What company’s creating 100 new jobs in Huntsville? Who’s been named the top municipal advisory firm in the state? What could be bringing more jobs to the the Gulf Coast?
Answers to the these questions and more in today’s Alabama business roundup.
Alabama NewsCenter: Birmingham experiencing urban renewal
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” More than 50 years after King was wrongfully imprisoned for his part in boycotts and “unlawful gatherings,” integration in Birmingham has finally been achieved through urban renewal — integration of races, religions, cultures and environments. Things are not perfect, but progress is being made, and a cultural renaissance is developing in downtown Birmingham.
The Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Museum of Art partnered in January to host “American Rhapsody: A Festival of American Music and Art.” One well-attended event focused on Jewish-American composers, specifically Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Richard Danielpour. A standing ovation was given after the symphony and ASO chorus performed Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” in Hebrew.
Near the Alys Stephens Center, where the Alabama Symphony Orchestra performs, the well-regarded Alabama Ballet is headquartered. The Alabama Ballet draws principal dancers from nations including Russia, China and Japan. It is one of only eight companies in the world licensed by The Balanchine Trust to perform George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker®”. This February, notable company dancers including John Mingle IV will perform “Giselle,” a French romantic ballet.
Before they attend the ballet, people often walk through Railroad Park, a marvel of adaptive re-use. The park includes 19 acres of green space and a biofiltration wetlands area. A rail trail runs the length of the park and is used for activities including biking and jogging. Recycled materials including hand-cast brick and cobblestone are incorporated into walls and benches. A Railroad Park dining car remains as a nod to Birmingham’s past as an iron and steel producing center. Native plants are used in landscaping to preserve water.
Regional vegetables are celebrated in the farm-to-table cuisine of Alabama native Frank Stitt, the chef and owner of three award-winning restaurants south of downtown. Stitt was named “Best Chef in the Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation and was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance.
The visual arts in Birmingham are vibrant as well. Notable artist William McLure has modern paintings displayed in galleries across the South and in magazines including Southern Living, which is based in Birmingham. Though McLure travels to Manhattan and other cities for commissions, the artist is proud to call Birmingham home. Regional magazines often photograph McLure’s paintings alongside antiques, in a nod to traditional Southern interior design.
In downtown Birmingham’s renaissance, symbols of the past are often adapted rather than destroyed. Unlike Atlanta, where developers usually tear down historic buildings in favor of glass and steel high-rises or McMansions, Birmingham is a place where soot-covered brick is preserved on both boutiques and nightclubs. The renowned Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is a transitionally-styled brick structure with antique-inspired iron streetlights in front. BCRI placed a statue of civil rights leader the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth near the museum’s entrance. The Alabama-born Shuttlesworth was once persecuted on the streets of Birmingham by the forces of the public safety commissioner at the time, Eugene “Bull” Connor.
Now Shuttlesworth stands firm to welcome all, a symbol of what Birmingham has become.
The Mobile area might have seen its share of positive economic developments in the last year, but there’s at least one persistent sore spot: a lack of growth in construction jobs.
Brian Turmail, national spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, visited the Mobile waterfront on Wednesday to highlight the issue, joined by representatives of the Mobile business community. The choice of location was no accident: The AGCA sees a potential wave of government infrastructure spending as the cure for lingering construction-industry blues, and in Mobile that spending would include funding for the proposed I-10 bridge over the Mobile River.
Part of the reason for Turmail’s visit was to announce the AGCA’s interest in seeing the administration’s pro-infrastructure stance translate into action.“The construction firms that are the members of the Associated General Contractors of America, our association, are going to do everything in our power to make sure that President Trump delivers on his promise to make massive new investments in our public infrastructure,” Turmail said. “And that Congress acts on and approves any plan that the president puts forward.”
Turmail said Alabama generally, and Mobile specifically, are somewhat out of step with national industry trends. Overall, he said, the industry has been rebounding from the great recession that ended a few years ago – but the recovery has been “at least from a construction point of view, inconsistent, a little erratic, and obviously not as fast as all of us would like it to be.”
He said Alabama lost jobs through 2014, added jobs in 2015, but slid back in 2016. The state lost 6,100 construction jobs in 2016 and the Mobile area lost about 1,100, or 10 percent of its total jobs in the field, he said. “Today, construction employment is shrinking faster in this area than in just about any other metro area in the country,” he said.
Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Turmail’s figures represent a pattern already noticed by the Chamber. In the Chamber’s most recent State of the Economy presentation, he said, some sectors showed significant growth, notably shipbuilding and manufacturing. But a rebound for construction jobs had lagged.
Rob Middleton, president of Middleton Construction, said that the business is cyclical, and that the completion of the Airbus Final Assembly Line in 2015 accounted for some of the jobs lost in 2016. But he also cited some major projects that will provide jobs over the next few years: The new federal courthouse being built in Mobile, the OWA amusement park being built near Foley, and the Walmart distribution center to be built west of Mobile.
Each of those likely will employ 1,500 over the course of its progress, he said. The proposed bridge would be in a whole different league, Middleton said: “That project alone could generate over 10,000 construction-related jobs.”
Turmail said that as the Trump administration takes shape, much is uncertain. “There’s a lot we don’t’ know about what’s going on in Washington right now, to be frank,” he said.
But the president does seem interested in speeding up the review process for major projects such as the bridge, he said. And in the AGCA’s view, a wave of federal spending on such big-ticket items would have “immediate and widespread” benefits to the economy, not just construction.
The timetable for the bridge remains fluid. James Shumock, CEO of Thompson Engineering, said the project is currently undergoing review. Once it gets a green light, funding will have to be allocated for it.
Shumock said his most optimistic projection of when groundbreaking for the bridge might occur was a year and a half to two years.
Montgomery Advertiser: Local municipal advisory firm named best in state
Thomson Reuters has named a Montgomery-based company as Alabama’s top municipal adviser for the third consecutive year.
Rice Advisory LLC landed the honor after it completed work on 39 municipal bond issues totaling $1.745 billion in par amount in 2016. That ranked No. 38 among 649 firms nationwide, according to Thomson Reuters.
Rice Advisory offers transaction management, structuring, rating, compliance, disclosure and other advisory services to state and local governments.
The firm is owned by Rushton Rice and Chris Williams, both of Montgomery. It was formed in 2010 and has worked on 91 projects totaling more than $3.7 billion.
They call it the Rocket City for a reason. On Monday, production company Aerojet Rocketdyne announced its plan to build a new rocket engine in Huntsville, which will create 100 new jobs.
The new engine, the ARI, will serve as a replacement to the Russian-made RD-180. A liquid rocket motor, the ARI is slated to be ready by 2019.
Not only will the project boost the local economy, but it will serve as the latest connection between the Yellowhammer State and the new Trump Administration.
“Our world-class workforce is very excited to rapidly bring the AR1 engine into production – it will support the Trump administration’s efforts to make our military strong again,” Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake told Al.com. “The AR1 rocket engine is crucial to ensuring America’s assured access to space and making U.S. launch vehicles competitive across the globe.”
Drake noted that Huntsville is the perfect location for the production of the ARI. “Given the top-tier talent at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center, the exceptional level of rocket engine expertise at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and at our teammate, Dynetics, and in the local community, Huntsville is the logical choice to locate the new production work on the AR1 engine,” she said.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle was ecstatic about Aerojet Rocketdyne’s project and told Yellowhammer that it is merely the latest chapter in the city’s long history of aerospace innovation. “With our rich history in the space program, Marshall Space Flight Center’s role as NASA’s propulsion hub, our smart workforce and active industry base in the R&D sector, Huntsville is ideally suited to manufacture this advanced rocket engine,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We look forward to seeing production begin in the Rocket City.”