The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election


    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born


    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

2 weeks ago

Birmingham airport adds free electric-vehicle charging stations

(M. Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Visitors to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport who drive electric vehicles now have a place to charge up their rides.

Officials with the airport and the Birmingham Airport Authority this week unveiled nine electric-vehicle charging stations, newly installed in the airport’s parking deck. Three chargers are on Level 3, in the hourly parking area. Six are on Level 6, in daily parking.

There is no cost to charge electric vehicles, although customers pay for parking.


“We want to incentivize our customers,” Miguel Southwell, interim president and CEO of the airport authority, said during a brief media event to show off the chargers.

“Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport has been a leader in sustainability,” said Michael H. Bell, airport authority board chairman, noting that the airport has received a LEED gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The electric-vehicle chargers for airport visitors are the latest environmentally friendly feature at the airport, which already boasts an all-electric, high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, sophisticated building automation systems, energy-efficient lighting, solar water heating and a rainwater harvesting system. The airport also has charging stations for electric-powered ground-service equipment.

Electric vehicles produce no emissions, versus gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles.

Alabama Power worked with the airport to install the electric-vehicle chargers for airport customers, as well as those used to support ground-service vehicles.

“We are privileged to partner with Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and the Birmingham Airport Authority on this project,” said Cedric Daniels, Alabama Power’s Electric Transportation manager. Daniels said that in addition to the environmental benefits, electric vehicles are cheaper to fuel than traditional combustion-engine vehicles and require less maintenance.

He said the installation at the airport “shows the world that we are ready” for the continued growth of electric transportation.

So agreed Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, who attended the airport event. He noted that all major carmakers are producing all-electric or gas-electric hybrid vehicles, with electric vehicles expected to take an increasing share of the global market in coming years.

At the event, local plug-in electric vehicle owners brought several models to plug in at the airport for the first time, including cars and SUVs from Chevrolet, Honda, Cadillac and Tesla, as well as an Alabama-produced Mercedes-Benz.

Auto manufacturers “have decided that electric vehicles are the future,” Bentley said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Check out a video of the electric charger unveiling on the airport’s Facebook page.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

German auto supplier opens $46.3 million plant in Alabama

MöllerTech, a German auto supplier, has opened a $46.3 million plant in central Alabama.

Company officials said 222 employees will be hired at the new supply plant by the end of 2019, reported . The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held this week almost 16 months after the company announced it would build the plant in Bibb County.


Steve Jordan, President of MöllerTech’s North American division said the supply plant currently has 50 employees.

The supply plant will be next door to Mercedes-Benz’s new Global Logistics Center at the Scott G. Davis Industrial Park. The auto maker will also have an after-sales North American hub in the park.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International CEO Jason Hoff attended the ribbon cutting to welcome MöllerTech.

“This is a beautiful facility, and as a customer, when you walk in and get a first impression, it’s a very favorable impression,” he said.

MöllerTech’s parent company MöllerGroup has been in business for three centuries. The company has had a business relationship with Mercedes since the 1950s.

MöllerTech develops interior parts for Audi, BMW, Daimler, GM, Honda, Porche, Rolls-Royce and Toyota.

“There’s been a lot of energy among our early hires, which is very encouraging,” Jordan said. “Some have already grown into new positions early on which is very encouraging.”

(Image: Made In Alabama)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

7 months ago

Birmingham Business Alliance pursuing ‘all-time high’ economic development projects

The BBA Chairman’s Meeting automotive panel included, from left, Andrew Taitz of Autocar, Mike Oatridge of Honda, John Hudson of Alabama Power, Jason Hoff of Mercedes-Benz and John Hackett of Kamtek. (BBA/Made in Alabama)
The BBA Chairman’s Meeting automotive panel included, from left, Andrew Taitz of Autocar, Mike Oatridge of Honda, John Hudson of Alabama Power, Jason Hoff of Mercedes-Benz and John Hackett of Kamtek. (BBA/Alabama News Center)



The head of the Birmingham Business Alliance said the metro area is coming off a very successful year for economic development, but the prospects for even more growth in 2018 are “at an all-time high.”

BBA CEO Brian Hilson said at the organization’s annual Chairman’s Meeting Tuesday that economic development in the seven-county metro area was very strong in 2017.

“So far in 2017, we’ve seen 2,957 jobs and over $560 million in investment announced by 25 different new and expanding companies within our core business sectors,” Hilson said.

This year continues a string of successful years for attracting new and expanding industry to the state, Hilson said.

“Between 2011 and 2017, we have seen 19,394 jobs and over $3.9 billion in capital investment committed within our seven-county metro area,” he said.

That has caused the BBA to be ambitious with its current five-year plan.

“At the BBA, we have a goal of 19,000 jobs and $3.5 billion of investment being announced between 2016 and 2020,” Hilson said. “So we’re at the halfway point as we approach the year 2018 and as we continue to execute our five-year strategic plan, which we call Blueprint 2020.”

With the current pipeline of potential projects, those numbers could be well within reach.

“Our level of project activity is at an all-time high, at least for the six and a half years that I’ve been in Birmingham,” Hilson said in an interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “But probably more important, the quality of those projects and the diversity of skills that they would require of the workforce – it’s not all automotive and it’s not all something else – that’s very encouraging.”

Automotive projects dominated the headlines in the metro area in 2017.

Commercial truck producer Autocar opened a $120 million plant in Pinson Valley, not far from where auto supplier Kamtek opened a $60 million expansion.

Mercedes-Benz announced a $1 billion expansion of its Alabama operations that includes a new $248.2 million campus in Bibb County.

Representatives of those three companies as well as Honda’s plant in Lincoln made up a panel discussion of the auto industry and the metro area’s business climate. John Hudson, senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Alabama Power, moderated the panel.

A shared concern among the panel is that the metro area may become a victim of its own success – namely in a dwindling available workforce.

Hilson said the BBA’s Blueprint 2020 calls for at least a 5 percent growth in overall workforce between 2016 and 2020.

“What we really want to see, though, is much faster growth than that and for that to happen we will need a higher and better rate of workforce participation, more connectivity between employers and workforces as well as educators and trainers, and, of course, we will need to see our community image continue to get better,” he said.

(By Michael Tomberlin, courtesy of the Alabama News Center)

8 months ago

SAS Automotive Systems to support Mercedes production in Alabama

(Made in Alabama)
(Made in Alabama)

Global auto supplier SAS Automotive Systems is launching an operation in Tuscaloosa County to support the production of Mercedes-Benz’s next-generation sport utility vehicles in Alabama, adding 170 jobs to the state’s expanding auto sector.

Germany-based SAS is the world’s leading module assembler, producing nearly 5 million cockpit modules each year on 33 assembly lines at 21 plants across the globe, according to the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA).

“SAS is more than happy to contribute to the great success story of Alabama’s auto production that started right in the very plant where we will be supplying components for Mercedes-Benz’s next generation of SUVs,” SAS Chief Operating Officer Francois Barthel said in an announcement today.

Mercedes, which launched vehicle production in Alabama 20 years ago, is completing a $1.3 billion expansion project announced two years ago to prepare its Tuscaloosa County plant for new SUVs. The automaker is currently setting up assembly line and storage facilities as part of that project.

SAS engineers are already on-site at the Mercedes facility to streamline processes prior to first assembly trials scheduled for beginning of 2018, with production to begin later next year, according to TCIDA. The supplier plans to employ around 170 employees, including 160 shop-floor workers. Hiring will begin soon.

“Alabama’s thriving auto manufacturing industry continues to attract world-class supplier businesses like SAS Automotive Systems, whose new Tuscaloosa County presence will join the company’s global operating network,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“We’re committed to making our state the No. 1 destination for investment in the world, and we are grateful for the 170 jobs that SAS is creating with this venture,” she added.


The company based in Karlsruhe, Germany, employs a workforce of more than 4,000 people. It has a long-term working relationship with Mercedes and Smart in Europe, both divisions of German car manufacturer Daimler AG.

“SAS Automotive Systems is a premier global automotive supplier and its locating here in Tuscaloosa County speaks well of a strong and capable workforce in a pro-business environment,” TCIDA Chairman Claude Edwards said.

SAS is launching operations in Alabama at a time of rapid growth for the auto sector. Last year, there were at least 68 auto projects in Alabama, for an estimated total of 3,850 jobs and $907 million in new capital investment, according to data from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

This year’s total has eclipsed that, led by a $1 billion expansion project announced in September by Mercedes that will see the automaker launch production of electric vehicles at its Alabama plant and open a global logistics center in nearby Bibb County.

“The success that major global automotive companies have found in Alabama has made the state a top destination for the industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The repeated expansions of Mercedes-Benz and others have transmitted a strong signal across the industry that Alabama is a place where it can prosper and grow,” he added.

(By Jerry Underwood, courtesy Made in Alabama)

9 months ago

Universities In Alabama Help Prepare The Next Generation of Automotive Engineers

Photo courtesy of Alabama News Center
Photo courtesy of Alabama News Center

Everyone is aware of Alabama’s prominence on the gridiron, but few are aware of the strides Alabama universities are taking to ensure that students are prepared for automotive manufacturing in the 21 Century.

As reported by Alabama News Center, the University of Alabama is offering education and research opportunities that give automotive engineers the tools they need to continue to compete with an ever-evolving automotive market.

Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian is one of the leading engineering professors at Alabama, and he is helping drive the university’s state of the art program. A former vice president of group research and advanced engineering at Mercedes-Benz, Balasubramanian works in the Capstone’s Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies. He teaches students about electronics, energy storage and fuel cells, materials and manufacturing, and powertrains. “These are interesting research projects, and we have interaction between the industry and the professors here, who are also getting more insight into what really drives the automotive companies,” said Dr. Balasubramanian.

As the automotive industry increasingly develops electric motors, part of the university’s goal is to ensure students are equipped with the knowledge needed to fill the new market. “Since coming here, I’ve been preaching that we need more computer scientists and electrical engineers, as the industry is becoming more electrified,” said Dr. Balasubramanian.

Just last month, Mercedes announced their intent to invest $1 billion in electric vehicle production at their Tuscaloosa plant.

Other Alabama schools are also picking up on the new automotive trends. Auburn University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville are working together as part of the Southern Alliance for Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Center.

Reaching outside the state, Auburn and Huntsville are collaborating with Clemson University with the hopes of receiving an official designation as a National Science Foundation research center. If given the designation, companies will conduct research through member universities. Students will then be given the ability to work on real-world problems and increase their ability to find jobs once they leave.

Speaking to the relationship between auto manufacturers and universities, Auburn associate professor said, “There’s a need for industry to have a relationship for academic research, because they have limited resources to do their own. The industry doesn’t do that on its own anymore, to any great degree, so we are giving them access to what’s coming down the road and what they could be looking for in the future.”

12 months ago

Racing to the Top: Alabama’s Auto Industry Continues to Grow After 20 Years

The Alabama Department of Commerce revealed that the state’s automotive industry is continuing its rapid growth in 2017. In a statement released on July 24, the department announced that 2016 added 3,848 jobs and $907.1 million in new capital investment. This year, the industry is on track to add thousands of new jobs and push capital past $1 billion.

The expanding industry will include new projects and operations that will manufacture everything from entire automobiles to their component parts. In the news release, the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce Greg Canfield noted:

“Our deep roots in the auto industry keep growing deeper. Last year alone, there were new or expanding auto companies in 26 Alabama counties, showing the vast reach of auto production in Alabama.”

2016 saw Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota all contribute to the growing industry. Hyundai invested $52 million to upgrade its plant in Montgomery. Through this investment, they were able to bring production of the Santa Fe SUV back to their assembly lines. The Lear Operation Corp., which supplies the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, expanded their operation to create 535 new jobs. Moller Tech USA and Eissmann Automotive North America also contributed millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the industry.

RELATED: Bernie Sanders and Labor Unions Descend on Mississippi – Will Alabama Be Next?

Capitalizing on last year’s momentum, 2017 has brought many new auto sector projects to Alabama and has set the stage for more tremendous growth. Hanwha Advanced Materials America LLC plans to invest $20 million and create 100 new jobs at its manufacturing facility in Opelika. In an effort to improve efficiency and prepare for future projects, Honda plans to invest $85 million in its Lincoln plant. Grupo Antolin, a Spain-based supplier, also plans to build a $10.4 million facility in Jefferson County that will employ 150 people in 3 years.

After 20 years, Alabama’s auto industry continues to prove that it is one of the best in the country. The manufacturing jobs created have contributed to the steady decline in the state’s unemployment rate over the past year. Jason Hoff, CEO of Alabama Operations for Mercedes-Benz, put it best when he said, “Our suppliers have found – just as we have – that Alabama is a great place to do business.”

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.

2 years ago

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


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.


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.


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)
2 years ago

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


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.”


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.


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.

2 years ago

Global consulting firm ranks Alabama a top 5 state for investment, predicts major jobs growth

Companies that could have invested anywhere in the world chose Alabama to the tune of more than $5 billion. (iStock)
Companies that could have invested anywhere in the world chose Alabama to the tune of more than $5 billion. (iStock)
Companies that could have invested anywhere in the world chose Alabama to the tune of more than $5 billion. (iStock)

Global consulting firm Ernst & Young says companies from around the world poured more than $5 billion into capital projects in Alabama last year, earning the state a place near the top of its investment rankings.

Ernst & Young’s closely watched “US Investment Monitor” ranked Alabama No.5 among the states for mobile capital investment last year, with a total of $5.3 billion. The firm also ranked Alabama among the top states for foreign investment spending.

The London-based firm describes its Investment Monitor as a “leading indicator showing where new investment spending and jobs can be expected to occur over the next several years.” It defines mobile capital investment as spending for facilities such as office buildings, call centers, factories and distribution centers. These projects are called “mobile” because companies can build them anywhere, regardless of their headquarters locations.

Projects like the Mercedes-Benz $1.3 billion expansion show the level of foreign direct investment in Alabama. (Mercedes-Benz)
Projects like the Mercedes-Benz $1.3 billion expansion show the level of foreign direct investment in Alabama. (Mercedes-Benz)

“There’s no question that 2015 was a significant year for Alabama’s economic development team, with a record level of capital investment and high-impact projects from major international companies,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“But we’re not standing still. We’re pursuing a pipeline of important projects across the state and developing new initiatives that will help us create more knowledge-based jobs in fields such as R&D and engineering,” he said.

Under the direction of Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama’s economic development team continues to attract concentrated capital investments in automotive manufacturing and aerospace, two sectors that received significant investments in 2015.

Companies invested more than $5 billion in Alabama last year. (iStock)
Companies invested more than $5 billion in Alabama last year. (iStock)

Location decisions

Alabama trailed only Texas, Louisiana, California and Kentucky in Ernst & Young’s 2015 mobile investment rankings. Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, New York and North Carolina rounded out the top 10.

Alabama ranked higher – No. 4 – when the 2015 investment figure is considered as a percentage of state GDP, according to the Ernst & Young analysis.

Ernst & Young noted that Alabama’s 2015 mobile investment figure was twice the state’s annual average for the 2010-2014 period, measured at $2.5 billion.

In addition, the firm’s Investment Monitor ranked Alabama No. 4 for foreign investment spending in 2015, trailing only Texas, Louisiana and New York.

Earlier this year, an analysis by the state commerce department showed that nearly half of the new capital investment announced in Alabama during 2015 originated from foreign companies. The commerce report counted 95 projects from 18 foreign countries.

Germany was the No. 1 source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Alabama last year, led by Mercedes’ $1.3 billion expansion at its assembly plant near Tuscaloosa. Companies based in Canada, South Korea, France and Japan also announced substantial investments in Alabama during 2015.

 Germany was the country with the most foreign direct investment in Alabama last year. (iStock)

Germany was the country with the most foreign direct investment in Alabama last year. (iStock)

Alabama’s strong FDI was also noted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, which produces an annual “Global Location Trends” report.

The IBM report ranked the Mercedes expansion as one the Top 20 FDI projects in the U.S. in 2015.

IBM’s Global Location Trends report also said Alabama and several of its Southern neighbors have seen solid growth in FDI linked to advanced manufacturing.

“These Southern states offer competitive operating costs and good logistics infrastructure, and they have benefitted substantially from companies seeking operations closer to the North American market,” the analysis says.

Pinpointing trends

Andrew Phillips, principal at Ernst & Young, said, “Many factors contribute to a company’s decision to invest in a particular location, and awareness of industry trends, workforce development levels and the availability of state and local tax incentives can help businesses choose where to locate their mobile capital investments.

“States should continue to find their competitive edge to attract a wide variety of investment types and maintain a healthy economy,” Phillips added.

Projects like the $600 million Google data center being built in Jackson County helped Alabama to its No. 5 ranking. (Google)
Projects like the $600 million Google data center being built in Jackson County helped Alabama to its No. 5 ranking. (Google)
2 years ago

Alabama claims big-time economic development award for 2015


MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Alabama’s economic development team earned a Silver Shovel Award from Area Development magazine for its strong performance in 2015, keeping alive a winning streak that dates back a decade.

The publication, which targets economic developers and site selection experts, announced the award today, noting that Alabama secured 2015 projects involving $7.1 billion in new capital investment and nearly 20,000 jobs.

“Much of this growth is in key sectors such as technology, aerospace, and automotive,” Area Development noted. “This investment figure is twice the 2014 total and one of the highest annual totals in recent years. Alabama also attracted foreign direct investment approaching $3.5 billion in 2015.”

Area Development’s Gold and Silver Awards are meant to recognize individual states for their overall economic development effectiveness. Alabama has won one of the awards each year since 2006, when it won a Gold Shovel. It won another Gold in 2012, and Silver in 2013 and 2014.

Joining Alabama with a 2015 Silver Shovel among states with populations between 3 and 5 million were Kentucky and Louisiana.


GE Aviation executive Sanjay Correa announces the company’s plans to build a pair of advanced materials factories in Huntsville. (Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)
GE Aviation executive Sanjay Correa announces the company’s plans to build a pair of advanced materials factories in Huntsville. (Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

In its report, Area Development singled out 2015 Alabama projects including Google’s $600 million data center in Jackson County, GE Aviation’s $300 million advanced materials factories in Huntsville, and Mercedes-Benz’s $1.3 billion expansion in Tuscaloosa County.

Polaris Industries’ off-road vehicle manufacturing facility in Huntsville, which could eventually have as many as 2,000 jobs, was selected as one of the magazine’s “Automotive Projects of the Year.”

“The Alabama economic development team is committed to bringing high-caliber jobs to the state’s citizens by following a strategy that seeks to maximize growth in target sectors such as automotive, aerospace and bioscience,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This Silver Shovel Award is a testament to the results being delivered by the state’s hard-working economic development organizations.”

Alabama’s 2015 economic development results are outlined in Commerce’s “New & Expanding Industry Report,” released earlier this year.

“My chief priority continues to be the focus of creating jobs and new opportunities for citizens across the state,” Governor Robert Bentley said when the report was released. “This new report shows once again that Alabama is well-positioned to achieve those goals because of a skilled workforce, proven job-training programs, and a business climate that promotes growth.”

Alabama’s economic development successes during 2015 have already drawn attention.

Business Facilities, a magazine focusing on economic development, selected Alabama as its “State of the Year” for 2015, while Trade & Industry Development, a similar publication, picked three Alabama projects for investment impact awards.

2 years ago

Eissmann Automotive to expand Alabama operation with 200 new jobs


PELL CITY, Alabama – German auto supplier Eissmann Automotive will invest $14.5 million to expand its St. Clair County facility with a 130,000-square-foot building and advanced manufacturing equipment for a new production line, officials said today.

Eissmann, which has expanded its Pell City facility six times since opening a decade ago, will hire 200 additional workers as part of the expansion project. It will also introduce a new manufacturing process that is currently performed only at Eissmann facilities in Slovakia and China.

“We have been very pleased with our experience working with the City of Pell City, the St. Clair County Commission, and Alabama’s Department of Commerce,” said Michal Vozak, managing director of Eissmann Automotive.

“They have been wonderful partners as we continue to invest in Pell City to provide quality service and products to our valued customers.”

Eissmann specializes in car interiors, built-to-print trim components, shifter modules and other parts for automakers that include Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jeep, Tesla, Porsche and Volkswagen. Based in Bad Urach, Germany, the company operates 13 production facilities on three continents.

“Alabama’s superior business climate continues to attract new investment, which creates new jobs and fuels economic growth,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “Eissmann has launched several expansion projects in Alabama, and I welcome the company’s decision to add new jobs and introduce new manufacturing technologies with another project in Pell City. Creating good jobs for Alabama citizens will always be my top priority.”


The project comes amid a powerful growth phase for Alabama’s auto industry, which recorded new investment topping $3 billion in 2015. Much of that came from suppliers planning to open facilities in the state or expanding existing Alabama operations.

Watch a video about auto industry growth in Alabama.
“Eissmann is making another significant investment in its Alabama operation, expanding its Pell City workforce and introducing new technology at its manufacturing facility,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Eissmann is an important player in the state’s growing auto supply chain,” he added.

During the last decade, Eissmann has grown to be the largest industrial employer in St. Clair County. Starting out with 85 employees in its first phase, the company’s Alabama operation has grown to have 650 today, according to the St. Clair County Economic Development Council.

“It is always beneficial to both our community and the company when higher paying jobs with more advanced technology are announced,” said Paul Manning, chairman of the St. Clair County Commission. “This is a testament both to the company’s ability to produce a great product and the faith they have in St. Clair County’s workforce.”

Officials in St. Clair County welcomed Eissmann’s expansion plans.

“They have always been a great partner in the community, and this new standalone facility will feature their state of the art technology,” Pell City Mayor Joe Funderburg said. “We are looking forward to their continued success and the new jobs that will soon be available in our city.”

“Eissmann Automotive is a great company who has experienced much growth and success here in St. Clair County,” said Joe Kelly, chairman of the St. Clair Economic Development Council. “We are excited to learn that they are making this new investment in their Pell City facility.”

2 years ago

650 Alabamians to be employed at massive new auto parts manufacturing plant

Mercedes-Benz's plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)
Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

COTTONDALE, Ala. — Alabama’s growing automotive industry will get a little bigger this year, with a new company bringing 650 more jobs to the state.

SMP (Samvardhana Motherson Peguform Automotive Systems Alabama Inc.), an India-based automotive parts supplier, is getting ready to break ground on a new 100-acre site in the Cedar Cove Technology Park in Cottondale, right outside Tuscaloosa. The 700,000-square-foot factory, which will cost $154 million, was originally announced in August last year, but now the groundwork is finally getting started.

SMP is also starting to hire the first team of employees for the new facility. The first round of employees will include of industrial engineers, robotics technicians, administration, and managers in logistics, supplier quality, maintenance, and other areas of plant production.

These employees will have the opportunity to receive special training in other SMP facilities in Mexico and Germany.

“Due to the fact that this plant will be newly established, it will be a great opportunity for employees to be part of it from the beginning and help shape the business,” said a statement from Kenneth Suda, the Tuscaloosa plant’s general manager.

The first round of employees will primarily be salaried, and the hourly workers will be hired later, with the help of AIDT.

The facility will primarily make bumpers, interior and exterior door panels, and other parts for Mercedes-Benz.

SMP is one of the 50 largest automotive suppliers in the world and has factories on four continents. It is the largest auto supplier to come to Alabama since Mercedes-Benz came to Tuscaloosa nearly 20 years ago.

Since then, Alabama has become a national leader in the automotive industry. Last year, the state’s three global automakers – Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Hyundai – produced over 1 million vehicles. Alabama is now the fifth largest auto producing state, and employment in the sector is approaching 40,000. Vehicles and parts have become the state’s top export category, reaching $6.6 billion in 2014. New auto-related investment in the sector during the past four years tops $5.5 billion.

SMP’s decision to join Alabama’s dominant auto industry was made easy by the staggering numbers the state has already produced and the lure of a willing and skilled workforce.

“The Alabama economic development team has targeted growth in the state’s auto supply chain because it serves to strengthen the industry’s foundation here,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Developing partnerships with global suppliers like SMP reflects this strategy and sets the stage for additional job-creation and growth in Alabama’s advanced manufacturing sector.”

2 years ago

NEW RECORD: From the Far East to the Arabian Desert, Alabama exports top $7 billion


From the Far East to the Arabian Desert, Alabama-built vehicles continue to make their mark across the globe.

The value of Alabama auto exports topped $7 billion last year, a record annual total and a 5.8 percent gain from 2014. Meanwhile, overseas shipments of Alabama-made motor vehicle parts reached $1.2 billion, an 18 percent increase.

In 2015, China was the top export market for Alabama vehicles, growing nearly 9 percent to $2 billion and knocking Canada out of the top spot, according to trade data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Canada was No. 2, with Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom rounding out the top five.

Rapid growth in overseas shipments has propelled Alabama to a No. 3 spot ranking auto-exporting states, trailing only Michigan and South Carolina. Over the past 15 years, Alabama’s vehicle exports have risen tenfold.

“Alabama’s auto industry has become an exporting powerhouse, with vehicles produced in the state finding markets around the world,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “This creates jobs in our state and solidifies the position of the Alabama auto assembly plants in a global business.”

The Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa County accounts for the lion’s share of Alabama’s auto exports, but the assembly plants operated by Honda and Hyundai contribute to the total, too.

Honda’s new Alabama-built Pilot SUV is gaining traction in Middle Eastern markets.
Honda’s new Alabama-built Pilot SUV is gaining traction in Middle Eastern markets.

In Honda’s case, the redesigned Alabama-made Pilot SUV is turning heads in countries including Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

The 2016 Pilot is equipped with Honda’s new “Intelligent Traction Management” all-wheel drive system, which is designed to excel in mud, snow and sand.

A few months ago, an engineer from Honda’s Talladega County plant traveled to Dubai, where the new Pilot’s capabilities were demonstrated by driving up and down large sand dunes.

The Dubai Honda sales team was impressed.

“They are really excited about it because now they can take this Pilot out to the sand dunes whereas the old one didn’t have that capability,” said Jeff Tomko, head of Honda’s Alabama operations. “That plugged the gap on why it didn’t sell more than it could; now, the Pilot will probably outsell the Odyssey in Dubai.”


The Talladega County plant typically exports 10 to 15 percent of its annual output, a number that varies depending on the global vehicle market. Honda produced nearly 350,000 vehicles at its Alabama plant last year.

Each export region requires different certification, and that testing can take time.

Jeff Tomko is president of Honda Alabama.
Jeff Tomko is president of Honda Alabama.

“We’re sending a lot of our associates to customers in Dubai and Russia and China and Korea to understand their expectations because their expectations may be different from the customer in the U.S., Canada or Mexico,” Tomko said.

For example, South Korean customers are strongly focused on paint quality, fit and finish. And in Russia, they want a sturdy suspension to cope with rugged roadways.

While the Odyssey and Pilot vie for the most popular Alabama Honda export, the Alabama plant – which also produces the Ridgeline pickup and Acura MDX sport utility – supplies every export region that wants one of those vehicles, Tomko added.

“That puts a big demand on us, but the benefit of that is when the market has a downturn in the U.S. or North America, those markets may not be in that same downturn,” he said. “That keeps us running at a higher percentage than we normally would under those circumstances.”


Australia was the sixth most popular market for Alabama auto exports last year, according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department. United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Korea and Chile rounded out the top 10.

Strong growth was seen in several top markets, including Germany and the United Kingdom, each registering a 23 percent growth in Alabama-made vehicle shipments from 2014, and Chile, with 46 percent growth. Qatar and Oman were among the big gainers, with increases of 148 percent and 117 percent, respectively.

Alabama-made vehicles were shipped to 76 countries last year, spanning the globe.

 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.
2 years ago

Mayor Bell: Birmingham attracted $1B in investments in 2015, setting stage for growth

Bentley Bell

RELATED: Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s inaugural Alabama Economic Growth Summit

Made In Alabama asked Birmingham Mayor William Bell to share his thoughts on the economic development successes recorded by the state’s largest city in 2015 and where Birmingham is headed in the new year.

Here’s what he said.

Q: What are the 2015 highlights for you?

A: The City issued 700 new business licenses in 2015, covering the entire spectrum of small, two- to three-employee businesses to companies hiring hundreds of individuals. Certainly, the Kamtek announcement of a new plant, and the expansion of its existing plant, in the Valley East Industrial Park was very significant as we won that project over several other Southeastern states.

• 20 Midtown’s progress, which already brings new retail and residential to downtown as well as a downtown Publix that will open this year, is very important.

Oxford Pharmaceuticals’ groundbreaking in the JeffMet Lakeshore Industrial Park and the Steris ribbon cutting in the Sloss Industrial Park continued to show that our city is a major player in health-related fields.

• Lewis Communication’s move from outside the Birmingham to downtown was completed, bringing 55 new employees to the city.

• The Summit location of Alabama’s first Trader Joe’s was very significant.

Oxford Pharmaceuticals marked the start of construction of its Birmingham facility with a groundbreaking ceremony. (Image: Alabama NewsCenter)
Oxford Pharmaceuticals marked the start of construction of its Birmingham facility with a groundbreaking ceremony. (Image: Alabama NewsCenter)

And we cannot overlook the importance of retaining jobs by companies that considered other metro locations, but chose to stay in the city — companies like LabCorp, HealthSouth, the Grandview Medical Center and Limbaugh Toyota.

We added more than 2,000 jobs in the city and retained more than 2,700 jobs that could have gone elsewhere, and we attracted capital investments by new and existing companies totaling well over $1 billion.

Q: What are your economic development priorities in 2016 and what would you like to see happen?

A: We have a number of priorities, but if you ask me to pick the most important it would be the development of the 38 acres adjacent to the Crossplex. In the Crossplex, Birmingham has one of the finest facilities for athletic competition to be found anywhere. Competitors and visitors by the thousands have come every year since we opened the Crossplex in 2011.

We are now in the final stages of developing a plan that will support the Crossplex and our visiting athletes and spectators with restaurants and other retailers, a hotel, family entertainment venues, residential development and amenities that could include a walking track, an amphitheater and a lake. We expect to begin breaking ground on these projects at the Crossplex in the first half of 2016.

And, we have other priorities such as bringing new businesses to neighborhoods we have identified as “underserved” by retail; and continuing the development of the Oxmoor corridor with yet another announcement we expect in 2016 from a major pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Q: What industries in Birmingham are best positioned for growth?

The Kaiser Aircraft facility stands in the background as a jetliner takes off at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. (Image: Bob Farley/
The Kaiser Aircraft facility stands in the background as a jetliner takes off at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. (Image: Bob Farley/

A: Birmingham is recognized throughout the world as the home of some of the finest health-related industries to be found anywhere and we must always recognize UAB as the longtime catalyst of the growth we have experienced. Pharmaceutical research, manufacturing and distribution will continue to grow, and I expect to see new health-related business opportunities come our way as a result of the new Grandview Medical Center’s operations.

I also think we are primed for more growth as a location for automobile suppliers due to our interstate transportation network that crisscrosses the city from north to south and east to west, and our proximity to the Mercedes-Benz and Honda manufacturing plants, as well as the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

And several companies in the aviation industry are taking a close look at our airport facilities and the availability of space we have for aircraft refurbishment and assembly. (Article: In Kaiser hangar complex, Birmingham sees aerospace potential)

Q: What strengths can Birmingham build on in 2016 to spur economic development?

A: First and foremost is our workforce. Companies that locate and expand in Birmingham are always very complimentary of the quality of our workers and their ability to learn specific manufacturing and assembly skills quickly. Second, our Birmingham City Council is very supportive of our efforts in business development and works closely with my Office of Economic Development in considering proposed agreements we take to the Council for approval.

The restored Lyric Theater opened in Birmingham in early 2016.
The restored Lyric Theater opened in Birmingham in early 2016.

Also, our city is enjoying a renaissance that makes us a very family friendly city with facilities such as Railroad Park, Regions Field, the new Lyric Theater, the Crossplex and the Summit. Another strength is the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and its location just 10 minutes from downtown. “Time is Money” and decision-makers looking for new business locations can fly into Birmingham and see the advantages of our city without the time-consuming headaches found in other cities that do not have airports conveniently located.

Finally, we are very competitive with incentives, both local incentives from the City and Jefferson County, and the Alabama Department of Commerce, which offers very strong incentive packages and does an excellent job in bringing prospects to Alabama.

3 years ago

Alabama auto industry smashes record, produces over 1 million vehicles in 2015


Alabama’s three global automakers combined to produce more than 1 million vehicles in 2015, the first time the state’s annual output has reached that big-league milestone.

Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai produced a total of at least 1,033,095 vehicles last year, according to the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, a key player in the growth of the industry of the state. The total is up slightly from 2014, when the trio’s production tally fell just shy of 995,000.

“Since Mercedes invested in Alabama over 20 years ago, Alabama has been successful at producing automobiles, with 2015 being our best year yet,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “Automotive manufacturing is an important industry in Alabama, and creates thousands of jobs for Alabamians. I am confident that 2016 will be an even better year as automobile manufacturers proudly produce vehicles ‘Made in Alabama’ and sell them around the world.”

Crossing the 1 million mark in annual production represents another reminder that Alabama’s auto industry has become a force in the industry.

“It’s a great achievement on the part of the automakers, their suppliers and the Alabama workers who build quality products throughout the year,” EDPA Executive Vice President Steve Sewell said.


Thanks to steady gains, Alabama is now the fifth largest auto producing state, and employment in the sector is approaching 40,000. Vehicles and parts have become the state’s top export category, reaching $6.6 billion in 2014. New auto-related investment in the sector during the past four years tops $5.5 billion.

“Alabama’s auto industry has been growing robustly, with significant new investment flowing into the state, creating jobs and expanding the sector’s footprint,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “It’s impressive that Alabama’s three assembly operations have crossed this important production milestone in a relatively short time, and it’s encouraging that the stage is set for continued growth in the industry.”

According to EDPA data, Hyundai’s Montgomery plant produced 384,519 vehicles in 2015, while the total at Honda’s facility in Lincoln was 349,386. The figure at Mercedes’ Vance factory was at least 300,000, the planned total. (Mercedes will announce an exact figure later this year.)

“The past year was a very productive and exciting time at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama as we brought on-line a technologically advanced automated engine assembly operation and successfully introduced the all-new 2016 Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle to customers,” said Ted Pratt, spokesman for Honda’s Alabama operation.

The rising production totals for Alabama automakers have fueled growth in the supply chain, with new suppliers such as SMP coming to the state. Meanwhile, parts makers already in the state, including Birmingham’s Kamtek, have launched expansions.

In addition, Alabama’s automakers continue to add to their production line-ups. This week, Hyundai announced plans to add the Santa Fe Sport SUV to the assembly line in Montgomery, joining the company’s Sonata and Elantra sedans. Later this year, Honda Alabama will resume production of the Ridgeline pickup as a completely new vehicle.

Those additions will push the number of vehicles produced in Alabama to 11.

3 years ago

Alabama named ‘State of the Year’ after string of major economic development successes

2014 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 (Photo: Justin Dawes)
2014 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 (Photo: Justin Dawes)
2014 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 (Photo: Justin Dawes)

Business Facilities magazine on Wednesday announced it has selected Alabama as its 2015 “State of the Year” after the state landed a string of coveted economic development projects, including Polaris Industries, Google and other companies.

This is the first time Alabama has claimed the site-selection publication’s highest award. Business Facilities singled out Alabama’s successful recruitment of Polaris’ $127 million ATV factory, which will create as many as 2,000 jobs at a new production hub in Huntsville, and Google’s $600 million data center, to be built in Jackson County.

In its evaluation of the states, Business Facilities looked at the top 5 economic development projects in terms of job creation and capital investment between Oct. 1, 2014 and Nov. 1, 2015, while considering other factors. Alabama’s award was announced on the publication’s website today and will be featured in a cover story in the magazine’s January/February issue.

“The Crimson Tide has brought in a bevy of big-ticket projects that have provided a solid foundation for future growth,” Business Facilities Editor in Chief Jack Rogers said in the magazine’s announcement.

“With Mercedes-Benz and Airbus anchoring top-tier positions in automotive and aerospace manufacturing, an expanding high-tech hub and forward-thinking leadership in 21st-century workforce training, Alabama has put together a winning combination that’s tough to beat,” Rogers said.


Governor Robert Bentley said the Business Facilities honor caps a strong year for Alabama’s economic development efforts.

“Our chief focus remains on creating jobs and new opportunities for residents across the state,” Governor Bentley said. “I believe we are well-positioned to do that thanks to the state’s skilled workforce, great job-training programs, and a business environment that promotes growth.”

Business Facilities also pointed to Alabama’s strong record of attracting foreign direct investment from companies such as France-based Airbus and growing export activity, which has seen overseas shipments of Alabama-made goods more than double in the past decade.

“Whether it’s foreign direct investment or an appetite for U.S.-made goods, a growing number of global players are singing the same tune: Sweet Home Alabama,” Rogers said.


In addition to Polaris and Google, other Alabama projects highlighted by Business Facilities included:

— Mercedes’ plans to invest $1.3 billion to expand its Tuscaloosa County assembly plant and prepare it for the production of next-generation SUVS. The project will add 300 jobs, many of them highly paid engineering positions.
— Auto supplier Kamtek’s $530 million project to expand its Birmingham facility and add a new aluminum casting line, creating 350 jobs.
— Yorozu’s plans to open a plant in Jasper to produce auto suspension parts, generating 300 new jobs.

“Alabama’s economic team will continue to work tirelessly to bring companies such as Google and Polaris to the state, and our support system will help these firms achieve success,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Our ability to attract companies of this caliber makes a strong statement about doing business in Alabama.”

Canfield added that the new “Made in Alabama” incentives platform and a streamlined approach to workforce development, now centered in Commerce, will enhance the state’s competitiveness in 2016 and beyond.

“It’s hard to believe that there remains a shortage of skilled workers in the United States, but Alabama has stepped forward to address this need with bold initiatives that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation,” said Rogers, the Business Facilities editor.

Business Facilities is a leading full-service media brand specializing in the site selection marketplace, with a bi-monthly magazine, e-mail newsletters and an online news portal. It is owned by New Jersey-based Group C Media.

3 years ago

Airbus expansion could lead to Alabama aerospace boom

Airbus is producing A320 airplanes in Mobile. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)
Airbus is producing A320 airplanes in Mobile. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)
Airbus is producing A320 airplanes in Mobile. (Mike Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

By: Mike Tomberlin

It’s a pattern we’ve become used to in Alabama.

An international automaker chooses a site in the state for a new manufacturing plant. It produces a popular new model using some parts that are produced from suppliers that also located in Alabama. Its success leads to it expanding its plant, making it feasible for more suppliers to expand or set up plants here to supply other suppliers and the auto plant itself.

Mercedes-Benz introduced us to this accelerated, compounded growth with production at its Tuscaloosa County plant in 1997. Honda mirrored it when it began producing minivans in Talladega County in 2001. Hyundai joined the mix when its Montgomery plant began production a decade ago.

All have since expanded, investing billions of dollars and creating thousands of jobs both at the plants themselves and among supplier and vendor companies throughout the state. Some suppliers, like Birmingham’s Kamtek, keep growing by supplying multiple automakers in Alabama and neighboring states.

Last year, the state produced nearly 1 million vehicles in a single year for the first time, ending the year with 994,902 produced. The state is expected to cross the 1 million mark when final numbers are released after the end of this year.

Economic impact reports like the one released last week for Honda remind us of how massive and important the industry is to Alabama. The state is now the fifth largest producer of automobiles in the nation and is home to more than 24,000 workers who make cars or car parts, according to the most recent report from the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association.

The reality is there is no other industry in Alabama like the automotive industry.


With Airbus now producing airplanes in Mobile, economic development leaders are hopeful there could be a repeat in a new industry.

They acknowledge that the volume of airplane production is nowhere near what is possible or necessary for automotive production and the longer lead times for airplane production do not require suppliers to locate in the same state or even the same country.

But just like automotive growth came with increased model production and the economics of suppliers locating within proximity to the mother plant, Alabama officials are convinced there is more to come from Airbus and potential suppliers.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield told me recently that Airbus has so many orders for the A320 family of single-aisle airplanes that it’s expected they could double production in Mobile sooner rather than later.

“It’s going to take a little time,” Canfield said. “The rate of production will have to move beyond what is currently scheduled … In other words, we’re going to need to see production double, which we expect to happen pretty soon. The company has not said they are going to, but we believe in the state of Alabama and the Department of Commerce that in order to continue to meet the expectations of demand on orders for the A320 family that we’re going to see that productivity move up pretty rapidly in Mobile.”

Canfield also knows there is justification for suppliers to build new factories closer to the mother plant when dealing with new parts for a new model of an airplane.

“We know that the aerospace sector, particularly with Airbus’ advent and the production of the A320 family of single-aisle aircraft, will become a magnet for suppliers,” Canfield said.

There won’t be a million airplanes built in Alabama. But the good news is there doesn’t have to be for aerospace to become a much larger part of the state’s economy.

This article originally appeared on the Alabama NewsCenter. Mike Tomberlin is editor of Alabama NewsCenter and a veteran journalist who has covered economic development and business in the state for more than 20 years. Tomberlin’s Take is a column where he takes a closer look at a business or economic development issue.

3 years ago

Unions set their sights on Alabama after victory in Tennessee

Mercedes-Benz's plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)
Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

The United Auto Workers union won a small but important victory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week, as skilled-trades workers at Volkswagen’s only U.S. factory voted 108-44 to grant the UAW the right to collectively bargain on their behalf.

VW contends the vote should not have been allowed because the plant’s full staff of 1,400 should not be impacted by the vote of just 162 of their colleagues. The German automaker plans to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We believe that a union of only maintenance employees fractures our workforce and does not take into account the overwhelming community of interest shared between our maintenance and production employees,” Volkswagen said in a statement.

In February of 2014, the UAW’s attempts to unionize the full Chattanooga plant came up short by a vote of 712-626. The hotly contested vote was seen as a message that the South would not bend to the will of big labor bosses, who are often cited as the reason auto manufacturers abandoned Detroit and moved South in the first place.

The UAW has tried for years to unionize Alabama’s car manufacturing facilities, most notably the Mercedes-Benz plan in Vance. But with few notable exceptions, Alabama workers have rejected the unions’ overtures.

Alabama is a right to work state, meaning companies cannot require union membership as a condition of employment. However, if unionization of a particular manufacturer is successful, all workers would, by requirement of contract, be represented by the union. Conservatives are often quick to point out that this caveat strips the rights of workers who wish not to be a member of a union, and silences their voices.

Alabama’s status as a right to work state has been credited with being the most important variable in several large manufacturers deciding to bring jobs into the state, including Airbus, Austal USA and Remington.

“Over the last two decades, many businesses that were located in heavily unionized states have moved their operations to Alabama, choosing to locate their facilities in the right-to-work Alabama due to the ability to compete in the global marketplace,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO William J. Canary. “A union presence in Alabama would only serve to stifle job creation and economic opportunity. I continue to believe that free enterprise can best meet the needs of its employees by maintaining an open and direct relationship with them, without the interference of a third party.”

Earlier this year, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s efforts to thwart the unionization of the Golden Dragon Copper Tubing plant in Wilcox County failed by one vote.

Bentley said that the unionization of manufacturing plants in Alabama hurts the state’s ability to recruit companies and threatens to damage Alabama’s budding relationship with Asian manufacturers looking to locate in the U.S.

“(I)f I’m going to recruit companies — especially from the far east — if I’m going to recruit a new Hyundai plant, or any kind (of auto manufacturer)… if they know that if they come here they’re non-unionized and then ten years later their plant unionizes, they don’t like that, especially Asian companies do not like that,” he said. “They will not come to a non-right-to-work state. It does upset them… It does hurt in the recruitment of companies to come to Alabama and it does hurt me in creating jobs when a plant is non-unionized and suddenly it becomes a unionized plant.”

The Wilcox County plant employs approximately 150 people with salaries up to the low $40,000s in an area where the median household income is just over $24,000 per year. The plant is expected to grow to as many as 500 employees at full capacity, but it is unclear how the potential unionization of the plant could impact the growth trajectory going forward.

With the UAW and other unions now viewing Alabama as their next primary target in the South, economic developers are battening down the hatches for a fight over the future of the Yellowhammer State’s economy.

3 years ago

Alabama Mercedes-Benz plant unveils more details of its SUV production expansion

By Alabama NewsCenter Staff

More details emerge on the expansion of the Mercedes-Benz plant Tuscaloosa. 300 new jobs will be created as production increases.

“In the next years we invest $1.3 billion into the expansion of our SUV production and turn the Mercedes-Benz plant Tuscaloosa into a high-tech location,” says Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management.

“In this way we can produce the next SUV generations even more flexibly, efficiently and in proven top quality.”

The Mercedes-Benz plant Tuscaloosa will also assemble the next SUV generations including the hybrid versions. The plant expansion in this context includes a new Body Shop, major enhancements to the SUV Assembly Shop as well as upgraded logistics and IT systems. State-of-the-art technologies and an end-to-end digitization of production processes enable a highly flexible production.

As part of the global production network, Tuscaloosa is connected to all Mercedes-Benz Cars locations around the world, allowing a location-independent access to data and process management. Every single installation and every robot, for example, can be controlled and updated to new software programmes. Big Data applications will be used for intelligent analyses and for an improvement of the production processes.

“With this expansion and modernization of our plant, we will create 300 new jobs and continue the success story of Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa,” said Jason Hoff, President and CEO of MBUSI. “Our entire team is proud to reinforce the State of Alabama’s growing reputation as a leader in high-quality automotive manufacturing.”

The new 1.3-million square foot (125,000 square meters) Body Shop will use the latest lightweight technologies with innovative joining processes and employ a modular approach to manufacturing.

MBUSI’s current SUV Assembly Shop will be expanded by 139,930 square feet (13,000 square meters) and receive a larger, more flexible “marriage” station, where the body is merged with the powertrain, allowing for production of a wider range of vehicles.

The plant will also upgrade its Logistics IT system to create a seamless integration of the supply base into the Mercedes-Benz plant operations. The official announcement was made earlier this week.


3 years ago

Nick Saban’s new collaboration with Mercedes-Benz will take you to the next Bama game in luxury

Nick Saban Signature series collaboration between Saban, McSweeney Designs, and Mercedes-Benz (photo c/o McSweeney Designs)

(Video Above: McSweeney Designs promotes the new Nick Saban Signature Series Sprinter Van)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Alabama Crimson Tide has a new accessory this year. It’s not new cleats or helmet designs, but rather a $200,000 Mercedes-Benz luxury van.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has helped design and launch a limited edition vehicle that will have the Tide fans drooling. Saban worked in collaboration with the Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham dealership (of which he is a co-owner) as well as specialty manufacturer McSweeney Designs to create the Nick Saban Signature Series Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

McSweeney Designs recently joined forces with Mercedes-Benz of Birmingham, and the two companies decided the perfect way to announce their new relationship was through the launch of the Nick Saban Signature Series Sprinter.

“We wanted it to be something that was truly exclusive,” said Nicholas Saban, the coach’s son who works as the AMG specialist at the Birmingham Mercedes dealership.

And exclusive it is. The Sprinter is a limited edition series, with only 15 being produced this year. The vehicle is also unique in its strategic design for the purpose of entertainment, especially for events like football tailgating. The van’s features include TVs, high tech audio and video systems, hardwood flooring, a cooler and massage chairs, a mobile DirecTV satellite system and LED lighting, just to name a few amenities. Not to mention, Saban’s signature is stitched into the headrests.

Nick Saban Signature series collaboration between Saban, McSweeney Designs, and Mercedes-Benz (photo c/o McSweeney Designs)
Nick Saban Signature series collaboration between Saban, McSweeney Designs, and Mercedes-Benz (photo c/o McSweeney Designs)

Saban didn’t design the vehicle, but according to his son, Nicholas, Saban played an active role in the design process. Nicholas Saban said that his dad “reviewed color palettes, materials and features of the new Sprinter” to ensure that the limited edition van was a vehicle of excellence.

“There’s a standard that we want to do things to,” said Coach Saban. “After looking at what they produced, I’m extremely pleased and proud and happy.”

3 years ago

Maker of James Bond’s ultra luxury sports cars eyes Alabama for major expansion

James Bond star Daniel Craig exits an Aston Martin DB10
James Bond star Daniel Craig exits an Aston Martin DB10
James Bond star Daniel Craig exits an Aston Martin DB10

WARWICKSHIRE, England — British luxury sports car brand Aston Martin is considering building a new factory in Alabama that would likely manufacture the company’s DBX crossover utility vehicle (CUV), which was released as a concept in March of this year.

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said late last week that building such a facility in Alabama would make sense for two primary reasons.

Number one, locating a factory near the current Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama would provide unique convenience and cost-savings opportunities for Aston Martin’s operation.

Over the last several years, Aston Martin has established and extended its partnership with Daimler AG, the parent company and manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz. Daimler now holds a five percent stake in Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. and supplies the British carmaker with electronic parts and adapts Mercedes-Benz AMG engines to fit Aston Martin vehicles. According to Bloomberg Business, Daimler and Aston Martin have also had lengthy discussions about “using Mercedes technology to develop a sports-utility vehicle that Aston Martin would start selling by 2017.”

Secondly, locating in Alabama would provide Aston Martin with access to the state’s already established automotive supply chain, which would be necessary to crank out the various components of the new cars.

“It is not decided yet, but clearly with our arrangement with Daimler it would make sense to look closely at the possible synergies of working close to them in Alabama,” said Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer.

Palmer added that while locating in Alabama would make a lot of sense, they are being pursued by “many states in the US and countries around the world, including the UK.”

As with any major development project, including the ones Alabama has recently won, like Airbus, Remington and Polaris, the competition will be fierce.

A source with knowledge of Alabama’s economic development efforts told Yellowhammer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press that the state had been working on a deal to attract Aston Martin, but said it was too early to speculate whether it would be successful.

“The state just really has a lot going for it right now when it comes to the automotive industry,” the source said. “A handful of states can compete with Alabama’s pro-business tax and regulatory climate, but I’m not sure anyone can compete with our existing auto infrastructure. It’s important to remember that when a Mercedes or Honda or Hyundai come in, their suppliers come with them. Already having that in place, especially considering the Aston Martin-Mercedes relationship, gives Alabama a huge head start on the competition.”

Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield declined to comment on whether or not the state had entered into any type of discussions or proposed any incentives to bring Aston Martin to the Yellowhammer State.

“The Commerce Department does not comment with regard to either active or rumored project activity,” he said.

Aston Martin was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford and rose to international pop culture acclaim when Sean Connery’s James Bond first drove an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1964 hit Goldfinger. Aston Martin cars currently retail for between $120,000 and $200,000.

3 years ago

Nick Saban is a stunt driver in his spare time in new Mercedes ad

YH Saban Mercedes

Alabama football head coach Nick Saban has a powerful position in the state. His word of support for a product can sway whether it is successful among his fan base.

Saban is a partner in a new Mercedez-Benz dealership in Birmingham, so, naturally he would be the spokesman in the state.

He’s featured in a new ad that sees a red Mercedes SLS doing complete Men in Black tunnel spins and driving somewhere that appears to be a forest in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe Nick was recruiting someone up there.

The car stops and Saban takes off his helmet — without a hair out of place — and says, “Success is the result of great planning, preparation and execution.”

We assume he also has a “tremendous amount of respect for Mercedes.”

Here’s the new commercial.

[H/T Fox Sports]

3 years ago

Alabama-made Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé to battle ‘Jurassic World’ dinosaurs

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Sport on the set of Jurassic World (Photo: Mercedes)
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Sport on the set of Jurassic World  (Photo: Mercedes)
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Sport on the set of Jurassic World (Photo: Mercedes)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Mercedes-Benz’s newest Alabama-made vehicle, the GLE Coupé, will race through the jungles of “Jurassic World,” the highly anticipated next installment of the blockbuster dinosaur movie series that previously featured the automaker’s first Alabama-made automobile.

The GLE Coupé, which will enter mass production at the company’s Tuscaloosa County plant this year, is among several Mercedes vehicles appearing in “Jurassic World,” a Universal Pictures film that debuts June 12. Mercedes has promoted its connection to the movie on its social media channels and displayed action clips of the GLE Coupé in the film during January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“We are delighted to have been able to support this epic action-adventure with our vehicles,” said Dr. Jens Thiemer, head of marketing communications for Mercedes-Benz Cars. “Our wide range of SUVs in particular fit perfectly with ‘Jurassic World’s’ requirements, with the focus on our new trendsetter, the GLE Coupé.”

The GLE 450 AMG Coupé that appears in the movie is actually a hand-made prototype that was shielded from spy photographers by intensive security measures during shooting in locations such as NASA property in New Orleans and the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kaua’i. Filming took place around 18 months before the vehicle’s scheduled market launch in mid-2015.

One of the publicity shots for “Jurassic World” shows actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard standing near a GLE Coupé in a jungle setting. Another shows director Colin Trevorrow and producer Frank Marshall with the vehicle.


“Jurassic World” renews a partnership between Universal and Mercedes that dates back to 1997, when audiences got their first glimpse of the automaker’s groundbreaking M-Class sport utility vehicle in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” The version of the M-Class prototype that appeared in the movie bristled with protective gear against the dinosaur threat.

Introduced later that year, the M-Class was a hit with buyers and made waves in the industry, winning numerous awards, including Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year.” The SUV has been in production at the company’s sprawling Alabama manufacturing complex ever since and has been shipped around the world.

“Unveiling the new GLE Coupé in ‘Jurassic World’ was a natural fit as we continue our relationship with Mercedes,” Marshall, the film’s producer, said. “Audiences will find that at the vehicles featured in the film lend themselves perfectly as the transportation of choice in the fully functional international theme park we have created at Jurassic World.”


Back in 1993, Mercedes picked Alabama over three dozen other states for the site of its first U.S. assembly plant, creating the foundation for the state’s growing auto industry and transforming its economy.

The automaker launched production of the M-Class in Alabama four years later, with an annual output of around 65,000 vehicles. The automaker has now invested more than $4 billion in the 3.7 million-square-foot Tuscaloosa County manufacturing facility, where M-Class, GL-Class, C-Class and R-Class vehicles have been produced.

Late last year, Mercedes announced that it was expanding the Alabama plant’s production capacity to 300,000 vehicles a year from the 185,000 assembled in 2013. Output last year was 232,000 vehicles, a record for the facility.

The automaker is in the midst of expanding its Alabama workforce by 200 full-time team members from the current 3,500 to accommodate the launches of C-Class and GLE Coupé production and expanding volume.

(Videos below: footage of the GLE Coupé in the upcoming Jurassic World movie, followed by the film’s official trailer)