By Anne Cosgrove
From the September / October 2023 Issue
In August, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) officials announced the automaker’s investment plans at a ceremony at its plant, where they were joined by Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, and local leaders.
As part of the project, HMMA will spend $190 million to retool and upgrade the plant’s production line for the fifth-generation Santa Fe SUV, while the additional investment will support production of other vehicles.
“Today, the legacy of the Santa Fe continues with HMMA investing $190 million dollars to prepare our assembly plant for the next generation of this popular SUV,” HMMA President and CEO Ernie Kim said at the event.
The Hyundai project is part of the momentum Alabama has seen over the past two years in terms of capital investment and job creation from new and expanding business. The impacts are spreading throughout the state.
“We’re coming off a record year in 2022 for inbound investment from economic development projects, robust flows of foreign direct investment, and a new annual record for exports,” said Canfield recently. “But what really excites me is the future—there are so many exciting developments unfolding in Alabama that are sparking economic growth and creating new opportunities for our citizens. This is a watershed moment for Alabama.”
Mobilizing The Workforce
Supporting investment activity, the Alabama Workforce Development Board has approved more than $33.6 million in job search and skills training programs to help Alabamians advance their careers. Residents can find out about available free career services, supportive services, and skills training by visiting one of Alabama’s more than 50 Career Centers.
A majority of the Workforce Board is made up of members of the business community who are joined by Alabamians representing the workforce, government, and education. The U.S. Department of Labor funds the statewide jobs program through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The federal funds are administered at the state level by the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division.
On a regional level, the Mobile Chamber Economic Development team is dedicated to bolstering the local labor market by attracting projects and expansions that create new jobs. Over the past five years, the Mobile area experienced a growth of 7,257 jobs, and this trend is expected to continue with 6,362 new jobs over the next five years.
Mobile Chamber is proactively addressing the challenge of filling these positions by establishing the Mobile Area Workforce Alliance (MAWA). The alliance first met in the fall of 2022 with the goal of producing a skilled and qualified workforce capable of meeting the demands of the area’s growing economy.
“I firmly believe collaboration is the key to unlocking our region’s true potential,” said Mobile Chamber President & CEO Bradley Byrne. “Through this collective effort, we can foster a dynamic workforce ecosystem, and empower our community with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities needed to seize on job growth in the Mobile area.”
The Mobile Area Workforce Alliance (MAWA) brings key educational institutions and business entities together with a shared mission to align classroom learning with practical industry needs.
The alliance includes the Chickasaw City School System, the Mobile County Public School System, the Saraland City School System, the Satsuma City School System, the Mobile Area Education Foundation, Bishop State Community College, Coastal Alabama Community College, the University of South Alabama, Spring Hill College, the University of Mobile, Alabama Industrial Development Training, Southwest Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment, the South Alabama Workforce Development Council, and the Mobile Chamber.
Ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, MAWA provided an update on education levels and fields of study in Mobile. To achieve its goals, the Alliance has formulated four pillars, measurable objectives, and action steps to achieve them: Alignment, Responsiveness, Engagement, and Awareness.
Projects Take Off
In Mobile, a recent expansion announcement is expected to create 200 jobs in the area by the end of 2025. VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering, Inc. (MAE) plans to equip it existing facility to convert and modify Airbus 320 passenger jets into freight aircraft. The company currently employs close to 600 at the facility.
Meanwhile in Huntsville, AL, the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is celebrating 50 years since the launch of Skylab and MSFC’s leadership role in supporting the development and sustainment of America’s space stations.
On May 14, 1973, the U.S. launched its first space station, Skylab, into orbit, using the third stage of a Saturn IVB rocket that was converted into an orbiting laboratory and habitation module. MSFC Director, Dr. Wernher von Braun, first put pen to paper to draft a model of this plan in 1964.
Skylab was occupied by three crews for successive missions of 28, 56 and 84 days, testing the human body’s ability to adapt to long term space habitation and conducting space science experiments. The Skylab 3 mission (the second crewed mission) launched on July 28 and included longtime Huntsville resident, Owen Garriott.
Original plans for Skylab called for the station to remain in space after the final mission, for up to 10 years, possibly to be visited by the Shuttle fleet. But unexpectedly high solar activity foiled the plan, and on July 11, 1979, the station deorbited.
Following Skylab, the U.S. flew the Spacelab research module on 22 Space Shuttle missions, from 1986 to 1999. This lab provided limited duration space science experiment opportunities before another, long-term facility could be built and launched.
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The first modules of the International Space Station (ISS) currently orbiting the earth, once every 90 seconds, launched in 1998. All U.S. components of the ISS were fabricated at MSFC as were the critical life support systems that provide oxygen and recycled water to the crew.
NASA is planning to deorbit the ISS in 2030 and hopes to utilize commercial space stations to continue its work in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Many companies are leveraging MSFC expertise in life support system development and structural component testing, as NASA shifts to commercial space stations.
And in Gadsden, AL, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) will invest $232 million. Gadsden will be the location of the company’s MMR Assembly Plant (MAP). The facility will manufacture, assemble, test, and inspect the non-radiological modules needed to construct USNC’s industry-leading Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR).
The Alabama facility is the nation’s first commercial-scale advanced microreactor production factory. Vibrant manufacturing environment and workforce availability were key factors in the nationwide search. The state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility in Gadsden will create 250 direct professional, technical, and skilled manufacturing jobs.
USNC and the State of Alabama formalized the deal through a Project Agreement executed by Gov. Ivey and the company.
“We appreciate the interest and support for this effort from the City of Gadsden, Etowah County, the Alabama Department of Commerce and so many others including Governor Ivey and her talented team,” said USNC’s Chief Nuclear Officer Dan Stout.