Late Sunday, a group of European business executives and Alabama political leaders gathered in a second-floor suite at the historic Battle House Hotel in Mobile.
There, as a scorching summer sun sank over the city's downtown, Airbus President Fabrice Bregier raised a glass of champagne in salute to his hosts.
Welcome to Mobile, he said, my American home.
The toast was returned by Mobile's Governor, who will stand with Bregier today and announce a project that could forever alter the city's economic fortunes. Airbus is planning to construct a $600 million aircraft assembly plant at the Brookley Aeroplex, giving the Toulouse, France-based company its first production center on U.S. soil and vaulting Mobile into an elite group of cities that manufacture large airplanes.
The plant will produce A319, A320 and A321 aircraft and employ 1,000 full-time workers at full capacity, according to an internal briefing document obtained by the Press-Register.
Construction began in 2013 and created an estimated 2,500 jobs over a two-year period to build the plant. Aircraft assembly began in 2015, with first delivery from the Mobile plant in 2016. Airbus anticipates the plant will produce 40 to 50 aircraft per year by 2017.
Sunday, on the eve of the announcement, an entourage of Airbus officials mingled at the Battle House with guests including U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, among others. Representatives from the company's major suppliers and customers also traveled to Mobile to participate in the event, along with former Gov. Bob Riley, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida and David Bronner, the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
Mobile police and hotel security teemed throughout the lobby, ushering media members and curious guests away from the party. Local TV crews, stationed on the Royal Street sidewalk, trained their cameras on the hotel's main entrance.
Invited guests at the reception dined on seared scallops, loin of Kobe beef and fois gras roasted fingerling potatoes, according to several in attendance.
Bentley, in remarks to the group, said the project could have the same impact on Alabama as Mercedes-Benz. The German automaker in 1993 announced plans to build an auto assembly plant in Vance, Ala., its first production site outside of Europe and the first auto plant in Alabama.
The Mercedes plant opened a wave of new investment from suppliers and other related businesses, and was followed by Honda and Hyundai, who later opened assembly plants in Lincoln and Hope Hull, respectively. Alabama, which never produced a car before 1997, is on pace to become the nation's No. 3 automaker in the next few years.
For Mobile, the Airbus announcement was a victory born in the ashes of defeat.
The port city never fully recovered from a four-decade-old decision by the Department of Defense to shut down Brookley, a former Air Force base that drove the local economy.
There was more heartbreak in recent years.
On Feb. 24, 2011, the U.S. Air Force announced it was picking Boeing Co. over EADS for a contract to build a new fleet of refueling tankers. That decision, after a fierce, five-year war for the contract, was a bitter disappointment to EADS and to Mobile, which had hoped to win the work building the new planes.
One week later, EADS announced it would not challenge the decision, killing plans for a $600 million plant at Brookley that would have built tankers and Airbus A330 freighters.
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