5 economic trends expected to reshape Mobile in 2013
Tuesday, Jan 01, 2013
- Wednesday, Jan 01, 2014

MOBILE, Alabama – With a $600 million aircraft assembly plant en route, record-setting tourism figures attracting visitors in droves and whispers of a cruise ship resurfacing, it would appear Mobile sits poised for a veritable explosion of industrial and commercial growth in 2013.

Of course, less sexy topics such as infrastructure improvements and workforce preparedness play their own pivotal roles in determining whether the city capitalizes on its good fortune of late.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the economic influences expected to reconfigure the Port City in the new year, but it remains to be seen if these opportunities will fuel an extreme makeover or usher in an era of necessary growing pains. Regardless, it’s pretty clear one topic in particular holds the reins.

1. Airbus selects Mobile for final assembly plant

When Airbus parent company EADS lost its bid nearly two years ago to build tankers in Mobile for the U.S. Air Force, it would have been easy for both sides to shake hands and walk away. Fortunately, neither the city nor the company saw the point in discarding seven years of due diligence when both knew it was simply an issue of finding the right project to fit what was already the right relationship. Fast-forward to July 2, 2012, when Airbus unveiled plans to construct a $600 million final assembly plant at Mobile’s Brookley Aeroplex. The facility – expected to employ 1,000 people when the first planes are delivered in 2016 – has since been heralded as the Toulouse, France-based company’s strategic step to further entrench itself in the North American aerospace market while directly challenging U.S. rival Boeing Co. Moreover, Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor has already characterized the pending Mobile plant as the eventual “epicenter of commercial activity” for the company’s North American operations, and nearly every sector of the local economy is preparing to meet the increased demand caused by a heightened global profile. Even though the company has yet to hire its first employee for the Mobile plant and won’t break ground on the project until April, there’s no question the project already has Mobile’s economy flying high.

2. Cruise ship rumors abound

While it might be fun to book your wedding reception with an unusual venue – say, an abandoned cruise ship terminal – we’re pretty sure the return of an actual seafaring, revenue-generating vessel to the spot formerly occupied by Carnival’s Elation would be way cooler. And it’s no secret that rumors of a resurrected cruise industry have swirled practically nonstop since Carnival unceremoniously shifted Elation to the Port of New Orleans in October 2011, but in the absence of a signed contract with a cruise line, the prospect remains wishful thinking – on paper. As noted above, Airbus’ selection of Mobile for its newest final assembly line has almost instantaneously boosted the Port City’s global profile with economic development officials traipsing from air show to aviation forum, selling the city and its amenities. Tourism officials are confident the leisure activity will return to Mobile with great fanfare, if for no other reason than it simply makes sense. But we’ll have more on that Monday.

3. Redefining local workforce development to compete on a global stage

For decades, the availability of a “trainable workforce” has set economic development doers apart from their well-meaning – but less productive – dreamer counterparts. Our post-recession economy and increasingly global marketplace is systematically redefining this Holy Grail of recruiting tools, though, and local economic development officials intend to strike while the iron is hot. In turn, improved communication, aggressive technical skills training and increased regional cooperation will become the necessary buzz words in 2013 for Mobile and the surrounding area to adequately prepare for the industrial and commercial onslaught of needs Airbus’ arrival is already spawning.

4. Port of Mobile keeps eye on pending Panama Canal expansion

The Port of Mobile is certainly not alone awaiting the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion – in hopes the project increases traffic in the Gulf – and 2013 should bring more validation of investments in long-term improvements to help capture some of that traffic. Consider, for instance, the port accepted its first Post-Panamax container ship – the MSC Laura – in June, a feat that never could have been accomplished without $340 million invested since 2008 in a new container terminal, deepened channel and improved turning basin not to mention launching the first phase of an intermodal rail facility. Jimmy Lyons, executive director of the Alabama State Port Authority, has long contended the container sector holds the most promise for Mobile’s to maximize the benefits of the expansion because he expects Gulf and Atlantic ports to gain a more active role in Asian markets. Of course, it’s no secret Mobile’s port played a key role in luring Airbus to the city, and 2013 is expected to bring more of the same as aerospace supplier recruitment kicks into high gear.

5. I-10 corridor primed to explode with aerospace activity

As what may be the world's fourth-largest aerospace corridor prepares for unprecedented growth, Mobile and Baldwin counties lie at the heart of an anticipated economic development explosion that could easily stretch 300 miles in radius. The Aerospace Alliance – which coordinates the efforts and impact of aerospace interests in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana – contends the multiplier effect the region will enjoy as the industry flourishes will result in untold investments in the Gulf states as emerging global markets invest in fleets and existing ones upgrade to more fuel-efficient aircraft.
Kelli Dugan al.com