Mobile and Economic Engines

The Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s latest “Mobile on the Go” report shows 17, 304 new jobs created since 2002, 86 expansions and $8.14 billion in capital investments at new and existing companies. The Chamber counts a total of 23, 693 companies in the area — spanning a wide variety of sectors, including aviation and aerospace, biomedical, oil and gas exploration, shipbuilding and transportation and distribution.

Aviation and Aerospace
The big news in 2012 was the Airbus decision to locate a $600 million final aircraft assembly plant in Mobile, with 1, 000 jobs. Mobile already has a growing aviation and aerospace sector, including ST Aerospace, Star Aviation and Continental Motors. This sector now employs more than 2, 000 people. Suppliers already are lining up to locate in Mobile County.

In answer to the call, K-12 and higher education, along with AIDT and other state training programs, have developed curricula designed to keep Mobile residents in Mobile and to master the new jobs opening up.

Alabama’s deepwater seaport, the Port of Mobile, is located just 32 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Its economic impact is estimated at $18.7 billion, with a $506 million tax impact. It’s credited with bringing 127, 591 direct and indirect jobs.

Latest element in a 12-year, $700 milion capital improvement project is the Container Transfer Facility, now under construction with a target completion date in 2015. It will provide efficient intermodal rail service for containerized freight shipper.

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“We will be able to grow our container business a minimum of 80 percent, ” says port director and CEO Jimmy Lyons.

The port recently announced another project, a steel warehouse with private partners, Lyons says. The Alabama Steel Terminal LLC will take the entire steel coil business and put it into one location. “It will be a state-of-the-art facility that will be very efficient, ” he says. It will also free up 300, 000 square feet of space.”

The port also will be working on expanding its coal facility.

“We had a record revenue year, ” he says, earning $144.6 million in 2012. The general cargo division ended the year with $34.2 million in revenues, coming from iron, steel and forest products. Steel posted the largest general cargo volumes, at 3.9 million tons overall, marking a 26 percent increase over FY2011 steel volumes. The 2012 container volumes jumped, as well.

The Mobile Brookley Aeroplex is primed for growth, not only with Airbus but also with other suppliers and companies, officials say. The 1, 650-acre industrial park near downtown Mobile has a runway capable of landing the world’s largest aircraft, stands adjacent to one of the nation’s busiest ports and connects to two interstates and five railroads.

Mobile Regional Airport recently announced daily service to Chicago O’Hare International on United Airlines.

Thanks to the Alabama State Docks and Mobile’s strategic location on the Gulf Coast, the largest industry in Mobile County is the shipbuilding and repair sector.

Two of the counties’ top four manufacturers (Austal USA and BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards) are in shipbuilding. Austal USA recently announced a $5 million expansion that will add 1, 000 jobs. Once the expansion is completed, total employment is expected to reach 4, 600.

Nearly every type of service for the maritime industry can be found in Mobile. Those include barge fleeting service, container repair and leasing, dunnage services, freight forwarding, guard service and ship watching, heavy lift and salvage, industrial diving, line handling, marine fumigation services, waste disposal, ship chandlery, stevedoring and towing.

The chemical industry in Mobile County has more than 3, 000 employees and is one of the region’s largest industry sectors. Evonik Degussa Corp., with a history of more than 30 years in Mobile, is the largest chemical company, with more than 780 employees. It is followed by UOP LLC, which recently announced an expansion, BASF and more.

ThyssenKrupp AG began building its $6 billion twin steel mills in north Mobile County in 2008. Slowed by the recession, they began operation in 2010 but were put up for sale as the recession continued. In January 2012, the Finnish stainless steel giant Outokumpu Oyi paid $3.6 billion for the stainless plant. Bids are being considered for the carbon steel facility.

Photo by Dan Anderson

Mobile County is home to plants operated by three of the world’s largest steel companies. Swedish recycler SSAB already was located on the Mobile River north of town when German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp announced plans for twin mills on the Mobile-Washington county line. The two mills took a major economic hit when the world economy faltered, and ThyssenKrupp has sold its stainless plant to Finnish firm Outokumpu Oyj, and the German firm is in talks with South American, Asian and U.S. interests as it tries to negotiate sale of the second plant.

Though times have been tough for the steel industry, the plants have attracted suppliers and other related companies. ThyssenKrupp Steel USA currently employs 1, 500 people, according to Scott Posey, director of communications for the company.

County officials calculate that ThyssenKrupp has spent some $800 million with Alabama companies and generated $34 million in state tax revenue between 2007 and 2010, plus $2 million in tax revenue for the city of Mobile and $3 million in taxes for Mobile County.

University of South Alabama/Higher Education
USA is one of the strongest influences on the Gulf Coast economy, generating a financial impact of more than $2 billion each year. It is one of the leading employers in Mobile and Baldwin counties, with more than 5, 500 employees and an annual payroll of $400 million. Economists estimate that USA generates $7 for every dollar it receives in state appropriations.

USA’s construction and renovation projects over the last decade totaled nearly $500 million.

USA is among the nation’s top earners in licensing revenue generated from academic inventions and innovations, ranking number 61 among all U.S. colleges and universities in fiscal year 2009. Its external funding for research in fiscal 2012 reached nearly $57 million.

Other institutions of higher learning have a significant impact, as well. Bishop State Community College has an economic impact of $34 million, with 364 employees.

Health Care
Health care accounts for about 10 percent of all employment in the area.

The economic impact of the University of South Alabama Medical Center is $220 million, and the economic impact of USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital is $174.3 million.

The USA Medical Center and USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital serve more than 250, 000 citizens every year. The USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, a strategic health care alliance between the University of South Alabama and Infirmary Health System, is expected to have an estimated $1 billion economic impact on the Mobile Bay region over the next decade.

Infirmary Health has a $1.3 billion total annual economic impact and about 5, 300 employees.

Mobile is a popular destination, from eco-tourism to sports tourism. Coastal Alabama accounts for a third of all travel spending in Alabama, and the two coastal counties collect about $375 million in lodging revenues annually.

Mobile welcomes 7.3 million visitors a year to events from Mardi Gras to golf and historic home tours, Bowl, Senior Bowl, Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, NCAA-Division I USA Jaguars, the Dauphin Island Regatta and the Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program.

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Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt

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