Alabama business roundup: headlines from across the state

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Here’s a roundup of some of the top business headlines from across the state you may have missed this weekend: Auburn University’s FAA-approved flight school for drones to launch in July

Auburn University’s FAA-authorized Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School is expected to be ready for lift-off next month, according to Alabama Newscenter.

Bill Hutto, director of the Auburn University Aviation Center, said the flight school for drones will begin offering classes to the public in July, according to the report. In April, the university announced the FAA’s approval of the project, which Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey called a “major win for the state.”

The flight school will offer flight training outdoors as well as classroom instruction on safety and other topics. In addition, the training center will administer the written exam and flying test required by the FAA.

In the future, Hutto said the university will offer courses more specialized in specfic fields, such as agriculture, law enforcement and other careers that may benefit from drone use.

“This is an honor for Auburn University,” said Bill Hutto, director of the Auburn University Aviation Center. “We will conduct commercial flight training for operators of unmanned aircraft systems outdoors and untethered. We will have the ability to offer training courses at different locations here and around the state for Auburn students, faculty, members of other public agencies and the general public.”

Alabama Newscenter: Coastal Alabama Business Chamber a global finalist

The Coastal Alabama Business Chamber in Gulf Shores is one of three finalists for Chamber of the Year in the worldwide Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Thirty-three members were invited to apply for the prestigious honor based on metrics including finances, membership retention, objectives, staff size, population size and other key benchmarks. The other two cities that qualified are Lake Houston, Texas, and Vail, Colo.

“We are beyond honored to be selected.” Ed Rodriguez, executive director of the CABC, said, “It shows that people are taking notice of our incredible members and their dedicated service to this community.”

Rodriguez has served as the executive director of the chamber for four years. He is a fourth generation Floridian, and has always lived and worked in a coastal area, so when this job opened, it was a natural move.

“There are so many similarities between my home at Amelia Island and here at Gulf Shores. Both are islands based on tourism economy, both have historic forts, and both have huge shrimp festivals! I love being here.”

Rodriguez, 53, has led the small staff of six to one of the top honors in the profession. What is his secret?

“We have a large volunteer base that serves our membership, literally hundreds of volunteers. I have never seen a similar group of people so dedicated to service and selfless giving,” he said. “They operate with the motto: ‘It is not about us. It is about our community.’ We had 500 volunteers during the Shrimp Festival and countless others for the Reef Foundation, Entrepreneur Academy, Education Foundation, Coastal Christmas Initiative, Merry Market Festival, and many other programs. We are literally changing lives and improving our economy right here on the Alabama Gulf Coast.”

When asked what makes the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber different, Rodriguez smiles.

“We have another motto we live by: ‘We are not your grandpa’s chamber!’ We have members with massive amounts of energy fueling our programs and activities,” he said. “They sacrifice so much, and every minute they give is a minute away from their business. Our chamber is a battleship full of people working together to make it all happen.”

The ACCE Conference will be held in Montréal, Canada August 11-14. The top three finalists will be interviewed and asked to show more data and metrics, and then a winner will be named.

Alabama Newscenter: It’s official: Hyundai signs four-year sponsorship deal with NFL

Hyundai Motor Co. signed a four-year deal with the National Football League to become an official sponsor of the most-watched sports league in the U.S.

The Seoul-based company will be able to use NFL trademarks and have access to major events, according to a joint statement from the NFL and Hyundai. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The deal comes amid the Hyundai’s efforts to cut costs and reduce production as sales and profit declined after a stronger won and weaker yen undermined the company’s ability to compete against Japanese rivals. The carmaker is counting on the new NFL deal to boost market exposure in the U.S., which will ultimately lead to an increase in sales.
As part of the new sponsorship, Hyundai will have use of NFL trademarks across various marketing channels, including branded content, advertising and promotional materials. The NFL has become a year-round sport and Hyundai will have access to some of the biggest events on the calendar, such as the Super Bowl, NFL Combine, NFL Draft, NFL Kickoff and NFL Playoffs. Hyundai will also provide promotional vehicles at the Super Bowl and other events throughout the year.“We are huge football fans at Hyundai and feel there is no better venue to reach consumers, increase consideration and tell the Hyundai brand story,” Dave Zuchowski, chief executive officer at Hyundai Motor America, said in the statement. “We can’t wait to show the NFL’s 188 million fans the great design, advanced technologies, dynamic performance and numerous safety features within theHyundai lineup.”

“We are pleased to welcome Hyundai to our family of sponsors,” Renie Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of sponsorship, said in a release. “We appreciate Hyundai’s enthusiasm as we work together to reach our fans with innovative programs during our season and with our major calendar events throughout the year.”

Hyundai will launch its activation with a major presence during NFL kickoff activities on Sept. 10.

Hyundai’s sales in the U.S. rose 2.2 percent to 303,648 units in the first five months of this year, trailing the industry’s average growth of 4.5 percent, according to the company’s website data. Hyundai’s U.S. market share slipped to 4.3 percent this year through May from 4.4 percent a year earlier, the data showed.

Hyundai operates Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, a $1.7 billion auto plant in Montgomery that produces the Sonata and Elantra sedans and employs approximately 3,000 workers. The plant is able to produce 399,500 vehicles annually. A boost in sales from sponsorships like with the NFL could benefit production at both the plant and HMMA’s 78 supplier plants.

Hyundai’s affiliate, Kia Motors Corp., has an agreement with the National Basketball Association.

Hyundai has a sponsorship with scandal-plagued FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, and is active with on-campus marketing through its partnerships with IMG’s college division.

The carmaker replaces General Motors Co. which ended its association with NFL this past season after holding rights since 2001. GM, which featured its GMC brand through its NFL association, was paying more than $25 million annually, excluding advertising time buys, according to one person with knowledge of the matter.

Birmingham Business Journal: Huntsville OKs ordinance that could open the door for Uber and Lyft

Huntsville could be one step closer to allowing ride-sharing services.

The Huntsville City Council on Thursday passed an updated vehicle-for-hire ordinance that could allow companies like Uber and Lyft to finally operate in the city, according to a report from

The ordinance was proposed by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and will allow the creation of a specific class of “transportation network companies,” the report said.

Tommy Brown, director of the Parking and Public Transit Department, said other companies like Sidecar had expressed interest in bringing services to the city.

Ride-sharing companies will also have to purchase an annual license – with a single $5,000 price tag – as opposed to licenses for individual drivers.

Another component of the ordinance allows the companies to perform their own background checks under the stipulation that they provide documentation to the police.

Insurance requirements will also be updated under the ordinance to fit the ride-sharing companies insurance policies, with the more expensive coverage only applying while the driver has an active fair.

Birmingham Business Journal: Coal War: Alabama mining sector rocked by shifting market

Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part online series investigating the state of Alabama’s coal industry and its future.

Coal mining – while not inherently Southern – occupies a critical place in the economy of Alabama, located in the Central Appalachia mining region.

Metallurgical coal, or met coal as it is often referred, is the primary coal mined in Alabama. It’s ultimately sold to steel or coke producers to be used in the integrated steelmaking process.

But, as demand has dropped for American steel in favor of cheaper steel from South Korea and China – who have no domestic market for their steel – met coal firms in Alabama have taken a major hit, along with the state’s steelmakers.

Sales prices for the Alabama mining region are at their lowest since the recession, hitting a new low in June at $52.75 per short ton. That is down from approximately $88 a ton for surface and underground coal in 2013.
Alabama’s coal export numbers have also dropped substantially, according to data from the Alabama Department of Commerce. Alabama coal exports dropped by 21.37 percent from 2014 to 2015, following a steady trend of decline since 2012.