The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

    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

    Excerpt:

    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

    Excerpt:

    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.

2 weeks ago

In rural Alabama’s workshops and plants, quality products spring to life

(Jerry Seigel/Contributed)

Alabama’s rural counties are the source of some of the state’s most distinctive products, from handcrafted, all-natural items for health and home to innovative technologies that are charting the future for business and industry.

“Rural Alabama is making a remarkable impression both at home and beyond our state’s borders,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“There is a strong commitment to quality, craftsmanship and creativity that runs through the work force in these towns and communities. There is also a sense of pride that is evident and impressive,” he added.

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Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the diverse mix of products originating from the state’s rural areas transmits a clear message about the capabilities found there.

“Rural Alabama is a go-to place for unique, high-quality products, made with care and sold in state, regional, national and world markets,” Tuck said.

“Alabama’s rural communities are home to skilled artisans, talented creators and enterprising business owners who are making a lasting difference with their inspiring labors,” she continued.

SPORTS VENUES

Sports fans across Alabama and beyond cheer on their favorite teams from seats fashioned by Geneva County’s Outdoor Aluminum. The company produces bleachers, grandstands, press boxes, team benches, scorer tables and more for high school and college campuses at its facility in the town of Geneva. In business for more than 30 years, Outdoor Aluminum has a national sales and support network and also does custom projects with a variety of color schemes, theater seating and engraving options.

COMMERCIAL BAMBOO

Resource Fiber plans to produce engineered bamboo products in Lamar County. The company, which in January announced plans for a $3.6 million, 111-job plant in Sulligent, has done extensive research and development involving bamboo products, such as bamboo nail laminated timbers used in the construction of multi-story buildings. Other products include bamboo railroad ties and a laminated timber system to replace steel roof and floor decks in commercial buildings.

GOAT MILK SKINCARE

In the Dallas County community of Marion Junction, Laura Spencer has been crafting goat milk soap and skincare products for more than a decade. What started as an endeavor toward more sustainable living has since grown into a small business called Simply Making It. The products include lotions, lip balms and bath bombs and are made from natural ingredients, such as milk from the goats at Spencer Farm, herbs from Spencer’s garden and pure essential oils.

SWEETS AND OTHER TREATS

Rural Alabama is responsible for some of the state’s tastiest snacks.

For nearly 75 years, Conecuh Sausage has been a staple on Southern plates, and it has developed a cult-like following far beyond Alabama as restaurants, cookbooks and social media fan clubs sing its praises. The company makes the hickory smoked sausage in its Conecuh County hometown of Evergreen and offers nationwide shipping.

Another savory treat hails from Pike County, where Wickles Pickles are processed and bottled in Brundidge. With a unique flavor that blends heat and sweet, Wickles have built a loyal following over the past 20 years and are sold in supermarkets across the U.S. In 2018, production of Wickles Pickles moved from North Carolina back to their roots in Alabama.

Other snacks are made by Priester’s Pecans, a handmade gourmet candy company that’s been operating in Lowndes County since 1935, selling pecans and all kinds of treats made with them. The company’s retail store in Fort Deposit is a familiar sight and favorite stop for travelers on Interstate 65, to eat lunch, sample the merchandise and watch the candy makers in action.

And in neighboring Crenshaw County, one of the top employers is Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls, which produces frozen breakfast and dinner rolls that are sold in stores across the U.S. Using her grandmother’s recipe, Alabama native Patricia “Sister” Schubert built the Luverne-based company into a bakery industry juggernaut that generates more than $60 million in U.S. sales.

FOR THE HOME

Two rural Alabama companies – both father-son teams – help set the stage for a stylish and relaxing home.

Tallapoosa County’s Wellborn Industries crafts custom cabinets, flooring and accent furniture in Jacksons’ Gap near Lake Martin. Owner Curtis Wellborn started the company in the mid-1990s focused on cabinets. Later, he added saw mills that expanded his business and product lines, and sons Jay and Jarod joined him.

In Winston County, Wood Studio creates handmade furniture using native hardwoods at a shop on the banks of Smith Lake in Arley. Company founder Randy Cochran and sons Keith and Dylan have earned critical acclaim for their work and signature pieces including the Lookout Mountain Rocker, Beersheba Swing, Crane Chair and others.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Alabama-grown: Chilton County farmer cultivates her dream

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

THORSBY, Alabama – Taylor Boozer Hatchett didn’t grow up on a farm, but she has a passion for tending the land and sharing its bounty like many who did.

Her father, Bobby Boozer, worked with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University and spent his 26-year career helping farmers throughout the state, particularly fruit growers.

As a child, Hatchett sometimes tagged along with him on farm visits, while he scouted orchards, inspected crops, set out insect traps and visited with farmers. As she grew older, she and her family helped sell peaches for local farmers and eventually planted their own peach trees and other crops, establishing Boozer Farms in Chilton County as a fledgling summer project.

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Today, it’s no longer just a summer job, and Hatchett is a full-time farmer. She and her dad run Boozer Farms, which provides fresh produce to communities across Alabama through restaurants, local farmers markets and a growing Community Supported Agriculture program.

Despite early agricultural ambitions, Hatchett didn’t follow a direct path into farming. She planned to study nursing in college and even worked briefly in the medical field, before she returned to her first love.

“I am honored to work to bring our community fresh, local, quality food and narrow the gap between tables and farms,” Hatchett said. “I am thankful to work in an industry full of some of the hardest working and most dedicated individuals you will ever find.

“Farming is my joy … it’s in my blood.”

NEW GENERATION OF FARMERS

Boozer, 37, isn’t your typical Alabama or U.S. farmer. Federal agriculture statistics show the average farmer is over 58 years old, and their numbers have been dwindling for decades.

However, there are signs that more young people are taking an interest in farming, amid generational shifts and growing interest in food sourcing and supply, said Hunter McBrayer, commodity director at Alabama Farmers Federation and executive director of the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Some of them are full-time farmers, while others work in another industry and do farming on the side, he said. ALFA has an active young farmers group, and the organization’s goal is to provide resources to help them move into full-time food production.

McBrayer, who is 31, said there are a variety of factors fueling the trend among his peers.

“A lot of research says the younger generation wants to know they’re doing good, and what’s better than providing food for the rest of the country?” he said. “Some of them are driven by family traditions, with people who want to get back to the farm. Others have a desire to be their own employer, knowing the harder they work, the more it pays off.”

Many have gone to school to study agriculture, or perhaps even business or marketing, and then bring that back to the farm, to help grow it in a different way than it has in the past, he added.

CSA programs, like the one at Boozer Farms, are a particularly fast-growing source of revenue for Alabama farms right now.

“I think the pandemic has added even more to the CSA programs,” McBrayer said. “People have gotten so used to ordering groceries online or doing pickups. With a CSA, it’s easy for you to expect what you’re going to get. You pay up front for your subscription, and you’re going to have farm-fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.”

WINDING PATHWAY

For Hatchett, the summer after third grade made a lasting impression and was a sign of things to come.

She and her sister began traveling to Slocomb on the weekends to help their dad sell peaches grown by a farmer friend in Chilton County and supplement the family income.

“It always felt like such an important adventure to be included on,” Hatchett said. “We would wake up early on Saturday morning and set up our peaches to sell.  We learned how to cup up peaches into baskets for display, how to help customers and how to make change.

“It was awesome on-the-job training for two young girls, and we loved every minute of it.”

As a teen, Hatchett worked weekends and summers at Petals From the Past nursery in Jemison, and her favorite task was propagating plants in the greenhouses. She learned to make cuttings, start seeds, graft and more, but as college approached she was headed in another direction.

Everyone around her was encouraging her to go into the medical field, based on the availability of well-paid jobs. So, the summer after high school, she took a job as a tech in the surgery department of a local hospital, but it was a true fish-out-of-water experience.

Hatchett then scrapped her plans to go to nursing school at Auburn, and after taking her dad’s advice, she decided to study the field that she loved, settling on Agronomy and Soils. Still, she thought she would just complete her basics at Auburn’s College of Agriculture and then transfer to some type of medical program.

“I was required to take Basic Crop Science my first semester, and that was it,” Hatchett said. “I’m not sure how many weeks in my mind shifted, but I never again considered switching majors. I was absolutely fascinated by that class.

“It was so exciting to learn the science behind so many things I ‘knew’ about but really only had surface knowledge.”

STARTING OUT

Looking back, that semester was also when Hatchett decided that one day she wanted to farm. But she viewed it as more of a retirement plan, after she had worked and made money.

“Although I grew up around farmers, I didn’t grow up with farming resources. My family owned seven acres – and half of that is woods – and had never even had a riding lawn mower, much less a tractor. I knew I wanted to farm, and I felt like one day I would be able to. But it wouldn’t be like other people sitting next to me in class who had multigenerational family farms to return to,” she said.

During college, Hatchett went back to peddling peaches as a summer job. She and her siblings set up in a parking lot across from Ag Hill in Auburn, selling peaches grown by Chilton County farmer Henry Williams, who had supplied the produce she sold as a child.

Eventually, Hatchett talked her dad into planting their own peach trees, as well as blackberries, and Boozer Farms was born. By the time Hatchett graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2005, the family had a small blackberry patch well established, along with nearly two acres of peaches on land a neighbor allowed them to use.

“Both of those orchards are no more, but the memories made in them I will cherish forever,” Hatchett said. “There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears left in those fields, but I wouldn’t trade that time with my family for anything. Each summer we would add another location or stop to sell, and by the end of my college years we had built up a wonderful summer business.”

Even after she graduated, Hatchett continued working the tiny farm, and the sales at markets each summer helped cover college expenses for her and her siblings.

Meanwhile, she went on to get a master’s degree in Plant Pathology at Auburn and then started her career following in her dad’s footsteps as a Regional Home Grounds Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

TURNING POINT

It was a sweet time in Hatchett’s life, as she supported backyard gardening education, as well as Master Gardener programs in her region. But the medical field beckoned again, and she was offered the job of quality control director at a medical device manufacturer.

“Looking back now I wish I had followed my dad’s advice to seek joy and not money, but the salary offered was substantially more than I was making and with my husband in school full-time I decided it would be the best decision for us,” she said.

“I spent two years at a job that I was not created to do, and to say I was miserable is an understatement.”

In 2011, after a series of devastating tornadoes ravaged Alabama, Hatchett volunteered on a cleanup team with her church and caught a ride home with Joe Mims, a longtime educator, cattle farmer and sod farmer in Chilton County. He was also the neighbor who had loaned her family the land for their peach orchards years earlier, and he had long been a grandfatherly figure to Hatchett.

During that ride, she poured out her heart over her misery at her current job, and he joked that she should take over his farm.

Several days later, however, it wasn’t a joke anymore. Mims, who was ready to retire, contacted Hatchett with a proposal, which she saw as a miraculous answer to years of prayer and a door to the life and career she truly wanted.

“He laid out the most beautiful lease agreement that gave me access to his sod farm, his equipment, his entire business and in a way that I only paid him if I made money,” she said.

“It was one of the most gracious gifts that I have ever been given. He proposed that I work under him part time and begin to learn the ins and outs of the sod business and work towards running it fully by myself.”

So, Hatchett switched to part-time at the medical device company, working three days a week there and three days a week farming. That arrangement worked well for about six months, but then Hatchett’s boss said he needed her to go back to full-time.

BECOMING A ‘REAL’ FARMER

For Hatchett, there was no going back.

“I had a taste of a job that I had dreamed about,” she said. “Three days a week it didn’t matter how hard I worked, how early I started or how late I stayed, I had found the job that brought me joy. I remember looking up with tears in my eyes and telling my boss he would have to consider that my two weeks’ notice. I couldn’t walk away from my chance to farm.”

In February 2012, Hatchett marked her first day as a “real” farmer, a title that makes her smile because she’s still amazed that this is her life.

Hatchett is involved all aspects of farm life, but sales and customer service is her main task, while her dad’s primary focus is production. She stays busy communicating with customers, marketing the farm’s CSA program – which is its primary means of sales – and establishing new markets.

While there are plenty of challenges involved in farm life – finding reliable labor and balancing her roles as a wife and mom chief among them – Hatchett is committed to the long-term.

She hopes the farm continues to move forward, always providing quality produce, being open and honest about growing practices and staying up to date with new research and farming methods.

“I want to continue to farm in a way that ensures that our farm, both the people and the land, are sustainable,” she said. “It does no good to sustain your land if you can’t keep an environment where people want to work.”

Hatchett said her ultimate long-term goal is to keep farming, since many small farms don’t have a long life expectancy.

“When I look at all that God has blessed us with and how He has grown the farm it never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “I still have just a little head knowledge and just a little experience but He has been so gracious to allow me to continue to work every day at a job that brings me genuine joy.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

With roots in family farm, growth blooms for Moulton’s Red Land Cotton

(Red Land Cotton/Contributed)

MOULTON, Alabama – Red Land Cotton is expanding its home base in Lawrence County, as demand is surging for its heirloom-inspired linens.

The company completed construction of a 25,000-square-foot warehouse, distribution center and storefront in December and officially began operations there earlier this year.

The move follows a year of strong growth for Red Land Cotton, with sales volume that climbed 215 percent from March to August 2020 and increasing online traffic as well.

The company also added new employees in Alabama, along with a manufacturing arm in Mississippi that has expanded production capacity. The investment in its growth plans totals $1.5 million.

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Anna Yeager Brakefield, Red Land Cotton’s co-founder, said several factors are driving the growth.

“I believe that we have been smarter about our marketing on social media and search engines, and we have grown our product offerings allowing for several different points of entry to our brand,” she said.

The company also has benefited from an increased resolve from consumers to buy American-made goods, Brakefield added.

FAMILY AFFAIR

Over the past three decades, Brakefield’s father, Mark Yeager, has been growing cotton on his family farm in Moulton, honing sustainable farming practices and custom gin operations. About five years ago, he and his daughter teamed up on a retail business to sell the farm’s crops directly to consumers.

Red Land Cotton, named after the red earth of northern Alabama, was born, and today sells luxury sheets, blankets, towels and more made from the farm’s cotton at manufacturing sites around the Southeastern U.S.

Their efforts have gained widespread attention, with the products featured in publications such as Southern Living, Garden & Gun and Country Living.

Tabitha Pace, president and chief executive of the Lawrence County Industrial Development Board, said the economic benefit of Red Land Cotton’s recent expansion will be seen in the community for many years to come.

“We are honored to have Red Land Cotton in our community as a company that thrives on 100 percent American-made products, but has an impact throughout the world,” she said.

“Red Land Cotton is the perfect example of the American dream, and we are happy that the dream began in Lawrence County, Alabama.”

INCREASING PRODUCTION

Additional growth is expected, Brakefield said, with plans to double the company’s workforce over the coming year.

Last year, Red Land Cotton added four new jobs to its fulfillment and distribution team, in addition to 18 jobs created at a new cut-and-sew manufacturing plant in Tylertown, Mississippi, that is currently producing sheets, loungewear and bathrobes.

“The addition of this manufacturing arm of our business raised our employee total to 26 and is allowing us increased production capacity as well as oversight on the final production aspect of our sheeting production,” she said.

Red Land Cotton’s most popular products are its Basic Sheet Set and Bath Towel Bundle.

“Both are core offerings that give a simple taste for our brand and the exceptional American manufactured quality of our products,” Brakefield said. “Further, our quilts are very popular and our ticking stripe print remains out of stock due to high demand.”

The company’s products are available for shipment worldwide, but sales are focused on customers in the U.S.

“Our focus is primarily on domestic sales as one of our most defining aspects is our dedication to a completely American-made supply chain across all product offerings,” Brakefield said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Alabama’s auto industry primes for growth milestones in 2021

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama’s auto industry is poised for a stellar year in 2021, with plans to add thousands of new jobs along with highly-anticipated new products as companies deepen their roots in communities across the state.

Automakers are in the midst of major new construction and expansions, including the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville and the electric vehicle manufacturing operation for Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa and Bibb counties.

The Alabama Department of Commerce estimates the state industry will add more than 6,000 jobs in the coming months, as recent years’ project announcements materialize. Last year alone, new and expanding auto industry projects topped 1,900 jobs and $1.1 billion in investment, based on public announcements tracked by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

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Production lineups are expanding, too. In 2021, Alabama’s auto plants will produce a mix of 15 different models, up from 11 last year.

Industry activity stretches beyond the major automaker projects into surrounding areas as large supplier networks take shape. Such projects launched in 2020 accounted for more than 1,400 jobs and over $220 million in investment of the auto industry totals, based on those public announcements.

One Alabama automaker already has grabbed the spotlight in the new year. Last week, the redesigned Hyundai Elantra sedan, which is assembled at the company’s Montgomery factory, was named the 2021 North American Car of the Year.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

The year 2020 was one of upheaval for everyone amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Alabama automakers initially faced extended shutdowns and limited production capacity like the rest of the global industry.

However, they resumed operations with stringent safety measures and also redeployed their resources to supply face masks, face shields and other protective gear to hospitals and healthcare workers nationwide.

“2020 was a year like none of us have ever seen, but Alabama’s auto industry persevered while also providing critical support to communities in need,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “This year, they are not only back on track, but also forging ahead with expansions of their workforces and production lines.

“The new technologies and products that are driving these expansions show Alabama’s auto workers continue to play a leading role in the industry worldwide.”

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama is adding two new vehicles to its Montgomery assembly lines this year: the Tucson SUV, which is the automaker’s best-selling U.S. model, and the Santa Cruz crossover.

The moves come during a period of growth for HMMA, which in 2019 announced a $410 million expansion to prepare for the Santa Cruz, a project that is creating 200 jobs.

Along with the new models, HMMA continues to produce the Elantra and Sonata sedans and the Santa Fe SUV.

The Elantra’s big win last week wasn’t the first time it has captured the coveted North American Car of the Year title, which is awarded by an automotive media panel. It also won in 2012.

Jurors tested more than 40 new vehicles before selecting winners in the car, truck and utility categories. The 2021 Elantra, which features a sportier design than its predecessors and the model’s first-ever hybrid vehicle technology, beat out two other finalists for the Car of the Year award: the Nissan Sentra and the Genesis G80.

“Elantra is a symbol of our blend of dynamic design, advanced technology and great fuel economy,” said José Muñoz, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor North America. “Elantra customers are going to experience all of the hard work and dedication that went into making this class-leading car.”

GROWING PRODUCTION LINEUPS

New products are also rolling out of the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama plant in Talladega County.

Workers are building the redesigned 2021 Ridgeline, which is expected to arrive on dealer lots next month. The next-generation pickup has a more rugged look with a wider stance and boxier front-end styling. It leads the segment in interior space for passengers and gear, has updated safety and entertainment systems and carries on Honda’s trademark versatility with features like the in-bed trunk.

The new Ridgeline is built alongside the Odyssey minivan and Pilot and Passport SUVs at the Lincoln plant. HMA’s advanced engine facility, which started up in 2015, registered a major milestone last year with the completion of its 2 millionth engine.

Meanwhile, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, a joint venture automotive plant between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., continues to ramp up its operations in Huntsville.

The $2.3 billion facility, projected to ultimately employ 4,000 workers, is expected to begin production this year.

Initial hiring began a year ago, and in November, the company kicked off its second wave of production hiring, expected to include about 3,000 positions.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is assisting MTM with the hiring process. Wages for production team members start at $17 per hour with a top-out rate of $23 per hour, plus a shift premium and overtime.

Other open positions include multi-skilled maintenance team members, tool & die team members and facilities maintenance jobs, with wages that range from $23.50 to $33 per hour.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, which started the modern auto industry era in Alabama more than 25 years ago, is still pioneering in the state.

The automaker is set to begin producing luxury electric SUVs in Tuscaloosa County in 2022, a plan that will involve a major rollout of new vehicle technology.

MBUSI announced the plan three years ago, along with a $1 billion investment in Alabama. The project includes a battery pack assembly plant in Bibb County and additional investment in the Vance plant.

Mercedes is expected to ramp up the hiring process as the new facilities and technology progress throughout this year.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

7 months ago

Mercedes Alabama plant launches production of $200,000 Maybach

(Mercedes Benz/Contributed, YHN)

VANCE, Alabama – Workers at Alabama’s Mercedes-Benz plant have produced an all-new model that the company calls the peak of SUV luxury.

The first customer-ready Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 built in Alabama rolled off the assembly line at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International facility in Tuscaloosa County in September.

Mercedes unveiled the vehicle late last year, saying that it represents a new form of luxury in the SUV segment, as the Maybach badge is reserved for the highest-quality equipment and appointments.

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Features include a powerful yet discreet V8 engine, advanced suspension systems for a smooth and comfortable ride; automatic and illuminated running boards, and electrically operated roller sun blinds on the rear side windows.

“Its spacious interior with the highest-grade materials and extremely effective noise insulation creates a stylish, cocoon-like feel-good atmosphere,” the automaker said.

Other features include temperature-controlled cup holders and a fragrance generator system.

Starting prices have been estimated at $200,000 by industry trade reports.

CRAFTMANSHIP

For more than 20 years, Alabama’s Mercedes-Benz workers have produced luxury vehicles for drivers worldwide, and their success speaks for itself, said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The company continues to place enormous trust in their skill and craftsmanship, and the Mercedes-Maybach GLS will be the latest in a long line of winners for the Alabama plant,” Secretary Canfield said.

In unveiling the vehicle, Mercedes discussed the attention to detail involved in the production process.

At MBUSI, a dedicated Mercedes-Maybach team produces the specific interior equipment and appointments by hand in a separate area.

“The team members, selected based on their skills and knowledge, were trained for this at the Mercedes-Maybach Manufaktur hand-finishing facility in Germany. Two team members are responsible for the complete finishing of each car, which takes place away from the assembly process for the other SUV models. Before and after these stations, the Mercedes-Maybach GLS models are sent to Mercedes-Benz SUV production for final acceptance.”

Further, the company added, the Mercedes-Maybach specialists assume a high level of personal responsibility and identify strongly with the product.

“Particular attention is paid to the careful handling of the high-grade interior appointments with a high proportion of nappa leather and wood trim parts. The entire process, from the production of these parts by the highly specialized suppliers to assembly by the specially trained team members to final acceptance, is geared towards achieving a flawless result.”

Mercedes parent Daimler has invested more than $6 billion in the Alabama auto assembly plant, which has produced more than 3 million vehicles since 1997. The product lineup includes the Mercedes GLS and GLE SUVs and GLE Coupe.

The automaker is making a major investment in Alabama to produce electric vehicles and is building a battery assembly facility.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

10 months ago

Macon County organic farmer cultivates ambitions with ag startup

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – A startup, minority-owned organic farm in Macon County is expanding its crops and customer base, fueled by an ambitious vision to carry on the region’s rich history of agricultural innovation.

Lifetime Natural Organic Farm, which includes about 25 acres of raised-bed bio-intensive organic vegetables, this year invested an additional $500,000 to increase plantings and seek new business.

The move, which brought the farm’s total capital investment to $1 million, is paying off in a big way. Lifetime, already a supplier to Whole Foods stores in Alabama, recently began selling to the grocery chain’s Braselton, Georgia, distribution center that serves 400 locations.

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The farm also is now selling to Albert’s Organics, one of the largest organic produce wholesale distributors in the U.S. It also supplies Publix stores and has begun supplying Alabama schools, with orders for nearly 30,000 heads of organic lettuce for Elmore County Schools’ summer feeding program over the next two weeks.

Lifetime is believed to be the largest USDA-certified organic farm in Alabama, and owner Nelson Wells wants to grow it even more, to the largest in the Southeast.

At the same time, he wants to deepen its roots in Tuskegee and Macon County. Wells was drawn to the area after one of his advisors invited him to Tuskegee University to watch a video about the institution’s history, its founder Booker T. Washington and the work of George Washington Carver.

Learning more about the famous African American scientist and inventor Carver – who developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and transformed U.S. farming practices during his tenure at Tuskegee – struck a chord with Wells and his own biracial heritage.

“That changed my heart,” he said. “It made me want to be a part of the rich history of Macon County and Tuskegee, Alabama. I’m half black and half white, and I saw how important it was to continue the legacy of what George Washington Carver was to the world. He was at the forefront of modern agriculture.”

GROWING RELATIONSHIPS

Wells isn’t your typical Alabama farmer. The 6-foot-6-inch California native is a vegetarian and former surfer who played football for the University of Southern California before he moved to Alabama to be closer to his family.

Promoting healthy living through clean eating has been a lifelong passion for Wells. He and his family have been involved in running another organic farm in Verbena, and he and his partners courted Tuskegee for several years with their plans for a commercial organic farm.

Carver’s imprint on the region was a big draw, as was the opportunity to collaborate with agricultural researchers at Tuskegee University. Wells has begun building relationships with professors and students.

Lifetime started last year as a joint venture with the Macon County Economic Development Authority. The MCEDA provided the land, a former hayfield purchased and owned by MCEDA as a potential industrial site, as a “proof of concept” farm.

That growing season went well, and this year, Lifetime expanded its farming area from 10 to 25 acres and tweaked its crop mix to match the demand of its existing and targeted customers. Products include all types of bell peppers, sweet peppers, watermelon, tomatoes and leafy greens.

GAINING ACCESS

Across Alabama, there are 20 to 25 certified organic farms and possibly another 100 or so that follow organic practices but are not certified organic, said Don Wambles, director of Agriculture Promotion for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

To his knowledge, Lifetime is the largest USDA-certified organic farm in the state, he said.

Wambles and his office assisted Lifetime with gaining access to markets and also provided direction on applicable USDA programs.

The state offers many advantages for all types of farmers, he said.

“Alabama has a great climate and abundant water resources to allow agriculture to be bountiful. We are a very diverse state, which allows producers to choose whether they want to grow organically or conventionally. We have an abundance of customers for either production system the farmer chooses and we support all farmers.

“With Lifetime’s commitment to grow even larger, they will be able to meet the demand for locally grown organic produce while creating jobs and assisting the economic health of their community and surrounding communities,” he said.

NEW GROWTH SECTOR

An organic farm isn’t a typical economic development project, but it’s one that is well-suited for rural areas, said Joe Turnham, director of the MCEDA.

“As economic developers, we’re all so programmed to go out and get industrial sites, and we should, but very rarely do we think about going out and getting a tract for an ag startup,” he said.

Lifetime has provided new jobs for 20 to 30 people in the community, and it represents new business for utilities and other local services, Turnham said.

Another notable benefit is that the type of products and processes involved in organic farming are not common in the South, so Lifetime is helping to forge a new growth sector.

“Our strategic plan has always called for an agricultural component of economic development in Macon County,” Turnham said.  “We’re the home of George Washington Carver, and we really wanted to have a purposeful, high-value project for that agricultural vision. This fits perfectly.”

In addition to the farm’s land, MCEDA has provided in-kind services and also helped the farm’s operators make valuable connections, such as those with state agriculture officials and others at Tuskegee University.

“Last year, they hit every milestone and had beautiful crops. It wasn’t quite what buyers wanted, but they proved they could do it. This year, they are growing to meet the demand profiles of Whole Foods and Publix,” he said.

Turnham said he is excited about the farm’s growth potential.

“We have a gentleman’s agreement that once they’re really profitable, maybe there will be a small rent or royalty that comes back to MCEDA that we can put toward helping the next company.”

BUILDING ON A LEGACY

Along with expanding its existing customer base, Lifetime aims to do more in promoting organic farming from its home base in Macon County.

The farm is participating in Sweet Grown Alabama, a new marketing effort by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to promote farmers and products across the state.

“Our goal is to have a vegetarian restaurant here in Tuskegee, and we would also like to do farming and cooking demos here,” Wells said. “We want to increase the understanding of the importance of healthy eating and its effects on the body and mind.”

Beyond that, Wells wants to continue growing ties with Tuskegee University and collaborate on research involving organic farming.

“My dream is to continue the legacy of George Washington Carver and Tuskegee University that was the forefront of modern agriculture at one time,” he said.

“This could change the world in organics.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

12 months ago

Alabama automakers adopt COVID-19 safety measures as production ramps up

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama automakers have been ramping up production following the COVID-19 outbreak, with strict new protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz all are implementing similar measures as employees return to work, including temperature checks, staggered shifts, frequent sanitizing and additional protective gear.

The restart of operations at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama engine plant in Huntsville has been smooth since it began in mid-May, officials said.

Employees are having their temperature taken each time they return to work, answering a questionnaire to identify any potential exposure to the virus and practicing social distancing on the job, during all lunch breaks and during shift changes.

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There are also staggered shift patterns; frequent sanitizing in high-traffic areas; reconfigured conference rooms, cafeterias and other meeting spaces; and an increase in the use and availability of personal equipment such as face masks, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer.

“Our phased approach to resuming operations allows employees and stakeholders at Toyota North American manufacturing plants and administrative facilities to return to a work environment that has implemented a number of policies and procedures to help ensure their health and safety,” the automaker said in a statement.

ELEVATED PRECAUTIONS

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County also gradually began resuming vehicle, engine and transmission production earlier this month.

Prior to resuming production, the automaker trained front-line leaders on new procedures and activities related to COVID-19 prevention, and employees learned about the new safety measures and re-trained on work processes.

Among the new safety efforts are temperature scanning of all Honda employees, suppliers, contractors and visitors. No one with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher is allowed inside Honda facilities.

Masks and cloth face coverings are required at all times inside all buildings unless people are eating or drinking, and Honda plants and offices are providing one new mask per day for every employee. Face shields also are required in certain areas, and cleaning and disinfecting activities have increased.

The plant has also staggered shift start times to reduce the number of people entering and leaving at one time; staggered lunch and break times, with reconfigured seating in those areas; limited capacity in restrooms and locker rooms; adjusted processes and workstations to achieve social distancing on the production line as much as possible; and increased signage to remind employees of social distancing, good hygiene and other safety measures.

“Honda will continue to maximize opportunities for associates to work remotely, while practicing social distancing for associates performing essential roles that require them to work at Honda facilities,” the company said in a statement.

SAFETY PROTOCOLS

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama in Montgomery has been running a one-shift operation of its vehicle assembly processes since May 4, said company spokesman Robert Burns.

“Our engine machining and assembly operations are on a modified schedule to complement the needs of the automotive assembly processes,” he said.

HMMA benchmarked safety protocols implemented in Hyundai’s auto plants in South Korea, Burns added. The company also participated in idea-sharing conference calls, coordinated by the Original Equipment and Suppliers Association, to determine measures it would take to protect employees’ health.

Safety practices include: thermal temperature scanning and mask distribution upon arrival; requiring face masks to be worn at all time unless eating or drinking; staggering lunch breaks and shifts to reduce congestion in high-traffic areas; installing barriers in workstations and partitions on break tables; continuous cleaning of high-contact and high-touch surfaces; and promoting social distancing where possible.

At Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, production restarted in late April. The automaker said it had monitored and learned from other Mercedes plants around the world as Alabama workers returned, and the facility also implemented safety practices gleaned from groups like the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

Measures adopted include the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks at entry and separation of workers in break rooms, cafes and common areas.

Production at the plant was suspended this past week due to supplier delays in Mexico, but it is expected to resume this week. MBUSI will also produce during the planned summer shutdown.

“We will continue to monitor federal and state guidance and regulations throughout this ramp up period, and will make whatever changes as may become necessary to ensure our team members’ safety and to ensure the required production capacities of the highly demanded SUV models coming out of Alabama,” the automaker said in a statement.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

12 months ago

Alabama PPE-maker Eastern Technologies ramps up in COVID-19 battle

(Eastern Technologies/Contributed)

A company in Alabama’s Wiregrass region is helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S. and in hard-hit regions around the world.

Ashford-based Eastern Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of personal protective equipment serving a wide range of industries, provided coveralls that were used by hospitals and response groups in the early stages of the battle against the virus in China.

Those efforts grew as the virus took hold and spread to other parts of the world. ETI has since provided large quantities of PPE, including surgical/isolation gowns and coveralls, to hospitals in Alabama and across the U.S., as well as first responder groups and various utilities as they fight the pandemic.

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“At present, our PPE has been utilized in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, and it is very possible that it has been used in other countries as well via our distributors,” said Mark Fellows, the company’s vice president.

“At this point our supply of PPE to the U.S. has surpassed our supply to any other region or nation with regard to COVID-19-related PPE sales,” he added.

BOOSTING PRODUCTION

Meanwhile, ETI has been ramping up its output by about 100,000 coveralls per month, as governments around the globe seek to address the current crisis and also stockpile for future pandemics.

ETI’s products range from custom, single-use coveralls, gloves and shoes made from traditional materials to its patented OREX PPE. The OREX product line – which includes coveralls, head and foot protection, mops, bags and other items – is made from a special polymer that, when treated by OREX equipment and processes, is converted to water and carbon dioxide.

The result is a drastic reduction in waste and cleanup costs, Fellows said.

The company’s customers are in a variety of sectors, including defense, energy, nuclear power, chemicals, petrochemicals, refineries and industrial food processing.

In Houston County, ETI provides warehousing and distribution services for parent company Global Resources International Inc., which manufactures medical industry products, such as surgical instruments, gowns, drapes and other supplies.

Based in Flowery Branch, Georgia, GRI has an extensive global manufacturing and distribution network for medical supplies, PPE and animal care products. ETI’s PPE products are made primarily in Asia.

Other parts of ETI’s business include radiological laundry services for a select group of commercial and government nuclear facilities.

Another part of the company, Curicyn, produces a line of animal wound care products and related items at its manufacturing and distribution facilities in the Houston County town of Columbia.

‘VITAL PRODUCTS’

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said many businesses across the state have pivoted to temporarily produce much-needed medical products and protective gear in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some are even making long-term investments in these operations, and the Commerce Department has set a goal to recruit more PPE producers to the state.

“Alabama already is home to a number of companies, such as ETI, that are playing a key role in the supply chain of these vital products, and we want to expand that sector here,” he said.

Later this year, ETI will be recognized among the winners of Governor Kay Ivey’s Trade Excellence Awards.

The company’s main export is related to its patented OREX processing technology, which basically eliminates about 98 percent of the radioactive waste that its nuclear customers would otherwise have to dispose of or store long-term in above ground special storage facilities.

Fellows said the company’s growth in exports is continuing this year.

“At present our biggest growth markets outside of the U.S. are China, with three systems currently being installed at two separate nuclear power facilities, and the United Arab Emirates, which is currently purchasing our OREX protective clothing line in anticipation of securing an OREX Processing System for use in the treatment of the OREX products they use in operating their nuclear power plants.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

For Calagaz Printing, it’s 153,000 protective face shields and counting

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

MOBILE, Alabama – A South Alabama printing company is helping frontline healthcare workers at home and across the U.S. fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mobile-based Calagaz Printing Inc. had produced about 153,000 protective face shields as of Wednesday, the result of collaborating with local hospitals and shifting its operations to meet a crucial need.

Production is continuing on the project, which began four weeks ago, said Michael Cuesta, the company’s director of sales who also initiated the idea.

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During that time, Calagaz Printing has been able to sell bulk orders to hospitals, as well as 25-count boxes to individuals.

“We’ve really spanned the gamut of need, from the mother who was concerned about her daughter working in a medical facility, to as many as 50,000 in our largest hospital order,” he said.

So far, the face shields have been shipped to customers in 16 states.

“We’ve been working directly with regional hospitals and hospital systems, and we recently started working with a few hospice facilities,” Cuesta said.

MEETING A NEW DEMAND

The Calagaz family in 1955 established Calagaz Photo, a firm that developed film and sold cameras and other photography equipment.

In 1993, third-generation family member Joe Calagaz founded Calagaz Printing, a separate company that now serves the restaurant industry and regional businesses, which have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The company, which has 17 employees, provides menus, posters, stickers, table tents and other printed items for national restaurant brands.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the project shows the innovation and ingenuity of businesses that are facing extreme challenges during the pandemic.

“Calagaz Printing has found a way to not only keep their employees working and operations running, but also to provide a much-needed product for its community and others across the country,” he said.

Cuesta said the face shield project began with consultations with the five major hospitals in Mobile: Mobile Infirmary, Providence Hospital and Springhill Medical Center, along with the University of South Alabama’s University Hospital and Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

“We looked at the existing shields and boiled it down to the production components we understood,” he said. “Then we ordered basic supplies to create prototypes and presented those to the hospitals for their teams’ approval.”

MAKING AN IMPACT

After that, the Calagaz team began work on the final product, and word spread quickly about the new source of face shields and the fast turnaround time.

“Our phones have been ringing like crazy,” Cuesta said. “We hear the same story over and over. People have said, ‘Wow, you’re going to be able to get them to me more quickly than my own supply chain,’ which in some cases was backordered until summer.”

Initially, Calagaz planned to focus only on Alabama, but after supplying the local hospitals involved in the project, the company kept going.

“It’s been great for our employees, for them to hold their head high as they make an impact in these times, and also be able to have work to do,” Cuesta said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Alabama automakers lend a helping hand in COVID-19 battle

(Toyota Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

Alabama automakers are stepping in to aid their communities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including support of crucial testing services and production of protective face shields for healthcare workers.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

In addition, the plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals, along with $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

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“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement today.

Similar efforts are also happening at Toyota facilities nationwide.

Other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

The grant will support the existing drive-through testing site in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening, said UAB Medicine CEO Will Ferniany.

“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Nationwide, Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer, and the company said the pandemic is a particular risk to children with cancer who have compromised immune systems.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled amid the outbreak, as have other auto assembly plants in the state.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are also helping out during the crisis, including its factory in Talladega County.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Plants also are donating equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers, deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

In Tuscaloosa County, the Mercedes-Benz plant has donated N100 reusable filters,  protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is also working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

The automaker also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Research funding jumps 43 percent at the University of South Alabama

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

MOBILE, Alabama – Research funding at the University of South Alabama topped $87 million in 2019, a significant increase from the previous year and the result of an ongoing strategy to raise the institution’s profile across the U.S. and beyond.

External grant and contract funding awarded to the university’s researchers rose 43 percent, with most of that growth in engineering, computing and other projects in STEM fields, said Lynne Chronister, vice president for research and economic development at USA.

There also were several awards from the National Institutes of Health for research related to cancer and lung biology.

“For the last five or six years, the University of South Alabama made a very deliberate decision to increase our research in areas that are particularly responsive to both regional and national needs,” Chronister said.

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“We strategically invested internally in our faculty, because if you’re going to have a large and vibrant research program you obviously need internal support to do that.”

Those investments included internal grant funding programs that encouraged competition among faculty members and offered valuable training for seeking outside money. The programs focused on engineering, as well as arts and humanities.

USA also supported faculty members by increasing travel allowances for them to meet with the organizations behind the funding.

“When you are seeking grants, it’s important to know the agency heads and program officers and to understand their latest priorities,” Chronister said.

IONIC LIQUIDS

The university already has a strong reputation for research in certain areas, such as its work with ionic liquids. These salts in liquid form have applications that include a next-generation carbon dioxide scrubber for the International Space Station.

Recent awards related to USA’s ionic liquids research are a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $1.1 million grant from NASA.

With other smaller grants as well, total funding for ionic liquid research at the university totals more than $4 million.

USA also is heavily involved with industries in the Mobile area, which is home to airplane manufacturer Airbus and shipbuilder Austal. The university’s computer and engineering departments provide many interns for the companies, and it’s also involved in research focused on cyber security and digital forensics, both crucial elements in the manufacture and operation of major commercial and military equipment.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the innovation happening at USA represent a tremendous asset to the state’s economy and quality of life.

“Growing those resources will not only lift communities across Alabama, but it also will provide valuable new insights and tools for leaders in a wide variety of fields and regions,” he said.

Elevating the role of Alabama’s universities and research organizations in economic development activities is a key objective of the state’s strategic growth plan, Accelerate Alabama 2.0.

NEW PRIORITIES

As for the future, Chronister said USA is focused on increasing depth in certain research areas.

Marine science is a priority, she said, noting the importance of red snapper fishing along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

USA researchers have monitored snapper populations and studied neuro toxins in the Gulf of Mexico. That work has been led by Dr. Alison Robertson, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who received more than $5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and others.

Another priority is research involving wastewater management, with a focus on dire conditions in the state’s rural Black Belt counties.

Dr. Kevin White, professor and chair of civil, coastal and environmental engineering at USA, is leading a consortium that is studying how to improve the situation, and thus public health, in the region. He recently won a $756,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to aid those efforts and is in line for additional funding.

“To grow a research program, you’ve got to have multiple disciplines looking at issues from different aspects,” Chronister said. “We’ve had some really good success. At the moment, our goal is to keep doing what we’re doing and try to focus more on those areas where we can get some depth.”

When people consider the leading research institutions in Alabama, they likely first think of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its large array of projects and funding, Chronister said. UAB received more than $600 million in research funding in Fiscal 2019, the most in school history.

“We’re trying to grow our reputation, so when you think of research in Alabama, especially in certain areas, you think of the University of South Alabama as well,” she said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Hyundai’s Alabama manufacturing plant registers production gain in 2019

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Hyundai’s Alabama auto assembly plant produced 336,000 vehicles in 2019, the company announced Thursday, a total output that rose about 4 percent over the previous year.

The Santa Fe SUV was the primary contributor to the production increase at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, as consumer preferences have shifted toward sport utilities.

Workers at the Montgomery facility also build the Sonata and Elantra sedans, and they launched a redesigned Sonata in November. The updated model features a new sporty design, along with improvements in safety, technology, performance and fuel efficiency.

“We are optimistic the 2020 Sonata will draw more consumers, who want to purchase a midsize sedan, to the Hyundai brand in 2020,” said Robert Burns, HMMA spokesman.

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Another upcoming development for Hyundai in Alabama is a $410 million, 200-job expansion that will add the all-new compact utility vehicle, the Santa Cruz, to the assembly lines in 2021.

The project is expected to bring an additional 1,000 jobs to the Montgomery area at supplier and logistics operations.

“Hyundai continues to make great strides in Alabama, adding new, high-quality products, jobs and investments at a truly impressive pace,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“At the same time, current production is growing, which underscores the skill and dedication of the workforce in Montgomery and across the River Region.”

Earlier in 2019, HMMA celebrated the grand opening of its new cylinder head engine plant, a $388 million, 50-job project.

Last year’s total engine production was 472,254, Burns said.

During the year, he said, each of HMMA’s engine shops had downtime due to retooling to begin building the next generation four-cylinder engines. Engine 1 was down from January to mid-May, while Engine 2 was down during November and December.

Engine 2 retooling is expected to be complete by May. The project annual engine capacity of HMMA after all projects are complete will be about 670,000 units.

Elsewhere in Alabama’s auto industry, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama estimated its 2019 output at 351,708 minivans, SUVs and pickups, along with the V-6 engines that power them. Mercedes-Benz has not announced production totals for its plant in Tuscaloosa County.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Honda Alabama records production milestone in busy 2019

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

It’s been another milestone year for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, which reached the 5 million mark for vehicle and engine production since its $2.6 billion Talladega County plant opened nearly 20 years ago.

Total output for 2019 alone is estimated at 351,708 minivans, SUVs and pickups, along with the V-6 engines that power them, according to figures released by the automaker on Saturday after shutting down production for the holiday break.

Honda’s Alabama-made vehicles continued to earn accolades this year as well. Cars.com named all four of them – the Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline pickup, the Pilot SUV and the Passport SUV – to the “Top 10 Most American-Made Vehicles” list.

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HMA’s contributions to the state economy were in the spotlight, too. The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama announced a study that outlined the company’s $12 billion impact, which represents 5.4 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, along with more than 45,000 jobs at the plant and its suppliers.

“What Honda has done in Alabama is truly remarkable,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The company continues to raise the benchmark on production, efficiency and innovation here at home, while sending out popular, high-quality vehicles and engines to drivers across the U.S. and the world.”

Honda’s achievements in Alabama are due to the commitment and dedication of its workforce, which now numbers more than 4,500, to build the best products for customers, said HMA Senior Vice President Mike Oatridge.

“We are grateful for the support that Honda has experienced with our communities, our local and state leaders and our supplier partners,” he said. “We are pleased that the success of our operations has had such a positive impact to the people – and to the economy – of the state of Alabama.”

Preliminary production numbers for 2019 show HMA built 146,352 Pilot SUVs, 125,497 Odyssey minivans, 50,674 Passport SUVs and 29,185 Ridgeline pickups. Final numbers will be calculated in early 2020.

The Alabama plant is the sole global production source for each of the vehicles in the lineup.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

Homegrown treats sweeten the 2019 Made in Alabama Holiday Gift Guide

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Whether you live far away or down the street from Mom and Dad, there’s nothing that creates the warm feelings of the holidays quite like a taste of home.
Alabama-made food and beverages have long been popular Christmas gifts. And these days, tried and true favorites share shelf space with newer flavors.

“Alabama’s makers are incredibly talented, and they excel in a wide range of fields,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “This includes foods and beverages that are made in Alabama and represent some of the best products that can be found anywhere.”

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As part of the 2019 Made in Alabama Holiday Gift Guide, here’s a list of those tasty products, offered by farmers, chefs, brewers and entrepreneurs across the state:

Kettle Brothers Gourmet Kettle Corn: Brothers Brandon and Jordan Greer’s search for a fun snack for their family has become a growing business that is stretching across Southeast.

They created a standout snack that’s popped the old-fashioned way, in a kettle filled with hot oil and pure cane sugar. Then it’s mixed with other ingredients, with flavors that include Heavenly Cake, Cookies and Cream, Cinnamon Roll and Smokin’ White Cheddar.

Gadsden-based Kettle Brothers treats can be found in stores all over Alabama and in surrounding states.

Fox Point Farm’s goat milk caramels:  These treats are also made the old-fashioned way, slow cooked in a copper kettle and stirred with a wooden paddle.

Christie and Patrick Jamison began selling the caramels – made from the milk of goats on their farm – at an Alexander City farmer’s market five years ago. Today, the business has grown into sales across the U.S. and a variety of flavors such as Sea Salt Pecan and Southern Peach.

Over the years, Montgomery’s Fox Point Farm has expanded its lineup of products made with goat milk to soaps, essential oil sprays and a creamy caramel sauce called Cajeta.

Blue Spring Living Water: This bottled water comes from a centuries-old natural spring known as “The Great Blue Spring of Blount County.”

It’s a stunning blue-green pool that has generated stories of healing properties among locals and travelers to the area for generations. A small bottling operation was started 20 years ago, and it was expanded in 2017 when former filmmaker Cameron Cardwell took over the operation in Blountsville.

Blue Spring has a notable clean water pedigree. It has a neutral pH balance, and it comes through limestone aquifers that are naturally enriched with magnesium, calcium and silica, just like the world’s healthiest waters on record.

Billy’s Seafood: This won’t exactly fit under the tree, but a delivery of fresh seafood is the perfect gift for those who crave a taste of Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Billy’s Seafood is a market that has been doing business in Bon Secour for nearly 45 years, serving up local catches like snapper, mahi, crab and more.

“If It Swims, We’ve Got It,” is the motto at Billy’s, and thanks to overnight and second-day air delivery, you can get a plate of Alabama oysters or Royal Red Shrimp for faraway loved ones.

Birmingham Candy CompanyNeed sweets for a sweet tooth? The Birmingham Candy Company can help you with that sugar fix.

2019 has been a big year for the company, which opened a store in downtown Birmingham at the Pizitz Food Hall, an innovative lineup of culinary adventures from Ethiopian fare to chicken and waffles.

Birmingham Candy uses local ingredients to handcraft chocolates, caramel apples, candied nuts and other treats.

Folklore Brewing & MeaderyFolklore Brewing & Meadery is helping pioneer the modern-era brewing industry in southeast Alabama.

With beer names like Front Porch Ale, Snipe Hunt IPA and Wiregrass Wheat, the brewery also pays homage to its rural Southern roots.

It’s located on an old family farm with a tasting room that has more than 14 varieties of beer and eight or more house-made meads to sample and order. Two years ago, a 5,000-square-foot annex doubled the size of the operation and added a new brew system, fermenters and tanks and an in-house canning line.

Barbecue sauce: No Alabama-themed food list is complete without a nod to barbecue, and there’s plenty of distinct options to choose from.

There are the tangy white mayonnaise-based sauces, along with vinegar-based and mustard varieties and the more traditional reds. Buy a bottle of your favorite or buy several different ones in a gift basket offered by Homewood retailer Alabama Goods.

And if you think Alabama barbecue is only a big thing inside the state, think again.

Consider the success of food celebrities like Chris Lilly, world champion barbecue pitmaster from Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur and an award-winning chef and author. Lilly travels all over the U.S. for cooking contests, TV shows and other culinary events, where he rubs shoulders with a who’s who list of Food Network Stars.

(Courtesy Made in Alabama)

1 year ago

2019 Made in Alabama Holiday Gift Guide showcases craftmanship

(Made in Alabama)

From the roads to the skies, the products created by the skilled hands of Alabama workers are in high demand in markets around the world.

But the state’s automotive, aerospace and other manufacturing industries don’t have the corner on craftsmanship.

In communities across the Tennessee Valley down to the Gulf Coast, there are painters, forgers, potters, woodworkers and other artisans who are turning heads with high-quality, inventive products.

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Sherry Hartley, co-owner of Alabama Goods in Homewood, said people from across the U.S. and beyond often visit her store, which sells merchandise made in the state.

“When they walk in the store, sometimes I see their jaws drop,” she said. “I think it’s more than what they expect. They talk about how impressed they are with what the people in Alabama make.”

This year’s Made In Alabama Holiday Gift Guide highlights the craftsmanship of the state’s artisans, with items to fill every hole on your shopping list:

Flint Leather Co. Whiskey Wallet: This company crafts a line of high-quality leather wallets, bags, journals and accessories, including key organizers and AirPods cases.

Among its best-selling products is the Whiskey Wallet, which has an ultra slim style designed to hold just enough cash and credit cards without being bulky.

Flint makes most of its products in Birmingham, and everything that goes out to customers is made or modified in the local shop, said founder Kyle Nix. All custom heat stamping of items is done locally as well.

Nix started the company about five years ago, when he wanted to take a break from college and head out west. To make money before and during the trip, he and his friends sold leather wallets, key chains and bracelets on street corners to buy food and gas to continue their adventure.

“That is where the Flint name came from,” he said. “A catalyst of ignition. Just like flint we hope our brand ignites a fire in everyone to push them on to the next adventure.”

Storyteller Overland adventure vans: It’s a big-ticket item to be sure, but the vehicles produced by this Birmingham-based after-market automotive company are a great fit for road trip and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Storyteller Overland designs and manufactures adventure vans and high-quality outdoor lifestyle gear that help people bridge the gap between a daily driver and a weekend warrior vehicle that gives them long-range, on-road/off-road and off-the-grid travel capacity.

The firm’s packages, added to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Ford Transit vans, were unveiled earlier this year at the RVX Expo in Salt Lake City. Highlights include an automotive grade lithium ion battery system for added convenience on the road and extended off-the-grid travel.

Other features address comfort for life on the road, such as a retractable indoor/outdoor shower, a foldaway workbench/murphy bed system and the RV industry’s first fully tested tri-fold seat/bed system with 3-point safety harnesses.

Alabama Iron Works custom fire pits: Get cozy this winter around a fire pit personalized with your family name, favorite hobby or sports team from a coastal Alabama maker.

Jim Trainer creates the fire pits at his Alabama Iron Works shop in Fairhope. The company also produces other custom iron work for the home, including railings, gates, screens and wine cellar doors.

All of the fire pits are made from steel plate and reinforced on the bottom to prevent thermal burnout. They can be easily moved by two people and have drain holes to aid cleaning.

Alabama Iron Works also makes plasma cut metal art and signs.

Vivian Drew earrings: Alabama mom Hayley Drinkard’s company is a labor of love named for her two daughters, Vivi and Drew.

Her search for a way to contribute to the family income led to creating her own line of custom earrings. Others are taking notice, as Vivian Drew jewelry has made an appearance in Southern Living and Good Grit magazines.

The collections feature elegant stones, silk tassels and other chic touches that pair well with everything from a casual outfit to formal attire.

Resonated Art cutting/serving boards and trays: Brilliant colors and the beauty of natural wood marry well in the pieces designed Lindsey McDowell of Madison.

A self-taught resin/epoxy artist and woodworker, McDowell combines live edge lumber and epoxy to create distinct cutting boards and serving trays made with food safe epoxy.

Other pieces include plant stands, wine displays, coasters and furniture.

Check out the 2018 Made in Alabama Holiday Gift Guide.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 years ago

4 key reasons Alabama’s ‘Rocket City’ is best pick for Space Command HQ

(NASA Marshall/Contributed)

Huntsville is in the running to be the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command, a move that is a natural fit for Alabama’s Rocket City and its longtime support of space and defense programs.

Goals of the new command are to better organize and advance the military’s extensive operations in space and to seek more effective ways to protect U.S. assets such as satellites that are crucial for communications, navigation and surveillance.

“When you think of space, you think of Huntsville, the birthplace of the rockets that put man on the moon and a huge hub for ongoing innovation and space exploration,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “At the same time, the city is deeply rooted and invested in the security of our nation, and for decades has been at the forefront of safeguarding U.S. interests around the world.

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“There could not be a better or more fitting location to lead the important mission of the U.S. Space Command than Huntsville, Alabama,” Secretary Canfield said.

Five other sites – four in Colorado and one in California – also are finalists for the headquarters, but here are four key reasons why Huntsville tops them all.

No. 1: PROXIMITY TO KEY INFRASTRUCTURE

Huntsville is home to Redstone Arsenal, which has been the center of the U.S. Army’s missile and rocket programs for more than 50 years.

The nation’s first ballistic missile was developed at Redstone, and it is the current site of a number of military organizations, including the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command, Space and Missile Defense Command, and the Missile Defense Agency.

Also located at Redstone is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which designed the Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo program moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s.

Marshall has continued to lead the way in human space exploration, developing new rocket engines and tanks for the Space Shuttle fleet, building sections of the International Space Station and now managing the science work done by astronauts onboard the ISS.

NASA’s Space Launch System, an advanced launch vehicle that will provide the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit, is designed, developed and managed by Marshall.

NASA has turned to Marshall to lead its Human Landing System Program for the return to the Moon.

No. 2: PRESENCE OF MAJOR PLAYERS

With such a rich history of success, Huntsville has been an attractive location for defense contractors and other private firms doing business with the government.

Boeing, for example, has more than 3,000 employees in the Huntsville area, working in a diverse range of its global businesses.

The company is the prime contractor on the core stage of NASA’s SLS, and local employees also are heavily involved in the development of rockets, missiles and weapons systems.

Other major industry players have a significant presence in the North Alabama region too, and their ranks continue to grow.

Aerojet RocketdyneBlue Origin and United Launch Alliance are all involved in building the next-generation rockets that will drive future space travel, and breakthrough technologies are also happening elsewhere.

Just last month, Lockheed Martin announced plans to make North Alabama its flagship location for work on hypersonics programs, with a new production facility and almost 275 jobs slated for Huntsville and nearby Courtland.

Hypersonic Strike capabilities have been identified by the U.S. government as a critical capability to be addressed in support of the U.S. National Security Strategy.

No. 3: EXPERTISE AND A PIONEER SPIRIT

More than half a century has passed since Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists first made their mark on Huntsville with missile and rocket development. But that legacy remains.

Huntsville is loaded with tech talent and regularly wins accolades for a well-trained and highly educated workforce.

Earlier this year, the city was ranked No. 3 in the nation for the most high-tech jobs, according to an analysis of federal labor statistics by 24/7 Wall Street. The only two metros to top Huntsville are in California’s Silicon Valley and in Maryland near Washington D.C.

Huntsville has 15.7 percent of its 222,000-strong working in STEM fields, the analysis shows. The most common STEM job is aerospace engineers, which number nearly 4,000, more than any other major U.S. metro, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The concentration of aerospace engineers in Huntsville is 38 times the national average, the BLS figures show.

Beyond the skill, the city embraces a spirit of innovation reminiscent of those early rocketeers.

There’s a bustling start-up scene, and it’s not just in the defense business.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a hub of new discoveries in the life sciences field, while the new Invention to Innovation Center (I²C) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is grooming entrepreneurs who specialize in software, electronics, data science and more.

UAH is located in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park and home to nearly 300 companies.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has called on the Pentagon to choose Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal for the new Space Command headquarters, saying the city is uniquely positioned to protect the nation’s assets and interests in space.

“No one does space and defense better than the brainpower on Redstone Arsenal. The world’s most advanced capabilities in aerospace, space and missile defense, and space exploration are already here,” Battle said.

No. 4: COMMANDING ADVANTAGE

Huntsville’s low-cost environment is another significant plus.

In recent years, Huntsville has attracted major projects from companies ranging from Polaris (off-road vehicles) to Blue Origin (rocket engines). The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA joint venture is constructing a $1.6 billion auto plant where the assembly lines will be named “Apollo” and “Discovery.”

A key reason they all picked Huntsville? The cost of doing business in Alabama’s Rocket City is 32 percent less than the national average, according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber.

U.S. News & World Report has also picked up on Huntsville’s affordability. In April 2019, the magazine cited Huntsville as the “No. 1 Affordable Place to Live in America” for the second consecutive year.

All of these factors make Huntsville a smart pick for the Space Command HQ.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 years 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.

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“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.

ALABAMA EXPORTERS

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.

RISING EXPORTS

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.”

GROWTH MARKETS

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)

2 years 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.

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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.”

CLIMBING ENROLLMENT

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.

FLIGHT TRAINING

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)

2 years ago

Alabama operations support Boeing’s critical aerospace missions

(Boeing/Facebook)

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.

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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.”

EXPANDING PRESENCE

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.”

SPACE TRAVEL

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.

GATEWAY DEMONSTRATOR

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)

2 years ago

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

(Mynaric/Contributed)

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.

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“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.

RADIOBRO CORP.

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.

DYNALANTIC CORP.

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

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.

SOUTHERN SKY AVIATION

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)

2 years 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.

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“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.

IMPROVING ROCKET ENGINES

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.”

SUPPORTING SPACE EXPLORATION

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.

ROBOTICS EXPERTISE

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.

PRESERVING HISTORY

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)

2 years 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.

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“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.

‘SOFT LANDING’

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)

2 years 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.

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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.

MERCEDES HOMECOMING

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.”

$1 BILLION EXPANSION

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)

2 years 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.

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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 EXPANSION

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.

TOYOTA MILESTONES

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)