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Economy

Opinion | Recent bills to bring rural broadband, business growth to Alabama

Seth Hammett

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For more than 40 years, I have dedicated my life to advancing the economic interests of Alabama. I’ve spent time in the state Legislature as a representative of my hometown district and was honored to be selected speaker of the House for Alabama. I served the governor as the director of what is now the Alabama Department of Commerce, which exists to help boost the state’s economy. I currently act as chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama as well as vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. In that time, we have seen Alabama businesses show impressive growth. This year alone, we are at record levels of unemployment.

A lack of high-speed broadband internet access in some of Alabama’s most rural areas persists in holding our state back. It’s a simple fact in today’s interconnected economy that, if one doesn’t have access to the internet, their business is more likely to fail. This lack of reliable internet access keeps businesses from investing in our state due to fears of being stranded on the information superhighway. For companies, particularly high-tech companies, to invest in rural Alabama, we simply must be able to provide consistent broadband access at sufficient minimum speeds and capacity.

It should also be noted that weak internet connections and speeds can hinder everyday life in general. Every email, text message and digital alert depends on consistent internet in order to keep you and your loved ones updated. Students rely on the internet to receive and send their assignments. All are impacted by poor or nonexistent internet access.

So, I am proud to voice my praise and gratitude for the Legislature’s passage of House Bills 400 and 540 and Senate Bill 90. These bills support the expansion of broadband internet systems to the parts of Alabama that need it most. According to the governor, 276,000 Alabamians lived in areas without any internet providers available last year. These new bills will improve situations like these that are simply inexcusable in today’s connected world.

Thanks to state Rep. Randall Shedd’s, R-Fairview, leadership, HB400’s passage allows electric providers to install, operate and maintain broadband systems within their easements, the areas of property used by utility companies. These rights enable electric providers, or their affiliated or third-party providers, to more quickly and cost-effectively expand and improve broadband infrastructure to make quality internet access in rural Alabama a reality.

One of the greatest champions in the Alabama legislature for rural broadband access and expansion, Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Arab, sponsored SB 90, which makes it easier to secure grants for these projects. It increases the minimum broadband speeds to 25 megabytes per second for downloads and 3 megabytes per second for uploads. It focuses on unserved and rural areas and improves the framework of broadband systems. While HB400 allows the physical renovation of Alabama’s internet, SB 90 will make sure that these renovations are increased and accelerated.

Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, sponsored HB540, also known as the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act. Among other things, it provides significant incentives for state’s broadband and connectivity efforts by allowing rural fiber projects to be eligible for 15 years of an investment tax credit. This allows recovery of 22.5 percent of capital investments in rural counties, use of the Growing Alabama economic development site preparation program for fiber projects at industrial parks, inland ports and intermodal facilities, as well as provisions for broadband projects in federal Opportunity Zones. HB540 will give businesses another reason to settle in areas that benefit from HB400 and SB90’s improvements.

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The passing of these bills was greatly influenced by the dedicated members of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition. This group includes representatives of multiple industries, ranging from agriculture to business to healthcare to education — K-12 and post-secondary. Influential entities such as the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA, the Energy Institute of Alabama and many others all joined in the effort. Clearly, these bills were approved with a wide range of popular support, and I commend these individuals for their steadfastness in pushing for the betterment of our state. All of this will help bring Alabama into a modern economy while also providing internet access and its benefits for all Alabama citizens.

I have spent a great deal of my life making sure businesses in our state have the best chance to succeed. However, for a long time, weak or non-existent internet access was simply accepted as a fact of life for Alabamians living in rural areas. The people of Alabama and the Legislature have finally said enough is enough. HB400, HB540 and SB 90 will usher in a new era for business in Alabama. Again, I want to thank Gov. Kay Ivey, Scofield, Rep. Randall Shedd and Poole for helping spearhead this great achievement. I also have to recognize the leadership of Sen. Steve Livingston, Sen. Del Marsh, Sen. Greg Reed and Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter. Please take a moment to call your representative and thank them for their part in passing these bills. I know from personal experience that they appreciate hearing from you.

Seth Hammett is chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama and vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. Hammett spent 32 years in the Alabama House of Representatives, including 12 years as speaker of the House. Visit https://energyinstituteal.org/ for more information.

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Economy

Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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Courts

Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Robert Aderholt

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”

“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.

Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.

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That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.

Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Economy

New unemployment claims increased last week

More people joined the unemployment rolls last week than the week before.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 8,581 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 7,732 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, there were 3,125 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 36 percent, compared to 51 percent the previous week.

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Economy

Governor announces $1.5 million grant to expand job training at Bevill State Community College

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Appalachian Regional Commission this week announced a $1.5 million grant to renovate and expand a training facility at Bevill State Community College. 

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

“Alabamians are eager to work, and we are eager for them to find jobs that will allow them to earn a good living,” Ivey said in a statement. “These funds will help more Alabamians answer the call to the state’s increasing demand for jobs in these fields. I am thankful for our partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the assistance they have provided in helping us respond to in-demand issues.”

The grant comes from Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, which targets areas affected by the closing of coal mining and coal-related industries, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

“This grant is a shot in the arm for an Alabama economy that has maintained its poise during the cessation of coal industries and then the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ADECA director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey, ARC, Bevill State Community College and many other partners in this life-changing program.”

Dr. Chris Cox, Bevill State interim president, said the program will allow for scholarships for workers who lost jobs in coal-related industries.

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“This rapid training center expansion will help establish a career pipeline to support local manufacturing industries, will serve to diversify the region’s economy and will increase post-secondary students’ access to advanced training and completion of industry-recognized certifications,” Cox said in a statement.

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