Around the South - Winter 2024

 After ranking as the No.1 place to live by U.S. News and World Report in 2023, Huntsville, Ala., has been named the second-best place to live in the United States in the 2023-2024 rankings. The city’s thriving job market, low cost of living and high quality of life were cited as the primary reasons for its top ranking.U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 places to live in the U.S. 

U.S. News and World Report recently named their pick of the best places to live in the U.S. in 2023 and 2024, and Green Bay, Wisc., claimed first place. Huntsville, Ala., came in second. Raleigh/Durham was third, followed by Boulder, Colo., and Sarasota, Fla., making up the top five. Those cities were followed by Naples, Fla.; Portland, Me.; Charlotte, N.C.: Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fayetteville, Ark. 

Construction workforce shortage tops 500,000 

According to the Associated Builders and Contractors, the labor crunch in the U.S. construction industry shows no signs of ending anytime soon. The industry needs to attract an estimated 501,000 additional workers beyond the normal pace of hiring this year, and 454,000 new workers in 2025, as construction demand is expected to slow. 

CBRE’s 2024 U.S. Investor Intentions Survey shines on the South

Included in the top 10 of CBRE’s top 10 markets for total commercial property returns were Dallas/Fort Worth, South Florida, Raleigh/Durham, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa and Washington, D.C. Making the top 10 outside the South were Boston and New York City. 


Alabama sets record for exports

For the second consecutive year, Alabama has set a new value record for exports with $27.4 billion. Overseas shipments of Alabama-made vehicles, aerospace parts, minerals and metals, as well as other products, rose more than 6 percent from the 2022 mark of $25.5 billion, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Looking forward, the potential for greater export growth is there, and we are already exploring new and expanding markets for Alabama companies,” said Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Ellen McNair. 

New aluminum project forges ahead in South Alabama, even though costs have risen 60 percent

Novelis is building a monster of an aluminum production plant in North Baldwin County, Ala. The site is at the former South Alabama Megasite. Initially, the project was to cost a tad over $2.5 billion. Now, it’s estimated the plant, which will take up much of the 3,000-acre site, will cost just over $4 billion to build. 

Steve Fisher, CEO of Novelis, said that the facility will be a “true plant of the future,” giving the lifetime of the plant “decades.” The facility was announced to house 1,000 employees. According to Fisher, automotive and beverage contracts have already been secured ensuring the factory will be profitable well into the future. 

Airbus continues building three new A320 hangar bays in Mobile, Ala.

The aerospace giant’s major expansion is slated to bring 1,000 new jobs to the Mobile facility, doubling its industrial footprint in Alabama. 


Mississippi County, Ark., awards $720K in infrastructure grants

Mississippi County, where more steel is made than in any county in the country, announced in the winter the recipients of its 2024 infrastructure grant program, awarding $720,050 to support seven critical water and sewer infrastructure improvements and projects. Big River Steel, Nucor and others in the metals manufacturing industry all operate in Mississippi County, Ark., employing thousands. 


Nation’s fastest-growing areas in Florida

Florida had four of the five fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country from 2022 to 2023, led by the area that includes The Villages retirement community, according to data released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. The population in the area that includes The Villages and Wildwood increased by 4.7 percent from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023.

The second-fastest growth rate in the country was in the Lakeland and Winter Haven metro area at 3.8 percent. The Ocala area was fourth at 3.4 percent, and the Port St. Lucie area was fifth-highest at 3.1 percent, according to the census data. The only area outside of Florida in the top five was the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area, which grew 3.7 percent. 


By capturing so many data centers, Georgia now needs more power

Georgia Power has approached regulators in the Peach State to request approval to bring more electric power to the state, even after the company just started up the nation’s first new nuclear reactor in decades last year. The wave of economic development projects Georgia has captured in the electric vehicle and battery industry, along with a slew of data centers, is already putting a strain on the grid in the state. 

Company officials claimed in the winter that it needed to produce more power and fast. Most of that additional electrical capacity will come in the form of fossil fuels being burned at this point. Much of the forecasted additional demand — about 80 percent — is driven by the power needed by new data centers slated for the state.

Plant Vogtle, the first new nuclear power plant to be built in the U.S. in decades, reaches milestone

The second new reactor has been connected to the power grid for the first time. The new Vogtle units will ultimately produce enough electricity to power 1 million homes.


More Kentucky-made products were shipped around the world in 2023 than in any other year on record. Aerospace products and parts, such as landing systems from Safran in Walton, Ky., once again led Kentucky’s exports.Kentucky exports break all-time record in 2023

More Kentucky-made products were shipped around the world than ever in 2023. The commonwealth broke its single-year total with $40.2 billion in exports, a 16.6 percent increase over the previous year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division, aerospace products and parts once again led Kentucky’s exports in category in 2023. 

Kentucky’s $9 billion bourbon economic impact 

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association held its 2024 Bourbon Economic Impact Report in the winter. Gov. Andy Beshear was quoted as saying to the crowd, “Bourbon is America’s native spirit, and even during a time when Kentucky’s whole economy is on fire, this industry continues to play a unique and enormous role in driving our economy and representing Kentucky to the rest of the world.” The 2023 report, titled “The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Distilling Industry in Kentucky,” valued the collective economic impact at $9 billion.


Wind farms and carbon capture not likely to share the same areas off Louisiana’s coast

A turf war is brewing off the Southwest Louisiana coast where carbon capture projects and wind farms want the same seafloor off of Cameron Parish. From reports: “Companies that plan to store tons of carbon dioxide under vast stretches of sea floor south of Cameron Parish are objecting to an overlapping development in the area with wind turbines that have yet to be built.” The carbon-capture companies told the state Department of Natural Resources, which signed agreements for both uses on the same footprint along state-managed waters near Holly Beach and Creole, that the two uses likely can’t coexist.


Amazon Web Services plans to invest $10 billion to build two data center complexes in Madison County, Miss., marking the single largest capital investment in Mississippi’s history.Mississippi captures its largest single investment 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is investing $10 billion to establish multiple data center complexes in two Madison County industrial parks. The project is a planned $10 billion corporate investment and will create at least 1,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs.

This investment by AWS is the single largest capital investment in Mississippi history and four times the size of the previous largest economic development project.

AWS is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud. These data centers will enable customers of all sizes and across all industries — such as health care, manufacturing, automotive, financial services, public sector, telecom and more — to transform their businesses. The new data centers will contain computer servers, data storage drives, networking equipment and other forms of technology infrastructure used to power cloud computing.

Bill Cork, Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), said about the project, “MDA is proud to have been instrumental in the successful culmination of this transformative $10 billion project. This monumental win underscores Mississippi’s attractiveness for major investments and signifies a boost to our economic landscape.” 


New North Carolina megasite? 

A Charlotte-area landowner is seeking rezoning of nearly 800 acres of land in several parcels in Davidson County for heavy industrial use to create a site that would approach that of state-level megasites. “This property is extremely well-suited for industrial development from the standpoint of infrastructure,” the county planning staff noted. 

With no Epic Games HQ in sight for the prime Cary site, expert weighs in on property’s future

One of the most exciting announcements in the South in several years no longer seems to be a reality. From the Triangle Business Journal

“As the months go by with no word about the future of the former Cary Towne Center property, it seems apparent that Epic Games has no immediate plans to move forward with building a new headquarters on the prime site in a town that’s attracting plenty of developers.

“Real estate watchers in the Triangle are starting to wonder what the future of the former mall property will look like as the town continues its development spree. On the other side of Cary Towne Boulevard, the highly popular mixed-use project Fenton is moving toward starting its second phase. And downtown Cary continues to transform with new retail and residential projects in the works. Meanwhile, west Cary is seeingconstruction boom for residential and commercial developments.

“Dennis Donovan, a site selection consultant with WDG Consulting, said it might be tough to attract another headquarters campus like the one Epic Games proposed back in 2021 after buying the property, which today has an assessed value of more than $100 million.

“First, there aren’t many HQ relocations,” he said, adding that a stronger possibility for the site, should Epic relinquish it, might be a tech company consolidating office operations, ‘some of which might already be based in the Raleigh, Durham area.’

“Donovan said the real demand is happening with sites that are ready to go. Starting from scratch, which would be the case in Cary, ‘becomes very difficult.’ ”


South Carolina announces second highest year in industry investment in state history

The South Carolina Department of Commerce reported that from January to December 2023, the state saw $9.22 billion in capital investment with 14,120 announced jobs, the second highest total ever. Notably, there were three announcements with investments of $1 billion or more last year — Scout Motors, Albemarle Corporation and QTS Data Centers. 


Oracle moves on with its plans to build 1.2 million-square-foot campus in Nashville

The tech giant has purchased the industrial riverfront on the east bank of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville, signaling the continuation of its $1.35 billion investment in the River North campus announced in 2021. The project will create 8,500 jobs by 2031.


Apple moving more jobs from California to Austin

By relocating about 120 jobs to Austin from California in the winter, tech giant Apple is growing its AI operations in the capital city of Texas. According to Bloomberg, Apple is moving employees who work at the company’s Data Operations Annotations unit that will be merging with the Texas portion of the group. The unit involved workers in artificial intelligence and Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. Apple currently employs about 7,000 workers in the Austin area, more than any other place outside of the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Dallas workers’ return to office ranks No. 1 among major U.S. cities

Dallas workers are returning to the office more so than other major U.S. cities, a new report says., which analyzes foot traffic data for office properties in the U.S., reports Dallas came in first, beating the national average of 18.6 returning to the office after three years of some workers leaving as a result of the pandemic. 

Austin’s job market ranked best in Texas — here’s how it scores nationally

Austin has the hottest job market in Texas, and it’s considered one of the best in the country. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal’sannual ranking of America’s hottest job markets. The Texas capital ranked No. 7 overall — tied with Nashville — and beat out Dallas (No. 10), Houston (No. 19) and San Antonio (No. 25, tied with Denver and Boston).

Salt Lake City took the top spot this year, followed by three cities in Florida — Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. Oklahoma City came in at No. 5, followed by Miami at No. 6. Austin, which fell five spots in this year’s ranking, had the strongest labor-force participation among large metro areas, according to the WSJ.

Companies like Samsung Electronics, Tesla and Apple have made huge investments in the Austin area, positioning them to add thousands more employees there in the coming decade

Samsung’s current economic effect on the Austin region is enormous

South Korean chipmaker Samsung Electronics put out new numbers this winter to show the mighty effect the company has on the Austin area. 

Samsung said in February it has invested $26.8 billion into the economy in the past year, which includes its long-running chip plant in Austin and its new factory being built in Taylor, Texas. The company employs about 15,000 direct jobs (it’s unclear from reports if that includes thousands of construction workers building the new plant in Taylor). 

To put that amount into perspective, Tesla reported that the overall impact from its Giga Texas factory in eastern Travis County contributed $987 million to the gross state product in 2022, and its EV plant is one of the largest in the world. Samsung, by comparison, has an economic effect on the Austin region now approaching $30 billion.


Work has begun on the stalled Phase 2 of Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington, Va., which includes the Helix, a tree-covered, 350-foot-tall glass spiral. Phase 1 of Amazon HQ2, known as Metropolitan Park, opened to workers in May of 2023.Remember one of the biggest deals ever in the South — Amazon’s HQ2 in Northern Virginia and 25,000 jobs? Here is an update. 

Work has begun at Amazon’s Northern Virginia HQ2. Here’s what’s happening:

Construction plans have begun, installing utilities for PenPlace, the second phase of Amazon’s HQ2, which remains delayed, but, we’re told, not scaled back. 

In March of 2023, Amazon paused development plans for the second and larger phase of its second headquartersA spokesperson has told SB&D that the e-commerce giant has made “no changes” to its hiring or construction plans, including building a new public school.

Phase 1 of Amazon HQ2, known as Metropolitan Park (2.1 million square feet of new office space in two towers) opened to workers in May of 2023

Conservative group files to stop massive wind farm off Virginia Beach

The National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit conservative watchdog group based in Falls Church, Va., filed a lawsuit in March against Dominion Energy, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other government bodies, to try and stop construction of Dominion’s $9.8 billion, 176-turbine offshore wind farm expected to begin construction this summer 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast. 

The group wants to suspend or stop the Commercial Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project, claiming the massive wind turbines (not to mention one of the largest military submarine bases in the world) pose a risk to North American right whales under the Endangered Species Act. The group also criticized President Joe Biden’s January 2021 executive order mandating an increase in clean energy production, including offshore wind energy.

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