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Economy

I-20/59 through downtown Birmingham closes for a year

Chip Brownlee

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The portion of Interstate 20/59 through downtown Birmingham has officially closed for a year of construction and repairs.

The shutdown began Monday evening and includes the bridges through Birmingham’s central business district from the Interstate 65 interchange to the interchange at Red Mountain Expressway.

The bridges through downtown are among the busiest stretches of highway in Alabama, and they’re key access points to the central business district.

The elevated portion of the interstate through downtown Birmingham will stay closed for an estimated 14 months. The Alabama Department of Transportation is overseeing a project to rebuild and expand the aging interstate that runs through the heart of Alabama’s largest city.

At a cost of $700 million, the existing bridges are going to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up using a segmental design to improve noise and aesthetics with a shorter construction time frame, ALDOT has said. Much Birmingham’s downtown business community has opposed the project in its entirety, and they expect to see impacts to business during the closure.

The interstate should reopen in March of 2020, if all construction is completed on time, and the rest of the project will be done in November 2020. The contractor will receive incentives for finishing early, and it will be fined if it doesn’t meet the deadlines.

Designing in the 1960s, the bridges were originally designed for a 30-year lifespan with a capacity of 80,000 vehicles per day. Nearly 60 years later, daily traffic exceeds 165,000 vehicles, which is expected to increase to 225,000 by 2035.

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ALDOT considered rerouting the interstates, but that option wasn’t possible. The department has said that process could have taken decades, assuming the federal government approved it, and the problem was too immediate.

ALDOT is encouraging drivers to use Interstate 459 if possible as a detour. There are also detours through downtown Birmingham, but with increased traffic because of the interstate closure, traffic flow will likely be slow.

Detours:

  • Westbound I-20/59 traffic will take the exit at Carraway Boulevard and then take Finley Boulevard to I-65 at the Finley exit or I-20/59 at the Arkadelphia Road exit.
  • Westbound traffic to downtown can take the 25th Street exit or exit onto the Red Mountain Expressway, but during construction, these exits will be closed temporarily.
  • Eastbound I-20/59 traffic will be detoured down the Arkadelphia Road exit to Finley Boulevard and to Carraway Boulevard.
  • Eastbound traffic to downtown can use the 17th Street North exit or take I-65 South to 3rd Street South.
  • Click here for detour routes. 
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Economy

ADECA names Elaine J. Fincannon as new deputy director

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Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell announced on Thursday that Elaine J. Fincannon has been appointed as the agency’s deputy director.

Fincannon most recently served as Senior Vice President for Investor Relations for the Business Council of Alabama. She worked with BCA for over 25 years as part of its senior team, working with a diverse range of business leaders and CEOs of Alabama’s largest employers. During that time, she also served as BCA’s liaison to Alabama’s trade associations and to the more than 100 chambers of commerce throughout the state. She also served on the President’s Committee and Corporate Partners Committee for the Alabama Automotive Manufacturer’s Association and was a part of the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association’s membership committee.

“Elaine Fincannon’s extensive knowledge and experience with the public and private sector in our state made her an ideal choice to be ADECA’s new deputy director, and I am pleased that she has decided to bring those talents to the agency,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Elaine is mission-focused, forward-thinking and detailed-oriented, which are the exact skills needed to serve as deputy director of ADECA. She and I will work closely together to continue supporting Gov. Ivey’s mission of improving the lives of all Alabamians.”

Fincannon is an active member of the community, serving as a member of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, the Junior League of Montgomery, the Montgomery Humane Society, Auburn University Montgomery Alumni Association and other volunteer efforts. She also served as a member of the American Society of Association Executives and was an officer of the Association of State Chamber Professionals. She has a bachelor’s degree of science from AUM and was honored with a Distinguished Chamber Professional Award in 2019 by the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.

Fincannon joins ADECA with a focus on working with Boswell to meet the agency’s mission to strengthen and support local communities.

“It is an honor to join ADECA during this time, and I am grateful to Director Boswell and Gov. Ivey for this appointment,” Fincannon said. “I plan to work diligently to serve the people of Alabama to the absolute best of my ability.”

 

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Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways

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The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recently delivered its Annual Report to Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the legislature. The report highlights the many and varied workforce successes from 2019. It also outlines policy recommendations to further solidify Alabama as a leader in workforce development and push the state closer to Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.

Gov. Ivey acknowledged the recent progress stating, “the continued efforts of the AWC and the various state agency partners in transforming our workforce are substantial. Significant work has been accomplished to ensure all Alabamians have a strong start and strong finish. We will continue to bolster our state’s economy through dynamic workforce development solutions to help us reach our ambitious goal.”

The AWC, formed in 2015, was created as an employer-led, statewide effort to understand the structure, function, organization and perception of the Alabama workforce system. The goal of the AWC is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable workforce that is competitive on a global scale. 

“This report details the tremendous efforts of the dedicated AWC members and their partners who have greatly contributed to the progress of building a highly-skilled workforce.” noted Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC. “To meet ever-growing job needs of an expanding economy, we have put forth recommendations to bring working-age Alabamians sitting on the sidelines back into the workforce to address our low workforce participation rate.”

Included among the many highlights from the report are:

  • Created the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to support apprenticeships and work-based learning statewide.
  • Established the Alabama Committee on Credentialing & Career Pathways (ACCCP) to identify credentials of value that align with in-demand career pathways across Alabama.
  • Furthered foundational work toward cross-agency outcome sharing through the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics (ATLAS).
  • Commissioned statewide surveys to better understand the characteristics, and potential barriers, of the priority population groups (during record-low unemployment) identified as likely to enter or re-enter the state’s workforce. 
  • Provided technical assistance, support staff and grant writing services to a cohort of over 30 nonprofits from across the state enabling them to expand services and directly connect more Alabamians to training and economic opportunity. Services helped cohort members secure over $6.4 million in grant money through various out-of-state grant programs.
  • Identified and evaluated 17 population segments of potential workers and determined the likelihood of adding members of those respective population segments into the workforce. Within this process, issues affecting the state’s labor participation rate were also detailed. 

Vice-Chair of the AWC Sandra Koblas of Austal USA commented, “the energy around workforce development in Alabama right now is incredibly exciting. We are working together with businesses, nonprofits and agency partners to reduce barriers, increase opportunities and grow the state’s overall economy.”

The full report can be viewed here.

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To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council

 

 

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Economy

Shelby announces $733,150 ARC POWER Grant for Opportunity Alabama

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U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Wednesday announced that Opportunity Alabama, Inc., a nonprofit initiative in Birmingham, Alabama, is the recipient of a $733,150 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant.  This grant will fund the Creating Opportunity for Alabama (COAL) Initiative.

“ARC’s decision to award this funding to Opportunity Alabama will help significantly boost private investment and business development throughout our state’s coal-impacted communities,” said Senator Shelby.  “I am proud this nonprofit initiative is working to help our local communities understand and capitalize on Opportunity Zones.  These federal funds will facilitate an improved quality of life in Appalachian Alabama, creating hundreds of jobs and dozens of new businesses.”

“Opportunity Zones, and the private investment they incentivize, are helping uplift communities throughout the Appalachian Region,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas.  “Opportunity Alabama is working to ensure communities understand and are able to capitalize on this program to improve Appalachian Alabama, and this POWER investment will have a big impact on that mission.”

 The project will create an investment funding and business development ecosystem targeted to the federally designated Opportunity Zones in 36 coal-impacted counties in Alabama.  As a result of the ARC grant, Opportunity Alabama will work with a team of local, state, and national partners in a three-phased approach.  The first phase will work on building a local capacity to effectively prepare for and attract Opportunity Zone investments, focusing particularly on rural communities.  The second phase will create a pipeline of investment opportunities to attract substantial private investment by facilitating demand studies, environmental assessments, and construction cost estimates.  The third and final phase will focus on developing and implementing an impact-investment data collection and analysis process to make it easier for investors to deploy their capital.

This project will yield 250 new jobs, create 25 new businesses, and leverage $100 million in private investment.  In addition to the federal grant provided for the project, Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation are expected to provide private financial support.

Opportunity Alabama is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to connecting investors with investable assets in Alabama’s Opportunity Zones.

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State Sen. Andrew Jones files bill to eliminate grocery tax

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State Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries.

Jones’ bill, Senate Bill 144, is different from other recent efforts to eliminate the grocery tax in that his proposal would be revenue neutral and also neutral to the State Education Trust Fund.  In other words, the State of Alabama and the Education Trust Fund would neither gain money nor lose money if SB144 passes. 

“The grocery tax is a regressive tax which penalizes hardworking families in Alabama,” Jones said. “At least 38 states and the District of Columbia have full or partial sales tax exemptions for groceries.  It is important to me that we eliminate this out-dated tax which disproportionately affects lower income Alabamians.”

Jones’ bill pays for the loss of sales tax revenue by capping the federal income tax deduction on Alabama state income taxes. Alabama is one of only 6 states that allow such a deduction.

“It was important to me to have a revenue-neutral proposal that did not result in a loss to our education budget,” Jones continued. “Grocery sales taxes fund our education budget, as does state income tax.  By implementing an FIT deduction cap, funding for our education budget remains unchanged.”  

Under Jones’ proposal, individuals would still be able to take a FIT deduction of up to $6000 and Married Couples filing jointly would still be able to deduct up to $12,000.  

“In layman’s terms,” Jones continued, “a family of 4 making under $134,800 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. An individual filing as head of family making less that $70,700 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. Finally, a person filing as single or married filing separately making less than $58,300 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction.” 

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While everyone would benefit from no grocery tax, Jones noted that working families would benefit two-fold.

“Our blue-collar Alabamians will not only get to avoid paying taxes on groceries,” said Jones, “they will also not pay a dime more in income taxes.  SB144 will result in more money staying in their pocketbooks. I encourage everyone who supports this effort to contact your local legislator and ask them to support SB144.”   

Constitutional amendments require a 3/5ths vote of both the House and Senate and must then be approved by a majority of Alabama voters.

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