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What's Coming in 2018

A governor’s race, major auto expansions, robots on combat ships

Italian aircraft company Leonardo says it will build its next generation T-100 jet trainers in Tuskegee if it wins a $16.3 billion Air Force contract currently in play.

Italian aircraft company Leonardo says it will build its next generation T-100 jet trainers in Tuskegee if it wins a $16.3 billion Air Force contract currently in play.

Whatever happens in 2018, we apparently won’t be hearing it from Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose or Bill O’Reilly. The winds of gender politics in the workplace will no doubt continue to blow and might even factor into the the governor’s race, where Kay Ivey will run for re-election to a full term.

Specifically, will there be any male politicians with a clean enough record to face her? And will her tacit support of Roy Moore help or hurt her campaign?

Also up for election are the offices of lieutenant governor, currently vacant as well as other top state offices and U.S. House of Representatives posts.

Patient court watchers have long awaited movement in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers regarding Colonial Bank Group. The FDIC argued last October that Colonial, which failed in 2009, did so because PwC didn’t discover a long-running fraud between Colonial and its largest customer, Taylor Bean & Whitaker. A federal judge in the case signaled in the fall that she was behind schedule on deciding the threshold question of liability. Court observers believe the case, if it comes to a verdict next year, would decide important questions of auditor liability in fraud cases.

The cusp of the New Year also finds us awaiting decisions on two major opportunities that loomed large in 2017: A $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda plant said to be headed for either Alabama or North Carolina, as well as a plant proposed for Tuskegee where Italian aircraft builder Leonardo would make the T-100 next-generation jet trainer for the U.S. Air Force. Both decisions are expected in the first quarter of 2018.

In Birmingham, a similar mega-prize is on the table in the form of the Magic City’s bid for the second Amazon headquarters. The bid for HQ2, as the media dubbed it, inspired giant Amazon cardboard boxes in front of the newly revived Pizitz building. While Birmingham wasn’t considered a frontrunner for the headquarters, which could eventually employ 50,000 people, making a solid bid was itself considered worthwhile for showing off the city’s long list of new and refurbished addresses for both retail and residential use.

The Navy expects to order three more Littoral Combat Ships from Austal USA, in Mobile, in 2018. Here the USS Independence, the first LCS Austal delivered, is shown on builder’s sea trials in 2009.

 

In Mobile County, Wal-Mart and Amazon should have their large-scale product handling operations online next year, creating hundreds of jobs in the retail support industry. Humans, likely, will still be driving trucks in and out of those facilities, though Elon Musk recently revealed an electric tractor-trailer rig that might offer self-driving technology in the future. The Wal-Mart facility, in particular, will rely heavily on truck movement between its Theodore location and the Alabama State Port Authority.

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama plans to finish an $85 million expansion at its Lincoln manufacturing plant, meant to improve manufacturing flexibility and strengthen logistical efficiency. Putting paid to President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that Japanese automakers build more things in the U.S., Honda churned out 369,538 vehicles and engines at the plant in 2016. The company will also ponder more electric options and is said to be working on an EV capable of getting a full charge in just 15 minutes by 2022.

Likewise, Mercedes-Benz will not only be wrapping up an expansion that took shape in 2017, it will also break ground in 2018 on a $1 billion electric battery plant. It puts Alabama on a rare footing. The battery plant will be only the fifth one created by Mercedes and will put the state well on the road to building electric SUVs in Tuscaloosa. The Daimler expansion will actually stretch into 2019, when a 680,000-square-foot global logistics parts consolidation center being built by Gray Construction is expected to come online. Toyota will carry out a $106 million expansion at its engine plant in Huntsville. We’ll find out if rumors are true that Hyundai, which built up its supplier base in 2017, will add new models for its Montgomery plant.

The retail apocalypse, as it’s come to be known, will march forward in 2018. Kmart is scheduled to close its last store in the state, in Albertville, in January. It had operated for more than 30 years.

On a happier note, Montgomery Regional Airport expects to see direct flights to and from Washington’s Reagan National Airport in June. The latest U.S. Navy budget proposal calls for three new Littoral Combat Ships in 2018, and some of that work should land at Austal USA in Mobile.

Wallace State Community College, the city of Oneonta and Blount County recently broke ground on a new 20,000-square-foot Wallace State-Oneonta facility that will bode well for education and job training. “By 2020, 62 percent of all the jobs in Alabama will require a postsecondary degree or certificate. Today, only 37 percent of our workforce have such a credential,” Gov. Kay Ivey said at the event.

Also looking to the future, Tuscaloosa will continue work installing technology and collecting data, in partnership with the University of Alabama and Alabama Department of Transportation, which will eventually be used to guide self-driving vehicles. It’s the first project of its kind in Alabama.

Not to be outdone, Auburn University this spring will begin its new online Master of Engineering Management degree that will support the state’s multibillion-dollar manufacturing and technology industries.

Robots, as always, will be in the news. They’re expected to help clear dangerous mines in shallow waters as they’re deployed from Littoral Combat Ships in the near future and will have a bigger role in health care as they’re used in surgery suites and to keep hospitals clear of germs and bacteria.

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