Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state

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Here’s a roundup of some of the weekend’s top business headlines from across the state:

Alabama Newscenter: Business Facilities: Alabama ranks high for auto manufacturing, workforce development

Alabama got high marks for “Automotive Manufacturing Strength” and AIDT, Alabama’s workforce development agency, ranked high among “Workforce Training Leaders” in Business Facilities magazine’s annual rankings report, released last week.

Record output at Alabama’s three auto assembly plants underlined the state’s No. 2 ranking in the magazine’s “Auto Manufacturing Strength” category. Alabama and Tennessee swapped positions in the rankings from the previous year.

“Alabama, this year’s No. 2, is throwing down a marker for a heavyweight rematch: the Crimson Tide rolled out nearly a million vehicles in 2014 for Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai, with Mercedes expanding at Tuscaloosa to introduce a new model,” Business Facilities noted in its ranking report.

Alabama’s “world-class on-site training for advanced manufacturing,” is cited for a No. 2 ranking among “Workforce Training Leaders.” AIDT, which has trained 600,000 Alabamians since its founding in 1971, is a division of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re proud of the efforts that these rankings represent,” Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said. “But there is still much work to be done. With a new workforce incentive structure and a streamlining of resources, we’re poised for even greater things in Alabama.”

Under Governor Robert Bentley’s leadership, Commerce is expanding its responsibilities in workforce development with key programs being consolidated within the department. AIDT remains the centerpiece of Alabama’s workforce development efforts.

“It’s always nice when rankings come out and people outside of the state recognize the job you’re doing as an organization,” said Deputy Commerce Secretary for Workforce Development and AIDT Director Ed Castile said. “But it really says more about the people of Alabama who go through training and get those advanced skill jobs and make the products that people want. They truly are the best assets we have.”

Alabama also ranked No. 6 among the states in the “Education: Tech Skill Leaders” category and No. 9 for “Lowest Industrial Electricity Rates.”

Business Facilities has been ranking states annually for 11 years.

Alabama Newscenter: Alabama shucks! Oyster means world for Gulf Coast farmers 

Alabama’s oyster reefs have historically harvested an average of one million pounds of oysters per year and have made it one of the top oyster producing states in the nation for more than a century.

But changes to water temperature, environmental impacts, parasites and other issues have made the reefs unpredictable and, at times, unproductive.

Oyster farming – with the help of the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory – has emerged as a more controlled way of continuing Alabama’s oyster producing traditions. This video story put together by Joe York for the Southern Foodways Alliance based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture talks about how oysters have a strong future through farming in the state.

“In 2009, not a single oyster farm operated on the Alabama coast. By 2015, there were eight oyster farming companies, all determined to prove that the world’s best oysters come from this Southern state. Lane Zirlott, of Murder Point Oyster Company, calls it an oyster revolution – one that focuses on presentation as much as taste, and enables hard-working families to make a consistent living on the Alabama waters,” York wrote in the introduction to the video.

Officials want to see farming grow alongside increases in reef harvesting to boost oyster production in Alabama to new heights.

Birmingham Business Journal: Blue Bell resumes ice cream production at Sylacauga plant

Blue Bell Creameries on Wednesday confirmed that production has officially resumed at its Sylacauga facility as the company looks to move forward following a listeria scare that halted work across its footprint.

The ice cream products are currently being added to the company’s inventory, but no date has been given as to when products will return to store shelves, according to a report from Fox 6.

The company began trial runs at its Sylacauga plant in July, and over the last month, have continued until production was ready to return to a normal pace.

Blue Bell in April recalled all of its products after at least 10 people were diagnosed with listeria. Three of those infected died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The company closed its four locations in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas for cleaning, in addition to saying the Blue Bell staff at all facilities would undergo training to emphasize aggressive cleaning methods.

Blue Bell in May laid off more than a third of its workforce following the closing of the plants and furloughed an additional 1,400 workers.

Birmingham Business JournalAlabama among worst states for student loan debt

A new report claims more than 11 percent of all student debt is currently in default – and Alabama is faring much worse than other states.

That’s according to a new report by WalletHub, which ranked Alabama 44th overall on the list of the best states for student loan debt. The study took several factors into account, including average debt, student loan debt as a percentage of income, unemployment rate and percentage of student loans in default.

The state scored the worst in unemployment for adults aged 25-34, coming in at 50th. Alabama ranked 44th for the percent of student loans in default and 39th for average student debt.

WalletHub’s report said the best states were Utah (No. 1), Wyoming (No. 2) and North Dakota (No. 3).

Yellowhammer News: High-tech European space company to launch manufacturing operation in Alabama

Switzerland-based RUAG announced Friday that it will launch an Alabama manufacturing operation after forming a strategic partnership with United Launch Alliance, which produces rockets at a factory in Decatur.

RUAG, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of products for the space industry, said the new Alabama operation will produce carbon-fiber components for ULA’s Atlas V rocket and for the planned Vulcan rocket. RUAG has previously produced Atlas V components at factories in Zurich and Emmen but will move that work to Decatur.

The project will create at least 100 jobs at ULA’s Decatur facility, the sole production source for the Atlas V and Delta VI launch vehicles that blast critical national security, communications, GPS and research satellites into orbit.

“ULA and RUAG have been working together successfully in the Atlas program for more than a decade,” Peter Guggenbach, CEO of RUAG Space, said. “Now we can build on this collaboration with the new Vulcan launcher and our new production site in the U.S.”

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said the new strategic partnership with RUAG “will transform the future of space launch by making space more affordable and accessible.”

Bruno added: “Both ULA and RUAG appreciate the ongoing collaboration with Alabama local and state officials. This community supports a healthy environment for both businesses to grow and continue to contribute to the local Alabama economy.”


Alabama officials said talks with RUAG and ULA have gone on for more than a year.

Governor Robert Bentley and Alabama Department of Commerce officials initially met with the Swiss executive team of RUAG Space at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow. The governor and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield also met with ULA officials at Farnborough in 2014 and again in Paris this year to facilitate this collaboration.

“RUAG is an important player in the global aerospace industry, and I am honored this world-class company has decided to locate their operation in Alabama, which has a rich history of rocket design and production,” Governor Bentley said. “The jobs that RUAG is creating through this partnership with the United Launch Alliance are exactly the kind of high-paying, technical jobs that our Alabama economic development team works hard to secure.

“RUAG simply could not have found a better location for its new operation than right here in Sweet Home Alabama,” he added.

Commerce Secretary Canfield said the Swiss company is a great addition to Alabama’s already robust aerospace sector, which includes companies such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, as well as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“RUAG’s decision to produce sophisticated, composite rocket components at ULA’s Decatur facility speaks to the deep capabilities that Alabama possesses at the highest levels of aerospace,” he said. “We look forward to forging a strong partnership with RUAG and working to help the company grow its Alabama base.”


For the Alabama-made Atlas V-500, RUAG Space produces 5.4-meter payload fairings, which are mounted at the tip of the launch vehicle to protect satellites during ascent and to make the shape of the rocket more aerodynamic. RUAG supplies the smaller Atlas V-400 with an interstage adapter, a composite structure that connects the main stage and upper stage of the rocket.

RUAG is also active in the Ariane and Vega rocket programs in Europe. According to its web site, the company makes other products such as satellite structures and mechanisms, computers for satellites and launchers, navigation receivers, thermal systems, mechanical ground support equipment and more.

RUAG has sites in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden and the U.S.

“We are pleased to welcome RUAG to Decatur and Morgan County, and we appreciate the strategic partnership with ULA that made this project possible,” said Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.


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