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What’s Coming in 2017

Here’s a fearless analysis of what’s coming for 2017 from the editors of Business Alabama.

The $850 million Mobile Bay Bridge exists mostly in the dreams of commuters.

The $850 million Mobile Bay Bridge exists mostly in the dreams of commuters.

Goat Hill High Jinks

There’s a new high sheriff, Republican Rep. Mac McCutcheon, who takes over Speaker of the House duties when the Alabama Legislature convenes its regular session in February. HB46, which will remove earmarks from 30 state agencies and revenue streams in the General Fund, doesn’t hit until the 2017 fiscal year, but the BP PLC oil settlement has eased the fiscal turmoil somewhat. Still, a court case now under way from the federal government will likely find the state’s prison system unconstitutional. An “emergency” plan by Gov. Robert Bentley to spend $800 million on four new prisons, deemed half-baked last year, will likely get a new hearing. McCutcheon also wants to sort out state tax credits and figure out a way to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

Happy from All Over

Mercedes-Benz plans to launch 10 plug-in hybrid models this year, including more efficient versions of its C-Class sedans and M-Class sport utility vehicles made in Vance. Hyundai Motor will move forward on a second plant for 2017 near its Montgomery operation, with a targeted annual production capacity of 300,000 SUVs, including next-generation Genesis G80 sedans and an unnamed Genesis D-segment CUV. President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t shown many cards related to space exploration, but his team seems unlikely to reorganize the Space Launch System, which is on schedule to launch in 2018 and provides much work in Alabama. The state may see its first charter schools this year, with four systems having filed paperwork to become charter authorizers. Walker County residents are energized as Yorozu Corp. completes its $100 million metal stamping plant, which will create 300 jobs. Germany-based Berghoff Precision Machining will fire up its new $30 million Auburn facility to make parts for customers in the equipment manufacturing, semiconductor and aerospace industries. SMP Automotive Systems Alabama will begin production at its new $150 million plant in Tuscaloosa, employing up to 650 people to build parts for Mercedes-Benz.

  

ABOVE LEFT Seth Dettling, owner of Big Escambia Spirits, draws a sample of his Alabama bourbon, due out this summer. Photo by Matthew Coughlin 

ABOVE RIGHT Steel is rising in Decatur at the Cook Museum of Natural Science.
 

Quality of Life

Downtown Birmingham will see its new Publix open at the intersection of 3rd Avenue South and 20th Street South. Baseball will commence this summer at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, with Birmingham’s Brasfield & Gorrie among the general contractors. The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine matriculated its first class on August 5, 2013, and those students will see graduation in May. Motorists in Mobile may get news on a new $850 million Mobile Bay Bridge, as the complex environmental impact report that comes before any construction should wrap up in 2017. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is adding a $15 million, 84,650-square-foot addition to its original 144,000-square-foot facility in Birmingham. Downtown Decatur will see a virtually finished Cook Museum of Natural Science, a $17 million structure filled with wonders of the Alabama ecosystem. The 1909 Empire Building in downtown Birmingham should open by April, after a $45 million redo, as a luxury Marriott property with 117 bedrooms, a gym, lounge, meeting space and rooftop bar. The first barrel of legal Alabama bourbon continues its two-year aging journey at Big Escambia Spirits near Atmore and could be ready as early as June.

Clouds on the Horizon

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an El Niño warming of the Pacific Ocean to fade and make way for La Niña over the winter, a condition that contributed to the historic tornado outbreaks of April 2011 and April 1974. Insurance carrier Humana won’t offer health insurance in Alabama this year, while Blue Cross Blue Shield looks to raise its premiums by an average of 36 percent. Fort Rucker in southeast Alabama may face another Defense Base Realignment and Closure test this year, but it’s survived before and likely will again if the community prepares, local leaders say. United Launch Alliance has pledged to cut up to 500 jobs across its five-state footprint, which includes Alabama.

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