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Governor: ‘State of Opportunity’ is Competitive and Thriving

Gov. Kay Ivey was in Huntsville Wednesday to tout her administration’s accomplishments over the past year and work to garner support for an upcoming amendment to the state’s constitution that will replace the Alabama Board of Education.

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Alabama Update.

A packed North Hall audience hears Gov. Kay Ivey during the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber’s annual Alabama Update. (Steve Babin/Huntsville Business Journal)

The governor kicked things off by commenting on Alabama’s addition of 34,000 jobs and more than $14 billion in business-related investments during her time in office.

The state has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, which is the second-lowest in the Southeast, but slightly higher than the nation’s rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

“In May, we also announced that every county in the state dropped their unemployment rate,” Ivey said. “Not only is Alabama open for business, but we are competitive and thriving and a state of opportunity.”

Also in May, Ivey signed two bills designed to boost broadband access for rural and underserved communities and commented, Wednesday, on why those were important.  She said there are currently more than 480,000 Alabamians without access to broadband services.

One bill, Ivey said, allows the use of electrical easements for broadband purposes and the other creates grants for various broadband projects.

“Delivering high-speed broadband access is critical to the education that we provide our students, to our economy, it’s essential to our health care and overall quality of life,” she said.

Then the governor spoke about the recent 10 cents per gallon increase in Alabama’s gas tax, referring to it only as “an investment in Alabama’s infrastructure.”

“About three decades have gone by without making an investment in our infrastructure – until now,” Ivey said. “This investment will translate into projects that will tackle the problems of roadway congestion, aging roads and bridges, and unsafe conditions for drivers on their way to work and school.”

Specifically related to Huntsville, the governor highlighted the first project of the “Rebuild Alabama Plan,” which was the widening of I-565 to eventually allow the expansion of the I-65 interchange.

Ivey then transitioned from talking about roads and bridges to the state’s prison system. She said the first step in bettering the prison system was to better recruit and retain the prison’s correction officers.

“Earlier this year I proposed adding $31 million to the general fund to hire 500 new correctional officers to ensure the safety of our personnel and the general public,” she said. “Today, I’m happy to announce… that we signed HB 468 into law that provides a two-step pay raise for the department of correction employees and extends an incentive program to include bonuses.”

Ivey also addressed the state’s education system and her education initiative called Strong Start, Strong Finish.

This initiative included adding $26.8 million to Alabama’s Pre-K budget, improving the computer science curriculum throughout the state and putting programs in place to help students get a job through various apprenticeships and certifications.

Citing Alabama’s current position at the bottom of “almost every ranking that measures education in our states,” Ivy asked for the support a constitutional amendment that would replace the state’s board of education with a governor-appointed commission called the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

 The amendment is expected to be on the March 2020 ballot.

“It’s simply time for Alabama to take the lead.  That’s the name of my new effort,” Ivey said. “Our current system simply is not working. And, if the system is not working then we can’t continue to operate with the system that we have and expect different results.

“We must have leadership that sets high, but obtainable, goals that prepare our students for 21st century jobs.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne Opens State-of-the-Art Propulsion Facility in Huntsville

Huntsville can expect up to 600 new jobs according to Gov. Kay Ivey, thanks to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s opening of a 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

Dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility. (Photo by Jonathan Stinson)

“Between the capabilities of the Alabama workforce and your company’s innovation, our possibilities seem limitless,” Ivey said. “Aerojet’s continued expansion of its location in Huntsville will bring more than 600 new jobs and it clearly demonstrates their confidence in the Rocket City and the State of Alabama.”

In addition to Ivey and Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake, many senior Alabama officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting Friday, including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and State Director of Commerce Greg Canfield.

The facility is at 7800 Pulaski Pike and will produce products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for the Standard Missile-3, Thermal High Altitude Arial Defense System and other U.S. defense and space programs.

It has also been designed for new program opportunities including hypersonic and the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. 

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake addresses the crowd during the company’s ribbon cutting ceremony for its rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

“The AMF provides Aerojet Rocketdyne the capabilities we need to advance our nation’s security today and the further technologies that will allow us to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Drake said.

In his remarks, Battle recounted some of the conversations he and Drake had about her vision for the company to be an employer of choice in its field and how Huntsville could play a role and work collaboratively with them to make that happen.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has invested many, many times into this community,” Battle said. “And, as they have invested, their name is out there as an employer of choice.

“… Many of you don’t know, but this building was built by the Industrial Development Board of the Chamber of Commerce and it was built by that group for Aerojet Rocketdyne so we could make a facility here that would be second to none.”

The manufacturing facility is a continuation of growth by Aerojet Rocketdyne in the area. The company made Huntsville its headquarters for a new Defense Business Unit in 2016 and opened a 122,000 square-foot defense headquarters facility June 6. 

Drake cited Huntsville’s technical workforce of engineers and scientist, along with its close proximity to the company’s key customer base and government partners as making the city an ideal location for the Defense Business Unit.

“I still have the personal letter Mayor Tommy Battle sent me that said ‘Eileen, how about a rocket headquarters in the Rocket City. Think Big,’” Drake said. “I think we’ve thought big and we’ve kept our promise.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new 136,000 square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Facility will produce advanced propulsion products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for critical U.S. defense and space programs. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

Auto Supplier DaikyoNishikawa to Locate First U.S. Plant in Huntsville, Creating 380 Jobs

Japan-based DaikyoNishikawa US will build a $110 million auto parts manufacturing facility in Huntsville, the company announced Tuesday.

“Huntsville welcomes DaikyoNishikawa to our growing regional network of automotive suppliers,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “They’re joining an outstanding partnership with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., and we’re collectively witnessing the birth of a major automotive hub for the U.S. and the world.”

The company will be on-site at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. assembly plant under construction. DNUS will create approximately 380 jobs and produce plastic automotive parts. Construction is expected to start in July and production slated for 2021.

DNUS is the first on-site partner announced for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., a $1.6 billion joint-venture assembly plant being built on a 2,500-acre site in the Limestone County portion of Huntsville.

“With this being DaikyoNishikawa’s first U.S. manufacturing facility, we welcome them home to Limestone County and look forward to being a key partner in their future success,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “This $110 million investment that will bring 380 new jobs is a testament to the strong workforce in our region that has earned global recognition.”

DNUS has established a temporary office in Huntsville and a human resources director to prepare for hiring. Jobs are listed at joblink.alabama.gov.

Ivey Announces I-565 Widening Project

MONTGOMERY – Following through on a campaign promise, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday a widening project for heavily traveled I-565.

She also said a second project will expand the I-65 interchange at Tanner.

The two major transportation projects were selected by the Alabama Department of Transportation for the Rebuild Alabama Act First Year Plan 2020.

The first project includes resurfacing and revising lanes on Interstate 565 from Interstate 65 to County Line Road to provide an additional lane in each direction through the partial use of shoulders, making it a six-lane interstate. The second project will allow for the expansion of the interchange on I-65 at Tanner and widening Browns Ferry Road to be extended westward across to U.S. 31.

“While the Huntsville and surrounding areas are booming with continual economic growth, it was imperative we make enhancements to their infrastructure system for the nearly 60,000 vehicles traveling on I-565 daily. Both improvement projects will be significant strides for this area,” Ivey said. “This will improve the daily commute for several thousand drivers and provide access to the new Mazda-Toyota joint assembly plant. When we began on the road to Rebuild Alabama, I promised our state would see real results, real improvements and a promising future, and we’re certainly delivering on that.”

Both improvement projects will greatly increase access to the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing plant development, relieve congestion on I-565 and will help pave the way for further economic growth.

“The state of Alabama and the city of Huntsville continue to be great partners to spur growth in this area, as well as across the state. We saw it when Alabama landed the coveted Mazda-Toyota joint assembly plant, and we’re seeing it today with the announcement of these two important infrastructure projects,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Governor Ivey has been instrumental to our recent successes, and I was proud to support her in her efforts to Rebuild Alabama. Adding lanes to this critical corridor ensures our continued economic growth.”

Ivey signed the Rebuild Alabama Act into law March 12, after it received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Alabama Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole and Sen. Clyde Chambliss, gradually increases Alabama’s fuel tax over the next three years.

“I commend Governor Ivey’s leadership in passing Rebuild Alabama and her commitment to keep Alabama growing,” Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said. “Additional lanes on Interstate 565 will greatly reduce congestion and aid commerce in one of the fastest growing regions of our state. I, along with my colleagues, are pleased to see such quick returns from the Rebuild Alabama Act passing.”

Beginning in January, state, county, and municipal governments in Alabama will begin to see additional revenue from the fuel tax increase of six-cents which begins in September. In fact, once the 10-cent increase is fully implemented in 2021, Madison County will receive an additional $3.5 million dollars and Limestone County will receive $1.27 million, on top of what they already receive, to be used for various transportation infrastructure projects.

Mazda Toyota Supplier to Bring 400 Jobs to Athens

ATHENS — The ripple effect of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Plant in Limestone County is creating several hundred jobs in Athens.

Toyota Boshoku will manufacture seat systems at a $50 million plant in the Breeding North Industrial Park on Sanderfer Road. Construction on the facility, which will take up some 42 acres, is slated to start next month.

“When we began our search for a new site to build our production facility, we looked at many locations,” said Dr. Shuhei Toyoda of Toyota Boshoku. “After an extensive search, we determined that Athens, Alabama, is the perfect fit.

“We are grateful for the assistance from the state of Alabama, the City of Athens and Limestone County to make this project a reality.”

The plant is expected to create about 400 jobs once full production is reached. Toyota Boshoku will supply seat systems for vehicles built at the Mazda Toyota plant some 30 miles away.

The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing US plant is expected to create some 4,000 jobs with another 4,000-plus coming to suppliers, such as Toyota Boshoku and other.

“Athens attracting one of the first Tier 1 suppliers for MTMUS speaks to our city’s attractiveness as a community and our great working relationship with several entities on industrial development,” said Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks. “From the state of Alabama to our Limestone County Economic Development Association and our other partners, we work well together to help industries invest in our community and provide jobs for our citizens.

“Athens appreciates Toyota Boshoku being the latest to invest in our city.”

Marks was joined by Gov. Kay Ivey, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), and Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly.

“We would like to welcome Toyota Boshoku America to Limestone County,” Daly said.

“This over $50 million investment that will bring around 400 new jobs is a testament to the strong workforce in our region that has earned global recognition.”

Canfield said the addition of Toyota Boshoku adds momentum to the state’s efforts in landing quality jobs.

“Alabama’s economic development team has been working hard to facilitate the formation of the supply chain for MTMUS, and Toyota Boshoku’s decision to locate in Athens will add momentum to our efforts,” Canfield said. “We expect to develop a long-lasting partnership with this outstanding company as it creates well-paying jobs in Alabama.”

South Huntsville is open for business! Ribbon cut for South Parkway overpasses

Gov. Kay Ivey, with Mayor Tommy Battle to her right, cuts the ribbon to open the South Memorial Parkway overpasses. State and local officials also joined in the ceremony Tuesday. (Photo by Steve Babin)

After 2 1/2 years and snail’s-pace stop-and-go traffic, the ribbon was cut today for the South Parkway overpasses at Byrd Spring and Lily Flagg roads.

“We’re happy today to be able to open this stretch of South Memorial Parkway,” said Tommy Harris of the Alabama Department of Transportation, that came in a year ahead of schedule.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held atop the Byrd Spring Road overpass and it was attended by Gov. Kaye Ivey, Mayor Tommy Battle and other state and local officials.

Mayor Tommy Battle presents the “Restore our Roads” traffic cone to Gov. Kay Ivey (Photo by Steve Babin)

And it also enables the city to “keep the magic 18-minute commute,” Battle said.

“This is the largest project in the city of Huntsville, totaling $250 million,” Ivey said. “When we work together, we can make infrastructure and economic improvements.”

Battle also recognized the teamwork among state and local government and presented a highway cone commemorating the “Restore Our Roads Project No. 2” to Ivey.

“This road system is probably the best example of governments working together,” he said. “This effort enables our community to grow.

“This is a great day for our city.”

David Harris, vice president of Reed Contracting and representing the joint-venture team with Miller & Miller, was appreciative of the patience shown by merchants, motorists and residents.

And he offered some welcome news.

“I thank all the business owners, residents and travelling public for your patience,” he said. “By the end of the day, traffic should be flowing.”