Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Site consultant says Alabama can bring in foreign companies, development

By Michael Tomberlin -- The Birmingham News

MONTGOMERY -- A leading global site consultant said Alabama is already well known to international companies and the state has an opportunity to boost its share of international investment, which is expected to hit $2 trillion in 2012.

Woody Hydrick, associate principal and global site consultant for Cushman & Wakefield, told Alabama economic development professionals at a Monday conference that they often don't know they have sites in the running for major projects. Only when sites make the finalist cut do many local economic development groups know they are being considered for a project, he added.

Hydrick, who worked with Germany's Thyssen Krupp in choosing a site near Mobile for a $5 billion steel mill, said in an interview that Alabama's ability to build an automotive industry from scratch, starting with Mercedes-Benz in 1993, has cemented its place in the global market.

"Alabama has shown they have the infrastructure and the ability to work large, complex projects," Hydrick said. "Birmingham is in the middle of all of that."

Hydrick said the European Union countries have a number of companies that will look to carry out projects in the next few years. Alabama should position itself to be ready to land those companies as they focus their site searches in the eastern U.S., he told members of the Economic Development Association of Alabama meeting in Montgomery.

Much of the technology used by alternative energy companies was developed in Europe and those companies view the U.S. as a major growth market, Hydrick said. Also, gasoline prices around $3 a gallon are keeping the focus on producing cars that are lighter but still safe, which could represent another opportunity for automotive suppliers.

Research and development firms and engineering and production support companies are also among those that could be looking to the U.S. for expansion opportunities, he said.

As a general rule, companies are looking for market access, low costs and risk avoidance when making site selection decisions, Hydrick said. Anything a local community can do to address those three concerns will go a long way in making a company's list and staying on it, he said.

Incentives, infrastructure and clear titles on sites are ways Alabama has done that for major projects in the past. Worker training programs, energy costs and available sites and buildings are also key factors that have helped Alabama win projects in the past, he said.

Hydrick said in an interview the Magic City is on that radar screen and is a growing player in logistics.

"Alabama is well-positioned in the Southeast to win its share of projects and I think Birmingham has a number of factors in its favor for certain industries," Hydrick said.

Hydrick said global foreign direct investment is expected to be between $1.3 trillion and $1.5 trillion this year and rise to around $2 trillion next year. Although the so-called "BRIC" countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China are getting the bulk of the attention, the U.S. still leads the world in foreign direct investment, Hydrick said, pulling in $130 billion in 2008-2009, the most recent figures available.

Cushman & Wakefield has 231 offices in 58 countries.

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