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Economy

Houses passes bill intended to improve use of economic incentives

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act on Thursday to improve the way that the state uses economic incentives. More specifically, this bill would add new tools for the attraction and expansion of businesses in rural Alabama as well as in federally designated Opportunity Zones. It also targets attracting technology companies.

House Bill 540 is sponsored by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

Poole said the state wants to use incentives to “lure jobs to rural counties and economically distressed areas, taking advantage of new federal legislation creating opportunity zones.” It also uses incentives to target technology jobs.

Poole said there are four essential pillars to the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act. These include the Jobs Act. This expands it so that more rural counties will be eligible and makes smaller projects in rural areas eligible. The act does not increase the cap on incentives. The second pillar is the growing Alabama Act.

“Pillar 3 is the most significant part,” Poole said. “We know that enormous amounts of capital are pooling up nationally to take advantage of the tax benefits from federal Opportunity Zones.”

“We are going to have to work hard to compete; because that is what other states are doing,” Poole said.

“The education piece is broken,” said House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville. “You are not going to grow the state when the educational foundation is broken.”

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Daniels was referring to Wednesday’s report by U.S. News and World Report claiming that Alabama’s education system is the worst in the entire country. The magazine ranked the state 46th in higher education and 49th in pre-K through grade 12 education for a cumulative score of 50 out of 50.

“We are not going to break the cycle of poverty by just offering incentives and recruiting industry,” Daniels said.

“I represent a rural county (Blount), but we do not qualify under this bill,” said State Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden.

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In the bill, Poole defines a “rural” county as one that has less than 50,000 people. By that definition, Blount County, with a 2017 census estimate of 58,017, would not qualify for the enhanced incentives.

“I’m working with the sponsor to raise the population number in this bill to include more rural counties including my home county of Blount,” Standridge told the Alabama Political Reporter. “As the Rural Caucus Chairman, I support this bill because I believe it helps bring jobs and economic development to rural Alabama, but it should give the same opportunities in more of our rural counties.”

“I am from one of those economically challenged areas that lost all of their textile jobs,” said State Rep. Debbee Wood, R-Valley. “I want to thank you for offering this.”

“Part of the objective of Opportunity Zones is to encourage people to put investments where they are not the most attractive,” Poole said.

“Detailed project agreements are required to receive these incentives,” Poole stated. “I don’t want to just recruit workforce to Alabama. I want to retain workforce in Alabama.”

Poole told legislators they need to know where the Opportunity Zones are in their districts and talk to their accountants and economic developers about those zones.

APR asked noted economic developer Nicole Jones to review the proposed legislation.

“The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act quantifies the definition of rural, which is essential in determining what areas are eligible for incentives,” Jones said. “The expansion of the Opportunity Zone program is also critical, as it is an effective strategy for long-term redevelopment of real estate, which can boost a local economy as well as aid in the beautification process.”

“Many rural Alabama counties have experienced blight,” Jones added. “Residents move to urban areas for myriad of factors including, for example, proximity to employment, family and/or health care. The new proposal is a positive step that encourages companies to consider rural areas that do not share the same local tax base as larger municipalities.”

According to the bill synopsis: “For rural parts of the state, this bill would enhance the Alabama Jobs Act incentives that are available to companies locating or expanding in rural Alabama; would extend the Alabama Jobs Act to any rural project with at least five jobs; and would extend the investment credit under the Jobs Act to fifteen years. The bill would extend the benefits of being a “rural” county to any county with population less than 50,000. For all parts of the state, the bill would allow banks and insurance companies to purchase income tax credits and would amend the definition of qualifying projects for purposes of Alabama’s incentives laws. For high-tech companies, this bill would enhance the Alabama Jobs Act incentives that are available to such companies; would allow the state to extend the Jobs Act incentives to any high tech company creating at least five jobs; would allow the investment tax credit calculation to include operating costs as well as capital costs; and would allow persons who move to Alabama to work in Alabama’s high-tech companies, as well as investors in such companies, not to pay tax upon the disposition of their ownership interests in the companies. The bill would expand the Opportunity Zone program in Alabama. The bill would create an Alabama capital gains tax reduction for investments in opportunity zone funds predominately investing in Alabama, in line with the federal Opportunity Zone law. The bill would allow various state funds to make investments into such opportunity zone funds and would guarantee principal protection or minimum rates of return for other investors in such funds, so long as extraordinary returns are allocated to such state funds. The bill would enhance the Growing Alabama Credits by creating funding mechanisms for improving industrial parks, worker and student retention, an Agricultural Center, and business accelerators.”

HB540 passed the House 98 to 0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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Economy

New unemployment claims drop slightly

Micah Danney

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There were 8,848 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,902 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Of the claims filed between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12, 4,485, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.

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Economy

Inaugural Alabama Works innovator awards presented

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The inaugural AlabamaWorks! Innovator Awards were presented by Gov. Kay Ivey and Deputy Director of Commerce and AIDT Director Ed Castile Thursday during the AlabamaWorks! Virtual Conference.

The awards were developed to highlight people and programs across the state that take an innovative approach to solving workforce challenges and help advance Ivey’s Success Plus attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.

At the time of the inception of the awards, Alabama was unaware of the impact COVID-19 would have on the workforce and although the attainment goal has not changed, our economic and workforce recovery post-COVID-19 will hinge on innovators like those recognized.

“The workforce challenges that we face today are not the same ones that we faced six months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely reshaped the workforce landscape,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “The State of Alabama is relying on those who are leading the charge by implementing innovative solutions in their cities, counties and regions to further economic and workforce development.”

The recipients are visionaries, outside-of-the-box thinkers and problem solvers. The programs test boundaries, explore new opportunities and reach deeper to bring about change. “It is important to recognize these leaders of innovation and to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the citizens, communities and industries of Alabama,” said Ed Castile, deputy director of commerce and AIDT director. “Their innovative approach to workforce development will be key to opening doors, breaking barriers and propelling Alabamians forward.”

The recipients of the first-ever AlabamaWorks Innovator Awards are as follows:

Region 1 – North AlabamaWorks – Beth Brumley, Colbert County Schools

Beth Brumley built the Health Science Program for Colbert County Schools from the ground up by using her experience in the healthcare field to provide critical, real-world skills to her students. She developed key relationships within the healthcare community to provide her students enhanced learning opportunities and exposure, which resulted in increased demand for program graduates. Beth was also named the 2020 National New Teacher of the Year through the Association for Career and Technical Education. By bridging the gap between education and employer, Beth has created a formula for success that positively impacts the workforce.

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Region 2 – East AlabamaWorks – The Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE)

SAFE has been a model for supportive services to empower individuals and families while fostering positive and healthy development of the community for nearly 25 years. In their program, SAFE combines occupational and employability skills to help job seekers be ready to enter the workforce regardless of barriers they may have faced in the past. Their dedication to providing practical solutions to modern problems is a testament to their heart for service and passion for helping their community and region.

Region 3 – West AlabamaWorks – Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent Tuscaloosa City Schools

Dr. Daria has played a crucial role in the success of West Alabama’s workforce development by fostering important relationships between industry and education. His leadership has focused on increased Career Technical Education (CTE) enrollment, supporting local Worlds of Work events and the Educator Workforce Academy. Dr. Daria’s emphasis on the importance of identifying career pathways for the students in his district and then providing viable opportunities for students to take those paths, make him invaluable to West Alabama.

Region 4 – Central Six AlabamaWorks – Ed Farm

Ed Farm is the signature program of TechAlabama that focuses on encouraging children and adults to discover and pursue STEM careers. Ed Farm has a vision for a world full of invention, led by citizens who have been equipped with the necessary tools to fill or create the careers of the future. Through equipping educators and communities with innovative tools, strategies and programs they are able to support active learning for all students. With three signature tracks, Ed Farm is poised to help increase educational equity and improve learning outcomes through technology all while preparing the future tech workforce.

Region 5 – Central AlabamaWorks – Tiger Mochas, Auburn City Schools

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Tiger Mochas is a collaborative effort between special education students, FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) members and peer volunteers at Auburn High School. This student-led organization is serving up a lot more than hot cups of coffee to their peers because through their work, students are provided meaningful, hands-on work experience that teaches important functional, social and daily living skills. Graduates of the program leave with not only work and employability skills, but in-demand soft skills that will help them succeed in life and work.

Region 6 – Southeast AlabamaWorks – WeeCat Industries

WeeCat Industries uses a simulated workplace model to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce. WeeCat saw an opportunity to begin teaching work ethics and employability skills as early as preschool, and rose to the challenge. Their students clock into work, run an assembly line, fill orders, check invoices, meet production quota, interview for new positions and implement quality control all while earning a “paycheck” to be spent at the WeeCat Store before they can even spell the word “school”. WeeCat Industries places invaluable skills at a crucial age in development which will shape the future of the workforce.

Region 7 – SAWDC AlabamaWorks – Ed Bushaw

Ed Bushaw with the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce researched and developed initiatives to address the region’s workforce supply to meet the needs of the growing hospitality and tourism industry in his region. His collaborative efforts with business and industry officials resulted in the development of the first Hospitality and Tourism registered apprenticeship program in Alabama. Apprentices receive classroom instruction as well as valuable real-world experience within the hospitality and tourism industry and finish the program with a credential that can be used to advance their career. Ed’s ability to adapt to the needs of industry and implement programs that address those needs are vital to the continued success of southwest Alabama.

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Economy

Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

Micah Danney

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Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.

Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.

“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”

Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.

Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.

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The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.

That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.

Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.

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Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.

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