Austal USA and the South Alabama Job Market

Posted by Aaron Pugh on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at 7:51am.

In 2009, Austal USA, located on Mobile's waterfront, set a goal to create 4,000 jobs for its U.S. base of operations.  The goal is on pace for realization by the end of 2013 according to representatives from the Australian ship builder.  When met, this will make Austal the largest private sector employer in Mobile County.
"Our game plan is to level our to support both of our programs going forward," said president Craig Perciavalle, discussing the two different classes of ships currently being assembled at the sprawling facility on the waters of Mobile Bay.
The employment figures are approximately five times higher than the 800 of the initial year in 2009.  Austal made a commitment to double its workforce in a two year window to facilitate the growing need from the U.S. Navy.  The goal will be achieved largely in part to the standard set by construction methods maximizing efficiency and return on investment in industrial training provided by the resources offered.
"We found that there are a lot of really good people living in the Mobile area.  The challenge was skilling them up, because aluminum ship building was not a skill that existed when we started.  We basically grew our own," he said, using the Alabama Industrial Development Training Program.
"We build cool stuff"
In addition to the U.S. facility, Austal Limited operates in the Phillipines and also in Western Australia.  Perciavalle joined Austal in 2007 as vice president of operations and was promoted in 2009 to president helping to oversee the company's transition from a modest commercial shipyard to the current model;  a cutting edge modular manufacturer of littoral combat ships and joint high-speed vessels for the U.S. Navy.  "We're at the peak of our net growth, but that doesn't mean we don't have the opportunity for skills advancement going forward, " he said.
Austal is a worldwide company with 250 vessels operating around the globe, with 32 that have been delivered or are under contract to be delivered through the Mobile hub.  The company also waits on confirmation on six more contracts for ships.  "Our vessels are cost-effective solutions to meeting the Navy's strategic needs, while bringing versatility and flexibility to adjust to ever-changing requirements of the battlespace," Perciavalle said.  "We build cool stuff, and we're excited to be doing it."
$300 million invested

The size and growth of the U.S. branch is a result of calculated growth and expansion and the Mobile area has provided an ideal environment for this project.  Austal's shipyard is the first new facility built in the United States since the 1970's.  Austal has invested $300 million in the Mobile facility after investing $2 million for the first 10 acres in 1999.  By 2009, the Australian-based company had constructed three assembly bays and administration offices before spending an estimated 85 million in its modular manufacturing facility.
"We finished the first phase of development in November 2012, and it gives us more capability because we're able to have more ships in the water at one time.  It also allows us to better support new construction and post-delivery service," said William "Bill" Pfister, vice president of facilities development and interim vice president for business development.  Pfister said the second phase will commence in early 2015 and cost around $40 million.
This all points to a strengthening job market and a stronger local economy which will directly influence the real estate market.  The Eastern Shore is a short drive to the facility and just across the bay way.  Spanish Fort, Daphne and Fairhope comprise the Eastern Shore and Fairhope is consistently voted as one of the best places in the U.S. to call home.  Baldwin County is home to some of the best school systems in the state and numerous other amenities like the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach make South Alabama a great venue for residents.  The Gulf Coast and its thousands of condos make for great investments too.  The beach has experienced unprecedented growth in the past few years eclipsing all previous records for occupancy marks as well as spending.

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