The Wire

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama business leaders meet with Ambassador Lighthizer, key trade official

(Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

VANCE, Alabama – Governor Kay Ivey and a group of Alabama industrial leaders on Friday hosted Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, at the Mercedes-Benz manufacturing complex for a high-level discussion on the Trump Administration’s trade and economic growth policies.

Ambassador Lighthizer shared details about the Administration’s trade goals and heard from the Alabama business delegation during an hour-long event featuring a roundtable discussion at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Visitor Center.

“Ambassador Lighthizer provided valuable insights about how the Administration is moving to return manufacturing to the U.S. and create middle-class jobs across the nation,” Governor Ivey said.

“He has been a fierce advocate for Alabama over the past three years, and it was beneficial for our business leaders to exchange ideas with him.”



As the U.S. Trade Representative since 2017, Ambassador Lighthizer serves as the federal government’s top trade negotiator. He brings a history of tough U.S. trade enforcement and a record of standing up for American workers, farmers, manufacturers, and businesses.

Before joining the Trump Administration, he practiced international trade law for 30 years. During this time, he served as lead counsel for scores of trade enforcement cases and became recognized as a prominent advocate for the type of “America First” trade policies supported by President Trump.

Ambassador Lighthizer also served as the deputy U.S trade representative for President Ronald Reagan, negotiating over two dozen bilateral international agreements, including agreements on steel, automobiles and agricultural products.

“I want to thank Governor Ivey for her hospitality and for working so closely with President Trump to keep his promises to the people of Alabama and all Americans,” Ambassador Lighthizer said.

“The President is committed to creating more manufacturing jobs, particularly in the auto sector, which will benefit American workers for generations to come.”

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, moderated the roundtable discussion, which focused on topics such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Phase I China trade deal and other trade pacts under negotiation.

“Today’s discussion was a great opportunity for a representative group of Alabama’s industrial leaders to share their thoughts about how trade policies affect their operations and how we can all work together to increase prosperity here at home,” Secretary Canfield said.

Participating in the event were the leaders of several major Alabama manufacturers: Mike Göbel of MBUSI, Mike Oatridge of Honda, Robert Burns of Hyundai, Masa Aihara of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, Charles Greene of the AM/NS Calvert steel mill, Daryl Taylor of Airbus, and Lee Styslinger III of Altec.

John Driscoll of the Alabama Port Authority, which manages the state’s only deep-water port, and Mark Crosswhite of Alabama Power, the state’s largest electric utility, also took part in the event.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 weeks ago

Bronze Valley names first startup class in gener8tor accelerator


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama ​– Startup accelerator gener8tor announced today the participants selected for 10 Fall 2020 gBETA cohorts, including five promising companies in the program’s inaugural class at the Bronze Valley Accelerator.

Birmingham’s Bronze Valley​ is a non-profit, early stage venture investment platform that focuses on supporting female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color.

“Bronze Valley is committed to creating and maintaining an entrepreneurial environment that is more nurturing, more supportive and more inclusive,” said Bronze Valley President & CEO Neill S. Wright. “This cohort of promising startups represents a great start for the Accelerator.”


The gBETA program a free, seven-week accelerator that is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea and establish metrics that can make them competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or seed investment.

“Bronze Valley serves as an important element in our efforts to enhance the vitality of Alabama’s innovation ecosystem, and the selection of the first class of startups represents a major milestone for the Accelerator,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The guidance and mentorship these entrepreneurs will receive from Bronze Valley will play a vital role in launching their companies to the next level,” he added.

Participating in the program at Bronze Valley are:

“The gener8tor and Bronze Valley partnership connects local and national partners, mentors and investors to support underrepresented founders in our region,” said Haley Medved Kendrick, Bronze Valley Accelerator Director.

“The inaugural cohort showcases the creativity, resiliency and bravery of our people, and offers a clear example of the innovation happening in our state.”

Gener8tor said the 50 startups in its program are located across the country, and represent a wide variety of industries and verticals, including the Internet of Things, Medtech, SaaS (software as a service) and beyond. The 10 programs kicked on Oct. 1 and are being held virtually.

Bronze Valley Accelerator’s cohort will be highlighted during a Virtual Pitch Night on at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. For more information and to RSVP, ​click here​.

The accelerator is supported by ​Bronze Valley​, ​Alabama Power​ and the ​Alabama Department of Commerce​. The Bronze Valley Accelerator is held three times per year, with five Alabama-based companies accepted per cohort to ensure a high level of individualized attention.

The Bronze Valley Accelerator works with companies across all industries and business models.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 weeks ago

Economic development projects to bring 510 new jobs to Huntsville area

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber today announced that new economic development projects will bring 510 new jobs and more than $71 million in investment to the community.

These eight companies under taking the projects have expanded or located in Huntsville metro area during 2020 but have not previously announced their growth plans.

“We want to celebrate every expansion, but this year, it has been challenging to do that in a safe way,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development. “These companies are important to our community and to the people they employ, and we want to recognize their growth.”

Companies that have expanded or located in the Huntsville area this year include:


  • Dynetics is adding up to 200 new jobs associated with weapon development work and has hired hundreds of people this year in support of the Human Landing System and other projects, bringing its local employment to 2,740.
  • Torch Technologies has had two recent expansion projects totaling 120 jobs and $32.3 million in investment. The first project was the construction of the Technology Integration and Prototyping Center, a two-story office space with an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility.
  • Invariant Corporation, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company, is creating 23 new jobs with investment of $430,000. A new 92,000-square-foot facility should be complete next summer.
  • Nippon Express USA  is locating on the campus of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. Within the next two years, Nippon Express, a logistics company, will hire 101 employees and invest $19.1 million.

Other companies that have added jobs and investment in the Huntsville area this year are AldezPalcoRidgeview Industries, and TriRx Pharmaceutical Services.


According to the Chamber, new projects, expansions, and increased scope of previously announced projects so far in 2020 will generate 852 new jobs and more than $1 billion in new capital investment in the Huntsville metro area.

“With COVID-19, this has certainly been a challenging year, but in spite of all that is happening, Huntsville still continues to see job growth in all parts of our city,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Whether it’s Torch Technologies in South Huntsville, Dynetics in Cummings Research Park, or TriRx in Chase Industrial Park, there are buildings going up and sites being delivered.

“When you combine that with the ongoing work at North Huntsville Industrial Park with Facebook and Toyota and the numerous projects at Mazda Toyota, it’s a remarkable statement to the resiliency of the Huntsville market and its industries,” he added.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong said officials in the county and Huntsville have continued to work to bring new and innovative business and industry to the community while also supporting expansions among industry partners.

“Our diverse economy continues to be robust year after year. With a focus on workforce development the future of the Rocket City and Redstone Arsenal will continue to drive the economy of Alabama and southern Tennessee,” Strong said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Airbus marks 5 years of aircraft production at Alabama facility

(Mobile Port Authority/Contributed)

MOBILE, Alabama – The Airbus manufacturing facility in Alabama has marked a significant milestone – five years of aircraft production in its growing U.S. industrial home.

The Airbus manufacturing center in Mobile began producing its first passenger jet — an A321 christened “BluesMobile” and destined for JetBlue — on Sept. 14, 2015.

Since then, the Alabama plant has delivered more than 180 A320 family aircraft to eight airline customers. These Alabama-made passenger jets have flown 60 million passengers 500 million miles, according to Airbus.


“When we announced our intent to build A320 family aircraft in the United States, and to locate that facility in Mobile, Alabama, we also stated our intent to be a good neighbor, to create jobs and opportunities, and to help strengthen the U.S. aerospace industry,” said C. Jeffrey Knittel, president & CEO of Airbus Americas.

“Five years later, we have become a major economic driver in creating an aerospace hub on the Gulf Coast,” he added.


The Airbus facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley directly employs more than 1,000 people. Earlier this year, Airbus opened a second assembly line at the complex that produces A220 aircraft. The operation represents an investment of around $1 billion.

This month, the company announced that its newly expanded delivery center will be named after one of the company’s former leaders, Tom Enders. Enders supported and drove the establishment of an Airbus aircraft production facility in the U.S. during his tenure as CEO of Airbus.

“The achievements of the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing team over these past five years are just the beginning,” Knittel said.

“We are proud to call Mobile our American aircraft manufacturing home, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with the community, our customers and suppliers.”

In addition to the manufacturing facility, the company operates an Engineering Center at the Brookley complex. It also has a North American military customer services operation supporting U.S. Coast Guard aircraft located near the Mobile Regional Airport.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Aftermarket wheel supplier Wheel Pros expands with Auburn facility

(Wheel Pros/Contributed, YHN)

AUBURN, Alabama – Wheel Pros, a U.S. aftermarket wheel supplier, has acquired the assets of an aluminum wheel manufacturing facility in Auburn and plans to open its second U.S. operation there.

“We welcome Wheel Pros to Alabama and congratulate them on choosing Auburn to establish their largest U.S. manufacturing presence,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “This multimillion-dollar investment will add 300 new jobs and represents another feather in the cap of our state’s growing automotive industry.”

Alabama is globally recognized as a major contributor in automotive assembly and engine manufacturing, and the state has a rapidly growing supplier network. Nearly 1 million cars and light-trucks are produced in Alabama annually, along with over 1.5 million engines.


“This investment secures our position as a leader in our industry and provides us with full control of the entire manufacturing process, ensuring that our customers receive nothing but the best quality products,” said Randy White, CEO and co-founder of Wheel Pros.

“This was the ideal opportunity for expansion — the manufacturing assets and experienced workers are already in place. We look forward to joining the Alabama automotive sector and the Auburn community,” he added.

Colorado-based Wheel Pros is the only branded automotive aftermarket wheel supplier with cast wheel manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. The company designs, manufactures and distributes branded automotive aftermarket wheels, performance tires and accessories.


Wheel Pros expects production of casted aluminum wheels at the new Auburn facility to be up and running in the next few months. The company forecasts that its U.S. manufacturing operations will produce approximately 1.5 million wheels each year.

“Wheel Pros has joined a robust network of automotive manufacturers and suppliers that call our state home,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We are glad that the company sees the potential in Alabama for sustainable growth and long-term success.”

The company’s facility is located in Auburn’s Technology Park North and operations include casting, machining and painting operations.

“We look forward to the impact Wheel Pros will have on East Alabama at a perfect time,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “We have a manufacturing facility and a workforce that are ready and more than able to meet the company’s needs.

“Wheel Pros’ arrival will bring more jobs to our community, which is great for our residents and our economy. We are grateful for Wheel Pros’ investment in our region,” he added.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech accelerator announces first start-up class

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator announced its first class of startups Tuesday – 10 firms from seven states launching an intensive, 13-week endeavor beginning this week.

Three of the companies already call Birmingham home.

As a group, these startups specialize in technology and business models to enhance the future of energy, including a digital marketplace for the electric wholesale industry, battery storage and microgrid solutions, and smart home software. Read a story about the accelator.


“Birmingham’s startup community is on the rise, and Techstars is a major step in its evolution as one of our country’s brightest entrepreneurial hubs,” said Nate Schmidt, managing director of Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator.

“One unique aspect of our accelerator is the focus on energy and cleantech. In the near future, when Alabama is viewed as a global leader for startups in these industries, this accelerator class will be viewed as the start of that movement,” he added.


The Techstarts startups are:

  • Project Canary (Denver): Continuous air quality monitoring company
  • Sync Energy (New York City): Artificial intelligence to aid forecasting and loss prevention
  • Ashipa Electric (Birmingham): Microgrid integration and optimization
  • Virimodo (New York City): Carbon offsets for multi-family dwellings
  • doit (Birmingham): Cloud-based electrical system mapping
  • Resilient Power Systems (Atlanta): Building block to reduce infrastructure upgrade costs
  • EnergyHawk (Boston): Mapping solutions for C&I lead generation
  • TruSpin (Birmingham): Nanomaterials manufacturing
  • ShipShape AI (Austin, Texas): Smart home solutions management
  • Elektrik (Salt Lake City): E-commerce platform for electric wholesalers

Over the next 90 days, startups will receive seed investment, mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders as well as Alabama’s business community, and business coaching through the program’s educational components.

The program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event.

“We welcome these companies to our growing technology ecosystem and are excited for them to see firsthand the benefits of doing business in Alabama,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“At its core, the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is an economic development initiative, and this work will help solidify our state’s future in the 21st century economy.”

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and The University of Alabama.

These supporters will have a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

Site consultants rank Alabama a top state in Area Development survey

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Site selection professionals surveyed by national publication Area Development once again ranked Alabama among the top states for doing business, citing a range of factors that underpin a business-friendly environment.

Alabama ranks No. 6 overall in the magazine’s 2020 “Top States for Doing Business” analysis, continuing a long run in the annual survey’s Top 10 that underscores the state’s consistent, high-level emphasis on economic growth and job creation.

In Area Development’s latest survey, Alabama earned Top 10 rankings in 10 out of 13 different individual categories, which span the spectrum of critical economic development issues. The rankings report was released today.


“These high rankings indicate that Alabama offers the advantages that companies are searching for when they are making decisions about opening new facilities or expanding existing operations,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Alabama possesses the skilled workers, effective training programs, and the low-cost business environment that companies from around the world need to compete and succeed,” he added.

Between 2012 and 2019, economic development activity brought $44 billion in new capital investment to Alabama, along with 135 ,000 new and future jobs, according to Commerce data.

Last year alone, new capital investment in Alabama totaled $7.1 billion, with nearly 13,500 job commitments. Read a story outlining the results.


Secretary Canfield said Alabama’s individual category rankings reflect the state’s comprehensive approach to economic development:

  • Speed of Permitting – No. 2
  • Workforce Development Programs – No. 3
  • Business Incentives – No. 4 (tie)
  • Favorable Regulatory Environment – No. 5
  • Available Real Estate – No. 5 (tie)
  • Competitive Labor Environment – No. 6
  • Site Readiness Programs – No. 6
  • Energy Availability & Costs – No. 6 (tie)
  • Cooperative & Responsive State Government – No. 6 (tie)
  • Overall Cost of Doing Business – No. 7 (tie)

Alabama ranked No. 4 in Area Development’s survey last year.

This year’s list was topped by Georgia and filled with other Southern states in the Top 10.

“What we learned is that, even amid the earth-shattering change the current pandemic has wrought, there are important things that have not changed. States across the South continue to have their ducks in a row when it comes to making themselves attractive to businesses,” the magazine notes.

“They remain well-prepared for creating positive business headlines — they’re doing so now and will continue to do so as the economy regains its liveliness.”

In July, Business Facilities, another economic development publication, gave Alabama high marks for its workforce development programs and its “automotive manufacturing strength,” based on the state’s rapidly expanding auto industry.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

JELD-WEN adds product line at Alabama facility, creating 40 jobs

(JELD-WEN/Contributed, Made in Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

WEDOWEE, Alabama – Charlotte, North Carolina-based JELD-WEN Inc., one of the world’s largest door and window manufacturers, plans to expand production at its plant in Randolph County, creating up to 40 new jobs at the facility, officials announced this week.

The expansion at the Alabama facility stems from JELD-WEN’s decision to move the assembly of patio doors from a number of Northern U.S. plants to Wedowee. The expansion will result in an estimated $25 million in sales revenue for the facility.

“This is exciting for our company. We are proud to have an opportunity to help the local economy grow and provide employment opportunity for a substantial number of local residents,” JELD-WEN Wedowee Plant Manager Terry Wiley said.



The new product line will make the plant in Wedowee one of JELD-WEN’s major U.S. door prehang facilities. The expected start of the additional assembly is Oct. 1, 2020.

“It is always great to see a local company in your area expand. JELD-WEN has been in Randolph County in excess of 19 years,” Randolph County Economic Development Authority Director Bryant Whaley said.

“They have done their part in expanding, and now we must do our part and fill those vacant jobs,” he added.

Previously, JELD-WEN’s Wedowee plant supplied doors to nationwide home improvement retailer locations throughout the Southeast, but the expansion means additional patio doors will be shipped as far north as Minnesota and Maine.

Over the next six to nine months, up to $500,000 in new equipment will be installed to aid in the assembly of patio doors at the Alabama plant.

“I am thrilled to have JELD-WEN in Wedowee. They are a great corporate partner for our community. Their expansion is a long-term investment in our community,” Wedowee Mayor Tim Coe said.

JELD-WEN, founded in 1960, operates manufacturing facilities in 20 countries, primarily in North America, Europe and Australia.

The company designs, produces and distributes an extensive range of interior and exterior doors, along with wood, vinyl and aluminum windows and related products for use in the new construction and repair and remodeling of residential homes and non-residential buildings.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

2 months ago

Geneva County targets manufacturers with new spec building

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

HARTFORD, Alabama – Officials in rural Geneva County believe their job-creation efforts will receive a major boost from a new 45,000-square-foot speculative building that’s ideal for a manufacturing operation.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the building in the Geneva County Industrial Park was held this month. Construction on the structure, located near to the Air Performance Inc. facility, should be completed in early 2021.

“We want people to know that Geneva County is open for business,” said Toby Seay, Geneva County commission chairman and probate judge.


The spec building is being made possible through a funding partnership between the Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC), the PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and the Geneva County Commission.

“We’re happy to be in a position to partner with PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and the Geneva County Commission to bring this facility to Hartford,” said Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer.

“This has the potential to change Geneva County. We’re always investing in opportunities to improve the health and well-being of our communities,” Kimbro added.


Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, commended the WEC and its partners for pursuing their strategic economic development goals through the construction of the spec building.

“Rural areas face their own specific challenges when it comes to economic development, so it’s critical that community leaders work together to provide smart solutions that can result in job creation,” Secretary Canfield said.

“In Geneva County, that is exactly what is taking place.”

Commerce has embraced rural economic development as a pillar in its overall economic development strategy for the state.

Over the past year, Commerce’s Rural Development Manager Brenda Tuck has worked with rural counties to emphasize the importance of having sites and buildings ready for occupancy so that they can better compete in the development process.

“We are always excited to see these projects coming together through the great partnerships that we have in our rural areas,” Tuck said.

“Many of Alabama’s great products are already being made in rural Alabama; with the addition of spec buildings like this one in Geneva County, rural Alabama continues to be poised for even more success.”


Economic developers know that most businesses considering a job-creating relocation or expansion project look for existing building space. Realizing the Wiregrass area lacked existing buildings, WEC utilized a program from its power distributor — PowerSouth — to initiate the construction project in Hartford.

PowerSouth has operated a Business Development Loan Program, which funds the construction of spec buildings, for more than two decades. The Geneva County facility will be the 23rd project funded through the program; all but one of the previous 22 buildings have been occupied.

“PowerSouth is committed to the communities it serves. We work with our members to educate them on the opportunities that are out there,” said Caleb Goodwyn, a PowerSouth community development and financing representative.

“The majority of companies that come to Alabama are looking for existing space. It’s exciting to see growth like this,” he added.

Under the program, PowerSouth will fund half of a building’s cost, up to $400,000. PowerSouth members like WEC must contribute 25 percent of the costs, up to $200,000, while other community interests fund the rest of the project.

“The Geneva County Commission has set economic development as one of its priorities, and one of our major goals was to construct a speculative building,” Seay said.

Birmingham-based Alabama Power also a spec building program, which it has operated since 1991. The utility joined with partners in Talladega County last year to construct a 60,000-square-foot spec building in Sylacauga

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

(Twitter/MTM/EQB View)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.


The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.


MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”


Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

3 months ago

Publication gives Alabama high marks for business climate, workforce training

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama received high rankings for its workforce development programs and auto manufacturing strength in a new report from Business Facilities magazine, which also picked Birmingham and Huntsville as top cities for business climate.

In the 16th installment of its Annual State and Metro Rankings Report, Business Facilities rated Birmingham as the No. 1 mid-size metro area for its business climate, while Huntsville was No. 1 among small-size metros. Overall, Alabama ranked No. 4 for business climate.


Alabama’s workforce development and talent attraction programs ranked No. 2 among the states in the ranking, while Business Facilities rated Alabama’s automotive manufacturing strength No. 5.

“Alabama’s economic development team will continue to work tirelessly to recruit high-caliber companies, and this ranking is another testament to the advantages that our state possesses for businesses across the globe,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“One of those key advantages is our workforce training programs, which are a key component of the support system we have in place in Alabama to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success,” he added.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is a central player in Alabama’s strategic economic growth efforts, having worked with 5,200 companies and training nearly 1 million workers since its founding in 1971. Last year, AIDT’s economic impact on Alabama was calculated at $7 billion.

“Any success we have in Alabama regarding workforce development and talent attraction is due to a myriad of things,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and head of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division.

“This includes an available workforce with an extraordinary work ethic, world-class companies that choose Alabama and hire our citizens, a business-focused Governor and Legislature who are totally engaged in our workforce strategies, and a Secretary of Commerce who helped create the Accelerate Alabama strategy that is the foundation of all our work.”

Castile added: “The AIDT staff is among the best in the business of both workforce development and talent attraction, and I commend them and many others involved in this work for this recognition. We are very proud to be part of the ‘Made in Alabama’ and the ‘AlabamaWorks’ team.”

Alabama’s auto industry is poised for growth as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing completes its new assembly plant in Huntsville, and Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz move forward with major expansions in the state.


Other Business Facilities rankings for Alabama included:

No. 6 – Foreign Trade Zone activity (exports)

No. 7 – Manufacturing Output (percentage of GDP)

No. 10 – Birmingham/Hoover (GDP leaders, mid-size MSAs)

Both the Birmingham and Huntsville areas have recorded high levels of economic development activity.

Last year, Jefferson County, the heart of the Birmingham metro area, attracted $456 million in new capital investment, along with more than 1,100 jobs, according to Commerce’s 2019 New & Expanding Industry Report.

Major projects included the recruitment of a Carvana automobile distribution center in Bessemer with a projected 450 jobs and a $215 million expansion at a U.S. Steel facility, adding 150 jobs.

Madison and Limestone counties, comprising the Huntsville metro area, landed projects valued at nearly $2 billion in 2019, with more than 3,500 job commitments.

Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Toyota announced growth projects in the Huntsville region last year, as did several suppliers to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Southern Research’s screening center searches for clues to COVID-19 treatments

(Southern Research/Twitter)

Inside a high-tech laboratory at Southern Research, a team led by Robert Bostwick, Ph.D., is screening vast numbers of compound samples to identify agents that could become a new treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Bostwick is director of Southern Research’s state-of-the-art High-Throughput Screening (HTS) Center, which features advanced robotic equipment and a collection of around 750,000 compounds for rapid, accurate testing.

Since 2006, the HTS Center has screened an average of 3.3 million compounds each year in biochemical, bacterial, cell-based, and antiviral assays. The center’s scientists have been working on coronaviruses for the past six years.

Since the pandemic began earlier this year, Bostwick’s team has screened compound samples for pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and key government agencies. It’s also screened FDA-approved drugs to see if they show potential activity against the pathogen.


Bostwick, who joined the Birmingham-based research organization in 2013 after working for AstraZeneca and other bioscience companies, talks about the capabilities of the HTS Center and how his team is making a contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

What is the goal of Southern Research’s screening program as it relates to the novel coronavirus?

The goal is to discover drugs that can be used as therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. By screening compounds in our HTS Center, we can rapidly identify those that exhibit antiviral effects against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.

These compounds can then be used as starting points for the development of new therapeutic agents.

If the screen identifies compounds that are already approved as drugs to treat various other diseases, they can potentially be repurposed for treating COVD-19.

What are Southern Research’s key capabilities in screening compounds as part of the drug discovery process?

Using automated robotic systems to perform testing is a key capability to enable high throughput screening. Southern Research’s HTS Center can also conduct screens that require containment of highly infectious agents and is internationally known for its infectious disease capabilities.

The HTS Center has screened over 15 million compound samples in over 50 different infectious disease assays. It currently serves as the screening core for the NIH-funded Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), based at UAB, our close collaborator on many projects.

 Describe the scope of Southern Research’s activities in screening compounds against COVID-19.

For the past six years we have been conducting a drug discovery effort for coronaviruses through the AD3C and have expanded that effort to include SARS-CoV-2.

In addition, we are providing screening services to several major pharmaceutical companies, over two dozen biotech companies, the Gates Foundation and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which is part of the NIH.

Since early April, we have been generating over 30,000 data points weekly in screens to identify compounds with antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2.

How many compounds has Southern Research screened as part of its internal COVID-19 research program?

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, we had already screened over 305,000 compounds against SARS in support of the AD3C coronavirus drug discovery project. After the outbreak, we tested the hits from that campaign against SARS-CoV-2 and identified several compounds with antiviral effects against both viruses. We are making and testing dozens of new compounds for that program every month.

We also screened a collection containing FDA-approved drugs and late-stage clinical candidates against SARS-CoV-2 to identify drugs with potential for repurposing.

Why is ‘drug repurposing’ a smart approach in this pandemic?

It takes years to invent and bring a new drug to market. Since the safety profile of marketed drugs is already known, a drug need only be evaluated in clinical studies to determine if it can effectively treat a disease other than the one for which it is marketed.

Therefore, in a pandemic, it is much quicker to repurpose existing drugs for use in combating the pathogen as opposed to inventing an entirely new drug.

(Courtesy of Southern Research)

4 months ago

Pinnacle Renewable Energy plans $95 million wood pellet plant in Alabama

(Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc./Contributed)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Governor Kay Ivey today announced that Alabama Pellets LLC, a subsidiary of Canada-based Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., plans to invest $95 million to construct a wood pellet production facility in Demopolis.

The Alabama Pellets facility is expected to have an annual production volume of 360,000 metric tons and will start initial industrial wood pellet production by mid-2021. The company has set an initial target of hiring at least 45 workers.

“We welcome the growth plans of Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets in our state,” Governor Ivey said. “My administration has made it a priority to develop rural Alabama and this manufacturing facility under construction in Demopolis will have a significant economic impact on Marengo County and create meaningful new opportunities for many citizens there.”


Pinnacle has signed an agreement with the State of Alabama that provides Alabama Pellets with incentives for job creation and investment under Alabama’s Job Act Incentives program.

Pinnacle holds a 70 percent stake in Alabama Pellets, with Tuscaloosa-based Westervelt Co. and Demopolis-based Two Rivers Lumber Co. LLC holding 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

“Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets have been part of the Alabama business landscape since October 2018 and are proud to be part of the economic growth of this community,” Pinnacle CEO Rob McCurdy said.

“Part of our commitment as a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate is to think local, hire local, and use local vendors and contractors.”


Incentives for Alabama Pellets include a tax credit for job creation totaling $848,000 over 10 years, as well as an investment credit totaling $9.5 million, also spread over 10 years, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The Alabama Job Act incentives supports our approach to doing business, and we are pleased to be part of the state’s ‘Made in Alabama’ program,” McCurdy said.

The incentives are offered to businesses that provide benefit to the state and its citizens through positive economic impacts in the community and tax revenue to the state. In order to receive the wage incentive, Alabama Pellets’ facility will target employing a minimum of 45 employees who earn an average hourly wage of $20.

“We’re committed to helping create jobs in our state’s rural areas through strategic economic development, and the plans by Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets to locate a facility in Demopolis is a positive development for Marengo County,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Alabama Pellets is making a major investment in this plant, which will drive economic growth in the region and spark the creation of direct and indirect jobs.”


Vancouver-based Pinnacle is the world’s third largest manufacturer and distributor of industrial wood pellets, a sustainable fuel for renewable electricity generation. This fuel is used by large-scale thermal power generators as a greener alternative to produce reliable baseload renewable power.

The company operates eight industrial wood pellet production facilities in western Canada and one in Alabama, with two additional facilities under construction in Alberta and Alabama. It also owns a port terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Pinnacle has entered into long-term take-or-pay contracts with utilities in the U.K., Europe and Asia that represent an average of 99 percent of its production capacity through 2026.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Revere Plastics Systems expands footprint to Alabama, creating 120 jobs


AUBURN, Alabama — Revere Plastics Systems, a leading manufacturer of highly engineered plastic injection molded parts and assemblies, has selected Auburn to house its first operation in the Southeast.

Revere will employ 120 people at its Alabama plant over the next three years.

“Revere is thrilled with the location and growth opportunity that our Auburn facility offers,” said Glen Fish, CEO of Revere. “The active transfer of new business in our first weeks of operation is already encouraging, and we are proud of the exceptional team in place that significantly advances Revere’s expansion plan.”


Revere Plastics Systems is headquartered in Novi, Michigan, and has over 50 years of experience in plastics and manufacturing. Revere’s leadership and technical expertise has earned the company a ranking as one of the nation’s top 50 plastic injection molders in sales.

“With the opening of its first plant in the Southeast, Revere joins Alabama’s great family of industries that have proven to be not only leaders in their field, but also great community partners,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“We look forward to building a durable partnership with Revere and helping them to grow in Sweet Home Alabama.”


The addition of its Auburn operation will increase the company’s footprint to seven North American locations. Their location in Auburn will allow the company to grow its presence in the automotive, outdoor power equipment, medical, HVAC and other end-markets.

“We are pleased to welcome Revere Plastics Systems into Auburn’s industrial family,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “Their timing couldn’t be better for our community as this technology-based, value-added company prepares to provide jobs locally.”

Revere Plastics Systems will operate at 204 Enterprise Drive in the Auburn Technology Park North. Formerly under the names Weidmann and Techniplas, the facility has been used since 2004 as an injection molding operation.

“We look forward to growing new customers, localizing existing Revere business, and attracting some of Auburn’s prior business to the facility,” said CEO Fish.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Innovation Fund joins Auburn to support development of OraSecure saliva collection device for COVID testing

(Pixabay, YHN)

AUBURN, Alabama — The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

The support will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. This funding comes at a key time in the development of this product and should allow the OraSecure device to begin rapidly assisting the nation during the fight against COVID-19.


The Alabama Innovation Fund, administered by Commerce, will provide $200,000 in funding, while the City of Auburn is providing $50,000 for OraSecure’s pilot program.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”


The OraSecure device is designed to facilitate a safer, more comfortable, and less wasteful collection process for those seeking COVID-19 testing.

OraSecure was designed by five experts in the clinical and forensic testing industries with initial funding and support provided by Omega Laboratories Inc., a leading forensic drug testing laboratory with over 20 years of industry experience.

Under Omega Laboratories’ leadership, OraSecure LLC was spun-off as its own entity with the support of the City of Auburn and the State of Alabama. Initial operations will be based in Auburn.

OraSecure plans to offer the collection device as quickly as possible.

“It’s great to see innovative products being manufactured here in Auburn that will aid in public health efforts and the fight against COVID-19,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “OraSecure is a perfect example of the types of new technologies that we work to foster in our local businesses.”


OraSecure said the city and people of Auburn feature a remarkable combination of expertise in bio-tech manufacturing, as well as the skills, resources, and capabilities needed for it to begin rapidly progressing through the prototyping and manufacturing process.

As the development and manufacturing of OraSecure progresses, Omega’s development team and distribution network will be key in the commercialization of OraSecure product.

The OraSecure collection device is especially attractive to laboratories because of its unique vacuum tube configurability. OraSecure can be configured in single and dual-tube collection options, and these vacuum tubes can be filled with a variety of different buffers.

OraSecure can be customized with a variety of vacuum type specimen tubes for automated testing and can provide a true split-specimen for laboratories interested in performing both active virus and antibody testing from a single collection.

Unlike the current nasal swab collections, OraSecure is patient driven, with patients depositing their saliva or sputum directly into the device. The secured tubes can be safely transported to the laboratory and be placed directly on automated equipment. This means that OraSecure greatly reduces the exposure risk to collectors and laboratory personnel.

Headquartered in Mogadore, Ohio, Omega Laboratories is a global leader in specialty drug testing, rapid alcohol testing, software solutions for clinical and forensic operations, and laboratory licensing. For more information on OraSecure, please visit


The Alabama Innovation Fund was created as part of the Accelerate Alabama strategic plan in 2012 to help provide financial support for research and innovation-based commercialization taking place in the state.

Projects are selected for funding based on factors such as job-creation potential, the likelihood of successful commercialization and additional research possibilities. The program is administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Milestones bring Toyota Alabama closer to increased engine production

(Toyota Alabama/Contributed)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Toyota Alabama announced today that it achieved two significant milestones this month as part of an ongoing expansion, a $288 million project originally announced in March 2019.

The milestones include the start of production for the all-new, redesigned 4-cylinder engine at the Huntsville facility, and the closing in of the plant’s new 150,000-square-foot V6 engine assembly line.

“These milestones represent significant achievements and further demonstrate Toyota’s long-term commitment to build where we sell,” said Dave Finch, Toyota Alabama president.


“By boosting production capacity and flexibility, our dedicated work force can better serve customers and position our operations for stability and future success,” he added.


Upon the expansion is complete in 2021, the plant will add 450 new jobs. Toyota’s investment at the Alabama facility will climb to a total of $1.2 billion investment, solidifies the Huntsville plant as the automaker’s largest engine production center in North America.

Toyota Alabama supplies engines for one-third of all Toyota vehicles assembled in the U.S.

The latest expansion is the plant’s fifth since it began engine production in 2003. Annual engine capacity will increase 34 percent to 900,000, while total employment at the facility will top 1,800.

“Toyota has long been a pillar in our booming automotive industry, with its Huntsville engine plant operating in near-constant expansion mode since it launched production,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Over the years, we have developed a special relationship with this world-class automaker and, working together, we will build a brilliant future right here in Alabama,” he added.


Meanwhile, Toyota is teaming with Mazda to build a $1.6 billion joint venture assembly plant just miles away in another location in Huntsville. Production, split evenly between the partners, is expected to begin in 2021.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, as the venture is known, will employ 4,000 workers at full production.

The Alabama Department of Commerce and AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, have joined area governments and organizations to support the project, which was announced in January 2018.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Alabama Office of Apprenticeship plans for growth with fresh funding


MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Alabama’s apprenticeship effort is primed for additional growth after the U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday awarded the state a $450,000 grant to expand registered apprenticeship programs.

The funding will allow the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to enhance its activities in working with employers to develop skilled workers in many industries across the state, according to Josh Laney, the AOA’s director.

Laney said the grant will help the agency provide resources for employers on how to run high-performance apprenticeship programs and allow it to develop mentor programs so skilled workers can pass on their knowledge to the next generation. The grant will also help AOA collect useful data to improve its efforts.


“The top line metric of performance for the AOA is how well employers are served. The AOA will use the resources provided by this grant to expand our regional presence by locating project managers in the areas closest to the employers they serve,” Laney said.

“Even in times of COVID and social distance, proximity to the clients and a deep integration with the workforce entities in an area allow relationships to be built and joint efforts to flourish,” he added.


The funding arrives at a time for growth for Alabama’s apprenticeship effort, which has been expanding into new industries as part of the COVID-19 recovery. In June 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Alabama a $1.3 million, three-year grant to support the expansion of apprenticeship efforts among members of difficult-to-serve special populations.

The new funding comes through the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Building State Capacity to Expand Apprenticeship through Innovation” program.

“We are extremely proud of the work our apprenticeship staff are doing as they work tirelessly to stand up our state apprenticeship agency, the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship,” said Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and head of its Workforce Development Division.

“Receiving this grant at this moment in time is extraordinarily important to the work and will help expedite the development of our Alabama program,” added Castile, who also serves as director of AIDT.

At AOA, Laney teams with industries and education providers across the state to develop and expand traditional and industry-recognized apprenticeships for youth and adults.

He also leads the AOA’s support of larger workforce development infrastructure for Alabama to identify and promote the recognition and use of valuable credentials.

“The AOA is very pleased to be able to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Labor for the expansion of apprenticeship in Alabama,” he said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

5 months ago

Cullman’s JELCO adds new dimension with health care PPE production

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

CULLMAN, Alabama – JELCO, a Cullman manufacturer that typically produces fall-protection gear for utility workers, is expanding its workforce and adding equipment as it ventures into a new product line – personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Philip Clemmons, president and CEO of JELCO, said the move stems from his desire to make a positive contribution during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when hospitals and health care workers were scrambling to locate PPE.

“Back in March, we looked around and said, ‘What can we do to help with COVID-19?’ We knew how to sew, and I had capable people,” he said. “I could also buy more sewing machines and hire more people. I talked to a few of my friends who are doctors, and that’s how we got into PPE.”


JELCO initially began producing washable face masks based on local demand. It quickly shifted the new production endeavor to include hospital gowns, after discussions with Cullman Regional Medical Center, which placed an order for 3,000 gowns.

“We have been shipping hospital gowns across the country, to small clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and everything in between.”

Clemmons said his company has invested more than $100,000 to install new sewing machines at the Cullman facility, where it also added an automated fabric-cutting machine to speed up production.

The plant, which opened in 2019, had only a handful of employees in March. Today, employment is approaching 25, and Clemmons said he believes new hiring can be sustained.

“Cullman is very lucky to be surrounded by companies that have stepped up to face this pandemic and produce the products that protect our citizens and the medical professionals that are on the front lines fighting this virus,” said Dale Greer, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency.

“JELCO has risen to the occasion providing critical medical and civilian PPE in a time when PPE shortages are common. Alabama’s medical workers, their patients, and our citizens are safer because of JELCO’s efforts,” he added.


For JELCO, the move into health care PPE represented a natural evolution. The company produces fall protection equipment for at-heights workers such as harnesses, lanyards, pole straps and rescue equipment. Its chief customers are utilities and telecommunications companies.

Besides the location in Cullman, JELCO also has a plant in Montréal, where it was founded in 1892 as the J.E. Lortie Co. Clemmons’ family acquired the company in 1998, and he has served as CEO since 2008.

Besides hospital gowns, JELCO has also begun producing flame-resistant face masks using specialized Nomex materials that it has sold to utility companies across Canada and the United States.

Clemmons said he believes his company’s move into health care PPE has long-term potential in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are still a lot of companies that are importing their PPE from China and India, but what we have is something that is made right here in Alabama, here in America. I think a lot of people would rather have something made here than made in China,” he said.

JELCO’s ability to produce health care PPE in Cullman has grown rapidly since it began producing the first hospital gowns for the local hospital.

“Early on, we didn’t have the kind of sewing machines for large-scale production of masks and gowns. Now, we have bought more sewing machines and additional support equipment and we’ve hired more people,” Clemmons said.

“We’ve got it down where we can produce large quantities of gowns and masks each day while still maintaining our production capabilities on our core products.”

Adding a CNC fabric cutter accelerated JELCO’s production capabilities at the Cullman location.

“If we were going to be able to put product out quickly, we saw the need to upgrade and instead of using manual fabric cutters, we wanted to automate the process,” Clemmons said. “We can program it exactly as we need and minimize wastage.”

Greer at the Cullman EDA said JELCO’s growth is delivering an extra dimension.

“Of course, as economic development professionals we are excited about new jobs and new capital investment, but this project means more,” Greer said. “This is a company being a great corporate citizen and contributing to a better, safer tomorrow.”


JELCO is the second Cullman company to see long-term potential in PPE production as the need for domestic suppliers of critical protective gear becomes recognized as a national priority because of critical shortages triggered by the pandemic.

Earlier this year, HomTex Inc., a producer of bed linens and similar items, quickly pivoted to make washable, reusable cotton face masks, keeping its workforce engaged as it rapidly turned out more than 1 million of the masks.

HomTex is now investing more than $5 million and hiring 120 workers to become a permanent supplier of pleated 3-ply surgical masks for health care workers.

The Alabama Department of Commerce, under the leadership of Secretary Greg Canfield, has identified the production of PPE, medical supplies and equipment, and pharmaceuticals as a new strategic target for the state’s economic development efforts.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

5 months ago

Southern Research intensifying therapeutic efforts to combat COVID-19

(Southern Research/Contributed, YHN)

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Research has accelerated its drug discovery and development activities to identify and test vaccines and therapeutics against coronavirus that could save lives and help restore the nation’s hard-hit economy.

A key figure in this effort is Mark J. Suto, Ph.D., vice president of the Drug Discovery division and interim vice president of the Drug Development division at Southern Research.

Suto, who has made wide-ranging contributions to pharmaceutical research and drug discovery efforts during a 35-plus year career, has worked in large pharmaceutical companies, as well as smaller biotech and venture-backed firms.

Since joining Southern Research in 2011, Suto has engaged in multiple research collaborations spanning a diverse range of diseases and therapeutic areas, including rare and neglected diseases.

In a question-and-answer format, Suto discusses Southern Research’s multi-pronged effort to fight COVID-19, the virus causing the serious, sometimes fatal respiratory illness.


What is Southern Research doing to develop new therapies and vaccines against COVID-19?

 As part of our long history with the identification of new medicines to treat life-threatening diseases such as cancer and HIV, we have channeled our resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, we are collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to identify new research tools and vaccines. We recently announced a collaboration with Tonix, a biopharmaceutical firm, to test its vaccine candidate.

As part of a large consortium funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) involving our partnering institution, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), we are building upon our ongoing research on highly pathogenic coronaviruses to develop new therapies. We are also working in partnership with UAB to test compounds for antiviral activity against COVID-19.​

How did Southern Research begin its work?

 From the onset of the COVID-19 threat, Southern Research quickly worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government agencies to obtain the virus for experimental testing. Due to the nature of the virus (i.e., ability to rapidly spread and cause infection), handling requires highly specialized facilities available at Southern Research. After having obtained the virus, intense research has been initiated and is ongoing which aims to identify effective therapies.

Has Southern Research activated an internal COVID-19 program?

 In addition to these activities, we established an internal research program to identify known drugs that will be effective against this new threat. In the case of combating COVID-19, speed is of the essence given wide-reaching consequences. It is well known that the development of new drugs is a costly endeavor and requires years of research. Southern Research has taken a non-traditional approach of drug discovery which could result in the identification of new therapies in a period of months rather than years.

What is Southern Research’s strategy in searching for new therapies?

 Our approach, referred to as ‘drug repurposing’, consists of developing a rapid method or screen to determine whether there are already FDA-approved drugs that would be effective against COVID-19. We’ve tested more than 3,500 drugs and have identified 12 which are highly active against the virus. An interesting fact is that those that have been identified were all originally developed not as antivirals but rather for a wide range of medical conditions.

What are the next steps in this process?

 Next, we need to further evaluate these drugs under several various conditions to identify those with clinical promise. Also, since all of these compounds are approved for use in people, clinical trials could be initiated very quickly.

Support Southern Research’s work against COVID-19. Donate today.

(Courtesy of Southern Research)

5 months ago

5 ways Alabama is making a difference in the battle against COVID-19

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

The coronavirus crisis has brought unimagined challenges, but businesses across Alabama have answered the call to help health care workers and their communities through these difficult times.

Alabama businesses, from large-scale manufacturers to small family-owned enterprises, have shown a willingness to go the extra mile to provide assistance during this unprecedented public health emergency.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to emerge, clothing designers, textile manufacturers, distilleries and a host of other small businesses across the state quickly transitioned their daily operations to produce protective gear, medical equipment and hand sanitizer.


Large employers also got into the act. One example: Hyundai Alabama coordinated the delivery of 10,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea to expand testing in the Montgomery region.

“Alabama’s business community and the state’s people have shown an incredible resilience during this crisis,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“These efforts really speak to the core of the Alabama spirit and will help us get moving forward on the road to recovery.”

Here are five ways that businesses and organizations in Alabama have made important contributions to the pandemic fight.


Auburn University engineers developed a method to convert ordinary CPAP machines into emergency ventilators that could help patients stricken by the serious respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

The device — called RE-InVENT – can be assembled in four hours using about $700 worth of parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine, compared to the typical hospital ventilator price tag of $25,000 and up.

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” said Michael Zabala, a faculty member in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and one of the project’s drivers.

The Alabama Productivity Center at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business has been involved in the fight, along with partners at Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center and UAB’s School of Engineering.

An impromptu effort to produce protective face shields using 3-D printers quickly grew into a network that included individuals, three local high schools and companies including Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant.

The network has now produced thousands of face shields for health care facilities and first responders in central and west Alabama.

“This is a no-fee project for us, but it is probably one of the most impactful we will do this year,” said Alan Hill, the APC’s executive director.


Across Alabama, many businesses are finding ways to make a difference. A partnership between Birmingham wedding dress designer Heidi Elnora and Moulton’s Red Land Cotton produced face masks. In late March, Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing converted its entire production line to hand sanitizer.

Cullman-based HomTex Inc. began producing reusable cotton face masks after orders for its traditional bed linens declined, turning out more than 1 million masks in short order.

With support from the Alabama Department of Commerce and others, the family firm now plans to invest $5 million to become a full-time domestic supplier of medical-grade surgical masks. (Read a story about its plans.)

“We are going to make hundreds of millions of these surgical masks,” HomTex President Jeremy Wootten said.  “The production capacity will be about 350 million of these annually.”

In Mobile, Calagaz Printing, which normally produces menus and other items for restaurants, shifted its line to produce protective face shields, ultimately making more than 150,000 of them.

“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,” said Calagaz’s Michael Cuesta.


The state’s research institutions and universities were quick to join the effort against COVID-19, demonstrating their impressive capabilities.

Birmingham’s Southern Research is working with a New York biopharmaceutical firm to test a potential coronavirus vaccine and is collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to develop new research tools.

In addition, Southern Research launched an internal program to identify drugs that are already FDA-approved that could be effective against COVID-19, repurposing them so they can be quickly incorporated into treatments.

Scientists at UAB, meanwhile, are active on many fronts.

UAB teamed with biopharmaceutical company Altimmune for pre-clinical trials of a vaccine candidate and participated in a global trial of the investigational drug remdesivir that has received emergency approval as a treatment for the coronavirus disease.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the vital importance of UAB to Alabama and the world,” UAB President Dr. Ray L. Watts said. “We continue to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care, and education to make a big difference.”


As the crisis took hold, Boeing, Airbus and other major industrial employers in Alabama quickly redeployed their resources to produce personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory produced 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals. Honda Alabama’s engineers also stepped up to utilize 3-D printers to manufacture face shields for health care workers.

Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama operation launched a comprehensive relief effort featuring donations of funds, goods and services valued at more than $500,000. Along with support for the located United Way, Mercedes workers sewed N100 face masks and provided the Alabama Productivity Center with 600 face shield headbands.

Mercedes also donated 100,000 surgical masks and 7,000 N95 washable masks to the Alabama Department of Public Health, with additional PPE donations to hospitals and emergency management agencies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an incredible amount of strain on families and on the non-profits and groups trying to assist them in making ends meet,” Mercedes Alabama President Michael Goebel said.

“We are all connected, and we have to pull together to help get this community through this crisis.”


Alabama’s bioscience startups, meanwhile, have mobilized to combat COVID-19, helping to advance urgent work that could lead to new treatments and vaccines.

This includes Birmingham-based TriAltus Bioscience LLC, which developed protein purification technology to accelerate research into a new vaccine under development in Oregon.

“It’s rewarding to know that our product can help expedite the search for a COVID-19 vaccine,” TriAltus CEO Bob Shufflebarger said.

In Huntsville, a collaboration including iRepertoire, a diagnostic technology company, is seeking to learn how the human immune system responds to the virus that causes COVID-19. Partners are Huntsville Hospital and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities,” said Dr. Jian Han of iRepertoire.

Another HudsonAlpha company, iCubate, has produced a test platform for COVID-19 that can produce results in less than six hours from sample collection.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

5 months ago

Partnership to 3-D print face shields grows into network delivering impact

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

An impromptu mission to produce much-needed protective equipment for Alabama health care workers started with two 3-D printers in a home workshop running around the clock. It’s grown into a coordinated network of partners that includes motivated volunteers, three local high schools and companies wanting to help.

This informal partnership has produced and delivered more than 2,100 protective face shields to hospitals, urgent care facilities, dental clinics, hospice providers, police departments and fire stations across Central and West Alabama.

“There is a lot of good will out there and a lot of people who want to help out our first responders,” said Alan Hill, executive director of the Alabama Productivity Center in the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business.


“What we have been able to do just makes you feel good – there is just no other way to say it.”

The APC teamed with Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center and the UAB School of Engineering to kick off the mission in late March.

For the APC, it began with two 3-D polymer printers redeployed to employee Jody Beck’s residence, where he worked with his wife, Sadie, to produce plastic headbands for the face shields. At first, the printers were running 24/7.

Workers at Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center (TAC) also produced headbands and laser cut plastic shields for the medical masks. UAB helped with additional 3-D printing and final assembly.

In addition to 3-D printing headbands, the project evolved when the TAC started using its cutting capabilities to cut the headbands from acrylic. This allowed the production of more than 100 headbands a day, according to Scott Bishop, the TAC’s team leader.

Also, Alabama Power’s Print Shop started cutting the shield materials to allow the team to provide the medical workers with a complete face shield. To date, the TAC has produced more than 1,000 headbands, and the Print Shop has produced over 9,200 face shields, Bishop said.


The initial goals were modest, but after word got out about the effort, new partners jumped on board, and the campaign began to expand.

Hill said several retirees with 3-D printers joined the effort, as did the 9-year-old daughter of an UAB professor who owned a printer. Teachers at Briarwood Christian, Hoover and Thompson high schools got permission to use their printers. An anonymous donor gave 4,500 disposable face shields.

The game changed when workers at Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama assembly plant became involved, Hill said. Initially, the 3-D printers at the automaker’s sprawling facility were deployed but soon other manufacturing capabilities were also brought to bear.

“We had been 3-D printing the headbands, but they started cutting them out of acrylic using their water jet cutters,” Hill said. “We went from making one headband every two and a half hours to making 14 every hour. That increased our output tremendously.

“I can’t say enough about the support we received from Mercedes,” he added.


Hill said other companies also lined up to help.

ALG Labels + Graphics in Birmingham and FASTSIGNS, a printing company in Tuscaloosa, both donated face shield material. Pell City’s IPAK Alabama, a packaging supplier to Honda’s Alabama plant, provided foam bands that fit on the headband.

In a related effort, the CUBE, the 3-D printing lab operating UA’s College of Engineering, produced and delivered more than 1,700 protective face shields to health care facilities in West Alabama, Hill said. (More than $18,000 has been donated to this effort through an ongoing crowdfunding campaign.)

The broad support has allowed the APC to shift its 3-D printers to a new focus – producing ear relief straps for the plastic headbands on the protective face shields, which can become uncomfortable after lengthy wearing. These “ear savers” have also been given to workers at grocery stores and dental clinics who wear masks all day, Hill said.

“When all is said and done, this is really about keeping our first responders safe. If you keep just one of those people safe, it’s worth all the effort,” he said.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the effort illustrates how the state’s education and business communities can seamlessly align to make an impact in the fight against COVID-19.

“This collaborative effort, like others across the state, is not only producing results but also revealing the Alabama can-do spirit of innovation that helps us meet the most difficult of challenges,” Secretary Canfield said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

5 months ago

Airbus launches A220 production on new Alabama assembly line


MOBILE, Alabama — Airbus said today that it has officially launched production of A220 aircraft at its newly constructed Final Assembly Line hangar at its Alabama manufacturing facility.

Airbus also said its workforce in Mobile has begun production of the first U.S.-built A220 for U.S. airline company JetBlue.

“The team is excited to start working in their new facility and to welcome a new customer. It’s a strong endorsement from JetBlue in this challenging time,” said Paul Gaskell, president of A220 USA and Head of A220 Program in Mobile.


Today’s announcement means the 270,000-square-foot hangar, where both A220-100 and A220-300 aircraft can be assembled, is officially open for business after an 18-month construction project.

The facility houses five primary assembly stations where major airframe component assemblies come together for a completed aircraft in a flowline process.

Airbus initially began producing A220 aircraft in Mobile in August 2019 using space in an existing A320 Final Assembly Line hangar and new support hangars. With the completion of the new Final Assembly Line hangar, the Airbus production site in Alabama has now doubled in size.

“The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer and confirms that Airbus is an important part of the American manufacturing landscape,” Gaskell said.

“This A220 assembly line will help satisfy the U.S. demand for the A220 aircraft.”

 Airbus said another milestone was reached as the first component assemblies destined to become an A220 for JetBlue arrived at the new hangar.

JetBlue will be the second customer served by the Mobile team, with its first U.S.-made A220 scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter.

Airbus announced plans for A220 aircraft manufacturing in Mobile in October 2017.

“The opening of Airbus’ A220 Final Assembly Line in Mobile demonstrates the company’s commitment to aircraft production in the United States, and Alabama is proud to be the home of its growing U.S. manufacturing presence,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This marks another significant milestone for Airbus and its Mobile production center, and we look forward to seeing many others in the future.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

6 months ago

Evonik opens advanced biomaterials facility in Birmingham with expansion


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Evonik announced Wednesday that it has successfully commissioned an advanced biomaterials facility in Birmingham that will support global demand for the use of its RESOMER-brand bioresorbable polymers with implantable medical devices and parenteral drug products.

The expansion will also allow Germany-based Evonik to provide contract manufacturing services to customers seeking to outsource production of their own proprietary biomaterials.

“Birmingham is now a global center of excellence for the design, development and supply of biomaterials,” said John Daly, site manager at Evonik Birmingham Laboratories.

Evonik announced its growth plans in Birmingham in March 2018.


Researchers in the Alabama city played a pioneering role in the development of time-release drug delivery systems, and Birmingham remains a hub for activities in the field through Evonik and others, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance.


Evonik’s new 30,000-square-foot facility in Jefferson County is equipped with multiple cleanrooms, numerous reactors, specialized purification and micronization systems and other equipment.

Together with an adjoining facility in Birmingham, Evonik can now provide an integrated range of biomaterial services at a single U.S. site to support projects from initial feasibility through to commercial production.

The adjacent contract development and manufacturing site also offers a range of formulation development and manufacturing services for parenteral drug products, and application development and scale-up services for implantable medical devices.

“Regardless of the tightness of a customer’s product specifications or batch volume requirements, we have the technical expertise, operational flexibility, and regulatory track record to deliver the highest levels of quality and supply security,” Daly said.

Evonik said it has harmonized the equipment and processes utilized in Birmingham with its other main biomaterials facility in Darmstadt, Germany, giving pharmaceutical and medical device customers a range of dual-sourcing options.

“With the commissioning of our new state-of-the-art biomaterials facility in Birmingham, medical device and pharmaceutical customers have even more flexibility in the supply of standard or custom RESOMER bioresorbable polymers at virtually any clinical or commercial scale,” said Dr. Andreas Karau, Global Head of Biomaterials for Evonik’s Health Care business line.

The Health Care business line serves more than 1,000 pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and medical device customers worldwide.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

6 months ago

Alabama researchers energize efforts to aid search for COVID-19 therapies

(TriAtlus/Contributed, YHN)

Alabama’s bioscience researchers and organizations have mobilized to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to advance urgent work that could lead to new treatments and vaccines.

This includes Birmingham-based TriAltus Bioscience LLC, which developed protein purification technology to support research into a new COVID-19 vaccine under development at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Institute researchers are using the TriAltus CL7/lm7 system to isolate and purify the distinctive Spike protein, or S-protein, that helps the COVID-19 virus attach to and infect human cells.


“We’re in a race to develop this vaccine as quickly as possible, so it’s important to have technology that helps us isolate and purify the S-protein for time-critical research,” said Dr. Hong-Ming Hu, a scientist at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at the Providence Cancer Institute.

Hu’s team is fast-tracking the development of the potential vaccine, with trials possibly beginning in May.

“It’s rewarding to know that our product can help expedite the search for a COVID-19 vaccine,” TriAltus CEO Bob Shufflebarger said.

The CL7 technology was invented by a team led by Dr. Dmitry Vassylyev, TriAltus co-founder and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).


In Huntsville, a collaboration aims to learn how the human immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, with hopes for developing an effective treatment for the disease.

Teaming in the effort are Huntsville Hospital, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and iRepetroire, a diagnostic technology company located on the HudsonAlpha campus.

“The most effective way to stop pandemics is with vaccines,” said Dr. Rick Myers, president and scientific director for HudsonAlpha. “However, the pipeline for vaccine production from development, to testing, to market can take years. A COVID-19 treatment is the best way to bridge the gap until a vaccine is widely available.”

Researchers at HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire hope the results of the study can be used to find and test possible treatments or cures for COVID-19 by using antibodies identified in patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The immune system is nature’s best doctor,” said Dr. Jian Han, founder and chief scientific officer of iRepertoire. “By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities.”


Involved in this battle on many fronts, UAB reported that it has raised more than $1.1 million for clinical and basic research focused on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

The money was dedicated to clinical research and basic research projects proposed by UAB faculty in the School of Medicine. Fifty-two proposals were submitted, with 14 basic science projects selected for funding, with help from UAB’s Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute.

“Because of the urgency of this pandemic, one of the criteria was how quickly the research team could launch their study, and how quickly they could begin to see results,” said Dr. Etty (Tika) Benveniste, senior vice dean for Basic Sciences at UAB.

“We wanted research studies that could be reviewed at the three- and six-month time frames to determine their potential. That is a very accelerated timeline for research.”

UAB is also participating in a global clinical trial of potential COVID-19 treatments, including remdesivir, which has received emergency FDA approval as a therapeutic agent against the virus.

In addition, UAB and Birmingham’s Southern Research are collaborating with Scripps Research to test drugs that could be effective against COVID-19.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)