he EV evolution is coming, and we’re getting ready for it.”
On a rainy December afternoon, I found myself among economic development leaders, site selectors, industrial executives and more at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Georgia, for the annual North Alabama Economic Development Luncheon.
The food was amazing. But fresh data covering economic development throughout the state might’ve been the best dish served.
We all looked on as Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, spoke about the thriving region, its industries and its workforce. One case study showed that Alabama’s automotive industry has transformed the northern region’s economy, especially in rural areas. Kracke said success within the region’s industry would not been seen without strategic investment and diligent planning by the state.
Efforts spanning years have landed billions in investment and expansions, as well as thousands of jobs, from Mercedes-Benz ($7 billion since 1993), Airbus ($1 billion since 2012), and a Toyota-Mazda JV ($2.3 billion since 2018).
Hyundai Mobis, an arm of Hyundai Motor Company, announced plans in October 2022 to invest $205 million in a new EV battery module plant in Montgomery, Alabama.
Upon completion the 450,000-sq.-ft. plant will produce over 200,000 EV batteries for its Alabama and Georgia facilities. Creating over 400 new jobs, Hyundai Mobis expands the company’s auto parts production in the state. In addition to producing cockpit modules, front and rear chassis modules, bumper assemblies and instrument panels, battery production will begin in 2024.
This announcement follows Hyundai’s April 2022, $300 million investment to accommodate future production of the electric Genesis GV70 and Santa Fe Hybrid models, adding 200 jobs at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) in Montgomery.
In 2018, Mazda and Toyota broke ground on their joint venture in Huntsville, Alabama.
Photo courtesy of Mazda
“Hyundai Motor Co. is taking its first steps in electric vehicle production in the United States. We are excited to showcase our team members’ skills in producing electric vehicles here in Alabama,” said Ernie Kim, HMMA president and CEO.
Harvesting Rural Energy
Regardless of where automotive giants plant their roots, this growth spills into surrounding rural areas as new suppliers and other small businesses file into the state. The strong manufacturing workforce solidified in the northern region brings investment from more than just automotive companies and suppliers to these once agrarian counties.
In November 2022, First Solar Inc. announced plans for a $1.1 billion photovoltaic solar module manufacturing plant in Lawrence County. The North Alabama plant anticipates production starting in 2025, creating 700 new manufacturing jobs.
As part of First Solar’s goal to achieve self-sufficiency in reliable and competitive renewable energy technologies, the Lawrence County plant will produce an annual capacity of 3.5 gigawatts direct current (GWDC) when online. Its vertically integrated facility will join its three Ohio locations to expand the companies domestic footprint to over 10 GWDC by 2025.
“Our commitment to Responsible Solar includes operating facilities that are among the cleanest, safest, and most diverse in the country, and we’re pleased to bring our model of responsible solar manufacturing to Alabama. We are proud of the role that this facility will play in creating stable, good-paying manufacturing jobs in the state, demonstrating the economic and social value that clean energy can deliver,” said First Solar CEO Mark Widmar.
Novelis’ October 2022 Bay Minette Groundbreaking ceremony
Photo courtesy of Novelis.
Rollin’ Down South
With all the commotion up north, Novelis decided to make a $2.5 billion splash down south, in the city of Bay Minette, Alabama.
The massive project broke ground in October 2022, beginning construction on an aluminum mill located on the 3,000-acre South Alabama Mega Site. The project announcement coincides with meeting North America’s strong demand for flat-rolled, low-carbon aluminum serving both beverage and automotive industries.
The site is located 31 minutes northeast of Mobile, Alabama, in Baldwin County. Several locations were scouted by Novelis’ team, but Bay Minette’s mega site emerged as a clear winner, and for good reason. As of now, Baldwin is Alabama’s fastest growing county and one of the fastest growing metros in the nation.
For Novelis, access to and attracting local talent is a key focus, attained through partnering with state and local officials, as well as institutions like University of South Alabama, Coastal Alabama Community College and Bishop State Community College to address hiring and training needs. These partnerships will come in handy as the company looks to add 1,000 new jobs to the community by 2025.
“We looked for a location that boasts a talented workforce, livability and connectivity to our own locations and customers,” says Daniel Groce, communications for Novelis’ North American team. “As the fastest growing county in Alabama, we’re already seeing lots of opportunity for strong workforce development partnerships in the region. We also see appeal in the accessibility of the site to the Port of Mobile, 5 Class-1 railways and several interstates.”
What makes this aluminum mill different?
It will be the first of its kind constructed in the U.S. in over 40 years. As the company evolves into sustainably focused manufacturing and recycling processes, this site will feature technology that highlights that initiative.
For starters, this location will emit the least amount of CO2 compared to any other Novelis plant. Primarily powered by renewable energy and using recycled water, the mill will operate as a zero-waste facility. The Bay Minette plant will also introduce sensors and artificial intelligence on all drive trains, using predictive analysis to reduce potential down time due to equipment issues.
“Beverage companies and can makers are increasingly turning to aluminum thanks to consumer demand for 100% recyclable packaging. In addition, automakers are using more aluminum for current and future vehicle designs, thanks to its benefits in performance, sustainability and being lightweight,” says Groce.
“The primary focus for the plant is the beverage can market. It will also support the growing automotive market with flexibility for some specialty production. Our customers are excited about this investment, and we’re confident the available capacity we are building at Bay Minette will be sold out by the time we commission the facility.”
This project, known to Baldwin County leaders as “Project Goldeneye” is what the county has been working toward since 2009 to build a sustainable local economy. In 2022, Novelis found its perfect fit here for years to come, while Baldwin County gained its most significant investment and more than $6.5 billion in expected total economic output. (See Megasites article in this issue for more details.)
The company’s Bay Minette plant is but one piece of the $4.5 billion global puzzle Novelis plans to build out over the next several years, $3.4 billion of which is already in the works. In the U.S. those investments include Alabama’s Bay Minette aluminum mill; a new $365 million automotive recycling plant in Guthrie, Kentucky; a $130 million facelift to its Oswego, New York plant; and a $36 million expansion in Greensboro, Georgia.