Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state – 1/11/16 edition

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When can the Yellowhammer state expect charter schools to launch?  Which five Birmingham startups will advance to the semifinals of Alabama Launchpad competition? Who’s building a high-speed fiber optic network in Huntsville?

All of this and more inside today’s business roundup of headlines from across the state:

Birmingham Business Journal: Alabama charter schools to open by fall 2017

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission last week announced that charter schools will officially open in Alabama in fall 2017.

The commission worked on an application template for those interested in founding charter schools, according to a report from the Associated Press.

The application template will likely be approved by the commission in the coming months.

Applicants for a charter must submit information about their financial management, operations plan and curriculum.

Charter schools operate as state-funded schools, but are free from the regulations of other publicly-funded schools. Charter schools may also be operated by privately-funded groups.

The Alabama Legislature last year approved legislation allowing charter schools in Alabama.

AL.com: Comcast to build high-speed fiber optic network in Huntsville

Comcast Business announced this morning it will build a fiber optic network with up to 10 gigabit speeds and cloud-based voice solutions for businesses and government organizations in the Huntsville area.

The telecommunications company’s multi-million dollar plan for fiber-based Ethernet service complements the City of Huntsville’s attempt to become a “GIG City” with high-speed, fiber optic Internet for businesses and homes.

“As Huntsville continues to grow and develop a vibrant, high-tech community, Comcast recognized the need to make this important technology investment,” said Doug Guthrie, regional SVP for Comcast. “This effort will enable businesses to expand their operations, and reinforces Huntsville as a destination of choice for organizations requiring the most advanced technology available.”

Comcast revealed last month it would make a major technology-related announcement for the area. Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations for Comcast, said the investment would involve some new jobs, but it is not yet clear how many positions will be created.

Comcast said it provides the following services to schools, businesses, hospitals and other organizations:

  • Ethernet Private Line: point-to-point connectivity between two customer sites for bandwidth-intensive applications.
  • Ethernet Virtual Private Line: point-to-multipoint connection to enable customers to tailor bandwidth, performance characteristics, and cost.
  • Ethernet Network Service: multipoint-to-multipoint connectivity to connect organizations with high-bandwidth requirements and multiple locations across Comcast’s network.
  • Ethernet Dedicated Internet: continuous, high-bandwidth connectivity between customers’ LANs and the public Internet.

Bringing high-speed Internet to Huntsville was voted the most exciting idea for Huntsville’s future in a 2014 poll for AL.com’s “What works: Regionalism” project. Officials hope faster download speeds will satisfy the area’s existing data heavy companies, as well as new businesses looking to open or move here.

In a news release announcing the network, Comcast praised Huntsville’s aerospace, telecommunications and military background. The company also mentioned the University of Alabama in Huntsville and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center as points of pride.

“Comcast’s announcement is the latest in a series of wins for Huntsville’s residents and businesses to receive high speed internet,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We thank Comcast for making this significant investment in the city of Huntsville and for their belief in our high-growth market.”

Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, said, “Huntsville will enjoy all of the advantages of having the fastest internet speeds and most cutting-edge technologies in the state – all designed to support our robust economy.”

Alabama Newscenter: Airbus supplier Zodiac Aerospace lands at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley 

Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley on Tuesday welcomed Zodiac Aerospace, the latest support firm seeking proximity to Airbus’ $600 million U.S. manufacturing facility.

France-based Zodiac, a global leader in aircraft cabins, employs more than 30,000 across 100 sites worldwide.  The Mobile location is the 25th in the United States.

“(Zodiac is) being aggressive and planting a flag. … We expect them to grow as (A320 production) rate grows,” Mobile Airport Authority Executive Director Roger Wehner said. He called the project a “testimony for our ability to work collaboratively crafting solutions that meet the unique needs of the supply chain.”

The Mobile facility – expected to employ fewer than five people initially – will focus on A320 cabin interiors, specifically seating.

Wehner called the project “further evidence of our commitment to help bring rewarding careers in the aviation industry to Mobile, and interiors represents another building block in the methodical development of Mobile’s aerospace cluster.”

Zodiac is a global leader in aerospace equipment and systems for commercial, regional and business aircraft.

In a statement, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson welcomed the newest example of foreign investment to the Port City.

“By establishing a base here, Zodiac joins a growing roster of top aerospace firms, which are establishing Mobile as a city on the rise,” Stimpson said.

Zodiac will occupy about 1,700 square feet of a 5,000-square-foot space already inhabited by Hamburg, Germany-based Vartan Product Support. Airbus inaugurated its A320 final assembly line – its first on U.S. soil – five months ago within view of Vartan’s and Zodiac’s new Ninth Street address.

Meanwhile, Continental Motors, VT MAE, Star Aviation and AeroStar already employ a combined 2,000 people at Brookley, with MAAS proceeding with plans to build a $39 million twin-bay paint facility targeting third-party U.S. maintenance, repair and operations customers.

Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said she anticipates a “long and rewarding partnership” with Zodiac.

“We are delighted to learn that yet another global aerospace firm has chosen to join Mobile’s family of companies locating at Brookley to service the Airbus assembly plant. … As production ramps up at Airbus, each of the individual businesses will expand, our network of suppliers will grow, and the taxpayers of Mobile County will reap the benefits of a thriving economy,” Ludgood said.

Established in 1980, the Mobile Airport Authority oversees the Mobile Regional Airport, a 3,000-acre commercial airport and industrial complex, as well as Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley and the adjacent Mobile Downtown Airport, which combine to create a 1,700-acre campus.

The authority bills Mobile Aeroplex as the “transportation and industrial epicenter of the Central Gulf Coast.”

Birmingham Business Journal: Five Birmingham startups advance to semifinals of Alabama Launchpad competition

Alabama Launchpad has named eight semifinalists for its first startups competition of 2016, five of which are based in Birmingham.

The companies were chosen from a field of 17 and will be competing for a share of $250,000 on Feb. 19 at Evonik Industries on Lakeshore Parkway.

The companies from Birmingham include:

  • Alternavisit: A secure, cloud-based software to capture patient requests for care without a doctor’s office visit.
  • Care Package: an app-based grocery delivery service for Tuscaloosa targeting University of Alabama students.
  • Concur Messaging: provides a set of components that complement a backend service to provide real-time chat aspects to various applications.
  • Flood-Con: offers an automated control structure that replicates the natural runoff during all real storm events.
  • XpertDox: an online doctor finder tool personalized for patient’s diseases based on doctors’ clinical skill, educational and leadership roles and research.

Judges include Daxko CEO Dave Gray, Mikos/Kampakis Insurance Owner Greg Mikos, EmergencyCallWorks General Manager Craig Parker, and Chimaera President Lisa Williams.

“Alabama Launchpad turns 10 years old this year,” said Launchpad Programs Director Greg Sheek. “The year and the path ahead for our program are more exciting and even bigger than that was imagined when our program first launched back in 2006. We look forward to continuing our important work with the next round of the competition to help high growth companies start, stay and grow in the state to create jobs.”

Birmingham Business Journal: Alabama automakers top 1 million mark in 2015

Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai combined to produce more than 1 million vehicles in 2015 – making it the first time Alabama’s annual output has reached the lofty mark.

The three Alabama-based manufacturers produced a total of at least 1,033,095 vehicles last year, according to the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

The total number of vehicles produced is up slightly from 2014, when the three company’s annual production was approximately 995,000.

“It’s a great achievement on the part of the automakers, their suppliers and the Alabama workers who build quality products throughout the year,” said EDPA Executive Vice President Steve Sewell.

Alabama is now the fifth largest automotive producing state, and employment in the sector is quickly approaching 40,000.

Vehicles and parts have now become the state’s top export category – at $6.6 billion in 2014.

New auto-related investment over the last four years tops $5.5 billion.

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