The Wire

  • Shots exchanged during road rage incident on I-20 during morning rush hour

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    An apparent case of road rage led to an exchange of gunfire on Interstate 20 Thursday morning.

    It all began about 7:30 a.m. on I-20 westbound just before the Interstate 459 south ramp. The victim – a 22-year-old man from Pell City – told Irondale the suspect cut off him off and then continued the harassment.

    A short time later, the victim said, the motorist pulled out what looked like an AK-47 and opened fire. The victim pulled his own gun and returned shots, said Irondale police Det. Sgt. Michael Mangina.

    The victim was not injured, but police have found at least nine bullet holes in his Nissan. The passenger side window also was shot out, and there was a passenger in the vehicle at the time.

  • TVA Opens Guntersville Dam for First Time Since September 11, 2001 Attacks

    Excerpt from The Advertiser-Gleam:

    TVA has re-opened the dam for very limited public tours. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the tours filled very quickly and no more are scheduled for the immediate future.

    Access to the interior of the dam has not been available since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. The new tours are a pilot program to get people back in the dam.

    For decades after its construction, the powerhouse of the dam was open to the public. You could go in just about anytime you wanted. The same was true for the top of the dam, where people could walk across. But it all changed due to the security risks after 9/11.

  • Alabama officials oppose possible automobile, parts tariffs

    Excerpt from Decatur Daily:

    Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said large tariffs on imported automobiles and parts — and potential counter tariffs imposed by other countries — could lead to lost jobs in Alabama.

    Canfield said his office will continue to communicate to President Donald Trump’s administration that possible 25 percent tariffs would hurt the state.

    Trump has asked the U.S. Commerce Department to study the tariffs on national security grounds, hoping to bring back jobs, The Associated Press reported this week. But industry experts and analysts say the increased costs will raise prices, hurt sales and bring layoffs. Already, the U.S. has imposed tariffs on some Chinese-made autos and parts, but extending them to Canada and Mexico would hurt the industry more.

1 year ago

Video: How T-100 trainer jets would come together in Tuskegee

By Jerry Underwood

Curious about how global aerospace company Leonardo’s Alabama workforce would assemble the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation trainer aircraft if it’s picked for the role?

Leonardo announced plans Thursday for an advanced manufacturing center in Tuskegee for its T-100 trainer jet, one of the contenders in an Air Force competition for a trainer to replace its aging fleet of T-38 aircraft. If selected, Leonardo will hire 750 people for its Alabama factory, which involves an investment topping $200 million.

A fast-paced video from Leonardo shows how T-100s would be assembled at the facility.

Leonardo’s production center would be located at Moton Field, where the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots trained during World War II.

Leonardo’s twin-engine T-100 is currently being used to train pilots around the world to fly next-generation fighter aircraft. The trainer, based on the company’s proven M-346 aircraft, has been selected for this role by Italy, Israel, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Poland.

Leonardo said its project in Tuskegee calls for the creation of 750 high-wage, full-time jobs over a 10-year ramp-up period, beginning in 2019.

An Air Force decision on the T-X trainer jet competition is expected by year’s end.

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1 year ago

Gallup: Alabama has nation’s most engaged workforce

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – A new Gallup poll finds that Alabama has the nation’s highest percentage of “engaged” workers who are enthusiastic about their jobs.

Gallup’s survey found that 37 percent of Alabama workers are engaged, ahead of Delaware, Kentucky and Louisiana at 36 percent and nine other states at 35 percent. The U.S. average was 33.7 percent.

The polling organization defines engaged workers as those who are highly involved in their work and their workplace. “They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward,” it writes.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said he is not surprised by the results of the Gallup employee engagement poll released this week.

“Alabama workers bring energy and passion to their jobs, and they’re always willing to learn new skills that will enhance productivity,” Secretary Canfield said.

“This sets them apart from their counterparts in other states and allows them to build top-flight products, make scientific discoveries, and achieve successful outcomes.”

The poll results come at a time when Alabama is streamlining and improving its overall workforce development program, with many of those functions centralized in Commerce. New initiatives include AlabamaWorks and Apprenticeship Alabama.

“As we continue our strategic focus on aligning education and workforce skills with meaningful career opportunities at world-class companies we recruit, Alabama should continue to perform well in surveys like this,” Secretary Canfield said.

DISENGAGED

At the opposite end of the engagement spectrum, slightly more than one in five workers in West Virginia (21 percent) are actively disengaged, as are 19 percent of employees in Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania.

Gallup defines the actively disengaged as employees who aren’t just unhappy at work — they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish, Gallup says.

Gallup identifies workers as engaged, not engaged or actively disengaged based on their responses to items that assess key workplace elements found to predict important business outcomes.

It says many factors influence engagement and active disengagement in the workplace. Company size, employment status and economic conditions can all play a part in how employees feel about their jobs and organizations, as can occupation, tenure and education level.

The 2015-2016 employee engagement estimates across states are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted January 2015-October 2016, including 151,462 interviews with U.S. adults, aged 18 and older.

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1 year ago

Hyundai marks 5 million Alabama-built engines — and counting

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Hyundai today celebrated the production of its 5 millionth Alabama-made engine, a key milestone for the company’s Montgomery auto operations.
The event comes less than 12 years after the plant assembled its first Lambda six-cylinder engine in May 2005.

Hyundai says its engine shops achieved this milestone faster than any other engine assembly operation in the Southeast because they have been supplying two auto plants – Hyundai’s auto assembly lines in Montgomery as well as those operated by affiliate Kia in Georgia – since 2010.

Engine shop workers and leaders of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) gathered at a luncheon to recognize the achievement.

“We would not have been able to celebrate this milestone if it weren’t the tremendous support of all our engine production and maintenance team members,” said Chris Susock, vice president – production at HMMA. “They have a history of collaborating together to get the job done with an absolute priority on safety, efficiency and the best quality for their customers.”

POWER PLANTS

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, congratulated Hyundai on the milestone.

“Hyundai is a critical part of Alabama’s auto industry, which continues to produce impressive numbers of engines and vehicles each year,” Secretary Canfield said. “We’re proud of Hyundai’s workers, and the plant’s leaders, for their commitment to building high-quality, high-performance engines and vehicles for customers around the world.”

HMMA’s two engine shops currently manufacture the Nu 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and the Theta 2.0- and 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engines. Their combined capacity tops 700,000 engines per year, and they employ more than 700 workers.


“Hyundai is a critical part of Alabama’s auto industry, which continues to produce impressive numbers of engines and vehicles each year. ”


Last year, the state’s engine manufacturers, which include Toyota’s engine plant in Huntsville and Honda’s auto plant in Talladega County, combined to turn out more than 1.75 million engines.

And just last month, Toyota celebrated its own major milestone, with the completion of its 5 millionth engine.

Pete Branham, senior manager – engine production at HMMA, added, “Our team members pour their heart into every single engine to ensure that it meets the highest quality standards. Their track record for excellence has set the stage for the long-term success of HMMA and the Hyundai brand in the North American market.”

To mark the milestone, Hyundai had a little fun with the numbers:

    • If lined up back-to-back, 5 million engines would stretch from Montgomery to California.

    • Five million engines would weigh 750,000 tons, which is more than 150,000 elephants.

    • HMMA has built more engines than there are registered vehicles in the state of Alabama.

    • If each of HMMA’s 5 million engines achieved 150,000 miles on the road, it would equate to 750 billion miles traveled, or more than 3,000 trips to Mars.

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1 year ago

HISTORY: Alabama auto production races past 10 million mark

There’s no question 2016 was a banner year for Alabama’s auto industry, in more ways than one.

For one thing, workers at the Alabama facilities of Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai combined to build more than 1 million vehicles for the second consecutive year and reached a new record high output.

But another major milestone was achieved last year without notice.

Alabama’s cumulative auto production — which started when Mercedes began producing the M-Class SUV in Tuscaloosa County 20 years ago this week – surpassed the 10 million mark.

Today, more than 10.3 million SUVs, minivans, pickups, sedans and compacts have been made in Alabama, and that’s a testament to the industry’s staying power, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We went from zero to 10 million in less than 20 years, and the automakers show no signs of slowing down,” he said. “Mercedes is in the middle of a major body and assembly shop expansion, Honda just redesigned its popular Alabama-made Odyssey minivan, and Hyundai recently added the Santa Fe SUV back to its assembly lines to meet customer demand.”

Alabama Automotive Vehicle Production by Year

With all the activity, there is much optimism about the future of auto manufacturing in Alabama, Secretary Canfield added.

“We’re ready for the next 10 million,” he said.

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1 year ago

Honda’s redesigned Alabama-made Odyssey takes center stage at Detroit auto show

DETROIT, Michigan — Honda today introduced the world to the latest version of its Odyssey minivan, a top-selling model that is produced at the company’s Alabama factory.

The redesigned 2018 Odyssey, unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, raises the stakes for family-friendly packaging, performance and technology in the minivan segment, said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co.

“In all aspects of its design, the new Odyssey is made to keep every member of the family happy, no matter the seating position, no matter the destination,” he said.

Honda showed off its redesigned Odyssey minivan, to be produced in Alabama, at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Odyssey is a key part of the lineup at Honda’s $2.2 billion auto assembly plant in Talladega County, where more than 4,500 workers help build it, along with the Pilot SUV, Ridgeline pickup, Acura MDX SUV and the engines that power all four models.

The Odyssey also was the first vehicle the automaker produced in Alabama, with the first one rolling off the assembly line in November 2001. Since then, an estimated 2.3 million have followed.

“Honda is a huge pillar of Alabama’s auto industry, responsible for thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in investment as it continually expands, takes on new models and spins off additional support businesses in the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“It all started with the Odyssey, and we can’t wait to see how this latest version of Alabama workers’ innovation and craftsmanship attracts even more customers to the brand.”

Honda executive John Mendel shows off the all-new 2018 Odyssey at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

RAISING THE BAR

On the outside, Mendel said, the fifth generation of America’s best-selling minivan takes Odyssey styling to a new level of sophistication and premium design: Low, wide, improved aerodynamics, a more sharply sculpted body side and a fresh new take on the signature lightning bolt beltline.

Under the hood, a brand new 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine is mated up to one of two new transmissions, including the first-ever Honda-developed 10-speed. Honda’s transmission plant in Georgia will lead global production of the new 10-speed, which will make its way into other Honda vehicles in the future.

Inside the new Odyssey, there is a host of new and improved family-friendly features focused on functionality and connectivity, including:

    • Magic Slide seats, which move front-to-back and side-to-side, improving access to seating

    • The CabinWatch system that allow parents to get a bird’s eye view of the second and third row seats through a ceiling-mounted camera, day or night

    • CabinTalk technology, which acts as an in-car PA system so Mom and Dad can directly connect with the kids

    • The CabinControl app that allows passengers to control the rear entertainment system, audio, heating and AC from their smartphones

    • In-car 4G LTE Wi-Fi

    • A “How Much Farther?” app that lets kids track their journey’s progress

Honda showed off its redesigned Odyssey minivan, to be produced in Alabama, at the Detroit Auto Show.

Mendel said Honda’s research showed third row users, typically older kids in the family, felt left out, so some of the new features are aimed at fixing that.

In addition, there are new and improved premium safety features throughout the updated minivan.

“We know our customers are really going to love this new Odyssey and all it has to offer,” Mendel said.

‘TRUCK OF THE YEAR’

It’s already been a big day for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama at the Detroit auto show.

This morning, the Alabama-made Ridgeline pickup was named the 2017 North American Truck of the Year, besting two other finalists: the Ford F-series Super Duty and the Nissan Titan.

“This award is a prized validation of the innovations and advantages the Ridgeline offers midsize pickup truck customers and a great recognition of the American development team’s work,” Mendel said. “This is a terrific way to kick off 2017, and we’re looking forward to sharing more innovative Honda products in the year ahead.”

The 2018 Honda Odyssey will be produced at the automaker’s plant in Alabama.

The Talladega County plant last spring launched mass production of the redesigned Ridgeline, which adopts a more traditional pickup profile than its predecessor.

Promoted as the “ultimate tailgater,” the 2017 Ridgeline has an audio system built into the truck bed, along with a 400-watt power inverter that can energize a blender, flat-screen TV or other gameday gear.

It’s also the first and only pickup to earn a TOP SAFETY PICK+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when equipped with available front crash prevention system and LED headlights.

This marks the Ridgeline’s second Truck of the Year of the award; the first was in 2006 when it debuted in the market.

Honda’s Alabama operations just capped a record year in 2016, producing an all-time high of 369,576 vehicles and engines.

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1 year ago

RECORD YEAR: Alabama auto production accelerates to all-time high in 2016

hyundai-alabama

Alabama’s auto production climbed to a new record high in 2016, as workers at the state’s three auto assembly plants kept up a brisk pace of building SUVs, pickups and sedans for markets around the world.

The Alabama factories of Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz combined to produce at least 1,048,597 vehicles, according to year-end figures reported by the companies. The tally is approximate because some numbers are preliminary.

That total is a 1.4 percent increase from 2015, when the automakers topped the 1 million mark for the first time and set the previous annual record.

Gov. Robert Bentley tours the Honda Alabama plant. The auto sector has been a key driver of job growth for the state.
Gov. Robert Bentley tours the Honda Alabama plant. The auto sector has been a key driver of job growth for the state.

“Alabama’s auto industry continues to be a powerful force for the companies that have planted deep roots here, as well as for the skilled, dedicated workers of our state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Commerce Sec. Canfield presents MollerTech leaders with an Alabama seal at a groundbreaking ceremony. The company is one of several suppliers moving into Alabama.
“There’s also a robust pipeline of new automotive jobs, investments and products, so we expect production to remain strong in the years to come,” Canfield added.

STRONG DEMAND

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama set new marks for output for 2016, with an estimated total production of 369,576 vehicles and engines, a record high for the Talladega County facility.

Customer demand has been strong for the redesigned 2017 Ridgeline pickup, which made its debut on Honda’s Alabama assembly lines last year and is now one of three finalists for the North American Truck of the Year.

Honda officials also cited the popularity of the rest of its Alabama lineup, including the Pilot SUV, Odyssey minivan and Acura MDX sport utility.

Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker's assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)
Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker’s assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)

And 2016 was also memorable for other reasons: It marked the 15th anniversary of the company’s production startup in the state, and workers produced the 4 millionth Alabama-built Honda.

Hyundai turned out 379,021 cars and SUVs at its Montgomery plant in 2016. That’s down slightly from the previous year’s total of 384,519 vehicles, but the automaker’s Alabama workers were also busy in 2016 taking on a new model.

After a $52 million investment, the Santa Fe SUV began rolling on Hyundai’s Alabama assembly lines in June, joining the Sonata sedan and Elantra compact. The move marked a return to the plant for the Santa Fe, which had been shifted to a plant in Georgia in 2010.

And the Tuscaloosa County operation of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International reached its stated annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles. As is customary, the German automaker will announce an exact production tally for its Alabama operation later this year, so it did not provide a preliminary year-end figure.

Hyundai launched mass production of Santa Fe Sport SUV at its Montgomery assembly plant on June 22. (Image: Hyundai)
Hyundai launched mass production of Santa Fe Sport SUV at its Montgomery assembly plant on June 22. (Image: Hyundai)

Last year also brought major changes to the Mercedes plant, as work continued on a $1.3 billion, 300-job expansion. The project is setting the stage for the next generation of luxury SUVs that will be produced in Alabama.

Meanwhile, another record was achieved at Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama produced 702,014 engines, an all-time high and an 11 percent increase from 2015.

The facility – the only Toyota operation globally to produce four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines under one roof – also marked the 15th anniversary of its groundbreaking in Alabama last year.

And early this year, Toyota is scheduled to produce its 5 millionth Alabama-made engine.

EVOLUTION

Mercedes' Alabama operation is adding 300 workers as part of a $1.3 billion expansion under way in 2016.
Mercedes’ Alabama operation is adding 300 workers as part of a $1.3 billion expansion under way in 2016.

Along with increased production, Alabama’s auto industry has transformed in other ways since it launched two decades ago.

The jobs and skill sets required to keep production humming has grown, and the auto factories have expanded their ranks of highly-skilled professionals.

Plus, 2016 saw continued expansion. New jobs and millions in capital spending were announced in communities across Alabama, in activities ranging from parts production to precision machining and engineering.

“It was yet another very successful and record-breaking year for Alabama’s automotive industry, which continued to grow and add thousands of jobs in 2016,” said Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

“In addition to the great impact the industry has on our economy, the state’s automotive companies continue to bring positive recognition to Alabama, our workforce and climate for business,” Sewell added.

Toyota's Alabama engine plant, which now employs 1,350, has been in constant growth mode. (Image: Toyota)
Toyota’s Alabama engine plant, which now employs 1,350, has been in constant growth mode. (Image: Toyota)
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1 year ago

Montgomery attracted whopping $411M in capital investment in 2016

Alabama and Montgomery officials join Gerhardi in a ceremonial groundbreaking at Montgomery Industrial Park. Gerhardi is building its first North American plant on the site off Interstate 85. (Blair King/Alabama NewsCenter)
Alabama and Montgomery officials join Gerhardi in a ceremonial groundbreaking at Montgomery Industrial Park. Gerhardi is building its first North American plant on the site off Interstate 85. (Blair King/Alabama NewsCenter)
Alabama and Montgomery officials join Gerhardi in a ceremonial groundbreaking at Montgomery Industrial Park. Gerhardi is building its first North American plant on the site off Interstate 85. (Blair King/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Jerry Underwood

Montgomery officials said the area attracted $411 million in new capital investment in 2016, with a lion’s share of that total coming from existing businesses.

Led by significant investments from companies such as Alfa, Baptist Health and Jackson Hospital, existing businesses announced plans for $319.7 million in new investment in the Montgomery area in 2016, officials said.

“These companies are creating jobs, driving innovation and expanding opportunities in our community,” said Bruce Crawford, board chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jobs tied to new investment and expansion projects in the Montgomery area totaled 1,940 for the year, with slightly more than 1,500 of those jobs being created by existing businesses, according to a Chamber tally.

The Chamber highlighted the growth plans of existing businesses recently with a “Success Starts Here” bus tour that included stops at Alfa, Baptist Health and Jackson Hospital. Together, these three accounted for nearly $124 million in announced new investment, along with 320 jobs.

“It’s always exciting when we announce new industries, but what is just as exciting is that time and time again we find ourselves announcing the growth and expansion of our existing industries,” Mayor Todd Strange said.

Montgomery also benefited from new projects in 2016. German auto supplier Gerhardi announced plans to invest $37.9 million and create 235 jobs in the city. The plant will be Gerhardi’s first in the U.S. and a significant addition to the automotive cluster growing from the $1.8 billion Hyundai auto assembly plant.

“With our city, county and business leaders continuing to work together, there’s no limit to what we can achieve,” Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton N. Dean Sr. said.

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

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1 year ago

Alabama auto industry drives into new era with brainpower jobs, deeper skills

honda-feature

As Alabama’s auto industry has grown over the past two decades, so have the jobs and the sophisticated skill sets required to keep production humming.

The majority of the positions at the state’s three auto assembly plants are in production, but the automakers have also built up their ranks of other highly-skilled professionals.

At Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County, for instance, there are about 700 engineering professionals in a wide variety of disciplines including electrical, mechanical and civil. The number of positions has increased proportionately to the number of products Honda Alabama is now building.

“When we first started production, we were a new plant, building one product, the Odyssey minivan, and one variation of the 3.5 liter V-6 engine. And because we were a new plant, much of our engineering expertise came from our experienced plants in Ohio, Canada and Japan,” Honda Alabama Vice President Mike Oatridge said.

Honda invested more than $71 million to open a new, highly automated engine assembly line at its Alabama facility.
Honda invested more than $71 million to open a new, highly automated engine assembly line at its Alabama facility.

But since Honda Alabama began producing vehicles 15 years ago, it has become the primary source of light truck production for the automaker and is now the exclusive supplier of the Odyssey, the Pilot SUV, the Ridgeline pickup and the Acura MDX luxury SUV.

Along with the volume increase, the technology has grown more advanced as well.

“The V-6 engine that we first started building has become more complex with the introduction of direct fuel injection, a technology that was in its infancy when we first started,” Oatridge said.

“In fact, almost all of our vehicles now have advanced technology as standard equipment – features such as side curtain airbags, back-up cameras and Bluetooth connectivity.”

Meanwhile, in the past three years, the plant’s workforce has executed four new model changes, an unprecedented schedule among Honda plants.

“So, with all those new models, along with new technology and advanced safety features, we have seen the skills to develop, build and test our vehicles become just as advanced. And that’s why our engineering requirements have continued to expand,” Oatridge said.

GROWING TECHNICAL SKILLS

Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, said there’s been a huge shift across Alabama’s auto industry when it comes to technology, and it’s affected everyone from line workers to those in other positions at the plants.

When Mercedes-Benz kicked off the state’s auto sector in the 1990’s, there was very little automation. But that changed quickly as it took over the global auto industry and other advanced manufacturing operations.

 The Alabama Robotics Technology Park near Decatur is a training resource for Alabama's automakers. Robotics Technology Park

The Alabama Robotics Technology Park near Decatur is a training resource for Alabama’s automakers.
Robotics Technology Park

These days, automakers are recruiting for highly technical, skilled positions.

“Automation in technology really changed the definition of an automotive worker in this state and what’s needed for that,” Sewell said. “There’s a high demand for robotics technology, for example, and it’s extremely important for us to be able to deliver that workforce training.”

Among Alabama’s assets in this area are the Robotics Technology Park, a complex that is a collaboration among worker training agency AIDT, Calhoun Community College and the world’s leading robotics companies.

Others include Mercedes’ partnerships with Shelton State Community College in mechatronics and automotive technician training programs. Auburn University’s College of Engineering also supports local manufacturing operations through various programs.

“The partnerships with the universities is something we began to talk about 20 years ago, and now that’s something that’s in place and extremely important to these companies,” Sewell said.

PRODUCTION COMPLEXITY

At Honda Alabama, as the technology of the plant’s products has increased, so has the complexity of the production process, Oatridge said. The tools, equipment and machinery are much more advanced than they were in the beginning.

Currently, the plant has about 250 maintenance technicians and expects to hire about 20 per year for the next several years.

“We still have a great need for associates who are mechanically inclined. But along with mechanical training, there is also a demand for electronics expertise,” Oatridge said.

Mike Oatridge is vice president at Honda Alabama.
Mike Oatridge is vice president at Honda Alabama.

“For example, about two years ago, we invested in an advanced servo-motor stamping press, to complement our two existing hydraulic stamping presses. The operation of the servo-motor press required additional training for those in the stamping process and a whole new skill set for our associates who must maintain and service it.”

Honda Alabama is working with several two-year colleges and school-to-work programs to fill the jobs and also has a workforce development program that reaches out to high schools, colleges and the general public, with public demonstrations that show off typical tasks at the plant.

Last spring, Honda Alabama hosted a workforce event during the Honda Indy races at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park.

Since its startup 15 years ago, Honda Alabama has been in a near-constant state of growth, Oatridge said.

“The automotive industry offers a wide variety of both skilled and professional work disciplines,” he said. “Our facility in Lincoln is almost a microcosm of a small city. Along with our engineers, we have professionals in information technology, accounting, logistics, purchasing, process design, human resources, business management … the list just goes on and on.”

Honda workers celebrate the production of the 4 millionth Alabama-made vehicle. (Image: Honda)
Honda workers celebrate the production of the 4 millionth Alabama-made vehicle. (Image: Honda)
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2 years ago

Lenzing Alabama expansion: $293M investment, 163 jobs

lenzing-alabama-fibers-plant

MOBILE, Alabama – Austria-based Lenzing AG announced plans today to invest $293 million to expand production at its Alabama fibers plant, creating 163 new and permanent positions over three years.

The Mobile County factory was the first commercial operation in the world to produce and market Lyocell, an eco-friendly, botanic fiber used in clothing and nonwoven products. The expansion project will add a second manufacturing facility for Lyocell, which Lenzing markets under the brand name Tencel.

“The expansion will more than double current Tencel production in Axis, making it the largest production site in the world, with a total capacity of 140,000 tons annually,” said Kevin Allen, site manager of the Lenzing Alabama plant.

“We are very proud to have in Axis the first-generation production site and now the most advanced, state-of-the-art facility in the same location,” he added.

The company’s plans were formally announced this morning at a ceremony at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Alabama expansion is the largest single investment in the history of Lenzing, which dates back almost 80 years. The company said the decision to build the new facility was supported by good infrastructure at the Axis site and by attractive energy costs.

Robert van de Kerkhof, the company’s chief commercial officer, said the project represents a “unique milestone” for the Axis facility and for the Lenzing, Austria-based industrial group, which has operations worldwide.

The Alabama fibers plant became operational in 1992, while the new facility at the site will begin production in 2019. It will be capable of producing 90,000 tons a year, becoming the largest single Tencel fiber plant in the world, according to Lenzing.

Lenzing's Alabama factory was the world's first commercial operation to produce eco-friendly Lyocell fibers.
Lenzing’s Alabama factory was the world’s first commercial operation to produce eco-friendly Lyocell fibers.

‘PROJECT TASEAN’

The Lenzing Alabama expansion – codenamed “Project Tasean” during recruitment – will provide a boost to the Mobile area’s manufacturing sector, where the average salary is $68,000 a year, more than 50 percent higher than the typical job.

The area’s chemical manufacturing sector, which includes 30 companies along a 60-mile corridor, is projected to continue growing. Employment in the corridor is expected to rise by 8.5 percent through 2020, compared to a 2.2 percent decline for the nation as a whole.

“Austria’s Lenzing is an innovative manufacturer with a longtime presence in Mobile County, Alabama, the home of its only U.S. production facility,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This significant new investment in its Mobile County operation will not only create jobs but also strengthen the partnership we have forged together over the years,” he added.

Lyosell fibers come off the production line at Lenzing's Alabama facility. (Image: Lenzing)
Lyosell fibers come off the production line at Lenzing’s Alabama facility. (Image: Lenzing)

MANUFACTURING STRENGTH

Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Lenzing expansion demonstrates the area’s success at landing large-scale economic development projects.

“This type of foreign direct investment and the addition of these high-wage jobs is yet another example of our manufacturing growth that continues to outpace the national rate,” Wayman said.

Efforts to expand manufacturing jobs in Mobile County have resulted in a 31 percent increase in factory positions between 2010 and 2015, according to data from the Chamber. That’s higher than the 9 percent growth recorded by Alabama and 7 percent for the U.S.

More than 4,600 factory jobs were added in that period by employers that include Airbus.

Wages for those employed in manufacturing in Mobile County have also risen. During the same time frame, manufacturing workers in the county have seen their wages jump 16 percent.

Merceria Ludgood, president of the Mobile County Commission, said the Lenzing expansion project is significant because it represents the fruits of the county’s labors to expand the local manufacturing sector.

“This announcement means jobs will be available right here in our county, keeping our best and brightest right here at home,” Ludgood said.

Mobile Chamber President Bill Sisson speaks at the Lenzing announcement.
Mobile Chamber President Bill Sisson speaks at the Lenzing announcement.
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2 years ago

Santa Alert: Made In Alabama’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

christmas-dcom

Talent, creativity and innovation run deep in Alabama, and it’s not hard to wrap a bow around them this holiday season.

Across the state, entrepreneurs, artists, bakers and other makers are selling their wares. Finding a special Alabama-made gift to fit any budget is no problem, but narrowing it down might be.

Alabamians fashion everything from cars to candy, and our 2016 Made In Alabama Gift Guide offers just a sampling of the one-of-a-kind presents you can share this Christmas.

Last year’s list featured handmade glassware, vintage jewelry, candles repurposed from used wine bottles and a high-powered motorcycle with a price tag that topped $100,000.

This year, colorful organic cotton socks, sweet and salty pecan treats and an off road performance pickup are vying for a spot under the tree.

PEQUEA VALLEY FORGE

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Athens blacksmith Al Stephens creates hand-crafted iron work that is found in kitchens across North America.

Through his business, Pequea Valley Forge, Stephens makes veggie choppers, pizza cutters, cheese slicers, panini presses and other household items and sells them at stores in the U.S. and Canada.

The pieces have an Old World feel and are made to be passed down for generations.

A full-time, professional blacksmith for more than 20 years, Stephens also tries to raise awareness of the ancient craft.

Earlier this year, he and other Alabama blacksmiths who make up the group, Athens Forge, helped create a World War I memorial that was erected in Ypres, Belgium.

BLACK WIDOW PICKUP

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A Trussville-based specialty vehicle manufacturer rolled out a new high-performance, off-road pickup earlier this year: The 2016 Black Widow boasts extras including a 6-inch suspension lift system, stainless steel performance exhaust, pocket style fender flares and red ambient cabin lighting.

SCA Performance gets vehicles from manufacturers and outfits them with after-market accessories. The Black Widow versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra represent about 70 percent of the firm’s sales.

Prices typically range from $60,000 to $70,000, depending on options.

SCA Performance is the former Southern Comfort Automotive, which was well known for its customized vans. The industry, however, is shifting more toward trucks, and the new name reflects the change.

Other Alabama auto manufacturers unveiled new offerings this year, too. The Honda plant in Talladega County launched a redesign of its Ridgeline pickup, while the Santa Fe SUV returned to the Hyundai assembly lines in Montgomery.

PRIESTER PECANS

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Priester’s pecans 2For more than 70 years, Priester Pecan Co. has whipped up salty, sweet and crunchy treats with the signature southern nuts.

At the country store off Interstate 65 in Fort Deposit, pecans are sold just about any way you can imagine: plain, roasted, salted, flavored, smothered in chocolate or baked into pies and brittle.

Priester’s started as a part-time seasonal wholesale nut business and evolved into Alabama’s largest gourmet handmade candy company.

For a taste of all the signature treats, try the Priester’s Favorites Sampler, priced at around $28, and filled with roasted and salted pecans, pecan logs, frosted pecans, milk chocolate covered pecans and praline pecans.

BACK FORTY BEER VINEGAR

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Back Forty Beer VinegarFrom the test kitchen of Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co. comes small batch craft beer vinegar, which can be substituted for regular vinegar in any recipe.

The makers of Truck Stop Honey, Naked Pig and Freckle Belly and other beers have partnered with chefs across the country since 2009 to develop creative beer and food pairings. Beer vinegar is the result of that collaboration.

Back Forty offers its own recipe suggestions: Beer Vinegar White BBQ Sauce and Beer Vinegar and Salt Roasted Potatoes.

The beer vinegar, available in individual 12 oz. bottles or cases of 12, is produced and packaged by Perdido Vineyards.

ALABAMA LANDMARK PILLOW

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Jill Marlar pillowsAdd a touch of the Magic City to any living space with soft cotton pillows made by printmaker Jill Marlar.

Vulcan and Sloss Furnaces are among the Birmingham landmarks featured on the 11 x 14-inch pillows, which sell for around $35. You can also choose a scene from her University Series, such as Auburn’s Samford Hall and Alabama’s Denny Chimes.

Marlar specializes in intaglio aquatint etchings, which are hand drawn images etched into metal plate using acids, then hand inked and printed on a wheeled etch press. In the spring of 2014, she began applying her images to fabric to make pillows, and her friends bought them up.

These days, Marlar has a partnership with the West Elm store at The Summit, which sells the pillows. They’re also sold at other local retailers, at art fairs and in her Etsy shop.

In 2017, Marlar plans to expand her etching images to include other locations around the state and possibly the South.

CHRISTINE LINSON PAINTINGS

Christine Linson is known for paintings depicting her adopted hometown, Fairhope.
Christine Linson is known for paintings depicting her adopted hometown, Fairhope.

In 1998, Ohio native and artist Christine Linson traveled to Fairhope and fell in love with its southern charm. In the nearly 20 years since, she has built a large following, selling oil paintings, watercolors and charcoal figurative artwork from her gallery in the heart of downtown.

Her depictions of scenes around Fairhope and coastal Alabama are especially popular, including large and small prints, note cards and annual Christmas cards.

Linson, who held her first solo art show of paintings at age 9, holds an art degree from Ohio State University and also studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She has taught art in public and private schools and has sold her work around the world.

ZKANO/LITTLE RIVER SOCK MILL

Gina Locklear’s Alabama-made organic socks are known for their striking colors and patterns.
Gina Locklear’s Alabama-made organic socks are known for their striking colors and patterns.

Fort Payne’s Gina Locklear is wrapping up a whirlwind year of high-profile publicity for her two lines of Alabama-made organic cotton socks.

The Zkano brand features bold colors and patterns, while the Little River Sock Mill label has a more sophisticated look with softer notes.

Locklear and her crew make socks for any type of foot – men, women and children – at her family’s sock mill in Fort Payne.

Their work has caught the eye of Martha Stewart, who recognized the socks with a 2015 American Made Award. The New York Times also featured the business earlier this year.

ALABAMA GOODS GIFT BASKETS

The Alabama Goods store in Homewood can help you gift the best flavors of the state.

From a sampling of craft beers brewed across Alabama to locally made kitchen basics like infused olive oils, chutneys, sauces and rubs, there’s an option for every budget.

A gift basket from Alabama Goods.
A gift basket from Alabama Goods.

Prices range from the $25 Discover Alabama to the $200 Gourmet Bonanza, and the baskets are packed with cookies, candies, nuts and other snacks.

For those with more specific tastes, try the Alabama Jelly Collection, Grilling Sauce Gift Set, Hot Stuff or The Sweet Tooth, all priced at around $40.

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2 years ago

UAH researcher patents green carbon fiber process for rocket nozzles

Michael Mercier/UAH: Cutaway section of a carbon fiber rocket nozzle from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center reveals layers of material.
Michael Mercier/UAH: Cutaway section of a carbon fiber rocket nozzle from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center reveals layers of material.
Michael Mercier/UAH: Cutaway section of a carbon fiber rocket nozzle from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center reveals layers of material.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – A professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville is pioneering a new technology that could provide a more environmentally friendly path to explore space.

William Kaukler, an associate research professor at UAH’s Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center, has been awarded a patent for a green process he developed that produces the carbon fiber used in ablative rocket nozzles and heat shields.

UAH’s William Kaukler developed a green method of creating cellulose fiber that is cooked to its carbon equivalent and used in solid rocket nozzles. (Image: Michael Mercier/UAH).
UAH’s William Kaukler developed a green method of creating cellulose fiber that is cooked to its carbon equivalent and used in solid rocket nozzles. (Image: Michael Mercier/UAH).

Kaukler’s work could interest NASA, which has a dwindling supply of cellulose rayon fiber, after the old way to manufacture it ceased in the 1990s due to hazardous byproducts.

The production process developed by Kaukler recycles all the byproducts. It also uses ionic liquids.

“Other people know about using ionic processes to make fibers but they are not making carbon fibers with them,” Kaukler said.

The trick, he continued, was to make the properties of this fiber match the properties of the fiber made by North American Rayon Corp., which ceased rayon production in the U.S. after it couldn’t afford to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations for the hazardous byproducts.

MAKING ROCKET NOZZLES

The carbon fiber used to form a solid fuel rocket nozzle is not the same as those used to make aircraft or car parts, Kaukler said. The only way to make carbon fiber suitable for rocket nozzles is to start with cellulosic fiber.

A cryogenic tank is lowered into place at a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center this month. (Image: NASA)
A cryogenic tank is lowered into place at a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center this month. (Image: NASA)

Specifically, Kaukler’s process could help NASA produce the solid rocket motors in the next-generation Space Launch System, the space agency’s most powerful rocket, now being prepared for structural testing at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Additionally, Kaukler’s method could help make heat shields used in re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere or on planetary probes designed for landing,

Rocket nozzles of Army missiles also incorporate the same carbon fiber.

Kaukler, a materials scientist who has been a NASA contractor for 35 years, said the idea for the new, green process came about five or six years ago. He developed it at UAH’s Reliability and Failure Analysis Laboratory, with funding from the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, located at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

“The patent is mostly about how to process the ionic liquid cellulosic fiber into carbon fiber suitable for making rocket nozzles and heat shields,” he said. “The next step is going for a second patent with revisions and improvements on the first one.

“The application on the first one was put in two years ago. I only just got it now, and I’ve learned more since then.”

Beyond that, Kaukler said the goal is to figure out a way to scale up the process so that a NASA contractor would find it a viable option.

“The real issue is scaling everything up,” Kaukler continued. “Ionic liquid is expensive, and on a small scale, it’s not a profitable process. If you want to stay profitable, you have to recover 99 percent of the ionic liquid.”

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2 years ago

Alabama earns Top 10 spot in State Business Climate rankings

The Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County has long been an export center, sending Alabama-built vehicles around the world.
 The Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County has long been an export center, sending Alabama-built vehicles around the world.

The Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County has long been an export center, sending Alabama-built vehicles around the world.

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Site Selection, an economic development-focused publication, ranked Alabama in the Top 10 in its annual State Business Climate survey, based largely on feedback from corporate real estate executives and project activity.

Alabama placed No. 9 in the magazine’s overall 2016 State Business Climate rankings, and No. 8 in the survey of corporate site selectors who were asked to rank the states based on their experience of locating facilities.

This year’s results reflect an improvement from 2015, when Alabama ranked No. 11 overall and No. 9 in Site Selection’s executive survey.

“Receiving high rankings from site selection professionals is solid evidence of the hard work put in by all members of Alabama’s economic development team who are winning new investment and jobs for communities across the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield
Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield

“At the same time, we are committed to enhancing Alabama’s competitive position in economic development so that we can bring home game-changing projects and new opportunities for our citizens,” he added.

Georgia topped Site Selection’s Business Climate rankings.

WINNING STREAK

A record-setting year in 2015 for Alabama’s economic development team, led by Governor Robert Bentley, has garnered the state plenty of attention. Alabama attracted more than $7.1 billion in new capital investment last year in projects that will create more than 19,200 jobs.

A sampling of recent recognition:

    An analysis by global business service firm Ernst & Young ranked Alabama No. 5 among the states for new investment in 2015, and it cited the state’s strong record on foreign investment.

    • Business Facilities, another economic development-focused publication, named Alabama is “State of the Year” in 2015, pointing to the successful recruitment of Polaris’ $140 million manufacturing facility and Google’s $600 million data center, among others.

    • Alabama ranked No. 6 in Area Development magazine’s 2016 “Top States For Doing Business” list and earned a Silver Shovel award for economic development accomplishments in 2015.

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2 years ago

Universities partner with NASA to boost space exploration

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By Dawn Azok

The University of Alabama and Auburn University are collaborating with NASA on future technologies that could aid space exploration.

Officials from both universities and representatives of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville signed new Space Act Agreements to kick off the partnerships.

Carl A. Pinkert, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama, and Joan A. “Jody” Singer, deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, sign a Space Act Agreement.
Carl A. Pinkert, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama, and Joan A. “Jody” Singer, deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, sign a Space Act Agreement.

Under an agreement signed Thursday, University of Alabama students will work to enhance understanding of the propulsion systems for small satellites, called CubeSats, that orbit the Earth.

Meanwhile, work at Auburn will focus on the development of wireless sensor and communication technologies, as part of a pact signed last month.

“This agreement allows our students the chance to work on applied research ultimately used by NASA, which is a win-win for all sides,” said Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development. “The University of Alabama and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center have partnered many times, and we look forward to continuing that relationship.”

Pinkert was joined on campus Thursday by Joan A. “Jody” Singer, Marshall’s deputy director, to sign the Space Act Agreement. The signing ceremony was part of a two-day NASA event at UA, which included an address by Singer, a panel discussion on “The Path to Mars,” NASA exhibits, a career fair and technical sessions on solar dynamics and deep space exploration.

LINKING WITH UNIVERSITIES

Singer, a UA industrial engineering alumnus, said connecting universities with NASA’s skills and expertise is a priority at Marshall.

“This new partnership agreement provides research and development opportunities for students and faculty, while helping NASA better understand the performance of this emerging technology,” she said.

The work will be done by students in STEM Path to the MBA, a program that allows students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math to earn Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees within five years.

The students’ support of the NASA project will expose them to job opportunities at the space agency, as well as those in its contractor workforce, all while analyzing and testing state-of-the-art technologies in a lab setting.

CubeSats are small, fairly inexpensive satellites deployed for research purposes, often designed and used by education and non-profit institutions. They typically hitch rides on other missions and are dropped into low-Earth orbit without the ability to move.

NASA wants to provide CubeSats with a method of propulsion and wants students to come up with ways to do so without damaging the satellites.

This marks the second Space Act Agreement between NASA and UA. The first was for testing NASA-developed vibration mitigation technology for structures in the university’s Large Scale Structures Lab.

WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES

The halftime show during Auburn’s football game against Arkansas featured a tribute to NASA. Pictured, from left, are Mike Ogles of Auburn University’s Huntsville Research Center; Todd May, director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; and Chris Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. (Image: Mike Clardy)
The halftime show during Auburn’s football game against Arkansas featured a tribute to NASA. Pictured, from left, are Mike Ogles of Auburn University’s Huntsville Research Center; Todd May, director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; and Chris Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. (Image: Mike Clardy)

At Auburn, the latest Space Act Agreement, also the university’s second, was signed last month by John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development, and Todd May, Marshall’s director and a graduate of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Auburn has a long history with NASA, including six astronaut alumni.

Under the new agreement, Auburn and NASA will work together to better understand the wireless technology that can be used in space and avionics applications.

“Small, light, energy efficient wireless technologies hold tremendous potential for spacecraft, in everything from the robotic explorers of distant planets to the powerful Space Launch System rocket that will launch human explorers to deep space and on to Mars,” May said.

Wireless communication networks can reduce payload size and weight on an aircraft. And for the SLS specifically, wireless sensors could allow NASA to remotely monitor the rocket’s main fuel tank, rather than running miles of wires during the testing phase.

Last year, Auburn and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement to explore the applications of additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

“Similar to Auburn’s partnership with NASA last year to provide additive manufacturing expertise, this new agreement for wireless engineering capabilities will further leverage Auburn research to enhance current systems in space exploration,” Mason said.

“As the only university in the U.S. offering a degree program in wireless engineering, Auburn continues to be a leader in this field, and this connection with NASA reflects that.”

Auburn and NASA are investigating wireless technology that could monitor the SLS’ giant fuel tank. (Image: NASA)
Auburn and NASA are investigating wireless technology that could monitor the SLS’ giant fuel tank. (Image: NASA)
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2 years ago

Made (and tested) in Alabama: State-built cars first get test track workouts

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Before Alabama-made vehicles hit city streets and neighborhood roads, they get a workout on the test tracks at the state’s three auto assembly plants.

Banked curves, bumpy asphalt, smooth straightaways and skid pads are just some of the features that help put the models through paces that are designed to simulate all kinds of driving conditions.

The goal is to deliver top-notch cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans to customers and weed out any road noise, engine rattles, bad alignment or other problems.

For Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, which produces luxury SUVs and sedans in Tuscaloosa County, the test tracks play a key role in the plant’s daily operations, said Michael Faerber and Andreas Ogger, quality managers at the facility.

Hyundai’s Alabama assembly plant has a 2.3 mile track for testing braking, handling and other features of the vehicles it makes in Montgomery. (Image: Hyundai)
Hyundai’s Alabama assembly plant has a 2.3 mile track for testing braking, handling and other features of the vehicles it makes in Montgomery. (Image: Hyundai)

“Just as we must be 100 percent certain that the color is right and the paint is good, there must also be no rattling noise from a door or wind noise from an outside mirror,” Ogger said. “Everything must be checked, and these test tracks are an important step to ensure the highest level of quality.”

Mercedes’ Alabama plant has one large road track and two small ones, as well as an off-road course used for special events and parts testing.

$2 MILLION UPGRADE

The automaker regularly updates its testing facilties and is currently spending about $2 million to upgrade the road tracks. The project includes improved testing for noise, vibration and harshness, as well as additional safety upgrades, new smooth asphalt and a new banked curve.

One special feature of the large road track is a wade booth, which simulates driving through water to make sure none of it seeps inside.

Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant features three test tracks and an off-road course used for special events and parts testing. (Image: Mercedes)
Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant features three test tracks and an off-road course used for special events and parts testing. (Image: Mercedes)

Every vehicle built at the plant is tested on one of the short road tracks, while a certain percentage are evaluated on the large one. The plant produces the GLE, GLE Coupé and GLS SUV models, along with the C-Class sedan.

Meanwhile, no customer cars are put on the off-road course, which has a 70 percent slope and an obstacle course that carries vehicles over stairs and rocks and through a creek. Instead, there are currently six designated SUVs used to show off the models’ off-road capabilities.

“No customer would appreciate the rough handling of the cars out there,” Faerber said. “We use it for special events, for VIPs, special guests and dealers from across the globe, to show them what these nice SUVs can do.”

The vast majority of the people who buy the plant’s SUVs use them as on-road vehicles. Still, it’s good to see their off-road prowess, and that’s where the dealer demos come in.

“99.9 percent of our normal customers would never do the kinds of things we do on the off-road track, but it’s interesting to know,” Faerber said.

The off-road course is also used to test new parts when vehicles are going through a redesign or getting other updates.

QUALITY ASSURANCE

At Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County, there are two test tracks, which both offer opportunities for real world testing, said Ted Pratt, head of corporate affairs and communication at the plant.

One is about one-quarter mile long, and the other is about one-eighth mile long, and every vehicle that HMA produces takes a lap on either track.

“The HMA test tracks are critically important to ensuring that each vehicle functions as it was designed and that all components are assembled correctly and operate as they should,” Pratt said.

Honda’s Alabama plant, which recently produced its 4 millionth vehicle, is the sole global source of the Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup, as well as the Acura MDX SUV.

Since there are two assembly lines and two full shifts, there are about 150 to 200 employees who drive vehicles on the tracks each day.

Pratt said every vehicle is performance tested, and that includes checks for wind noise, squeaks, rattles, tire balance, wheel alignment, cruise control operation and other tests.

The surface on one track offers a variety of road conditions, such as smooth asphalt, concrete and cobblestones. There’s also a section of irregular surface that is similar to driving over speed humps, which alternate back and forth from the right-side tires to the left-side tires.

An aggressive S-turn on the track at Hyundai’s Alabama assembly plant is meant to test how the steering and suspension of Montgomery-made vehicles perform. (Image: Hyundai Alabama)
An aggressive S-turn on the track at Hyundai’s Alabama assembly plant is meant to test how the steering and suspension of Montgomery-made vehicles perform. (Image: Hyundai Alabama)

‘VEHICLE VALIDATION’

In Montgomery, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama has a 2.3-mile test track that is set up like a thin elongated oval, said Robert Burns, head of public relations and team relations at the plant.

It includes a hill with a 25-degree incline to test emergency brakes and a sharp turn at one end to confirm handling. The driver also performs aggressive S-turns in this section to see how the steering and suspension respond.

There are also two long straightaways, one for testing cruise control and front end alignment and the other with a wide variety of road surfaces to listen and check the performance of the suspension of the vehicle.

Another feature is a skid pad near the end of the testing process to double check the vehicles’ anti-lock brakes.

All vehicles produced at the plant — including the Sonata sedan, Elantra compact and Santa Fe Sport SUV — go through this testing, and more than 20 inspectors per shift drive cars through the test track, Burns said.

“The test track is very important to our daily operations,” he said. “It serves a critical role during our vehicle validation process.”

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1
2 years ago

HUGE: Boeing Alabama impact reaches $2.3 billion

Boeing Co.: Research & Technology Center in Huntsville
Boeing Co.: Research & Technology Center in Huntsville

Boeing Co.’s impact on the Alabama economy totals $2.3 billion a year, according to a new analysis that highlights how the aerospace giant supports a highly skilled, technical workforce in the state.

The University of Alabama study found that Boeing’s presence in the state sustains nearly 8,400 direct and indirect jobs across Alabama. It also found that annual pay for Boeing’s Alabama employees – numbering 2,750 – is more than twice the Alabama average.

Boeing opened its Alabama Research & Technology Center in Huntsville in June 2015, building on its long-standing presence in the Rocket City. (Image: Boeing)
Boeing opened its Alabama Research & Technology Center in Huntsville in June 2015, building on its long-standing presence in the Rocket City. (Image: Boeing)

“Boeing is stronger than ever as we launch into our second century,” said Jim Chilton, president, Boeing’s Network & Space Systems. “We continue our commitments to customers, our employees, and the communities where we live and work.

“We are proud to be partners in the state of Alabama,” he added.

The analysis, released this morning, outlined Boeing’s economic impacts in 2015:

    • Supported 8,393 direct and industry jobs in the state
    • Distributed an annual payroll of $264 million in Alabama
    • Spent an additional $749 million in the state, including $532 million to suppliers
    • Contributed nearly $1.7 million to non-profit organizations

“Boeing’s presence in Alabama is a significant driver of economic activity in the state, employing a highly-skilled workforce and offering high-paying jobs for critical skills,” said Sam Addy, associate dean of economic development outreach at UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce.

ADVANCING TECHNOLOGY

Boeing’s involvement in Alabama began when it set up operations to advance the initial development of the Saturn V rocket’s Stage 1 booster. The company’s Huntsville workforce, which started with a handful of employees in 1962, has remained active in the space program ever since.

Today, Boeing’s Alabama workforce is taking a lead role in developing NASA’s Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket the space agency has ever developed.

Boeing is now expanding its PAC-3 missile seeker facility in Huntsville. (Image: Boeing)
Boeing is now expanding its PAC-3 missile seeker facility in Huntsville. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing’s Alabama operations are also heavily involved in U.S. missile defense programs. Its Strategic Missile Defense Systems (SM&DS) is based in Huntsville, as is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, the nation’s only shield against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

In June 2015, Boeing officially opened a new research and technology center in Huntsville as the company’s hub for collaboration with academic institutions and research partners in analytics and simulation in the Southeast.

“Boeing has been active in Alabama for more than a half a century, with its engineers and researchers in Huntsville playing key roles in the nation’s space program and critical missile defense programs, while also exploring new technologies to advance aerospace,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“As Alabama’s largest aerospace company, Boeing has helped the state build a significant presence in an industry with a solid future,” he added.

Addy and UA’s Center for Business and Economic Research prepared the Boeing economic impact study. A similar analysis in 2005 found that Boeing’s economic impact on Alabama was $1.5 billion that year.

“The study shows that Boeing’s innovative technology solutions are in high-demand and that Alabamians are driving innovation at the forefront of aerospace and defense industries,” U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said today.

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2 years ago

MollerTech plans $46M Alabama auto parts plant with 222 jobs

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CENTREVILLE, Alabama — German automotive supplier MollerTech announced today that it will invest $46.3 million to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bibb County, creating 222 jobs in Alabama’s growing auto sector.

“Attracting investment and new jobs to Alabama’s rural counties is a key priority in our overall economic development strategy, and MollerTech’s manufacturing facility in Bibb County represents the kind of project that we have been targeting,” Governor Robert Bentley said.

“We now have new tools to help rural counties overcome the obstacles they face in economic development,” he added. “We’re committed to using them.”

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa has become a magnet for new investment as the automaker’s supply network continues to expand.
The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa has become a magnet for new investment as the automaker’s supply network continues to expand.

MollerTech plans to construct a 150,000-square-foot facility in the Scott G. Davis Industrial Park, near Interstate 20/59 and close to the Woodstock community in northern Bibb County. It will manufacture interior parts for Mercedes-Benz’s next-generation SUVs, to be produced at the automaker’s Alabama assembly plant after a $1.3 billion expansion.

MollerTech’s North American President and CEO Steve Jordan said the Bibb County facility will serve as the company’s flagship U.S. manufacturing facility, incorporating new ideas and best practices from other operations in the company’s manufacturing footprint.

“After many months visiting various states as well as numerous counties in Alabama, we are pleased to settle in Bibb County,” Jordan said. “Our Moller Culture is very much centered on people and local communities and, because of that, we find that there is ‘a good fit’ between MollerTech and Bibb County.

“The help that we received both financially as well as personally from the state and the county helped us in making this decision,” he added. “So we would like to thank the State of Alabama as well as Bibb County in being patient and supporting us in this new venture of ours.”

‘PROJECT HELIOS’

The Birmingham region competed for the project – codenamed “Helios” — with other sites across the Southeast.

The Bibb County Commission, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Power Co., and the Birmingham Business Alliance worked together to bring MollerTech to the Birmingham region.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, joined company leaders and local officials at an announcement ceremony this afternoon at the Bibb County Board of Education.

Bibb County provided the company with 20 acres of land in the Scott G. Davis Industrial Park for the facility, as well as an abatement of non-educational sales and use and property taxes, and the state provided jobs and investment credits and AIDT workforce training, all valued at $12.3 million over a 15-year period.

Bibb County Commissioner Ricky Hubbard said MollerTech’s project will be a “great boost” for the county and its workforce.

“MollerTech will be the second largest manufacturing employer in the county and the third largest overall,” Hubbard said. “We are excited that they investment will impact the lives of so many people here.”

GERMAN INVESTMENT

Brian Hilson of the Birmingham Business Alliance
Brian Hilson of the Birmingham Business Alliance

MollerTech – which originated as a family copper trading and processing business in 1730 – represents the 18th German corporate investment in the seven-county Birmingham metro area, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA). Those 18 companies will employ approximately 1,700 people once MollerTech is operational.

“As excited as we are for MollerTech, Bibb County, the state and all of the entities involved in this project, we are even more excited about MollerTech’s future workforce and the impact the 222 job opportunities will have on them and their families,” said Brian Hilson, the BBA’s president and CEO.

MollerTech is the automotive arm of Germany-based MollerGroup, which remains a family-owned company with 2,300 employees worldwide today. Besides Mercedes, it develops and produces interior parts for automakers including Audi, BMW, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota.

MollerTech has U.S. facilities in Elberton, Georgia, and Shelby Township, Michigan. The company hopes the Alabama facility — located just six miles from the Mercedes plant in Vance — will be at full production by the end of 2019.

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2 years ago

Funding wave boosts Birmingham tech startup scene

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Entrepreneurs and innovators are getting noticed for their work in Birmingham, attracting millions of dollars in new investment for their technology-based startups.

In recent months, there have been at least three major funding announcements involving local firms:

    • On-demand grocery delivery service Shipt announced this summer that it had secured $20.1 million in Series A funding.

    Fleetio raised $750,000 from private investors, the fleet management software firm said earlier this month.

    Swell Fundraising, a software company that serves nonprofits, in August announced $500,000 in angel investor funding.

Meanwhile, Daxko, a veteran of Birmingham’s tech scene, this month announced that San Francisco-based private equity firm GI Partners has acquired a majority stake in the company that will further accelerate its growth. Daxko provides software for health and wellness organizations.

Kathleen Hamrick is director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot.
Kathleen Hamrick is director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot.

All the funding activity shows Birmingham has the right ingredients to fuel a thriving technology landscape and more growth is on the horizon, said Kathleen Hamrick, director of the UAB iLab at the downtown business incubator Innovation Depot.

“The components people need to live, work, play and collaborate are here, in Birmingham,” she said. “That said, it’s exciting, but not all that surprising that we’re now seeing increased support for startups — evidenced by activity such as that of the recent funding rounds seen with Fleetio, Swell Fundraising, Shipt and Daxko.”

GAINING VELOCITY

In addition, new programs designed to accelerate development of idea stage companies will magnify support in the region, Hamrick said.

One of those is Innovation Depot’s recently-launched Velocity Accelerator, which is supported by an economic development venture philanthropy fund, made possible by local community and corporate sponsors.

“In January 2017, the first cohort of Velocity Accelerator companies, up to 10 high-growth technology companies, will be accepted into the program,” Hamrick said. “Through the Velocity Accelerator, idea-stage companies in the South have the seed support they need to develop and scale.

“Velocity Accelerator companies will receive $50,000 in seed investment, over $800,000 in perks, heavy industry-specific mentorship, and access to an incredible space to build their companies alongside other top tech entrepreneurs over a twelve-week period.”

The $750,000 announcement from Fleetio is the firm’s first round of outside funding, raised from local, private investors who have been successful in their own right, said founder and CEO Tony Summerville. They’re also people he has known for some time who will serve as trusted advisers.

“We’ve grown the company this far without any outside investors, and we wanted to be picky on how we added more fuel to the fire,” he said.

CAPITAL INFUSION

Tony Summerville is founder and CEO of Birmingham startup Fleetio.
Tony Summerville is founder and CEO of Birmingham startup Fleetio.

Fleetio, which is based in Innovation Depot and has 16 employees, provides software that helps companies, organizations, nonprofits and governments manage their fleets and fleet-related assets. The company has customers in 40 different countries; about 60 percent are in the U.S.

These customers have various kinds of fleets, including cars, construction equipment and boats, and they use the software to manage things like maintenance, fuel costs, license renewals and driver qualifications.

The majority of the new funding will be used to hire more people, Summerville said.

“Like most businesses, we’ve had to grow to be able to afford to hire the next person,” he said. “We need more people to accelerate growth, and getting this additional capital allows us to hire in advance the next four or five people we need for key positions. We can get them on the team now, and they can help us do more to grow faster.”

The funding also will be spent on marketing to help generate new business leads.

Summerville said he is excited to be part of Birmingham’s growing tech startup community.

“There is a small but very strong tech startup community here, with talented people and great companies, a good mix of folks who are helping each other out,” he said. “Being in Birmingham now is exciting. It’s a great place to live and raise a family, but it’s also exciting from a downtown and city perspective. It’s fun to be a part of it.”

FUELING EXPANSION

Shipt said its new funding also will be used to fuel more growth. Since its 2014 launch, the firm has grown to deliver groceries in 27 cities across 10 states with more than 5,000 shoppers who place orders via an app.

“Over the past year, we have laid a strong foundation for our business and scaled our service across the country. This funding is the catalyst that will propel us to the next level,” Shipt founder and CEO Bill Smith said.

“We are ready to put this funding to work strategically, so we can cultivate new partnerships and continue building the best way to buy groceries.”

Participants in the $20.1 million funding round included Greycroft Partners, Harbert Growth Partners and e.ventures.

INNOVATION CLUSTER

Hamrick cites research from the Brookings Institution that shows new urban models called “Innovation Districts” are emerging.

According to Brookings’ Bruce Katz, these are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They offer a blend of housing, retail and office space, they’re walkable and people interacting within them are connected by a strong technology infrastructure.

In these places, “open innovation” thrives, and entrepreneurs share resources, meet, mingle and collaborate.

Innovation Depot stands at the center of Birmingham’s ‘Innovation District.’ (Image: Jerry Underwood)
Innovation Depot stands at the center of Birmingham’s ‘Innovation District.’ (Image: Jerry Underwood)

“Birmingham has the ingredients which Katz has identified as essential for an innovation and entrepreneurship hub,” Hamrick said. “Its Entrepreneurial District was recently re-named the Innovation District. Innovation Depot is the hub of this District, and is home to over 100 member companies, Depot/U, the UAB iLab and the Velocity Accelerator.

“Beside Innovation Depot, the Pizitz building is being renovated and will be home to a mixture of retail, housing, a food hall, and REV Birmingham is working to bring a food incubator to the space. The bottom floor will be home to the Sidewalk Film Festival.”

Fleetio’s Summerville said one of the biggest advantages to being in Birmingham is entrepreneurs can be more connected to the city and see their impact on it.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Birmingham. There’s a strong energy here, and the people here are great,” he said. “The biggest thing we’ve got ahead of us is continuing to recruit and retain technologists in Birmingham, and I think the momentum is swinging in the right direction on that one.”

1
2 years ago

Global military supplier announces massive Alabama expansion

bentley

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – HDT Global, a maker of engineered products for military, government and commercial customers, plans to invest $4.2 million to expand its manufacturing operation in Huntsville.

“Project Pop,” as it was code-named, will create 123 full-time jobs at the company’s Alabama operation, which currently has 82 workers. The average wage of the new jobs will be $23.54 an hour, according to project information from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

HDT Global officials and state and local leaders announced the project at a ceremony in Huntsville this morning.

HDT said it will add 206,500 square feet of manufacturing space to an existing Huntsville operation. As part of the move, Ohio-based HDT will shift product of expeditionary shelter systems from a facility in Buena Vista, Virginia, to its Alabama location.

“We expect HDT Huntsville to become the premier military production facility across all of Northern Alabama,” company President and CEO Sean Bond said.

Employees of HDT gather as Gov. Robert Bentley announces that HDT Global is expanding operations in Alabama. (Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)
Employees of HDT gather as Gov. Robert Bentley announces that HDT Global is expanding operations in Alabama. (Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

‘CRITICAL MISSIONS’

HDT officials said the shift will increase the company’s production capacity, decrease overhead costs, and streamline production processes into the strategically located Huntsville facility.

“HDT is an innovative company that serves our nation’s military, and I am honored to see the company has decided to invest in an expansion in Huntsville that will create more than 120 jobs,” said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who attended today’s announcement.

“The mobile command units produced by HDT in Huntsville will assist U.S. soldiers in critical missions around the world,” he added.

HDT Global produces a number of shelter systems for the military. (Image: HDT)
HDT Global produces a number of shelter systems for the military. (Image: HDT)

HDT’s expansion in Huntsville builds on a number of significant advanced manufacturing projects that have come to the area. In the past two years alone, Huntsville has attracted major projects from Remington, Polaris, GE Aviation and others.

“Huntsville and our region continues to show it is a premiere location for high-tech manufacturing and innovation,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

AIDT, a unit of the Alabama Department of Commerce, will provide job recruitment and training services valued at $1 million to the company as part of the project.

1
2 years ago

If you lined up every Alabama-built Honda, they would stretch across the US four times

honda-plant-slider

LINCOLN, Alabama — If you line up all the Honda vehicles that have been built at the automaker’s Talladega County plant since it opened 15 years ago, they would stretch across the U.S., from New York to Los Angeles, more than four times.

That’s what 4 million Alabama-made Hondas look like.

Today, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama celebrated a key milestone: the production of 4 million vehicles and V-6 engines.

The $2.2 billion plant started mass production in November 2001. It is the sole source of Honda’s Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup, as well as the Acura MDX luxury SUV. It also produces the engines that power all four vehicles.

“The commitment and dedication of our 4,500 associates has allowed HMA to achieve this production milestone and fulfill our commitment to quality for Honda customers across the globe,” HMA President Jeff Tomko said.

The 4 million milestone comes as a delegation of Alabama government and business leaders are visiting Tokyo for SEUS Japan 39, a forum that aims to strengthen cultural and economic ties between the Southeastern U.S. and the Asian nation.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, is leading the state delegation in Tokyo. Canfield and a group of Alabama officials visited Honda’s corporate headquarters this week.

Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Alabama.
Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Alabama.

“Honda has been a powerful economic engine in Alabama, creating thousands of jobs and new levels of opportunity for residents in Talladega County and across the state,” Canfield said.

“Honda has found a home in Alabama, expanding repeatedly to boost output and add capabilities,” he added. “We’ll work hard to keep this fruitful partnership going strong.”

GOING THE DISTANCE

To mark the milestone, Honda had a little fun with the numbers.

Based on an average length of 16.4 feet per vehicle, 4 million HMA-built vehicles lined up end-to-end would stretch 12,422 miles, the company said.

That would:

    • Stretch around the Talladega Superspeedway 4,670 times (2.66 miles)
    • Nearly span the distance (just eight miles short) from the North Pole to the South Pole (12,430 miles)
    • Go from New York to Los Angeles almost 4.5 times (2,791.8 miles)

Four million vehicles also would:

    • Fill up every parking space at Hoover’s Riverchase Galleria 370 times (10,800 spaces)
    • Fill up every parking space at Walt Disney World 170 times (23,540 spaces)

2.2 MILLION MINIVANS

The Odyssey represents the lion’s share of the plant’s output over the past 15 years, accounting for more than 2.2 million models produced. It’s followed by the Pilot, at 1.4 million, the Acura MDX at 216,521 and the Ridgeline at 121,009.

The plant also turned out 27,119 Accord V-6 sedans from 2009 to 2010.

Honda’s Alabama assembly lines have the capacity to produce up to 340,000 vehicles and engines per year.

Since 2013, the company has invested more than $520 million and added more than 500 jobs in multiple expansions.

A 2015 study showed the plant generated $6.8 billion in economic activity in the state. Along with its Tier 1 suppliers, the automaker is responsible for more than 43,000 jobs and 4.4 percent of the state’s total annual output of goods and services.

Honda leads the way in Japanese investment in the state.

Since 1999, when the automaker announced plans for the Talladega County operation, Japanese companies have invested more than $5 billion in Alabama.

Honda’s 1 millionth Alabama-made vehicle was completed Nov. 3, 2006. (Image: Honda)
Honda’s 1 millionth Alabama-made vehicle was completed Nov. 3, 2006. (Image: Honda)
The 3 millionth Alabama-made Honda rolled off the assembly line in Lincoln on Dec. 5, 2013. (Image: Honda)
The 3 millionth Alabama-made Honda rolled off the assembly line in Lincoln on Dec. 5, 2013. (Image: Honda)
Honda’s Alabama workers celebrate the 2 millionth vehicle produced at the Lincoln plant on Sept. 3, 2010. (Image: Honda)
Honda’s Alabama workers celebrate the 2 millionth vehicle produced at the Lincoln plant on Sept. 3, 2010. (Image: Honda)
1
2 years ago

Key Army aviation training center set to open in Alabama

(Pixabay)

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DOTHAN, Ala. – CAE USA, a company specializing in aviation training, plans to begin offering flight training to U.S. Army aviators at a training facility opening in Dothan next year as part of the company’s $75 million investment in the state.

Tampa-based CAE USA also announced it has taken delivery of the first three Grob G120TP aircraft that will be used in the U.S. Army Fixed-Wing Flight Training program at the Alabama center. The company said it has begun preparing its initial cadre of instructor pilots for the program.

“Our new Dothan Training Center will provide the Army with a modern, flexible and cost-effective training solution specifically designed for the Army’s fixed-wing aviators,” said Ray Duquette, president and general manager of CAE USA.

“The state of Alabama, Department of Commerce and all the local government organizations in the Wiregrass area have been incredibly supportive and instrumental in the creation of what will be a truly world-class training facility,” he added.

Ray Duquette is president and general manager of CAE USA.
Ray Duquette is president and general manager of CAE USA.

Beginning next spring, the company’s new 79,000-square-foot center will provide comprehensive training for more than 450 U.S. Army fixed-wing aviators each year, as well as Air Force crews flying C-12 twin turboprop aircraft.

CAE’s new Dothan Training Center stands a little more than 20 miles from Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence, the headquarters of Army Aviation and primary location for Army helicopter flight training for more than five decades.

“Alabama has more 100 years in aerospace history, and I am proud to see CAE make progress on the construction of the new Dothan Training Center located at the Dothan Regional Airport,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “This world-class training facility will train Army and Air Force pilots to keep our nation safe.”

INTEGRATED INSTRUCTION

Construction is under way at CAE’s Dothan Training Center, and the facility should be operational in early 2017. CAE said the center at Dothan Regional will offer military aviators integrated classroom instruction, simulator training, and live-flight training all in one location.

To support the program, the company is manufacturing a suite of next-generation training devices, including C-12 King Air full-flight simulators. CAE is also developing what it calls “motherships,” which are simulators with an innovative “roll on/roll off” cockpit design that enables cockpits of various aircraft types to be used in the simulators for training.

The company will design and manufacture two Grob G120TP integrated procedures trainers, as well as desktop trainers and courseware. The G120TP is a two-seat turboprop training aircraft built by Germany-based Grob.

“CAE is a global leader in aviation training, and the new, state-of-the-art training center in Dothan shows its confidence in Alabama,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “In addition, this project highlights the state’s critical role in preparing military pilots for the important work they do.”

TEAM EFFORT

Planning for this project dates back to 2015, when CAE was awarded the U.S. Army contract to provide comprehensive fixed-wing training services. CAE is constructing the Dothan facility as part of the original agreement, which was awarded by the Army as a base contract with six one-year options through March 2024.

The total value of the contract over eight years is expected to be approximately $200 million.

The Army Fixed-Wing Flight Training program prepares experienced Army rotary-wing aviators to fly the branch’s fleet of more than 350 fixed-wing aircraft. The Army and CAE are also implementing a new training program so that entry-level Army students can begin their career track to fixed-wing aircraft sooner.

The program serves as the formal training unit for Army C-12/RC-12 King Air recurrent training, as well as providing annual training to Air Force C-12 King Air pilots.

AIDT, the state’s job-training agency, and the Alabama Department of Transportation joined the Governor’s Office and Commerce on the project.

Mike Schmitz is mayor of Dothan.
Mike Schmitz is mayor of Dothan.

Local organizations involved in the project are the Dothan/Houston County Airport Authority, the Dale and Houston county commissions, the City of Dothan, the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corp., and the Wiregrass Foundation.

CAE USA is also subcontracting work to a range of Alabama-based companies, including Engineered Systems Inc., Navigator Development Group Inc., System Dynamics International, Right Direct, and Aero-One.

“We are extremely excited to see a world-wide leader in aviation training locate in the Wiregrass region,” Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said. “Through the team led by Governor Robert Bentley including our local, state, and federal officials and partners, this project was made possible to bring new technology, innovation, and high-paying jobs to the area.”

1
2 years ago

Japanese investment is quietly fueling a growing number of industries in Alabama

auto-factory-worker

By Dawn Azok

When it comes to Japanese investment in Alabama, auto manufacturers Honda and Toyota and their broad network of suppliers across the state immediately come to mind.

But the Asian nation is behind a significant number of non-automotive companies here as well, from chemical and steel producers to pharmaceutical and life insurance firms.

In all, there are more than 140 Japanese companies that call Alabama home, and their combined annual contribution to the state economy, from a consumer perspective, tops $200 million, said Mark Jackson, honorary consul general of Japan in Alabama.

“It is a solid, proven base for Japanese investment to only grow bigger,” he said. “The Japan America story is tremendous, but I think the Japan Alabama story is even better.”

During a visit to Honda’s headquarters in Tokyo, Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield presented a glass sculpture from Alabama’s Orbix Hot Glass as a gift.
During a visit to Honda’s headquarters in Tokyo, Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield presented a glass sculpture from Alabama’s Orbix Hot Glass as a gift.

Jackson is part of an Alabama delegation that is visiting Tokyo this week and participating in SEUS Japan 39, a high-level forum that aims to strengthen cultural and economic ties.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and other Commerce officials, are part of delegation in Tokyo, where they visited Honda’s corporate headquarters. While there, Canfield presented Honda officials with a hand-crafted glass sculpture from Orbix Hot Glass in Fort Payne.

The Commerce team has also engaged in meetings with representatives of Unipres, an auto supplier with an operation in Steele, and others.

BUSINESS CONNECTIONS

Last year alone, 19 new and expanding Japanese companies and joint ventures announced more than 700 new jobs and new investment topping $365 million, according to Alabama Department of Commerce data and the Japan-America Society of Alabama.

yorozu-bentley

They included Pharmavite, a dietary supplement manufacturer in Opelika that is a subsidiary of Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., and southwest Alabama carbon steel processor AM/NS Calvert, a joint venture that includes Japan’s Nippon Steel.

In other recent moves, Japan’s Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. completed its purchase of Birmingham’s Protective Life Corp. last year, a $5.7 billion deal. Shortly after the merger was completed, the companies announced $4.1 million in donations to medical research, education and cultural organizations in Alabama.

Elsewhere, other Japanese companies are also actively contributing to their communities in Alabama.

In Decatur, for example, chemical firm Daikin and Toray, maker of carbon fibers and fluorofibers, continue to grow their businesses and shape the region, said Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.

“Every year Daikin America hosts the Daikin Festival, a free event to educate our community on Japanese culture that often boasts attendance of more than 20,000,” he said. “Daikin also donated funds to add the Daikin Amphitheater to downtown Decatur allowing the city much needed space for events.”

“Toray is the annual title sponsor of the Dragon boat race where 75 teams compete and raise over $150,000 for the local hospital,” Nails added.

Daikin added 20 jobs in 2014 amid plant expansions in Decatur and has been in a continuous growth mode since starting up in the early 1990s. Today the company has 370 employees, and this year marks its 25th anniversary in Alabama.

Toray currently has 320 employees at its carbon fiber plant and 53 at its fluorofiber plant, both of which are in Decatur. To date, Toray has invested more than $500 million in its Decatur facilities.

Alabama Honorary Consul General of Japan Mark Jackson stands with former Hitachi North America chairman Takashi Hatchoji while in Tokyo for the Southeast U.S. Japan joint meeting.
Alabama Honorary Consul General of Japan Mark Jackson stands with former Hitachi North America chairman Takashi Hatchoji while in Tokyo for the Southeast U.S. Japan joint meeting.

REWARDING RELATIONSHIP

Jackson, the honorary consul, said it’s remarkable to consider the current relationship between the U.S. and Japan, since the countries were on opposite sides of World War II just a few generations ago.

“We have gone from becoming mortal enemies to global trading partners, and together we have built two of the strongest economies in the world,” he said.

Jackson credits Sister Cities International, a citizen diplomacy program instituted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, with helping spur not only cultural understanding but also economic cooperation with markets around the globe, including Japan. Cities across Alabama participate in the program, and several have sister cities in Japan.

Since 1999, when Honda announced plans for its auto assembly plant in Talladega County, Japanese companies have invested more than $5 billion in the state, according to Alabama Department of Commerce figures.

Jim Bolte, left, head of the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville, joined the Alabama delegation at the Southeast U.S. Japan annual joint meeting.
Jim Bolte, left, head of the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville, joined the Alabama delegation at the Southeast U.S. Japan annual joint meeting.

A recent study showed Honda’s sprawling $2 billion plant generated $6.8 billion in economic activity in the state last year. Along with its Tier 1 suppliers, the automaker is responsible for more than 43,000 jobs and 4.4 percent of the state’s total annual output of goods and services.

Toyota is celebrating its 15th anniversary in Huntsville this year. The $864 million engine factory has expanded four times since its groundbreaking in 2001 and now employs around 1,350 people.

The Alabama delegation in Tokyo includes more than 30 government officials, economic development professionals and others who work in finance, manufacturing, medical technology and tourism. Regions Financial Corp. executive John Turner is co-chairman of SEUS Japan 39.

They have taken part in sessions on environmental innovation, as well as investment and trade, and they are networking with Japanese business and government leaders.

1
2 years ago

From cars to craft beer, Alabama exports to Latin America are booming

Representatives of a dozen Alabama companies are participating in a trade mission this week that started Sunday in Mexico and continues Wednesday in Chile. (contributed)
Representatives of a dozen Alabama companies are participating in a trade mission this week that started Sunday in Mexico and continues Wednesday in Chile. (contributed)
Representatives of a dozen Alabama companies are participating in a trade mission this week that started Sunday in Mexico and continues Wednesday in Chile. (contributed)

By Dawn Azok

Latin America is the latest target for Alabama trade leaders seeking growth markets for state businesses.

Representatives of a dozen companies are participating in a trade mission this week that started Sunday in Mexico and continues Wednesday in Chile.

It’s being held in conjunction with the U.S. Commercial Service’s Trade Winds program, which includes regional and industry-specific conferences, as well as prearranged consultations with senior diplomats.

For Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co., the trade mission is an opportunity to expand a new focus on international sales.

Back Forty, widely regarded as one of the pioneers of craft beer in Alabama, exports several of its beer varieties — including Naked Pig, Truck Stop Honey and Freckle Belly – to China and Canada. The international sales started last year, and the company has been ramping up the endeavor since January.

Founder and CEO Jason Wilson says Back Forty Beer Co. is right at home in Gadsden even as it expands into a global brand. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)
Founder and CEO Jason Wilson says Back Forty Beer Co. is right at home in Gadsden even as it expands into a global brand. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)

“In the U.S., craft beer has been around for a while, and it’s fairly well understood,” said Vince Schaeffer, Back Forty’s director of international sales. “But in countries like China and Mexico, we’re really on the leading edge, so we want to establish our brand there and become partners with important people.”

Mexico is the most immediate growth target, he continued, but Chile, along with Australia, is on the list for next year. The company is expanding its global effort in a deliberate fashion, so it fully understands customers in each market before moving on to the next one, Schaeffer added.

“Exporting just makes so much sense to us. It creates U.S. jobs and profits for U.S. companies, and we just see it as a natural way to grow,” he said.

Trade Winds

Hilda Lockhart, director of the Office of Export/Trade at the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Trade Winds offers the chance for state companies to make valuable contacts in export markets.

“Alabama companies participating in this Trade Winds Business Forum and trade mission will have the opportunity to meet with prescreened potential customers and partners in multiple locations throughout Latin America,” she said.

 Hilda Lockhart heads international trade for the Alabama Department of Commerce. (contributed)

Hilda Lockhart heads international trade for the Alabama Department of Commerce. (contributed)

“It’s a comprehensive program that also allows companies to meet with U.S. embassy diplomats who have knowledge of their respective markets,” Lockhart said. “It’s a proven program that Alabama has participated in and met with solid results in various overseas markets.”

Mexico is the No. 3 market for Alabama exports. The country was the destination for $2.9 billion in state goods and services in 2015, a 23 percent rise from the previous year.

Iron and steel top the list of exports to Mexico, followed by vehicles, industrial machinery, aluminum and electric machinery.

Meanwhile, Chile is a smaller, but growing, market for Alabama products. In 2015, state exports to the country were valued at $95 million, and this year’s numbers are outpacing last year’s by 21 percent.

Vehicles are the No. 1 export to Chile. Paper and pulpboard, and mineral fuel and oil, rank high, according to Alabama Department of Commerce data.

‘High hopes’

Along with Back Forty, other Alabama companies participating in the trade mission include Alabama Roll Products Inc., The Dixie Group Inc., Giles & Kendall Inc., Induron Coatings LLC, Knox Kershaw Inc., Process Barron, RMCI Inc., SEPCO, Smarter Services LLC and Warren Manufacturing.

Oakman Hardwood is participating on the Latin America trade mission and aims to make Mexico its top foreign market. (contributed)
Oakman Hardwood is participating on the Latin America trade mission and aims to make Mexico its top foreign market. (contributed)

Oakman Hardwood Inc. also is participating in the trip, which is providing the firm initial contact with potential clients who can hopefully benefit from a shift in the company’s raw material resources, said Trey Trainum, sales manager.

“Our interest is in Mexico as it is in close proximity; and, the weakening peso may give incentive for buyers to look at our current niche items. The trade mission will be our first step into the Mexican market,” he said.

Oakman Hardwood, based in Walker County, has provided high-grade white oak to the Italian and Spanish markets, and those were the firm’s top international markets before its shift in raw material resources.

“We began indirectly exporting niche items two years ago into the Caribbean markets, which have provided good orders,” he said. “We have high hopes that our shift in raw material resources will benefit Mexican lumber importers; and, that Mexico will be our top foreign market in the near future.”

Joining the Alabama delegation on the Latin America trade mission are William Toerpe, an international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce in Birmingham, and representatives from the Alabama International Trade Center at the University of Alabama.

Rising exports

Last year, Alabama’s exports totaled $19.37 billion, holding steady at near-record levels despite headwinds in global markets. Alabama exports have grown 25 percent since 2010 and 78 percent in the past decade.

Top exports in 2015 were vehicles, primary metals and machinery, and the state’s top export market was Canada.

Efe Orgen moves freshly bottled beer at the Back Forty Beer Co. in Gadsden. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)
Efe Orgen moves freshly bottled beer at the Back Forty Beer Co. in Gadsden. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)
1
2 years ago

Alabama-made Atlas V rockets to lift NASA to asteroid, Mars

NASA conducts tests on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the Bennu asteroid. (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
NASA conducts tests on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the Bennu asteroid. (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
NASA conducts tests on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the Bennu asteroid. (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Alabama-made Atlas V rockets will launch a NASA spacecraft on a dramatic mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and later send Mars 2020, the space agency’s next-generation robotic rover, to the Red Planet.

First up is the lift-off of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, scheduled for Sept. 8 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V, assembled in Decatur, will boost the explorer on its way to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

The spacecraft will travel to the asteroid, survey it to produce 3-D maps, and bring back a sample of surface material for study. NASA says the mission – the first involving a round-trip to an asteroid — will help scientists investigate how planets formed and life began.

NASA conducts tests on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the Bennu asteroid. (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
NASA conducts tests on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the Bennu asteroid. (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

“This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it,” said Geoff Yoder, a NASA administrator in Washington, D.C.

The spacecraft should reach Bennu in 2018 and return the sample via a detachable capsule in 2023.

This week, the OSIRIS-REx was bolted onto the Alabama-made Atlas V on Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral in preparation for lift-off. (NASA said the launch should not be affected by Thursday’s SpaceX rocket explosion on a nearby pad.)

MISSION TO MARS

On Aug. 25, NASA’s Launch Services Program announced that ULA’s Atlas V will launch Mars 2020 on its mission to the Red Planet.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft being transported to the launch pad, where it was bolted to the Atlas V rocket for lift-off. (Image: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft being transported to the launch pad, where it was bolted to the Atlas V rocket for lift-off. (Image: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Lift-off is planned for July 2020 from Cape Canaveral, and the spacecraft should reach Mars in 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site and determine the habitability of the environment. It will also search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

“Our launch vehicles have a rich heritage with Mars, supporting 17 successful missions over more than 50 years,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA’s vice president of Custom Services. “ULA and our heritage rockets have launched every U.S. spacecraft to the Red Planet, including Mars Science Lab, as well as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.”

ULA’s Alabama assembly facility is the sole production site for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, which launch payloads for NASA and other government agencies. The 1.6 million-square-foot Decatur factory employs around 1,000 people.

An artist rendering shows NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which will search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. (Image: NASA)
An artist rendering shows NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which will search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. (Image: NASA)

Versions of the Atlas V can stand 205 feet tall, rising to almost 19 stories.

An Alabama-made Atlas V will launch NASA’s next Mars lander, called inSight, in 2018. The surface explorer aims to provide understanding of the processes that shaped the planets of the inner solar system, including Earth.

There’s another Alabama connection to two of these missions. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, also managed by Marshall.

The engines of an Alabama-made Atlas V rocket roar to life on a 2016 mission for NASA. (Image: NASA)
The engines of an Alabama-made Atlas V rocket roar to life on a 2016 mission for NASA. (Image: NASA)
1
2 years ago

Alabama auto industry adds approx. $1B in investment, 2,500 jobs in under a year

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By Dawn Azok

Alabama’s auto industry continues to power new investment and jobs across the state.

Over the past year, auto suppliers have announced new facilities and expansions worth at least $924 million and more than 2,500 new jobs in activities ranging from precision machining to engineering.

Among the companies growing in Alabama is Lear Operations Corp., which this summer announced a $27.7 million, 535-job expansion of its Tuscaloosa County plant.

The project will boost production to supply seating systems to the Mercedes-Benz factory in Vance. Lear currently makes seats for the Alabama-made C-Class, and now it is adding seats for the plant’s SUVs.

Gov. Robert Bentley participated in a special groundbreaking ceremony for Yorozu in Jasper. (Image: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Billy Pope)
Gov. Robert Bentley participated in a special groundbreaking ceremony for Yorozu in Jasper. (Image: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Billy Pope)

Other recent announcements include Gerhardi Kuntstofftechnik, which picked Montgomery for its first North American manufacturing facility. The German company – producer of radiator grilles, handles, chrome trims and other parts – will invest nearly $38 million and create 235 jobs.

Another German supplier, Berghoff Group, is setting up its first U.S. plant in Auburn. The $30 million, 100-job facility is a precision-machining operation.

“Alabama’s auto industry continues to be a source of prosperity for communities throughout the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “What Mercedes started more than 20 years ago with the decision to build its first U.S. factory here has grown into a mature industry with hundreds of supplier and support operations.”

BUMPER CROP

The past year’s crop of supplier announcements have stretched from Jasper, home of Yorozu Corp.’s $100 million, 300-job advanced metal stamping facility, to Opelika, where Mando Corp. is expanding its brake component, suspension module and steering system operation by investing $19 million and adding 32 jobs.

The news has come in big cities and small. In Birmingham, Kamtek announced a $530 million, 350-job expansion, including the opening of a new aluminum casting facility to meet automaker demand for lighter parts.

Meanwhile, in the Macon County town of Shorter, Korean logistics company LogisAll opened a $4 million operation that is expected to employ up to 60 people in its first year.

In July, U.S. sales of new cars and light trucks rose slightly to top 1.5 million. Although there is concern that the market is leveling out after six years of growth, including a 17.5 million record peak in 2015, the numbers are expected to stay high thanks to attractive interest rates, a host of new offerings and low gas prices.

NEW MILESTONES

Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker’s assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)
Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker’s assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)

Last year, Alabama’s three automakers combined to produce more than 1 million vehicles, a record level for the state industry.

This year, they’re still busy.

At Honda’s Talladega County plant, workers launched production of the redesigned 2017 Ridgeline pickup. And in Montgomery, the Santa Fe SUV returned to Hyundai’s assembly lines.

The Toyota engine plant in Huntsville expects to produce its 5 millionth engine early next year.

And Mercedes is implementing a $1.3 billion, 300-job expansion announced last year. The work is setting the stage for the next generation of luxury SUVs the company will produce in Vance and includes a new body shop and an addition to the SUV assembly shop, as well as other upgrades. A number of the positions being created by the expansion are in engineering.

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