Our Bold Gaze into 2019

What will we see in 2019? Business Alabama takes a comprehensive look at what will make headlines in the coming year.

Flying Cars Still Unlikely, But at Least Someone’s on It, and Some Prison Possibilities, Too

With all of Alabama’s resources, doesn’t it seem like flying cars should be on the table for 2019? Maybe they are. At least three companies with Alabama connections — Boeing, Toyota and Airbus — signed on last year to a Japan consortium, aimed at getting major players together to bring airborne vehicles into everyday life. The group includes 21 companies and organizations, including a Toyota startup named Cartivator, Uber Technologies and Japan Airlines. “The Japanese government will provide appropriate support to help realize the concept of flying cars, such as creation of acceptable rules,” according to Tokyo’s trade ministry. The group has already started meeting.

The Alabama Legislature traditionally starts each new year talking about the urgent need to rebuild infrastructure. Bridges and roads still aren’t fixing themselves, so lawmakers will look over options during the regular session that begins in early March. They might look at legalizing sports betting, though Mississippi has already beaten us to that punch. They could fiddle with the gas tax. The strong economy will give them a little more money than usual to spend, as tax collections are looking good, and now, finally, internet sales are bringing in some tax cash to state coffers.

The Alabama prison system wants an additional $80 million in 2019 and 2020 to improve mental health care for inmates, and if it doesn’t happen the state may face the wrath of the federal court system. And, speaking of prison, 2019 might be the year former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard actually goes there. He was convicted of 12 felony ethics violations in 2016, and 11 of those counts were affirmed on appeal last year by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Big Movers

Concept for a new Mobile Bay bridge and I-10 bayway.

United Launch Alliance recently moved the expected first launch date of its next-generation Vulcan rocket to the spring of 2021, but there’s no shortage of work next year for Decatur and Huntsville to make that happen. Likewise, Mobile’s Interstate 10 bridge won’t get started in 2019, but the state should at least get some contracts in line. SSAB Americas will sink $109 million into its steel mill in north Mobile County during 2019-2021 to increase production capacity for quenched and tempered steels. British defense contractor BAE Systems, the third largest such company in the world, will finish up a $45.5 million expansion in Huntsville at Cummings Research Park that includes both manufacturing and office space. Lockheed Martin will be at work in Huntsville and elsewhere on a $928 million DOD contract to build new supersonic weapons. Kaishan Group should complete its $11 million air compressor plant in Loxley, expected to create 62 jobs. New York-based firearms maker Kimber Manufacturing expects to be operational early next year with its $38 million production facility in Troy, creating 366 jobs over the next five years. Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery will see $18 million from the feds and begin work in June to build a new air traffic control tower to support the arrival of F-35s.

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New Age Business

With its new $135 million distribution center in Mobile, Walmart will be hiring hundreds of workers to strengthen its supply chain and pickup grocery business. Target is expanding its drive-up service at hundreds of stores in the South as well, with the help of Shipt, which it bought in late 2017. For its part, Shipt has said it would hire hundreds of new workers for grocery deliveries. Birmingham’s Royal Cup Coffee & Tea may look to expand its line of shelf-stable, ready-to-drink cold brew coffees, as it did in 2018, updating the venerable company’s business model.

Energen Inc. oil well in west Texas, soon to be owned by Diamondback Energy, following a $9.2 billion takeover.

Swaps and Expansions

Oil prices are expected to improve through 2019, good news for Diamondback Energy of Midland, Texas, which acquired Energen Corp. for $9.2 billion. Burr & Forman LLP will acquire Carolinas-based McNair Law Firm PA, with McNair attorneys and employees joining Burr & Forman effective Jan. 1. Birmingham-based Protective Life Insurance Co. goes into 2019 having acquired Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston for $1.17 billion. The University of Mobile looks to expand its healthcare education with the opening of a $4.6 million healthcare and science education center.

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