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Alabama Coast Clear for Takeoff

   Even as its shipyards were digging out in other Gulf Coast areas, Northrop Grumman Corp. in late October confirmed that Mobile, Ala., would be the site of its production center for air refueling tankers, should its partnership with EADS North America win the contract to provide the aircraft to the U.S. Air Force. Earlier in 2005, EADS chose Mobile's Brookley Field as its designated site for the aircraft assembly. In late October, Gov. Bob Riley signed off on an incentives package for the overall $600-million complex worth approximately $120 million.
   The two assembly facilities are expected to employ 1,000 high-tech aerospace workers and also contribute to employment for hundreds of sub-contractor and supplier companies around the country. These employment figures would be in addition to the Airbus Engineering Center already planned at the airport. That facility is due to be under construction in January 2006, with completion scheduled for January 2007.
   "The choice of Mobile is a natural," said Marty Dandridge, vice president and KC-30 program director for Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "We believe co-location with the airframe-manufacturing facility has strong potential to streamline our manufacturing process as well as extend Northrop Grumman's presence in the Gulf Coast states."
   One month later, Australian firm Austal Ltd. announced it would build even more space for shipbuilding in Mobile, quadrupling the firm's existing covered complex to a total of 177,610 sq. ft. (16,500 sq. m.). The firm broke ground for the original facility in December 2004, and has already increased its staffing by more than half of the originally agreed-to job number. Part of the General Dynamics team serving the U.S. Navy, Austal will use the building to construct the Littoral Combat Ship to fulfill a newly awarded contract.
   As Martin Marietta illustrates, the heavier construction materials are also vital. In fact, Martin Marietta's aggregate might supply another new operation: In Theodore, just south of the Mobile metro, Columbus, Ga.-based Standard Concrete Products is considering a 50-acre (20-hectare) site owned by the Alabama State Port Authority for the production of pilings and bridge panels. The Mobile Industrial Development Board has already approved a 10-year package worth $401,000 in incentives, provided the $12.4-million plant employs 200 people. The company operates plants in Savannah, Ga., and Tampa, Fla.
   Just down the road in St. Elmo, Florida-based Furnival Cabinetry LLC is proposing a $25-million manufacturing complex on a 77-acre (31-hectare) site that might encompass several companies and up to six different plants, making everything from countertops to exterior house panels. The proposal is under consideration by Mobile-area officials.
   The Port Authority itself is plenty busy with other development, as it approved in late November a plan by Mobile Container Terminal LLC, a joint venture between APM Terminals North America, a subsidiary of Maersk Inc., and Terminal Link, a division of CMA CGM, to develop a new container terminal at Choctaw Point in Mobile. The $300-million complex, already under construction since April 2005, could support as many as 470 permanent jobs when it opens in the second half of 2007. It will boast an intermodal rail transfer facility and a distribution complex, and have a capacity of 800,000 TEUs. The company will contribute around $150 million, and the state has pledged $80 million toward the project.

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