Some of the largest economic development investments in the state’s history have been announced in the past year or so. The projects underway include Smucker’s $1.1 billion manufacturing plant in Jefferson County, Novelis’ $2.5 billion aluminum recycling and rolling plant in Baldwin County and First Solar’s $1.1 billion photovoltaic solar modules plant in Lawrence County — plus a $2.7 billion bridge over Mobile Bay at Mobile.
Here are the latest updates.
Several thousand people showed up for a hiring fair held by the J.M. Smucker Co. in July. The company’s manufacturing and distribution facility in McCalla is on schedule to begin production in May of 2024 and will bring 750 to 800 jobs to Jefferson County. Positions being filled include production, quality assurance, maintenance, logistics, engineering, electrical and management. The first round of operating technician hires began training at the company’s Colorado facility in October.
The plant will be the third in the country dedicated exclusively to producing Smucker’s Uncrustables pre-made frozen sandwiches, one of the company’s fastest growing brands. The new facility will help the brand reach its stated goal of $1 billion in annual net sales, according to Nicole Newell, director of operations at the McCalla Plant. Newell has also said it’s possible that production in McCalla might expand beyond Uncrustables in the future.
First announced in November 2021, the project broke ground last year at the 225-acre property located in Jefferson Metropolitan Park. The $1.1 billion facility is the largest capital investment in Jefferson County history.
To accommodate the expected traffic growth near the industrial development, Jefferson County is investing millions of dollars in infrastructure, including three major projects on Old Tuscaloosa Highway, McAshan Drive and Bell Hill Road.
Last October, Novelis broke ground on a $2.5 billion aluminum recycling and rolling plant in Baldwin County. The plant, located on a 3,000-acre Mega Site north of Bay Minette, will be the first fully integrated aluminum recycling and rolling mill built in the U.S. in 40 years, says Callie Cox, communications lead for Novelis Corp. The facility will have an initial 600 kilotonnes of finished aluminum goods capacity annually, primarily serving the North American beverage can market but with flexibility for automotive aluminum production as well.
The low-carbon plant aims to be net carbon neutral for Scope 1 and Scope 2, will be powered with renewable energy, use recycled water and will be a zero-waste facility. In addition, Novelis has set a goal to achieve a 30% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2026 and aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner. AL Circle recently recognized Novelis as the world’s largest recycler, with over 2.2 million tonnes of recycled aluminum during FY2022.
The project is expected to bring 1,000 high-paying jobs to the area. “We aim to hire most of our workforce from Baldwin County but will extend our recruiting efforts within a 60-mile radius of the Bay Minette community,” says Cox.
The company is also building a corporate center for advanced manufacturing and leadership training at the Daphne Innovation and Science Complex.
Cox says that other than normal design challenges that have caused some minor delays in obtaining certain materials, the project has not experienced any unexpected difficulties or delays, and the plant is on track to be operational in the second half of 2025.
“The project is moving along according to timelines and is set to become operational on time and on schedule. Significant progress continues to be made at the project site, and we are pleased with the milestones that continue to be made.”
Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. announced at the end of 2022 that Lawrence County’s Mallard Fox Industrial Park will be the location of its newest American photovoltaic (PV) solar module manufacturing facility. The 2.4 million-square-foot plant has a planned annual capacity of 3.5 gigawatts (GW) and is part of a previously announced investment in scaling the company’s American manufacturing footprint to more than 10 gigawatts (GW) by 2025. The fully vertically integrated facility will be the company’s fourth, joining three factories in Ohio. In August, First Solar also announced plans for a fifth facility in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, expected to be complete in the first half of 2026.
The Alabama facility, on schedule to be complete by 2025, will manufacture the Series 7 TR1 solar panel modules. Designed in California and Ohio, they are the company’s newest and most advanced panels and combine First Solar’s thin film cadmium telluride (CadTel) technology with a larger form factor and an innovative galvanized steel back rail mounting system to improve efficiency, installation and lifetime energy performance for utility-scale PV projects.
The plant represents an investment of approximately $1.1 billion and is expected to create more than 700 new direct manufacturing jobs in the state and bring the company’s total number of direct jobs in the U.S. to more than 3,000 by 2025.
Of the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers, First Solar is the only one headquartered in the U.S. The Lawrence County project is expected to bring the company’s total investment in American manufacturing to more than $4 billion.
In July, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced it had secured 279 megawatts of advanced thin film solar panels for its Lawrence County Solar Project that is planned to begin commercial operation in 2027.
Mobile Bay Bridge and Bayway Project
A plan decades in the making is finally underway as Mobile and Baldwin counties prepare to break ground on the I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project. It is estimated to cost $2.7 billion, making it the most expensive road project in the state’s history, and includes building a new bridge over the Mobile River and replacing the interstate across Mobile Bay.
Currently, the I-10 corridor around the Wallace Tunnel in downtown Mobile averages more than 78,000 vehicles daily — two and a half times its design capacity — and is the cause of regular traffic congestion, a condition that worsens each year. The new project aims to increase the capacity of I-10 to meet existing and future traffic volumes, provide a direct route for vehicles transporting hazardous materials, minimize impacts to Mobile’s maritime industry, and facilitate economic growth by improving access to major industrial and freight destinations in the Mobile area.
The Alabama Department of Transportation is finalizing contracts with two design-build joint venture teams. Kiewit-Massman-Traylor will build a new six-lane I-10 bridge with a minimum of 215 feet of air draft clearance over the Mobile River, and Mobile Bay Constructors will build a new wider and higher Bayway, designed to meet current standards. Since the current structure is not able to meet capacity and storm surge requirements, it will be demolished once the new Bayway is open to traffic. Upgrades to appropriate I-10 interchanges in Mobile and Baldwin counties are also planned.
The completed project will include an all-electronic toll system with a proposed rate of $2.50 per trip for cars with transponders, $5.50 for those without transponders and a $40 per month unlimited use option. Only new infrastructure will require tolls, with the Wallace Tunnel, the Bankhead Tunnel, the Africatown Bridge and the Causeway remaining free options.
“The Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project is a testament to the collective dedication and vision of our community,” says Mobile Chamber President & CEO Bradley Byrne. “This initiative is more than just an infrastructure upgrade; it’s a lifeline for our region’s economic growth and our standing as a key player for companies looking to locate here.”
Construction is scheduled to start in 2024 and is expected to take five years to complete.
Katherine MacGilvray is a Huntsville-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the December 2023 issue of Business Alabama.