Year in Review: Business Dominated By Everything But Business

Viral elections, viral hurricanes and even viral viruses shape 2020 life.

2020 wasn’t all about COVID-19, though you (and your psyche) might think otherwise. Yes, the pandemic dominated the business landscape, with unemployment burgeoning, employers doing their best to keep employees and customers safe, and, in many cases, business owners doing their best to stay afloat. And hurricanes wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast. But believe it or not, there was more to the year than the coronavirus, the hurricanes and the presidential election. Alabama’s business world continued to turn, with multi-million dollar deals and expansions, plus some smaller deals with big impact around the state and beyond. Here are some of the business stories — the good, the bad and the ugly — of the year. We present, a year in review.

The Biggest Deals

In August, Mazda Toyota announced another $830 million investment in its Huntsville plant, bringing it to a total of $2.3 billion.

Warrior Met Coal announced in February a five-year plan to develop a $500 million underground coal mining facility near its current mines in northern Tuscaloosa County. Just a few months later, in May, the company announced plans to invest $50 million in a barge load-out facility in Walker County. Google finally broke ground in December on its $600 million data center in Jackson County— a project that was announced in 2015. It’s expected to create 100 full-time jobs and be operational in 2021. 

Defense contractor Leidos Holdings Inc., a Fortune 500 science and tech company, completed its $1.65 billion acquisition of Dynetics in Huntsville in January.

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The Dynetics campus in Huntsville. Photo courtesy of Dynetics.

Hotter Than Hot

Steelmaker ArcelorMittal announced in August a $500 million investment in its
Calvert plant near Mobile to add an electric arc furnace. U.S. Steel’s new electric arc furnace (pictured at right) — a $412 million investment in its Fairfield plant — began producing steel in October.

Solid Triumphs 

National Cement Co. of Alabama broke ground in January on a $250 million plant expansion in Ragland in St. Clair County.

A $151 million plant for John Soules Foods in Valley broke ground in August and will open in 2021, with about 500 employees.

GE Appliances completed a $125 million expansion of its Decatur refrigerator plant in February, adding 255 jobs.

Canada’s Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. in July announced a $95 million wood pellet production facility in Demopolis that should start production by mid-2021.

Coastal Growers LLC in October announced plans to build an $87 million peanut shelling and storage plant in Atmore Industrial Park.

In June, FedEx Ground chose 46 acres, partly in Birmingham and partly in Bessemer, for its $40 million, 300,000-square-foot facility.

Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center opened in March. The 855,000-square-foot building has more than 1,500 full-time employees.

On the Waterfront 

A $365.7 million modernization project between the State of Alabama and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will expand the Port of Mobile, including deepening and widening the channel that will occur by late 2024 or 2025. 

The Department of Defense announced in June it will invest $50 million to boost capacity at Austal’s shipyard in Mobile, helping the company build steel-hulled warships for the U.S. Navy in addition to the aluminum ships it has been producing for more than a decade.

Metal Shark, a new shipyard in Bayou La Batre, in May delivered it first new build, a 1210 ft. x 35 ft. river towboat for Florida Marine Transporters of Mandeville, Louisiana.

Austal USA’s LCS 26, which will become the USS Mobile, completed its Navy acceptance trials in October.

In September, Austal USA completed the purchase of a 20,000-ton floating dry dock, 100,000 square feet of covered repair facilities and 15 more acres of waterfront
property along the Mobile River.

Record Breakers

Huntsville gave out permits for $220 million of construction work in 2020, an all-time high.

Toyota began installing a 3.3-acre, $2.7 million solar array in Madison in August. It’s the largest solar array in Madison County and was expected to be completed by the end of December.

The University of Alabama raised $222 million in fiscal year 2019-2020, a record for the university. This included $15 million for the new Performing Arts Academic Center.

Dancers pose inside Bryce Main, which will become part of the Performing Arts Academic Center at the University of Alabama. Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama.

Road Blocks

Gadsden’s Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant announced its closure in May after operating since 1929. It had shut down in March.

Pickens County Medical Center in Carrolton closed its doors on March 6.

Honeywell Aerospace plans to close Anniston operations in 2021.

Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, in Mobile, closed down permanently during the pandemic.

Grede, a foundry in Columbiana that produced castings for the auto industry, closed its doors in June.

FreightCar America announced in September it will close its Cherokee factory and move production to Mexico.


Almost every biotech firm and research facility in the state joined the search for COVID-19 prevention and treatment. 

Medical Industries of the Americas planned a $50 million investment to re-launch latex production in the former Ameritex Corp. facility in Eufaula after it had been idle for four years.

Auburn’s SiO2 landed a $143 million government contract to manufacture packaging to store and ship a vaccine for COVID-19, once it is developed. The company will double its size to meet the contract, adding 200 new jobs. It also won a similar contract for Canada.

Dothan will be the site of Advanced Product Solutions, a $9.5 million medical manufacturing company.

Winging It 

Airbus’ $300 million final assembly line opened in May after an 18-month construction project. This second FAL builds a smaller line of A220 commercial jets. The first new jet was delivered to Delta Airlines in October.

At the beginning of the year, Airbus announced a $40 million investment for a new support hangar that will help increase the production rate of A320 family aircraft at its facility in Mobile. The hangar opened in May.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin opened a factory in Huntsville, creating hundreds of jobs to build its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine. The engine will power Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. In July, the first engine was delivered to ULA.

ULA won one of the first contracts awarded by the new U.S Space Force, for about 60% of the next round of launches.

Northrop Grumman in September landed a $13.3 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract for the U.S. military. It’s for the next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile system, and some of the work will be done in Huntsville.

Deals on Wheels

Navistar broke ground in February on a $125 million expansion of its Huntsville plant to produce big-bore powertrains with Traton.

DURA Automotive Systems is building a $59 million manufacturing facility in Muscle Shoals to make electric vehicle battery enclosures, the company said in August. The new facility will create 279 jobs.

Borbet Alabama announced in March a $23.9 million expansion at the Auburn Technology Park North, creating 25 new jobs over two years. The company manufactures light metal alloy wheels for the auto industry. In August, Wheel Pros announced it had purchased Borbet and planned to convert it into an aftermarket wheel facility.

CCI Manufacturing USA Corp., a Tier 1 auto supplier, announced in January a $21.5 million production facility in Lawrence County.

Mobis US Alabama Inc. plans to invest $15.8 million on a new plant in Birmingham. Plans were unveiled in November for this, the company’s second Alabama plant.

Denmark’s Mountain Top Industries announced in October its first U.S. plant, a $13.3 million facility in Montgomery that will start production on aluminum roll covers for pickup trucks in early 2021.

Hayashi Telempu North America announced plans in March for a $7 million expansion in Walker County. The Michigan-based supplier makes auto interior components.

Seoyon E HWA, a Tier 1 Hyundai supplier in Dallas County, announced a $5 million expansion in March, adding 60 new jobs.

BendPak, whose products include auto lifts for professional and home use, in March opened a 100,000-square-foot distribution center near Mobile to better serve customers in the eastern United States. In September, the company began work on a 70,000-square-foot warehouse next door to it.

At the very end of 2019, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama LLC announced it had reached the 5 million mark for vehicle and engine production since its plant in Talladega County opened almost 20 years ago. (The first Alabama automaker to do that.)

Honda production line.

Looking Toward 2021

PNC’s $11.6 billion merger with Birmingham’s BBVA ­— the largest bank acquisition in the country in 2020 — should be final by mid-2021. 

The FBI continues working on a $1 billion “second headquarters” at Redstone Arsenal, with 1,400 employees from D.C. relocating here when the first phase of construction is finished in 2021.

Hyundai’s $410 million expansion project in Montgomery will allow it to begin building the Santa Cruz pickup in 2021. It’s also adding Tucson SUV production in 2022.

The $220 million James Hardie Building Products plant in Prattville, delayed because of the pandemic, is now expected to open in early 2021.

A $175 million project to expand production capacity at Ascend Performance Materials’ Decatur manufacturing facility should be finished by the end of 2021.

Carvana’s $40 million distribution center in Bessemer should be completed in 2021.

A roll on/roll off terminal, which will help expand automobile export and import, is on track to be completed in 2021 at the Port of Mobile.

Enviva’s $140 million wood pellet mill planned for the Port of Epes in Sumter County should open in 2021.


Trader Joe’s will open its second Alabama location in Huntsville in 2021.

Sought-after grocery chain Trader Joe’s will open its second Alabama location in Huntsville in 2021.

Mega-convenience store chain Buc-ee’s, already in Baldwin County, announced plans to open its second Alabama location in Leeds off I-20 and third location in Athens off I-65.

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