In The News

Mass Transit Magazine: AL: New Flyer Breaks Ground on $25 Million Expansion

Sept. 15–An Anniston bus manufacturer unveiled a $25 million expansion project Friday set to result in about 40 new jobs and possibly lead to hundreds of more hires in coming years.

Canada-based New Flyer, North America’s largest transit bus maker, held a groundbreaking ceremony at its Anniston facility for the 76,000-square-foot expansion and renovation project already underway. The two-fold project includes expanding the facility’s welding department and opening a center to develop modern driverless and electric bus technology. Meanwhile, the New Flyer project continues a trend of state job growth generated far more by existing industry expansions than by the opening of new companies, some economic development experts say.

Company executives, along with area and state officials including Gov. Kay Ivey, were on hand for the groundbreaking, while workers took a break to watch.

Wayne Joseph, New Flyer transit bus president, said after the event that the expansion would make it possible to start a full second shift at the facility. The Anniston site currently has around 500 employees.

“We’ll hire between 30 and 40 immediately, but we could be talking about hundreds of employees if the opportunity presents itself and the market allows for it,” Joseph said.

The company is banking on growth not just from its existing products, but from more advanced buses it wants to develop that are autonomous and generate zero emissions. New Flyer plans to create that technology at what’s dubbed an innovation center, partially constructed in Anniston and set to open next month.

“This is the first center in North America that focuses on the improvement of bus transit technology … we have the potential to dramatically transform North America’s public transportation system,” Joseph said.

The New Flyer project is just the latest in a long trend of companies expanding and generating most of the job growth in the state.

According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, between 2014 and 2016, existing business expansions accounted for 75 percent of the total investment and 65 percent of the job creation totals attributed to economic development in the state. During that period, Calhoun County attracted $541 million in investment and 1,313 anticipated jobs, most of which is attributed to expansion activity, the department states.

“An analysis of these figures confirms that a majority of new capital investment and economic development-related job creation in Alabama stems from expansions of existing businesses,” Greg Canfield, secretary of commerce for the Alabama Department of Commerce, wrote in a Friday email to The Star. “The reason for that is simple — companies gain confidence in Alabama and view expanding their operations in the state as a less risky proposition than locating to a new site.”

Paul Soubry, president and CEO of New Flyer Group, said the company had multiple choices on where to build its innovation center, but saw Anniston as the best fit.

“We were told we had to go to California, but as we move into our next journey of all electric buses, we chose to invest in people who were loyal to us,” Soubry said. “There’s no question we’re here to stay.”

Canfield wrote that because of the potential economic growth that comes from expansions, the commerce department and its economic development allies across the state spend much of their time assisting existing businesses with projects.

Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, said during a phone interview that company expansions are often overlooked by flashier announcements of new industries locating in the state.

“Existing industry has always outpaced new business in terms of growth,” Sewell said. “For most local developers, their work is mostly supporting existing business … it may not be as visible, but they spend a lot of time behind the scenes, always talking about expansions.”

Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said focusing on company expansions is key to job growth in the area.

“We have a staff person who dedicates all of her time to existing industry,” Hopper said. “We believe existing industry is where investment and new jobs comes from.”

Hopper said cultivating expansions like New Flyer’s means constant communication with companies.

“It’s relationships, calling on them and building on them, so when companies look to grow, we’re the first ones they call,” he said.

View the original story