Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state – 10/26/15 edition

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What Alabama company has been named the top great place to work in the nation? Does Uber finally have the greenlight in Birmingham? Who’s working with Lockheed Martin on a $784 million contract?

Answers to those questions and more in today’s Alabama business roundup:

Birmingham Business Journal: Uber in Birmingham: City unveils new ordinance, but roadblocks still remain

A new transportation ordinance from the Birmingham City Council’s Transportation and Communication Committee suggests some roadblocks still remain before the ridesharing service will come to Birmingham – namely a question about which committee of the Birmingham City Council will have the final say in the matter.

As we reported last week, the transportation committee has unveiled a new transportation ordinance for the city. But Uber is expecting the Committee of the Whole to create a new ordinance focused specifically on ridesharing.

The transportation committee’s new ordinance includes regulations for transportation network companies like Uber, Lyft and others, but also for limousines, traditional taxis and others. The city has opened up a 120-day period for public comment on the new ordinance to allow the companies themselves, as well as the public, to weigh in.

Kim Rafferty, chair of the transportation committee, said Uber has reached out to her office in recent months, but has not been willing to work with the legal department on the new transportation ordinance. Eventually, the department just decided to release it for comment.

Instead, she said Uber has focused its efforts on a law specifically written for the company, which Rafferty said was unethical.

She said she has shared the draft ordinance with Gotcha Ride – a transportation network company she said was scheduled to begin operating in Birmingham this fall. She said Lyft has also said they would like to weigh in on the proposed ordinance.

“The code was ready to move forward in July, but Uber appealed to councilors for their one law,” she said. “The law department asked we go ahead and throw the draft out there for the industry to comment on. And that’s where we are.”

The new ordinance would require ridesharing companies to follow several of the same regulations as traditional taxis. In the past, issues such as insurance and licensing have been sticking points between the city and Uber. Several cities around the nation have had similar concerns about Uber and Lyft, but most of the nation’s largest cities have ultimately reached a compromise.

Uber, for its part, declined to comment on the new ordinance and what it would mean for the company at this time, but did offer this comment:

“On several occasions, we’ve provided comments to the current code and examples of ordinances passed in other jurisdictions,” Uber said in a statement to the BBJ.

The company said it is expecting City Council President Johnathan Austin to have a new ordinance specifically focused on ridesharing, rather than the entire transportation code, to be voted on by the full Birmingham City Council within 30 days. The issue is expected to be taken up at the Committee of the Whole meeting next week.

At an August meeting of the Committee of the Whole, several city leaders – including Austin – expressed a desire to bring Uber to Birmingham, which is one of the largest cities without Uber in the U.S.

Uber has been trying to set up shop in Birmingham for more than a year, but the company and the Birmingham City Council have yet to reach a compromise.

The company has said previous ordinances weren’t conducive to its preferred business model.

Alabama Newscenter: A new USS Mobile? Mayor hopes to get Port City’s name on Austal-made ship 

For more than three centuries, Mobile’s deep-water port has buoyed coastal and statewide trade, giving rise to a thriving shipbuilding industry and a rich maritime culture permeating practically every facet of the Port City’s identity.

In tribute to the city’s global maritime contributions and its shipbuilding workforce, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has petitioned Ray Mabus, secretary of the U.S. Navy, to consider naming a future littoral combat ship for Mobile. “As you know, Austal and those Mobilians that work here are producing incredible warships that not only meet the needs of your Navy today, but warships that can adapt to meet the evolving needs of the future,” Stimpson wrote to Mabus in an Oct. 12 letter requesting formally the city and its inhabitants be honored with the first naval ship bearing its name in more than 20 years.

Mobile is home to Austal USA, the U.S. headquarters for the Australia-based aluminum shipbuilder, which has evolved in less than 15 years from a modest yacht and ferry builder to a premier defense contractor and key architect of the U.S. Navy’s 21st-century fleet.

“Mobile workers are playing a key role in helping to build the world’s greatest navy, and we have a proud history of supporting our military. It seems only fitting that a USS Mobile be named to carry that tradition around the world as a symbol of our work ethic, craftsmanship and patriotism,” Stimpson told Alabama NewsCenter Friday.

Austal’s sprawling Mobile shipyard employs more than 4,000 people – making it the city’s largest private employer – and focuses on construction of both the Independence-class LCS and the smaller joint high-speed vessels. The former are 416-foot trimarans deployed to destroy mines, hunt submarines, intercept illegal drugs and offer humanitarian relief across the globe. The latter are 338-foot-long catamarans designed to be fast and flexible carriers of troops and equipment.

“You have seen firsthand the quality of workmanship that goes into each LCS and JHSV built here,” Stimpson wrote in his request to Mabus, adding, “Mr. Secretary, I think it is right to say that a little piece of Mobile goes into each of the Independence-class LCS ships made here in Mobile.”

A favorable decision, Stimpson wrote, would allow for the fifth vessel in naval history to carry the Mobile name.

The most recent USS Mobile, a Charleston-class amphibious cargo shipped known as an “L-ship” or LKA, was decommissioned in 1994, after deployments during both the Vietnam and Gulf wars. Its immediate predecessor CL-63, was a light cruiser awarded 11 Battle Stars for her Pacific Theater efforts during World War II.

Stimpson’s letter goes on to detail Mobile’s accomplishments of late, including the launch of the “Destination Mobile” brand, the start of aircraft production via Airbus’ U.S. Manufacturing Facility and the pending resumption of Carnival Cruise Lines service following a four-year hiatus.

A next-generation USS Mobile, he wrote, would serve as tribute “to those putting their heart and soul into every ship they build.”

AL.com: Alabama company once again named top Great Place to Work in the nation

Intuitive Research and Technology Corp. in Huntsville is once again the top Great Place to Work in a report presented by FORTUNE Magazine.

The 12th-annual Great Place to Work national ranking divides companies into two categories: small (25-250 employees) and medium (251-999). INTUITIVE ranked No. 1 for the second consecutive year for medium-sized businesses.

INTUITIVE, which is headquartered on 5030 Bradford Drive and has 292 employees, has appeared as a top 10 Great Place to Work for six straight years. Companies are chosen after a selection process that involves an employee survey and in-depth questionnaire about benefits programs and business practices.

Each contender is then evaluated on five criteria, including credibility, fairness, pride, respect and camaraderie. INTUITIVE competed against hundreds of other companies across the U.S. in the ranking.

“At INTUITIVE, productivity levels and work environment are equally important,” said INTUITIVE President Harold Brewer. “The success of our company is directly driven by employee performance, which is why our company culture is focused on putting employees first.”

Click here to see the full list.

In July, FORTUNE and Great Place to Work named INTUITIVE the No. 13 best workplace for millennials, or those who are born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. The private industrial services and engineering firm was also named one of the best places to work in the large category by the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.

Alabama Newscenter: Alabama September residential sales up 17 percent over last year

Sales: Alabama residential sales totaling 4,618 units in September reflect an increase of 16.7 percent growth from the same period a year earlier. Sales for the month continue to trend upward for the state, which bottomed out at 2,788 sales in September 2010, but has improved each year since, with the exception of a slight dip in 2012. Sales are 37.4 percent above the September five-year sales average (2010-14) of 3,360 units. Year-to-date sales through September are up 14.1 percent from 2014. Two more resources to review market: Quarterly Report and Annual Report

Forecast: September sales were 17 percent or 689 units above our monthly forecast. Alabama Center for Real Estate’s (ACRE) year-to-date sales forecast through September projected 36,505 closed transactions while the actual sales were 39,085 units, a 7 percent rise.

Supply has remained flat over the past four years but continued on a downward trajectory to 32,491 units listed in September for the state.

Supply: The statewide housing inventory in September was 32,491 units, a decrease of 1.5 percent from September 2014 and 23.4 percent below the September peak in 2007 (42,393 units). There was 7.0 months of housing supply in September (6 months is considered equilibrium), which represents a favorable drop of 15.6 percent from September 2014 (8.3 months). September inventory also decreased from August by 2 percent. This direction is right in line with historical data that indicates September inventory on average (2010-14) decreases from August by 2.7 percent.

Demand: September residential sales increased 0.5 percent from the prior month. This direction contrasts with historical statewide data indicating that September sales on average (2010-14) decrease from August by 10.8 percent. The average Days on Market until a listing sold was 140 days, 5.5 percent faster than last year. Nationally, September sales were 8.8 percent above the same period last year. See more details of how Alabama compares to the broader US market here.

Pricing: The September median sales price increased 6.5 percent from the same period last year. In September, 12 of 25, or 48 percent, of local markets experienced price gains from September 2014. Keep in mind that this indicator can fluctuate from month to month due to sampling size of data and seasonal buying patterns. The September median sales price decreased 3.4 percent from the prior month. This direction contrasts with historical data averages (2010-14) reflecting that the September median sales price increases 1.1 percent from August.

Seeking Balance: The metro markets in Alabama representing 70 percent of all sales continued to trend toward greater seller bargaining power with 6.3 months of supply. Outside the metro markets, Alabama’s mid-sized markets are reporting 7.7 months of supply, while rural areas are reporting 9.7 months of supply. With that said, there have been significant improvements from inventory peaks experienced during the recession. The supply of “quality” inventory in the past has impacted sales, according to some local professionals with boots on the ground.

National Industry Perspective: “Our forecast for the year is largely unchanged despite recent market volatility. Fundamentals are positive, suggesting potential for some improvement in the fourth quarter,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “While core personal consumption expenditures experienced their weakest gain in more than four years in July, real consumer spending rebounded during the month and August auto sales were stronger than they have been in a decade. Consumers may get an added boost during the year from subdued inflation given the stronger dollar and low oil prices. Overall, we anticipate economic growth of 2.4 percent for 2015, up slightly from 2.1 percent in the prior forecast. Consumer and government spending as well as nonresidential and residential investment are expected to contribute to growth while net exports and inventory investment will likely pose headwinds.” For full report click here.

AL.com: 4 Alabama companies to work with Lockheed Martin on $784 million contract

Four Huntsville firms will work with Lockheed Martin on a new nine-year, $784 million contract awarded by the Missile Defense Agency.

Lockheed Martin said it will lead a team responsible for developing, building and testing Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) to support layered ballistic missile defense strategy to protect the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks.

The team includes deciBel Research, IERUS Technologies, PENTA Research, and Davidson Technologies, all of Huntsville. Other corporate partners are AMEC of Alpharetta, Ga., and ASRC Federal of Barrow, Ark.

“The U.S. has a limited number of ground-based interceptors to detect threats, yet the number of potential missile threats – and countermeasures used to hide those threats – is growing,” said Carl Bannar, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Warfare Systems and Sensors business. “Our offering meets the MDA’s vision for LRDR by pairing innovative radar discrimination capability with proven ballistic missile defense algorithms.”

Work on the LRDR system will take place in New Jersey, Alaska, Alabama, Florida and New York. Operational testing should begin by 2020 in Clear Air Force Station, Alaska.

Layoffs

Earlier this month, Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control division said it would cut overhead or indirect costs by eliminating 250 jobs at various locations in the U.S. The reduction in workforce, which includes some involuntary layoffs, should end in late November.

A Lockheed spokesperson said this action is a “normal response to changes in our overall business base.”

“The reductions are being identified now and will occur at most of our U.S. operations to some extent, though we don’t know exact numbers yet,” the company said. “There is no single program that caused the change — it’s just an overall belt tightening. Our programs are performing well and our future outlook remains strong in Missiles and Fire Control.”

The news came after Lockheed announced in September it will eliminate 500 positions from its Information Systems & Global Solutions workforce. Lockheed said in August it will add 100 high-paying jobs in Huntsville as it consolidates its Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) program by mid-2016.

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