Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across state – 9/16/16 edition

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Which Alabama company is on a space mission to Mars? What happened to the lawsuit against Gov. Robert Bentley and the beachfront hotel plans? Who’s been elected to develop economic groups?

Answers to all of these questions and more in today’s business roundup:

Alabama NewsCenter: Alabama-made Atlas V rockets to lift NASA to asteroid, Mars

Alabama-made Atlas V rockets will launch a NASA spacecraft on a dramatic mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and later send Mars 2020, the space agency’s next-generation robotic rover, to the Red Planet.

First up is the lift-off of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, scheduled for Sept. 8 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V, assembled in Decatur, will boost the explorer on its way to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

The spacecraft will travel to the asteroid, survey it to produce 3-D maps and bring back a sample of surface material for study. NASA says the mission – the first involving a round-trip to an asteroid — will help scientists investigate how planets formed and life began.

“This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it,” said Geoff Yoder, a NASA administrator in Washington, D.C.

The spacecraft should reach Bennu in 2018 and return the sample via a detachable capsule in 2023.

This week, the OSIRIS-REx was bolted onto the Alabama-made Atlas V on Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral in preparation for lift-off. NASA said the launch should not be affected by Thursday’s SpaceX rocket explosion on a nearby pad.

Mission to Mars

On Aug. 25, NASA’s Launch Services Program announced that ULA’s Atlas V will launch Mars 2020 on its mission to the Red Planet.

Lift-off is planned for July 2020 from Cape Canaveral, and the spacecraft should reach Mars in 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site and determine the habitability of the environment. It will also search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

ULA’s Alabama assembly facility is the sole production site for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, which launch payloads for NASA and other government agencies. The 1.6 million-square-foot Decatur factory employs around 1,000 people.“Our launch vehicles have a rich heritage with Mars, supporting 17 successful missions over more than 50 years,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA’s vice president of Custom Services. “ULA and our heritage rockets have launched every U.S. spacecraft to the Red Planet, including Mars Science Lab, as well as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.”

Versions of the  Atlas V can stand 205 feet tall, rising to almost 19 stories.

An Alabama-made Atlas V will launch NASA’s next Mars lander, called inSight, in 2018. The surface explorer aims to provide understanding of the processes that shaped the planets of the inner solar system, including Earth.

There’s another Alabama connection to two of these missions. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, also managed by Marshall.

Birmingham Business Journal: Judge tosses lawsuit against Alabama’s beachfront hotel plans

Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin on Thursday moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed in opposition to the state’s plans to bring a new hotel and conference center to Gulf State Park using funds from the BP oil spill settlement.

The suit, filed by State Auditor Jim Zeigler and state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, claimed the state couldn’t spend the money from the settlement without legislative approval.

On Thursday, Griffin dismissed the case, arguing Zeigler had no authority to file the suit in his official capacity and that since the state wasn’t spending taxpayer dollars, no legislative approval was necessary.

“Today’s decision reiterates that the Gulf State Park project is proceeding within legal means,” Bentley said in a statement. “The redevelopment of the Gulf State Park will benefit Alabama as well as all state parks throughout the state.”

Alabama NewsCenter: Alabama firms seek foothold with Latin America trade mission

Latin America is the latest target for Alabama trade leaders seeking growth markets for state businesses.

Representatives of a dozen companies are participating in a trade mission this week that started Sunday in Mexico and continues Wednesday in Chile.

It’s being held in conjunction with the U.S. Commercial Service’s Trade Winds program, which includes regional and industry-specific conferences, as well as prearranged consultations with senior diplomats.

For Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Co., the trade mission is an opportunity to expand a new focus on international sales.

Back Forty, widely regarded as one of the pioneers of craft beer in Alabama, exports several of its beer varieties — including Naked Pig, Truck Stop Honey and Freckle Belly – to China and Canada. The international sales started last year, and the company has been ramping up the endeavor since January.

“In the U.S., craft beer has been around for a while, and it’s fairly well understood,” said Vince Schaeffer, Back Forty’s director of international sales. “But in countries like China and Mexico, we’re really on the leading edge, so we want to establish our brand there and become partners with important people.”

Mexico is the most immediate growth target, he continued, but Chile, along with Australia, is on the list for next year. The company is expanding its global effort in a deliberate fashion, so it fully understands customers in each market before moving on to the next one, Schaeffer added.

“Exporting just makes so much sense to us. It creates U.S. jobs and profits for U.S. companies, and we just see it as a natural way to grow,” he said.

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Birmginham Business Journal: BBA leaders elected to economic development groups

Two leaders at the Birmingham Business Alliance have been appointed to serve with groups to improve economic development statewide.

Victor Brown, vice president of business development at the BBA, was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to the Renewal of Alabama Commission. The commission is designed to create programs for business and industry growth in the state, implement the Growing Alabama tax credit and aim to enhance job creation.

“We’re very honored and proud to have Governor Bentley appoint Victor to the Alabama Renewal Commission,” said Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development for the BBA. “Victor has a thorough understanding of the needs of many of our communities in the state, and we believe his service to the commission will be a contributing factor to more economic prosperity for our state.”

Liz Huntley, an attorney, will join Brown on the board as the other Birmingham representative.

Also aiming to make a difference in the state and learn from those across the country is BBA’s Waymond Jackson, vice president of education and workforce development. Jackson has been elected to serve on the board of directors for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE).

ACCE is a professional association for chambers of commerce and fellow economic and community development organizations. Its members represent chambers in 40 different states, Canada and France, combining resources and knowledge to bring success at their organizations.

“As the importance of workforce development programs in chambers of commerce throughout the U.S. has grown, their linkage to economic development has strengthened,” said Brian Hilson, CEO at the Birmingham Business Alliance. “Waymond is doing an outstanding job in advancing the BBA’s workforce development program, and his work is being recognized nationally. It is an honor for Birmingham and the BBA for him to be selected to serve on the ACCE board.”

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