’s contribution to missile defense, space exploration and aviation advancements, and it continues to shape these industries in markets around the globe with breakthrough technologies and products.”


Among Boeing’s most recent developments in Alabama are key contributions to the future of space travel.

The Decatur-built Atlas V rocket is set to launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on the Crew Flight Test mission to the International Space Station in what could be the first time an American-made rocket has carried U.S. astronauts to the orbiting laboratory since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

The Boeing design center in Huntsville provided all the structural design for the Starliner capsule. Additionally, Boeing’s Phantom Works division, which has an operation in Huntsville, provided the power systems for the capsule.

NASA has said regular commercial transportation using the Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to and from the space station will enable an expanded crew, more station use and additional research time.

The flights also are expected to help address the challenges of taking astronauts toward the moon and Mars.


In other Alabama activities, Boeing built and is testing the Gateway Demonstrator at Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Its design is based on the ISS modules that Boeing built and has supported for more than 20 years, except with 30 percent more habitable volume in each module.

In 2016, NASA contracted with Boeing and five other companies to design and build ground-based Gateway prototypes. It will act as a reusable moon-orbiting exploration hub, a technology test bed and a research base for government and private organizations.

“Our Gateway engineering is well beyond Systems Requirements Review maturity and leverages the flight-proven structural design heritage of ISS,” said Mark Ortiz, Boeing program manager for the Gateway Demonstrator.

The Gateway Demonstrator will enable crewed and robotic missions in lunar orbit, on the moon’s surface, and eventually to Mars.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

How 4 innovative firms are soaring in Alabama’s aerospace industry


Alabama’s aerospace industry is marked by innovators, who are rethinking established industry standards and pushing the limits of their imaginations.

They’re focused on specialized products and training to aid military personnel, new solutions for faster communications around the globe and more efficient ways for pilots and travelers to conquer the skies.

“There’s an inventive spirit that courses throughout this industry, from the global manufacturers who are fulfilling major international contracts to the young entrepreneurs who are just beginning to bring their ideas to life,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.


“They’re all important, and they all have a place here, because their innovations will shape the future of aviation, aerospace and defense.”

The innovative spirit of Alabama’s growing aerospace industry is exemplified by four firms that are making waves and winning business. Here is a look at them.


A Huntsville-based aerospace engineering firm used one of its products to help win a national contest to improve field communications for U.S. warfighters.

RadioBro Corp., which makes miniature electronic systems for airplanes and spacecraft, landed the $10,000 first prize in the challenge from the group SOFTWERK, along with a chance to work with U.S. defense agencies and contractors to turn the winning proposal into reality.

The firm – founded by twin brothers and University of Alabama in Huntsville grads, Mark and Eric Becnel – is located at UAH’s Dorothy S. Davidson Invention to Innovation Center.

The proposal was based on RadioBro’s own miniaturized ultra-high-frequency telecommunication hardware, and it beat eight other submissions from across the U.S.

“We showed how we can bridge radio frequency data using the same technique we apply to relay information through a small spacecraft,” said Mark Becnel, RadioBro’s president. “We used four of the MiniSatCom modules we designed in 2014 to demonstrate a solution.”

The solution uses miniature devices that are activated and deployed by a user making his or her way through, around or into structures that would normally block or degrade a radio signal.

Deploying the tiny, hard-to-detect devices reroutes a radio signal from its origin through a chain of repeater devices to the user’s receiver. The size of the devices makes them hard for enemy forces to find and disrupt, and the low cost per unit allows the devices to be left behind if necessary.

Participating in the contest opened new potential for RadioBro technologies.

“We did not look at terrestrial applications of our device,” Becnel said. “We now show strength in new market areas in which we previously were not involved.”

Made in Alabama profiled the Becnels in 2015.


Ozark’s DynaLantic Corp. has built a name for itself manufacturing training systems and simulators for military helicopters.

The company, established in 1984, conducts such training for AH-1 Cobra, UH-1H Huey, Huey II and AH-64A Apache aircraft. The crucial resource can provide calm, planned and practiced reactions among pilots in case of real emergencies.

The DynaFlight Training Center last year provided simulator flight training for four NASA Kennedy Space Center Huey II pilots, allowing them to complete their annual emergency training.

During the session, the pilots repeatedly executed in-flight helicopter emergencies, including inadvertent flight into bad weather, hydraulic failure, tail rotor loss, engine failure and auto-rotation to touchdown.

David Ramsey, Kennedy Space Center Chief of Flight Operations, emphasized the value of DynaLantic’s facility.

“The simulator training was very beneficial for our team as it has allowed us to practice and hone skills for situations not often encountered and/or cannot be safely conducted in actual aircraft,” he said.


Mynaric, a fast-growing German startup that chose Huntsville for its U.S. headquarters last year, is a pioneer in the field of laser communication technologies.

Today’s data networks are based largely on infrastructure on the ground, and it is often expensive and impractical to expand.

So, the future calls for that expansion to happen in air and space, the company says, with high-speed internet being sent down from satellite and airborne networks to the most remote corners of the globe.

Mynaric’s wireless laser data transmission products include ground stations and flight terminals, which allow large quantities of data to be sent wirelessly over long distances between aircraft, autonomous drones, high altitude platforms, satellites and the ground at high data rates.

The company was founded 2009 with the goal of commercializing wireless laser communication for aerospace applications.

Applications of Mynaric technology include secure point-to-point communications between stationary and non-stationary objects, airborne mesh networks and secure tactical communications.

Customers are also using the technology to deploy communication constellations, enabling accessibility to underserved populations.


A new full-service aviation company says it is “reimagining flight” in Birmingham.

Southern Sky Aviation opened last year at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

The company says it wants to make charter flights more attainable to the flying public.

It also offers a wide range of maintenance services, including complete overhauls, routine repairs and required inspections. Beyond that, the company offers a long list of avionics services, from installing the latest weather radar to upgrading traffic alert systems.

Southern Sky also offers flight management and aircraft brokerage services.

Earlier this year, the company said it would expand into the Atlanta market, and last month, it announced the addition of international charter flights out of Birmingham, to Canada, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

4 ways Alabama universities are driving aerospace advances

(Auburn University/Contributed)

Innovative research that is guiding the future of the global aerospace industry is happening in university laboratories and classrooms across Alabama.

Space exploration, rocket engines and deep space outposts are just a few of the topics currently being studied by instructors and students in projects supported by government agencies, private companies and other stakeholders in the sector.

“Alabama educators are raising up a highly-skilled workforce that will tackle the toughest challenges that lie ahead for this industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.


“They, and their students, are also making important contributions right now, with groundbreaking research that is informing the latest developments in spaceflight, aircraft design and the discovery of new frontiers.”

Here’s a look at how Alabama universities are driving advances in the aerospace industry, focusing on just four projects involving researchers and their students.


Auburn University is poised to be a key player in improving the performance of liquid rocket engines, following a $5.2 million NASA grant to develop additive manufacturing products and techniques.

The grant is part of a three-year contract that extends the longtime partnership between the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence, which is housed at Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Auburn engineers have been instrumental in helping the U.S. achieve its space exploration goals for decades, said Christopher B. Roberts, the engineering school dean.

“This new collaboration between NASA and our additive manufacturing researchers will play a major role in developing advanced rocket engines that will drive long-duration spaceflight, helping our nation achieve its bold vision for the future of space exploration,” he said.

The latest research, part of NASA’s Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) project, is focused on developing and manufacturing regeneratively cooled thrust chamber assemblies for liquid rocket engines.

The results will be made available to the private sector as well.

Project manager Mike Ogles, director of NASA programs at the engineering school, called the contract “a giant leap towards making Alabama the ‘go to state’ for additive manufacturing.”

“We look forward to growing our partnership with NASA, industry and academia as we support the development of our nation’s next rocket engines.”


NASA and the National Space Grant Foundation have selected the University of South Alabama to help shape the next chapter of space exploration.

Ten teams from schools across the country, including USA, are designing systems, concepts and technologies to potentially support NASA’s deep space exploration capabilities, including an orbital lunar outpost serving as a “gateway” to deep space.

USA engineering professors Grant Glover and Samuel Ross, along with their undergraduate students, are working on two separate projects for NASA.

Russ’ project focuses on automation and power management of an unmanned biological laboratory for the gateway, able to function with minimal support from a crew or mission control on Earth.

“Our students are building a robotic station that will grow plants and provide lighting, nutrients and water,” Russ said. “The robot will plant, monitor and harvest the plants and send back status reports, and the automated system will control the lighting, water and nutrients. They are building a complete system to do this from scratch, including constructing the robot, the plant-growing pods and the control system.

“In other words, we want to develop a station that can run unmanned for years and grow crops in space,” he added.

Meanwhile, Glover’s team is evaluating two custom-synthesized ionic liquid solutions for capturing carbon dioxide in a closed-air revitalization system. Since most of the air for astronauts is recycled within their spacecraft or habitat, a key part of this process is the removal of exhaled carbon dioxide.


For the fifth year in a row, students at the University of Alabama dominated a national robotics hosted by NASA.

The 60-member Alabama Astrobotics team took grand prize in the 2019 Robotics Mining Competition, which is designed to foster innovative ideas and solutions that could be used during NASA journeys to the Moon and Mars.

While this year’s NASA contest was held virtually, instead of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, there was a separate Robotics Mining Challenge held at UA. In it, teams showed how a robot they built could autonomously navigate and excavate simulated lunar and Martian soil.

The UA team beat 27 other robotics teams from across the nation and won several top awards.

The projects make students better engineers, said Dr. Kenneth Ricks, adviser for the team and a UA professor.

“They go through a full design cycle with budget and schedule limitations, much like what they will encounter in industry. The students also benefit from the relationships they create with companies looking to hire good engineering graduates. This networking aspect is a significant advantage,” he said.


The University of Alabama in Huntsville has a robust resumé when it comes to aerospace research. But one of its latest projects is focusing on preserving the industry’s history for generations to come.

UAH’s M. Louis Salmon Library Archives and Special Collections was awarded a Council on Library and Information Resources Recordings at Risk Grant to modernize and protect a variety of media related to the Apollo program.

The $18,775 grant is one of 20 given nationwide to digitize, make accessible and preserve 186 film reels, nine audio reels and 53 audiocassettes tied to Apollo and support operations. The trove includes oral interviews with people who worked on the program, as well as home movies related to it.

“These materials are at high risk of loss from media obsolescence and physical degradation,” said Drew Adan, UAH archivist and primary investigator for the grant. “The Recordings at Risk grant enables us to migrate the information they contain from an outdated and unstable analog format to digital files we can preserve and share with researchers.”

The grant is also timely, as 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the Moon.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Alabama team seeks to build on $3 billion in aerospace projects

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama’s aerospace and defense industry added more than 1,400 new jobs and $653 million in new investment last year, advancing the state’s robust lineup of operations that develop leading products and innovative technologies for markets around the world.

Highlights of the 2018 announcements include Airbus’ second production line for A220 aircraft at its Mobile plant, a $264 million project that is expected to create more than 430 jobs.

Other major moves are DynCorp International’s plans to execute its $152 million maintenance, repair and overall contract for U.S. Navy helicopters in Andalusia and Lockheed Martin’s latest expansion of its missile assembly operation in Troy.


“The aerospace and defense industry is a cornerstone of Alabama’s economy, and many of the top international players continue to deepen their roots here,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Since 2011, we’ve seen more than $3 billion in new investment and nearly 11,000 new jobs announced for this industry, bringing prosperity to communities across the state.”

The timing is right for Alabama’s aerospace growth story.

Secretary Canfield joined Alabama Governor Kay Ivey Monday for high-level meetings with aerospace industry decision-makers at the 2019 Paris Air Show, the industry’s most high-profile event this year. The Alabama team is seeking to lay the groundwork for future aerospace investment projects.

Employment in the sector is growing. Aerospace manufacturers added 1,200 jobs in Alabama between April 2018 and April 2019, according to figures from the state Department of Labor. More are on the way, thanks to expansion projects by Aerojet Rocketdyne and others.


While expansions by global aerospace manufacturers drove most of last year’s growth in the state industry, smaller, new-to-the-state firms are also finding homes in the sprawling network of support businesses, according to Commerce Department data.

Among them are Resicum International, an aviation training and maintenance provider that is setting up its headquarters and a new hangar facility in Gulf Shores, a $2.5 million, 18-job project.

Elsewhere in the state, American Plane Painting Co. announced six jobs and a $35,000 investment in Selma.

And in Ozark, home to Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, California-based Coast Flight Training and Management Inc. said it would create 40 jobs and invest $880,000 in a new satellite training site for its Rotor Transition Program (RTP).

Ozark was the next logical move for the company, said Dan Verda, Coast Flight’s director of operations for RTP. The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence is the primary training site for Army helicopter pilots.

“There are a number of Army helicopter pilots who transition into the civilian workforce from Fort Rucker every year,” Verda said. “This new satellite site will afford them the opportunity to work on their civilian fixed-wing ratings while they’re still on active duty, drawing a paycheck.

“It keeps from putting our veterans in a tight financial bind and grants them the ability to have a ‘soft landing’ into the civilian workforce as an airline pilot.”

Verda said Ozark was a great fit because of its proximity to Fort Rucker, an airport that exceeds all of the company’s needs and is primed for expansion and strong support from the community and the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corporation.

BUILDING ON GROWTH The Wiregrass region has become a major aerospace hub for Alabama, populated by key names such as Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, along with a host of suppliers and highly-regarded flight training and aviation maintenance programs.

Last year, Dale County alone landed six aerospace and defense economic development projects.

The region’s biggest asset is the Alabama Aviation College in Ozark, an FAA-certified Aviation Maintenance Technician School that offers programs such as Airframe Technology, Powerplant Technology and Avionics, said Veronica Crock, President of the Ozark-Dale County EDC.

While the number of FAA-certified schools fluctuates, Crock said recent data shows only about 160 schools of this kind in the U.S., which gives the local industry and community a distinct advantage in workforce training.

Moreover, the college and the college system have been proactive in developing customized training programs that meet industry needs, she said. As a result, programs have been and are being put in place to meet specific industry needs with companies such as Bell Flight, M1 Support Services, and Sikorsky.

“It goes without saying that aviation is an important industry in Dale County,” Crock said. “We’re fortunate to be home to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and to have companies such as M1 that employ over 3,500 people in support of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence.

“The jobs created by all of our aviation companies, and supporting companies, are high-wage, high-demand jobs. The increased spending power seen by citizens moving into these high-wage jobs results in increased interest in industrial, commercial, residential, and community development.”

The goal is to keep building on that growth.

Crock said the county’s leaders are focused on ensuring their existing industry has the tools it needs to succeed and grow while they work to attract additional business.

“We’re capitalizing on and improving upon community assets to encourage an environment that is not only a great place to work, but also to play,” she said.

“We’re continuing to work with our workforce partners to ensure existing industry needs are met and to ensure programs are in place for industry we’re trying to attract. We’re also working closely with our regional partners to better market our area as a whole.”

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

7 months ago

New leaders to steer growth at Alabama operations of Mercedes, Honda

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

There are new faces at the top of Alabama’s auto industry, as both Mercedes-Benz and Honda plan leadership changes in the coming months.

Tetsuya Endo will become the new president of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, effective April 1, the company said last week. Endo, who comes to HMA from Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, plant, is replacing Tsutomu “Mori” Morimoto, who is moving to an executive role at the Ohio facility.


Endo has been with Honda since 1982 and served in a number of leadership positions at Honda locations in North America and Japan.

“Tetsuya Endo has served in a valuable role in Honda operations in North America,” said Morimoto. “His extensive knowledge of manufacturing, along with overall business operations, makes him a perfect fit to lead HMA into the future.”

Morimoto joined Honda in 1985 and served as president of Honda of Canada Mfg. before joining HMA’s $2.8 billion, 4,500-worker operation in Talladega County last year. During his tenure, the company has taken on investments of more than $150 million and re-introduced the all-new Honda Passport SUV to the market.


Across the state at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, Jason Hoff is leaving his post for a position in Germany later this year.

Hoff, MBUSI president and CEO and head of Production SUV/Sports Cars since 2013, will become the new head of Quality Management at Mercedes-Benz Cars worldwide, effective July 1. In his new role, he will remain closely associated with all Mercedes-Benz Cars production plants worldwide.

During Hoff’s career with the automaker, he has been responsible for procurement of interior components for the C- and E-Class sedans. He also served in other management roles at MBUSI.

His replacement in Alabama is Michael Goebel, currently head of Compact Cars Production Mercedes-Benz Cars.

This marks a return to MBUSI for Goebel, who was the head of Planning at the Tuscaloosa plant at the beginning of 2008. He has held various management positions in production, planning and logistics with the automaker, which he joined in 1990.

In his new role, the company said Goebel “will continue to develop the Tuscaloosa site and make it fit for the future, leveraging his many years of production and management experience.”


MBUSI has grown continuously since it launched Alabama’s auto industry 25 years ago. One of the most recent moves is a plant in Bibb County that will supply battery packs for the automaker’s state-built electric vehicles.

Construction on that project, a key component of a $1 billion expansion, kicked off last fall.

Other new and upcoming management shifts at Mercedes and its parent, Daimler, involve former MBUSI heads.

Ola Kaellenius, Daimler’s current research and development chief who led the Alabama operation from 2009 to 2010, is set to succeed Dieter Zetsche as Daimler’s CEO later this year. And Markus Schaefer, who followed Kaellenius in Tuscaloosa, running the plant from 2010 to 2013, is slated to succeed him in the R&D role.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

9 months ago

Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

(Made in Alabama)

Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.


Toyota’s Huntsville engine plant also maintained its role as a critical component of the automaker’s global supply chain. Additionally, Navistar builds truck engines in Huntsville.

“Alabama’s skilled auto workers have become adept at not only producing high-quality, in-demand vehicles, but also the engines that power those models and others,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We look forward to their continued success as these companies invest even more resources and add new technology to their operations here.”


Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama produced 597,313 engines in 2018, and the Montgomery facility is in the midst of transforming those manufacturing operations.

Last year, Hyundai announced a $388 million plan to construct a plant dedicated to manufacturing engine heads and enhance existing operations to support production of new models of Sonata and Elantra sedans. The investment will create 50 jobs.

Preparations are under way for the next-generation Theta III engine, which requires new technologies and components as part of its assembly process.

So far, the new engine head manufacturing building shell and concrete is complete, electrical work is underway and equipment for the building has begun to arrive.

The project is still on track to be complete by May, said Hyundai spokesman Robert Burns.

In addition, the old equipment has been removed from the existing engine shop that is being updated, and contractors are prepping the interior of the building for new equipment.

Hyundai’s Alabama engine operations support vehicle production in Montgomery and at the Kia plant in West Point, Georgia.

Meanwhile, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama last year produced 356,439 engines that power the SUVs, minivans and pickups built at the Talladega County factory.

Just a few years ago, Honda Alabama opened a sophisticated new engine line that represented a breakthrough in Honda’s North American engine assembly operations.

The highly automated line was yet another indication of the global automaker’s confidence in the Alabama workforce, which has achieved an unprecedented schedule of new model launches and redesigns in recent years.

In Huntsville, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama produced about 630,000 engines that power one-third of the Toyota vehicles built in the U.S.

The facility currently builds about 2,600 engines per day, or five times as many engines since production started there in 2003.


Two keys milestones for Toyota Alabama last year included its 6 millionth engine, built in August 2018.

And the following month, the facility launched a new advanced 4-cylinder engine line to produce next-generation engines as part of the Toyota New Global Architecture Program.

TNGA will improve the performance of all vehicles, including increased fuel efficiency, more responsive handling and a more stable and comfortable feel while driving. It also provides a more flexible production environment that allows the company to better respond to changing market demands.

Toyota Alabama’s $106 million investment in the TNGA project increased total plant investment to nearly $1 billion.

“I could not be prouder to reach this milestone,” Toyota Alabama President David Fernandes said at the time. “Launching our new TNGA engine is a true testament to our highly-skilled workforce.  They are leading Toyota Alabama into the future of advanced engine production.”

(Courtesy Made In Alabama)

9 months ago

Alabama’s AerBetic demonstrates diabetes management device at top consumer tech event


An Alabama company is developing an innovative device to help diabetics better manage their blood sugar, and it is being shown this week at the world’s largest consumer technology event.

Birmingham-based AerBetic Inc. will demonstrate its non-invasive, wearable diabetes alert system at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which showcases more than 4,500 manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content and delivery systems. CES 2019 is expected to draw more than 180,000 attendees.


The device contains nano-sensors that detect gases, given off through breath or skin, that are symptoms of high or low blood sugar. It will pair with smartphone apps, aiding the ability to push alerts to patients and caregivers.

AerBetic CEO and entrepreneur Arnar Thors said his family pet, a yellow Lab that came from a place that trains alert animals, inspired the device.

“Many diabetics rely on the keen smell of specially trained dogs to detect increases of volatile organic compounds in the exhaled breath of their subjects with diabetes,” Thors said. “We have developed a wearable solution that will detect these same gas patterns.

“The ability to determine a patient’s status without the need for invasive and costly sensors will enable a higher quality of life for diabetes patients and their caregivers worldwide.”

‘Game-changer’ for diabetics

The sensors will use patient data and feedback to improve and fine tune over time, Thors said, using machine learning and artificial intelligence to increase fidelity at the individual user level and network-wide.

“The more a patient uses it, the more attuned to that patient it becomes,” he said.

The tiny sensors used in the device are designed and manufactured by California-based AerNos, which is sharing a booth with AerBetic at CES.

The device is in the final stages of development, with testing to begin early in the first quarter of this year. The first production units are expected to ship late this year or early next year.

It’s being hailed as a “game changer” for diabetics.

“Type 1 diabetics – and caregivers of Type 1 diabetics – have been asking for a non-invasive monitoring solution for some time,” said Kristen Noles, DNP, RN, CNL and nurse leader at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “AerBetic’s vision of incorporating a gas sensor that improves and gets smarter over time will be a game changer. The ability to reliably monitor patients remotely will drastically improve the quality of life for people with diabetes and their caregivers.”

‘Vibrant network’

AerBetic, formed in July 2018, has been awarded a research grant from Birmingham-based Southern Research and also won the Alabama Launchpad startup competition.

Thors is the co-founder of Bessemer-based Fitz-Thors Engineering Inc., which started in 2007 and specializes in design-build engineering projects, automation and high-precision manufacturing services.

He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama and worked in several industries before deciding to become an entrepreneur. He has a broad range of experience in areas including crude oil refining, medical product development, race car design and development, and the manufacturing of cast iron pipe, steel pipe and electronics.

Alabama has a healthy pipeline of innovative products that solve problems and offer new alternatives in a number of industries, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“There’s a vibrant network of entrepreneurs and support programs in communities across Alabama, and we’re excited to see what they come up with next,” Canfield said. “We congratulate AerBetic on the development of this device, and we look forward to the benefits it will provide for people around the world.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Honda Alabama tops Pilot production record amid busy 2018

(Honda Alabama)

It’s been a busy year for Honda’s Alabama auto plant, with a new model joining the assembly lines, as well as major new investments and expansions.

In the last two years combined, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has initiated $150 million worth of projects that are adding more than 425,000 square feet to its $2.6 billion, 4,500-worker facility in Talladega County.


Amid all the activity, this year the company’s employees also produced a record number of Pilot SUVs for the second consecutive year as part of a total output of more than 356,000 vehicles.

“Honda continues to blaze a trail of innovation, excellence and efficiency in Alabama, with in-demand products and flexible manufacturing systems that have made the Talladega County facility a key hub for the automaker’s global operations,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.


Honda Alabama said its preliminary output for 2018 is 356,569 minivans, SUVs and pickups, along with the V-6 engines that power each of them.

That total is about even with 2017’s output and is well above the facility’s annual capacity of 340,000 vehicles.

Employees built 189,964 Pilots, 120,427 Odyssey minivans and 46,178 Ridgeline pickups this year.

Honda Alabama also began producing the all-new 2019 Honda Passport late this year, but will not release those production figures until the SUV goes on sale in early 2019.

Earlier this year, Honda Alabama opened nearly 400,000 square feet of new logistics space, representing an investment of more than $85 million.

Honda Alabama Vice President Mike Oatridge said the project represented a continued investment in Honda’s workers, products and customer satisfaction.

“This new space will help us better streamline our logistics operations, which will result in improved parts delivery, improved quality and improved organization across our production lines,” he said.

The company also announced plans to spend $54.8 million to improve weld operations at Line 2 and add more than 50,000 square feet. That project is expected to be complete in early 2021.


Honda Alabama is the exclusive global production source for all four of the vehicles in its lineup. The Ridgeline was selected as the 2017 North American Truck of the Year and the Odyssey and the Pilot were finalists in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

The Passport mass production launch earlier this month marked the fourth new model redesign completed at Honda Alabama over the last four years, a schedule that is unprecedented for any Honda manufacturing facility in North America.

Headed into 2019, hopes are high for the Passport, which is already generating positive feedback in the market.

Honda said the Passport is designed to bring a more personal, rugged and off-road SUV to its light truck lineup.

“I congratulate all of our associates for their commitment to our customers as we begin production of the new Passport, which is Honda’s most rugged light truck model with features that deliver more of what today’s adventurous customers want and need,” Oatridge said at the time of the production launch.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

10 months ago

Homecoming: Wickles Pickles returning production to Alabama

(Made in Alabama)

Wickles Pickles, the tangy Southern treats produced by a pair of Alabama-born brothers, are returning to their roots.

Sims Food Inc., the company behind the popular pickles that are sold across the U.S., is moving production from North Carolina back to Alabama.By the end of the year, Will and Trey Sims and partner Andy Anderson expect 100 percent of Wickles Pickles to be made at Magnolia Vegetable Processors in Brundidge.


The move could mean new growth and opportunities for the company, as well as closer ties with cucumber producers across the state.

“Our goal is to use as much produce as possible from Alabama growers and fill in the gaps elsewhere,” Will Sims said.


Bringing production back to Alabama has been a longtime dream for the partners.

The Sims brothers entered the pickling business in 1998, after sampling the spicy pickles their cousin made for a Halloween party. They purchased the recipe, which had been passed down by her grandmother, and Wickles Pickles was born.

They soon brought longtime friend Anderson on board, and the trio has led the company on an impressive growth streak. Featured on TV cooking shows, magazine spreads and restaurant menus, Wickles Pickles have a loyal following for their unique flavor that blends heat and sweet.

The product lineup includes 10 different items, and they are distributed to most major supermarket chains in all 50 states. Last year, Sims Food made several million jars of pickled products.

“We believe in the products, and it’s just grown from there,” Sims said. “We’ve enjoyed doing it, and we’ve kept it going.”

In the early days, the pickling operation was located in Dadeville, where the company has always maintained a sales office. But as demand grew, the partners had to look elsewhere for processors, and that took them to North Carolina.


“People see the label, and they are intrigued. Once they try them, they keep coming back.”

A key part of the move back to Alabama was the startup of Magnolia Vegetable Processors (MVP), which will process and pack Wickles Pickles. The company is located in Brundidge, which has a long history of food production.

Sims Food also has a stake in MVP, which opened last year in a new 66,000-square-foot building across the street from Southern Classic Food Group. MVP specializes in pickled vegetable products.

“Wickles was the first customer of MVP, and the driving force of what it was built around,” Sims said.

As Wickles Pickles’ business grew, it got so large that only a few places could process and pack the products, Anderson said.

“Sims found the perfect partner,” he said.


More growth is on the horizon, as the production move is giving the partners more creative control. That means opportunities for small batches to try out new products.

“We’ve just run the first batch of dill okra, which will be hitting grocery shelves soon,” Anderson said.

At the same time, the company has taken the opportunity of the transition to adjust its ingredient list. Turmeric has replaced artificial food coloring, and preservatives have been eliminated.

And finally, the Alabama-made Wickles Pickles are wearing updated labels for a fresh new look.


The Sims brothers never expected to get into the pickling business. Before they started making Wickles Pickles, Will was an aspiring photographer out West and Trey was a stockbroker in Atlanta.

But both were looking for a way to come home to Alabama and be closer to family, and the pickles paved the way.

One thing the partners don’t agree on is the best way to eat Wickles Pickles.

Anderson loves them on a barbecue sandwich, while Sims thinks they’re best with pimento cheese and Conecuh sausage.

Beyond that, their fans like them fried, chopped up in a salad and just straight out of the jar.

“People see the label, and they are intrigued. Once they try them, they keep coming back,” Anderson said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

10 months ago

Growth companies power the Made in Alabama 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

(Made in Alabama)

Companies across Alabama are creating jobs, making investments and helping shoppers check off their Christmas lists. This year’s edition of the Made In Alabama Holiday Gift Guide features businesses that are growing in the state, with recent projects and expansions in communities large and small.

From big-ticket items like a new car or boat to smaller fun and thoughtful presents, the products from Alabama’s manufacturers and entrepreneurs show off the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the state’s workforce.


Reclaimed wood furniture

Cashel Beams & Flooring of Brewton makes a variety of reclaimed wood products, including custom furniture.

The company, which specializes mainly in heart pine and oak, has various tables, desks, chests, bar tops and more. Its recent portfolio even includes a ping pong table.

Last year, Cashel announced a $1 million, 15-job expansion in Escambia County. It also offers solid plant and engineered flooring, wall paneling, stair parts, beams, mantels and special cut timbers.

The company calls reclaimed wood one of the most distinctive design choices available, since natural characteristics such as nail holes, insect marking, weather checking and knot structure provide a design that cannot be copied.

Grocery shopping service

Give the gift of time and convenience with a membership to Birmingham-based Shipt. The online grocery marketplace delivers fresh food and other items via an app and a community of personal shoppers.

Shipt made headlines last summer when it announced plans to create nearly 900 new jobs in Birmingham over the next few years. The firm, founded in 2014, is in the midst of a rapid rollout of its services across the U.S.

Shipt’s gift membership options include a yearlong subscription for $99 and a six-month subscription for $49. Shipt members who buy a 12-month gift membership by Dec. 25 get a $50 credit.

Pecan treats

For an authentic taste of Alabama, Troy’s Whaley Pecan Co. has you covered. The pecan shelling and processing facility sells a wide variety of treats, including the Sweet Home Alabama Basket that’s filled with chocolate-covered pecans, pecan brittle, mini pecan pies and more for $39.95.

Two years ago, Whaley added new jobs and announced a $280,000 investment in its Pike County operations. Founded in 1937, the company is in its third generation of family ownership.

Besides the Alabama basket, holiday goodies include Pecan Pie in a Jar, the Roasted and Salted Gift Bag Trio and Pecan Oil.

Craft beer

For the beer lover in your life, check out the offerings from Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co. The makers of Naked Pig, Freckle Belly, Truck Stop Honey and more, the brewery has been busy adding jobs and investments this year.

In July, Back Forty opened a new microbrewery in Birmingham. Sloss Docks Back Forty, near historic Sloss Furnaces, features a beer garden and American pub foods primarily sourced from local growers.

Several of Back Forty’s core beers are brewed on site, along with a steady rotation of experimental beers.

Back Forty has also been included in trade missions led by the Alabama Department of Commerce with the goal of stimulating overseas sales.

Boats and wheels

If you’re really feeling generous this Christmas, consider gifting your loved one with a key symbol of Alabama’s manufacturing success.

Glasstream Powerboats’ 240 CCX is produced at the company’s operating plant in Dothan, which opened in 2015.

The 240 CCX is a forward-seating center console model that is ready for the open water but also saves money at the fuel pump, thanks to Glasstream’s patented fuel-efficient hull design. It also features LED lighting, forward lounge seating with removable backrests and fish/storage box, and rod and cup holders.

Standard MSRP prices range from $52,000 to $55,000.

Glasstream has two operating plants, in Dothan and in Panama City, Florida, and everything was recently relocated to Dothan following Hurricane Michael. In addition, the company is adding 25,000 square feet to the Dothan plant to keep up with sales demand.

Elsewhere, the state’s auto industry continues to expand in communities across the state, driven by new and updated products rolling out of the vehicle assembly plants operated by Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai.

All three plants have made additions to their Alabama product lineups this year. Just this month, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama showed off the 2019 Honda Passport SUV, an all-new model.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz has announced pricing for its next-generation GLE SUV, the flagship product of its Tuscaloosa County factory. The 2020 model starts at $53,700.

Neither of those particular vehicles will be available until next year, but one new addition to Alabama’s auto assembly lines is already in dealer showrooms.

The redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe SUV, which the automaker’s Montgomery plant began producing last summer, starts at $25,500.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Alabama counties target Mazda Toyota supply chain in jobs push

(Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

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.”


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.


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.


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)

1 year ago

Check out four innovative aerospace products from Alabama

(Alabama Newscenter)

From space exploration to national defense, Alabama’s aerospace workers are playing key roles in all areas of the global industry, and they’re responsible for innovative, headline-grabbing products.

Here are four of those products that illustrate Alabama’s continuing contributions to an industry that is shaping the future.


No. 1: Rocket drone airplane

An Alabama startup is developing a fully autonomous unmanned airplane that could launch satellites every three hours.

Ravn is an air-launch system from Huntsville-based Aevum.

“Ravn is designed to launch every 180 minutes,” Jay Skylus, Aevum’s CEO and chief launch architect, told “Other launch vehicles fly only a handful of times a year with an average of 18 months of lead time.”

Aevum is focused on launching many tiny satellites into space, a network that could mean drastic improvements in communications around the world, such as wireless internet access everywhere, Skylus said.

Being unmanned is key to Ravn’s launch rate, and it also simplifies and reduces necessary ground operations, compared to the needs of other launch systems.

Ravn takes off and lands horizontally on any standard runway, and it carries an expendable two-stage rocket engineered for spaceflight.

According to Aevum, Skylus’ determination to break down digital barriers followed Operation Red Wings, when 19 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2005, partly because of a communication failure.

Skylus’ own brother served in the military, and he was moved for those who lost loved ones.

“Space, as the ultimate vantage point, is part of the solution to overcoming similar communication challenges,” the company says. “However, the extreme cost of accessing space has limited it to a select few. Fueled with compassion, Jay set out to change the high costs of deploying technologies in space and never looked back.”

No. 2: Inflatable satellite communications

GATR Technologies’ inflatable invention enables high-bandwidth satellite communications in remote areas, an ability that has led to a host of military, commercial and humanitarian aid organization applications around the world.

A Metro US report notes the lightweight, portable, inflatable antennas from Huntsville’s GATR Technologies – which can fit inside a backpack – kept Puerto Rico from being completely cut off after the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last year.

It was able to maintain cell phone signals and Wifi hotspots in the disaster zone. Since then, the company has been working on more developments to the system to speed up disaster recovery, such as “unified video” software and tools to clarify those video images.

“Radar antennas have been used in the military for quite some while now and we’re looking at things like what happened last year, where you had disasters both in Houston and down in Florida and again in Puerto Rico, and how we could get all those centers to communicate together so that relief operations will be more efficient,” GATR Technologies’ Paul Garzon told Metro US.

GATR Technologies was recognized by the Alabama Department of Commerce in the 2016 Governor’s Trade Excellence Awards for successful exporting strategies. Last year, the company announced an expansion in Huntsville and a plan to double its 125-member workforce over two years.

No. 3: Fuel bladder systems

GKN Aerospace announced an agreement last year with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. for the design, development and manufacture of fuel bladders for Predator B aircraft.

The agreement covers the fuel bladder system for the first production aircraft of the MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft system. MQ-9B is a “Type-Certifiable” version of GA-ASI’s Predator B product line.

GKN Aerospace’s facility in Tallassee is responsible for the work. The engineering process includes a vacuum forming process coupled with the latest polyurethane material, which is extremely durable and lightweight. The new fuel bladder also includes improved rubber fittings to provide better tear resistance.

Vacuum forming allows the company to create fuel bladders in complex shapes that fully exploit all available space on the MQ-9B airframe, maximizing the fuel load capacity and platform endurance. These developments also produce a bladder system with a lower parts count, simplifying manufacture, bladder installation and system support.

“We look forward to working with GA-ASI to provide a vital fuel system solution for this long-endurance Predator B platform variant. We have been supplying fuel systems for many decades and for many airframe platforms and MQ-9B fully exploits all our recent advances in both manufacturing and materials technologies,” said Staffan Svensson, vice president of GKN Aerospace Special Products Group.

No. 4: Missile defense targets

Lockheed Martin’s Huntsville operation is designing and producing modified ballistic re-entry vehicles and separation modules for missile defense tests.

The Missile Defense Agency recently awarded an $80.6 million contract to the company for the work, which runs through 2022.

Instead of warheads, modified ballistic re-entry vehicles carry sensors to measure the accuracy and effectiveness of the target, interceptor and missile defense system. Such testing helps ensure the ballistic missile defense system is ready to detect and destroy enemy missiles.

“The re-entry vehicle is essentially the bullseye for an interceptor missile, and it is also one of the most complex parts of the target,” said Sarah Reeves, vice president of Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin Space.

“In today’s environment, it’s incredibly important to test against threat-representative targets that look like enemy missiles, and we are proud to continue to provide that capability to the Missile Defense Agency.”

Lockheed Martin has helped the Missile Defense Agency’s systems keep pace with threats since 1996, delivering more than 50 threat-representative missile targets and 36 modified ballistic re-entry vehicles.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Honda Alabama opens new logistics buildings in $85 million project

(Honda/Made in Alabama)

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama today marked the official opening of its new logistics buildings, an $85 million project that further deepens the automaker’s roots in Talladega County, as well as its significant imprint on the state’s economy.

The new facilities add nearly 400,000 square feet to Honda’s existing 4.2 million-square-foot factory in Lincoln, where more than 4,500 workers build the Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV, Ridgeline pickup and the V-6 engines that power all three models for customers around the world.


“Our new logistics operations represents an $85 million investment in our operations, as well as continued investment in our associates, our products and in customer satisfaction,” said Mike Oatridge, HMA vice president.

“This new space will help us better streamline our logistics operations, which will result in improved parts delivery, improved quality and improved organization across our production lines.”

The new logistics facilities are mirror-image buildings located at both Line 1 and Line 2. They are part of a multi-phased project dedicated to the enhancement and revitalization of Honda operations in Alabama.

“I’m excited to see these new buildings come alive,” HMA President Tsutomu Morimoto said during today’s event.


Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield joined company officials in cutting the ribbon on the new expansion. He praised employees for Honda’s success in the state, growing from an initial $400 million investment in 2001 to more than $2.6 billion today.

“You guys here have been a vital part of the fabric of the automotive sector that is growing very rapidly in our state,” he said.

Canfield also cited Accelerate Alabama, the state’s strategic plan for economic development. One of the plan’s key drivers is supporting the growth of existing companies in the state.

HMA’s latest investments in technology that will prepare the facility and workforce for future models are exactly the kind of growth from within that Accelerate Alabama promotes, he said.

“Honda is a brand that people across the globe recognize, respect and desire to own, and you are setting the standard for that quality and excellence right here in Alabama,” Canfield said.

“We’re looking forward to the continued investment that occurs here.”


More growth is on the way.

Last week, HMA announced an additional $54.8 million investment to improve weld operations at Line 2. This new expansion, which will add more than 50,000 square feet, is expected to be completed in early 2021.

When combined with the 2017 investment announcements for the Line 1 and Line 2 logistics facilities and other investments, HMA has taken on additions of more than 425,000 square feet to its production operations, along with an investment of about $150 million.

A University of Alabama analysis shows HMA has an estimated $6.8 billion economic impact in the state.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

EDPA’s ‘imerge’ event honors Alabama’s top innovators


Alabama’s top innovators gathered in Birmingham recently to celebrate the region’s thriving entrepreneurial scene and collaborate on ways to make it stronger.

The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s 2018 “imerge” event awarded $151,000 to winners of an Alabama Launchpad startup pitch competition and honored industry leaders with EDPA’s annual Innovation Awards.

Attendees networked over food and drink as EDPA transformed the covered parking area of its office on First Avenue South into a pop-up performance venue.


Entrepreneurs who have helped fuel the growing innovation ecosystem in Birmingham and across the state talked about how the Magic City has shaped their companies’ culture and played a role in their success.

“Birmingham, and particularly the South, has a certain way of putting people first and really caring for people,” said Bill Smith, founder and CEO of Shipt, the same-day delivery marketplace that last week announced a plan to create 881 jobs in Birmingham over the next several years.

Smith said Shipt, which was acquired by Target last year, has been able to scale that culture to locations and shoppers across the country as it aggressively expands.

“That’s been a huge part of our success and will continue to be part of our success in the future.”

$1 billion reasons

Smith was part of a panel discussion – “$1 Billion Reasons to Believe in Alabama” – so named because the companies that were a part of it represented more than $1 billion in recent transactions. Also part of the panel were Shegun Otulana, founder and CEO of Theranest, and Chad Trull of Hospicelink.

Otulana offered encouragement to entrepreneurs who are just getting started.

“It’s a journey, and it’s not going to be easy. Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. “Keep at it and seek counsel and hopefully it gets you to the right place.”

Birmingham auto racing software developer Apex Pro won $100,000 in the seed category of the startup competition, as well as the $1,000 audience choice award. Global Inspections of Mobile won $50,000 in the concept category.

Other special guests at imerge included Henrique Dubugras, co-founder of San Francisco-based financial technology company Brex and Nashville singer-songwriter and entrepreneur Holly Williams.

EDPA President Steve Spencer said imerge brings together the many facets of Alabama’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene in one place to foster even more growth.

“These are the stars of Alabama innovation here tonight. We want to create an environment where people can work with each other, learn from each other and celebrate each other,” he said.

The 2018 EDPA Innovation Award winners are:
–Lifetime Achievement in Innovation: Art Tipton, Birmingham, is president and CEO of Southern Research, one of the leading research organizations in the U.S. in the areas of drug discovery and development, engineering and energy and environmental sciences.
–Startup of the Year: XpertDox, Birmingham, is a free web-based resource that connects patients to expert doctors, hospitals, ongoing clinical trials and peer-to-peer support.
–Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Manufacturing:Alignment Simple Solutions, Pelham, manufactures portable, affordable and accurate wheel alignment products and accessories for all vehicles.
–Corporate Innovator of the Year (small company, 10-50 employees): Inventure Renewables Inc., Tuscaloosa, pioneers process technologies for the rapid, low-cost, high-yield extraction of natural, biochemical and material building blocks from low-value/waste to provide cost-effective, carbon-neutral biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials.
–Corporate Innovator of the Year (large company, 50-plus employees): Shipt, Birmingham, is a membership-based online grocery marketplace delivering fresh foods and household essentials through a community of shoppers and a convenient app.
–Startup Executive of the Year: Dr. Karim Budhwani, Birmingham, is CEO of CerFlux Personalized Medicine, which aims to reduce the pain, reduce the discomfort and reduce the cost of cancer treatment.
–Business Executive of the Year: Miranda Bouldin Frost, Huntsville, is president and CEO of LogiCore, which since its inception in 2002 has been an innovative resource for Department of Defense, government and commercial clients.
–Social Entrepreneur of the Year: Buddy Palmer is president and CEO of Create Birmingham, which has a mission to invest in imagination and invention. Through its programs, Create Birmingham constructs and supports diverse avenues for commercial and nonprofit creative success.
–“imerging” Young Leaders awards: Dustin Embrey, Connie Griesemer, Wayne Heard, Trent Kocurek, Chris Maurice, Ben Podbielski and Jeff Zeiders.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Expansions propel aerospace industry’s growth trajectory in Morgan County

(Made in Alabama)

Morgan County led the way in Alabama for aerospace industry investment in 2017, landing new facilities and expansion projects worth more than $336 million and spurring job growth.

A longtime hub of industry for the state, the county’s assets include its location along the Tennessee River and a solid lineup of businesses already tied to the sector.

“We are fortunate that our existing aerospace-related industries continue to reinvest in their facilities as their businesses grow and evolve,” said Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association (MCEDA).

“We also benefit by working with them to co-locate other aerospace related companies and customers close to their existing operations.”


The growth prospects of Alabama’s aerospace industry have been on full display at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow, where business recruiters from around the state engaged in talks with companies about expansion opportunities.

Two companies – BAE Systems and Carpenter Technology Corp. – used the industry’s premier 2018 trade event as a platform to announce significant Alabama projects.


For Morgan County, Nails said, the key to continued aerospace growth is focusing on improving the infrastructure capacities for manufacturing facilities. The area already benefits from its ports on the Tennessee River, which allows companies to transport large aerospace components via barge.

“We must continue to meet the demands of their utility usage and we work closely with our local utility providers on forecasting future demand.  Also, supporting growth through various workforce development initiatives and incentive programs, keeps our area competitive,” he said.

Four aerospace projects were announced in Morgan County last year, for a combined total of 113 new jobs.

Among them are Huntsville-based Dynetics Inc.’s plan to construct a three-building complex in Decatur to support the development and testing of large rocket components.

Also in Decatur, United Launch Alliance is investing $115.6 million in work on its next-generation launch vehicle, which will be assembled at the venture’s sprawling rocket assembly plant.

Morgan County’s biggest aerospace investment announcement of 2017 – and biggest investment announcement overall – was Hexcel Corp.’s plan to expand its Decatur facility, spending nearly $200 million and adding about 90 new jobs. The project will establish the company’s first integrated U.S. carbon fiber and PAN production facility.

Hexcel Decatur was established in 1989 and was the first company to construct a facility in Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park.


Before last year’s announcement, the company had spent $691 million in previous expansions of the Decatur site. The growth has come amid the increase of carbon fiber used in aerospace-related components and for other purposes.

Hexcel is still in the early stages of the project with engineering and permitting activities well under way, said Brett Schneider, president – Global Fibers, Hexcel.

Construction is expected to begin later this year.

“It’s great to see aerospace industry growth in Alabama, and we’re proud to call the state home along with some of our customers including Airbus and GE Aviation,” Schneider said. “The growing aerospace presence in the state, support from local officials, and confidence in our existing plant and workforce in Decatur all were deciding factors for us.”

Schneider said the company is grateful to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the MCEDA, the mayor and City Council of Decatur, the Morgan County Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority – all of whom and more have worked to make Decatur a competitive and business-friendly location for Hexcel’s growth.

“Also, we have to say how proud we are of our team at Hexcel Decatur – they’ve done a terrific job helping us meet customer expectations and to become more successful as a company overall.

“It’s proven to be a great location for us, and we look forward to growing it,” he said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

5 ways Alabama researchers are taking on aerospace challenges

(Made in Alabama/NASA)

Universities across Alabama are helping to shape the future of the global aerospace industry.

From complex research projects to intensive training for future pilots and engineers, these institutions are making a significant impact on the journey to conquer skies and space.

As global aerospace industry leaders gather at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow, it’s time to take a look at five interesting projects happening inside labs and classrooms across the state:



An assistant engineering professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville recently received a 2018 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Award for his proposal involving robotic bumble-bee-sized flapping-winged fliers to aid in the exploration of Mars.

Dr. Chang-kwon Kang is collaborating on the project with other researchers at UAH, as well as those from George Washington University and the Tokyo University of Science. The proposal features the Marsbee, whose large cicada-like wings have the ability to hover in the Martian atmosphere. It’s also equipped with sensors and wireless communication devices.

“Flying on Mars is challenging because of the ultra-low density in the Martian atmosphere. Our preliminary work shows that bio-inspired aerodynamic mechanisms can help in generating sufficient lift to fly on Mars,” Kang said.

“One of our main goals for the first phase is to experimentally demonstrate that these Marsbees can lift off their own weight in Martian density conditions in the vacuum chamber of UAH’s Propulsion Research Center.”

He said the long-term goal is to develop swarms of Marsbees that can help with the human exploration on Mars.

Kang’s proposal was one of only 25 selected to receive an award from the NIAC program, which invests in early-stage technology with the potential to revolutionize future space exploration. It provides up to $125,000 in funding over nine months to award winners, and the concepts that succeed in feasibility testing are eligible for Phase II awards.


 At Auburn University, the new Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building is expected to open this fall.

The 23,000-square-foot facility, funded with a $6.2 million gift from Delta Air Lines, the Delta Air Lines Foundation and the Jacobson Family Foundation, is the first building designed exclusively for aviation education at Auburn.

It will include more room for growing enrollment and class offerings, as well as state-of-the-art flight simulators, technology-equipped classrooms and faculty offices and workspace.

The gift is also supporting the university’s Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) lab, where scientists conduct research on how specialized sensor technologies can affect a variety of industries. For aviation in particular, such technology is useful in maintenance and safety history, tracking passenger baggage and making air travel safer and more efficient overall.

Also benefiting from the gift is Emerge, a student leadership program at Auburn that hosts monthly speakers focused on values, vision and teamwork.

Auburn’s Department of Aviation is home to one of the longest-standing public flight programs in the U.S.

“We know firsthand how capable Auburn graduates are and look forward to a future with Auburn in which truly, the sky is the limit,” said Paul Jacobson, Delta’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, trustee with the Delta Air Lines Foundation and chair of the Jacobson Family Foundation.


A research group at the University of Alabama at Birmingham designs and builds freezers that play key roles in experiments conducted on the International Space Station.

A multi-year contract between NASA and the UAB Engineering Innovation and Technology Development (EITD) research group was recently doubled, giving the group a $50 million cap on work to provide and maintain these cold-stowage units for the ISS.

The freezers are capable of maintaining temperatures as low as negative 160 degrees Celsius, and each line meets specific cold-stowage demands. They are used to store scientific samples and serve as galley refrigerator/freezers for the ISS crew.

The group also monitors the units from its Remote Operations Command Center on the UAB campus.

EITD is comprised of nearly 40 engineers and technicians and led by Dr. Lee Moradi, a UAB engineering professor.

“These contracts are evidence of the quality of personnel we have in our group,” Moradi said. “Our engineers and technicians have an impeccable reputation that has been built over decades, and we have been able to recruit extremely talented young engineers and software developers, including several top UAB students, both graduate and undergraduate.”


University of South Alabama researcher is studying a form of propulsion that would revolutionize deep space missions.

Dr. Carlos Montalvo, an assistant engineering professor, is conducting research on the electric sail, or E-Sail, which has major implications for aerospace.

“The Electric Sail is a relatively new concept of advanced in-space propulsion,” Montalvo said. “This technology has the potential to provide propellant-less propulsion throughout the solar system. An electric sail deploys multiple long (20 km) tethers that are positively charged. The solar wind interacts with the tethers to provide propulsion.”

Based on the E-Sail’s characteristic acceleration, it can reach the heliopause region, the boundary marking the end of the sun’s influence, in 10 years. By comparison, the characteristic acceleration of a solar sail puts it in the heliopause region in 20 years, while chemical rockets take 24 years.

“The only spacecraft to reach the heliopause region is the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, which reached the heliopause region in 36 years,” Montalvo said. “The increase in performance from a solar sail to an E-Sail lies in the growing sheath width of the electric sail, which grows with distance from the sun.”

E-sails provide a new way for small spacecraft to be used for deep space missions.

“This has never been done before. It would pave the way for small secondary payloads to reach uncharted territories of our universe,” Montalvo said.


Tuskegee University’s Aerospace Science Engineering Department is focused on sparking an interest in STEM activities among local students, using the power of flight.

Along with the university’s Mathematics Department, Aerospace Science Engineering hosts a weeklong summer camp, “Fly High Your Math and Science Skills,” for Macon County middle school students.

One of the program’s highlights for the students is flying various missions on a flight simulator.

“The simulator is a favorite for students – it provides hands-on experience and allows us to better connect math and science concepts for them,” said Dr. Javed Khan, head of the Aerospace Science Engineering Department.

The activities also teach critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and communication skills. In addition, middle school teachers receive science and mathematics education training.

The project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“This is the second year for the program, and it continues to be an outstanding learning opportunity that will greatly benefit teachers and students alike, as well as prepare students for career opportunities in the STEM fields,” Khan added.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Hyundai Alabama launches production of redesigned 2019 Santa Fe SUV

(Made in Alabama)

Hyundai’s Alabama auto plant last week kicked off production of the redesigned 2019 Santa Fe, with plans to produce more than 84,000 models this year to meet growing demand for SUVs.

The 3,200-worker Montgomery factory also produces the Sonata and Elantra sedans. Since late last year, the plant has been coordinating retooling, robot programming and other logistical projects to prepare for the start of Santa Fe production.

Workers and local leaders celebrated with a vehicle roll-off ceremony and a parade through the plant led by the new SUV.


“We’re thrilled about the design and technological features of this generation Santa Fe,” said Dong Ryeol Choi, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. “This SUV features Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist; Safe Exit Assist to warn drivers if a car is approaching when they exit the vehicle; and Rear Occupant Alert to remind drivers to check the rear seats when exiting the vehicle.”

Choi added: “As we launch the new Santa Fe, take pride in every step of the production process – build each SUV as if it were your own. We must challenge ourselves to achieve the highest quality levels while producing the Santa Fe, Sonata and Elantra.”

Hyundai unveiled the new Santa Fe in March at the New York International Auto Show.

The vehicle’s bold new look is highlighted by Hyundai’s signature cascading grille and a composite light design with LED daytime running lights on top of the LED headlights. Premium touches include a three-dimensional instrument panel and contrasting seat stitching to convey luxury inside the cabin.

Elsewhere, there are improvements in ride comfort, handling and stability.

The new Santa Fe’s debut in Montgomery is the second major announcement for the facility last week.


On Tuesday, Hyundai said it is investing $388 million to build a plant dedicated to manufacturing engine heads and enhance existing operations to support production of new models of the Sonata and Elantra.

The project is expected to create 50 jobs in Montgomery and is seen as an important step for the automaker in Alabama.

“Hyundai is really positioning its Montgomery manufacturing facility for the future with this investment,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This is about technology. This is about taking a facility that’s been around for nearly two decades and really launching it into the next 20, 25, 30 years of productivity and ingenuity.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

SEUS-Canada Alliance to kick off joint meeting in Mobile

(Made in Alabama)

Business leaders from across Canada and the Southeastern U.S. will gather in Mobile next week to seek new trade and investment opportunities and continue to build on already strong partnerships.

The 11th Annual Southeastern United States – Canadian Provinces (SEUS-CP) Alliance Conference kicks off Sunday in the Port City, with more than 240 participants from the public and private sectors expected to attend.

Alabama’s role as host of the conference is a chance to showcase the state, as well as the entire Southeastern U.S., as a premiere place to do business, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.


“We are excited to welcome the SEUS Canada delegates and show off the dynamic global business community that is flourishing in Mobile and across the state,” he said.

“At the same time, we’re eager to find new areas of common ground where we can build partnerships, fuel investments and create jobs in U.S. and Canadian communities.”


Canada is a Top 5 foreign investor in Alabama. Since 1999, Canadian companies have poured more than $2.5 billion in capital investment in Alabama, creating an estimated 5,700 jobs, according to Commerce data.

Meanwhile, the country also figures prominently in the overall SEUS region, which along with Alabama includes Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Two-way trade between Canada and the SEUS states topped $50 billion in 2017. Top Southeastern exports include transportation equipment, machinery, computer and electronic products and chemicals, while top Canadian imports in the region are chemicals, transportation equipment, machinery and plastics and rubber products.

Mobile is thrilled to host SEUS Canada, said Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Mobile is home to more than 50 international investments, contributing to our city’s diversified economy,” he said. “During the past few years alone, we’ve been proud to welcome Canadian companies Danby Products and Canfor Southern Pine with both companies expanding operations here. And most recently, we’ve celebrated the new partnership between Airbus and Bombardier.

“We look forward to continued alliances with Canada and look forward to welcoming this prestigious group to Mobile,” Sisson added.


The conference has a unique element as it is designed to incorporate business-to-business matchmaking that will facilitate new international partnerships, said Hilda Lockhart, director of Commerce’s Office of International Trade.

“These meetings are convened to help small-to-mid-size businesses find an export path to Canada and vice versa,” she said. “The Alabama companies that are serving as the anchors for these matchmaking meetings certainly represent some of the state’s premier industries. The industry sectors highlighted at this conference include transportation, energy and information and communications technology.

“All Alliance members are heavily involved in one or more of these sectors, thus enabling companies to participate and meet with possible business partners,” she added.

Lockhart said conference sessions will address key topics of interest to both Canada and the U.S., including increased energy demands prompted by the rise of electric vehicles and the challenges of adapting to the technology transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Workforce development is always a popular topic at the annual conference, and this year’s keynote speaker is Cam Marston. He is an author, columnist, blogger and lecturer who will address how generational demographics are changing the business landscape.

“Of course, the conference will engage in talks about trade and investment opportunities and examine upcoming trends to expand our two-way business relationship and how we all stand to gain by further strengthening our partnerships with one another,” Lockhart said.

“This is what we believe makes the SEUS-CP annual conference a success and achieves the goal of the Alliance – advancing economic ties and exchange of innovative technologies.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Steve Case: ‘Great things happening in Birmingham’

(Made in Alabama)

Birmingham’s startup scene got a major boost on Wednesday, as a traveling caravan of national tech and innovation leaders met some of the city’s most dynamic entrepreneurs.

The Rise of the Rest bus tour, led by America Online founder Steve Case, made stops at key centers of innovation around the Magic City. The day culminated with a pitch competition at Sloss Furnaces and a grand prize of $100,000 awarded to local tech startup Mixtroz.

Birmingham is a community on the rise, Case said.


“This is a city built by innovation, and the innovation happened to be steel,” he said. “Now, it’s gone from a city focused on steel to a city that is focused on startups.”

Case cited the transformation of Innovation Depot, from a long vacant department store to a thriving hub of entrepreneurship, as well as local startup Pack Health’s innovative approach to health coaching.

“There are great things happening in Birmingham, and you should all feel great about that,” he said.

But there’s also more work to be done, and that’s the goal of the Rise of the Rest initiative. Since 2014, Case and his team have visited 35 cities on seven separate tours scattered across the U.S.

“What we see in each of these communities is what we see in this community,” he said. “A community rallying to support their entrepreneurs and making a lot of progress, but there’s still work to be done.”


Case is chairman and CEO of the Washington D.C.-based investment firm Revolution. Last year, Case and J.D. Vance, Revolution managing partner, announced a $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund to further the program’s goal of supporting emerging startup ecosystems outside the Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.

Case said three states — California, New York and Massachusetts — account for 75 percent of venture capital in the U.S., leaving the rest of the states to fight over the remaining 25 percent.

Women and minority entrepreneurs also get less funding.

“What we’re trying to do is level the playing field so everybody everywhere has a shot at the American Dream,” he said. “Our hope is that 10 years from now, the capital is spread more broadly.”

“We’ve only been here for a day, but I’m sold. ”

For Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons, the mother-daughter duo behind Mixtroz, the support of Birmingham’s startup community has been significant.

Mixtroz was founded in Nashville but came to Birmingham to be part of Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator. The firm’s software drives live event attendees from the digital space on their mobile phones to a physical space at the event in real time while collecting valuable data.

“Birmingham for us has been amazing,” Ammons said, citing support from the city, other companies and Innovation Depot. “If you come in, dedicated to entrepreneurship, it’s phenomenal.”

Vance said everyone involved in the startup community must tell their own stories to build Birmingham’s image as an entrepreneurial launching point.

“What really makes a difference is an assertive story about what a cool city it is,” he said. “We’ve only been here for a day, but I’m sold.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Rise of the Rest bus tour to showcase Birmingham innovation ecosystem

(Made in Alabama)

Birmingham’s entrepreneurial and innovation landscape will be in the spotlight today, as the city hosts a national tour of supporters of early-stage startups.

The Rise of the Rest bus tour passes through the Magic City, where it will make stops at the National Civil Rights Institute, the makerspace MAKEbhm, downtown business incubator Innovation Depot and healthcare startup PackHealth.

The initiative is led by Steve Case, the founder of America Online and the chairman and CEO of the Washington D.C.-based investment firm Revolution, which seeks to help build disruptive, innovative companies.


In each city, the tour features a pitch competition and a $100,000 award to a promising startup. Since 2014, Case and his team have traveled more than 8,000 miles touring entrepreneurial communities in 33 cities.

Last year, Case and JD Vance, Revolution managing partner, announced a $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund to further the program’s goal of supporting emerging startup ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.

“Both the Rise of the Rest bus tour and fund are helping to raise the visibility of promising startups in cities across the country,” Case said.

“For the past four years, we have been encouraged by the entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders we’ve met on our tours and are excited to invest catalytic capital into these Rise of the Rest regions.”


“We are eager to showcase the energy and talent that is driving Birmingham’s economy forward. ”

During today’s tour, a VIP Leadership breakfast with Case, Vance and local business and civic leaders will be held at Post Office Pies, and the group will lunch at Sloss Furnaces, which is also the site of the pitch competition.

Others expected to participate in today’s events include Chris Moody of the Foundry Group, Ann Florie of Leadership Birmingham, Jared Weinstein of Thrive Capital, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts and John Hudson of Bronze Valley – Alabama Power.

Google for Entrepreneurs, a longtime Rise of the Rest partner, is again providing coaches to help founders with their pitches.

“From steel-mills to start-ups, Birmingham is and has always been a city of builders and makers. The product and the means of production may have changed, but the pride and the quality of the craftsmanship has not,” said Josh Carpenter, director of the city’s Office of Economic Development.

“The Rise of the Rest pitch competition at Sloss Furnace brings our talent to a national stage where it belongs,” he added. “We are eager to showcase the energy and talent that is driving Birmingham’s economy forward.”

Other cities on the Rise of the Rest bus tour this spring are Dallas, Memphis, Chattanooga and Louisville.


Local pitch competition finalists are:

–Smart Alto, which makes a text-messaging robot that helps real estate agents respond to leads
–Eugene’s Hot Chicken, which will open a community kitchen for Birmingham food trucks and business startups
–Swervice, a firm that offers independent auto shop owners an enhanced digital customer experience anchored by an on-demand car maintenance valet service and real-time customer engagement
–O3 Solution, which brings agile project management to industrial construction
–Tappas, a firm that brings unprecedented levels of autonomy to mobile application testing, making it as easy, effective, and ubiquitous as possible using smart automation and machine learning technology
–Mixtroz, a software that drives live event attendees from the digital space (mobile phone) to physical space (event) in real time while collecting valuable data
–Shine E Solar, which offers community garden launch kits for urban lots along with solar powered, smart systems that will assist in maintaining the installations
–Help Lightning, which delivers superior mobile communication, collaboration and cognition through merged reality virtual interactive presence for users needing help solving problems

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Port of Mobile taps partners to develop $60M auto export facility

(Made in Alabama)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The Port of Mobile is poised to become a major hub of auto export activity, with a new facility that will allow vehicles to be driven directly onto cargo ships bound for markets around the world.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Alabama State Port Authority and AutoMobile International Terminal, a joint venture of Terminal Zárate S.A. and SAAM Puertos S.A., signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop and operate a vehicle processing roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) facility at the Port of Mobile.


The signing took place in Buenos Aires, the headquarters of Terminal Zárate S.A. and also the site of a trade mission involving Alabama business leaders. The state delegation is visiting Argentina and Ecuador this week to find new markets for their products and services.

The agreement is a giant step forward in supporting automotive logistics in the Americas and abroad, according to James K. Lyons, director and CEO of the Port Authority.

“This agreement represents a key step in diversifying the Port Authority’s business while providing a strategic asset to regional automotive shippers,” Lyons said.


Automobiles have long been Alabama’s top export, topping $7.75 billion last year alone. State-made models are currently loaded onto ships at ports in other states, so the new RO/RO facility at the Port of Mobile will provide a more convenient option for state automakers.

“Alabama is the No. 3 auto exporter among U.S. states, with shipments to 88 countries last year,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This new facility is an important piece of infrastructure that will help our automakers maintain their competitive edge as they continue to grow.”

Construction on the automotive RO/RO terminal is scheduled to start by the end of this year, with completion expected by the end of 2019.

The new terminal would convert approximately 57 acres of a former bulk material handling facility into a state-of-the-art automotive processing and logistics terminal. The 40-foot ship draft facility is served by five Class I railroads serving all of North America and immediate, unencumbered access to two interstate systems (I-65 and I-10).

The overall project represents a total investment of approximately $60 million. Proceeds from the Port Authority’s recently-awarded $12.7 million Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and the $28.8 million grant from the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council as authorized under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 would contribute toward the cost of the project.


In late 2016, the Port Authority initiated a Request for Proposal process to identify a potential partner in the construction of the facility to meet the region’s growing demand for finished automobile import/export facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The Authority selected the partnership between Terminal Zárate S.A. and SAAM Puertos S.A. and began concession agreement discussions for the construction and operation of the new facility.

Terminal Zárate S.A. specializes in port services; cars, containers and project cargo handling operations; storage and logistics services; warehousing; equipment rental and other activities providing value to client logistic chains, economic sectors and overseas trade.

It is among the largest RO/RO terminals in the Americas with a 9 million vehicle throughput to date.

“This project is a significant component of our growth strategy and given our strong experience as a RO/RO terminal we are convinced we will develop AutoMobile International Terminal into a world class RO/RO processing and handling facility,” said Robert Murchison, president of Terminal Zárate S.A.

The other partner in the joint venture, SAAM Puertos S.A., is a subsidiary of Sociedad Matriz SAAM S.A., a Chilean multinational company that provides foreign trade services by means of port terminal operations, towage and logistics.

With a network of 11 ports in six countries, SAAM Puertos S.A. is one of the major port operators in South America and partners with the world’s leading shipping companies.

“We look forward to work together with Terminal Zárate and the Alabama State Port Authority and bring all our knowledge and experience to the service of the terminal, and consolidate our position in America,” said Yurik Díaz, manager of SAAM Puertos S.A.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Alabama trade mission team seeks business connections in South America

(Made in Alabama)

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield is leading a team of state business leaders on a trade mission in South America this week, aiming to forge new relationships and find new markets for their goods and services.

The mission to Argentina and Ecuador features a wide variety of the state’s business interests, with representatives from the tech, engineering, medical and manufacturing fields.

In both countries, the delegation will meet with public and private sector leaders to explore new business and investment opportunities.


“Alabama companies are making their mark in all corners of the world, with high-quality, in-demand products and innovative processes that are consistently recognized as market leaders,” Secretary Canfield said.

“As we have seen time after time, connections made on these trade missions help our businesses gain a foothold in new markets and grow their international sales, which helps create new jobs and investments back home.”


Last year, Alabama exports reached a record $21.7 billion, a 6 percent increase from the previous year.

The state’s exports to Argentina totaled $111.5 million, increasing 108 percent from 2016. Top categories were minerals and ores, chemicals and transportation equipment. More growth is projected for the country’s economy in the coming years, buoyed by rich natural resources and a broad middle class with strong purchasing power.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s exports to Ecuador were $7.8 million last year. The country, a top oil and agricultural exporter, is seeking to diversify its economy, with the government focused on opening it up to more international trade.

Alabama companies participating in the trade mission include Atlas RFID Solutions and Warren Manufacturing of Birmingham; Douglas Manufacturing of Pell City, Irrigation Components of Daphne; Knox Kershaw of Montgomery; ProcessBarron of Pelham; Rico Suction Labs of Mobile; SEPCO of Alabaster; and Smarter Services LLC of Prattville.

Representatives from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Commerce are also a part of the delegation.


For ProcessBarron, the trade mission is part of a recent effort to expand export activities in Central and South America.

The company provides air, gas, fuel and ash handling equipment for a variety of heavy industrial uses, including plants in the pulp and paper, iron and steel, cement and sugar industries.

“We’re trying to expand our footprint in those same industries in other countries,” said Vince Simpson, regional sales manager for ProcessBarron who is traveling with the trade mission delegation. “We’re taking what we do best and trying to do it somewhere else.”

The company’s export business started about 20 years ago in the Dominican Republic, where its key customers are a large power plant, sugar mills and cement plants.

In addition to new customers, the company is also seeking local representatives for its products in South America, Simpson said.

“If you can go on a trade mission, it will open doors for you by facilitating meetings and introductions,” he said.


Hilda Lockhart, director of Alabama Department of Commerce’s Office of International Trade, said the delegation has a full slate of meetings and networking opportunities in Argentina and Ecuador.

“We have collaborated with the American Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires to put together a seminar that will highlight the business and investment opportunities Alabama provides for Argentine businesses,” she said.

“This program allows us to meet with local, national and international businesses to explore opportunities for all of Alabama and not just the companies that are participating in the trade mission.”

Also in Buenos Aires, delegation members will meet with several top government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Production (Trade), among others.

And in both Argentina and Ecuador, the group will attend receptions at the ambassadors’ residences, which provide an additional avenue to meet with business and government leaders, Lockhart said.

“As with all trade missions, we are working with our Foreign Commercial Service at the embassies that are setting up pre-qualified B2B meetings with prospective customers, business partners and industry leaders for our small and medium sized businesses — helping to connect these companies is what the trade mission is all about,” she said.

“Many of these companies do not have the resources or opportunities to push their quality-made products in overseas markets.  So, with the assistance of the Export Alabama Alliance, we are able to help create these customized itineraries.”

(By Dawn Azok, Courtesy of Made in Alabama)