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Economy

First summit on rural workforce development held in Livingston

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, November 1 Alabama Power and Alabama Commission on Higher Education collaborated for first Alabama Summit on Rural Workforce Development, which was held on the campus of the University of West Alabama,

Organizers hoped that the event will advance economic, workforce and rural development across Alabama. Hundreds of economic and workforce development professionals packed the Bell Conference Center at UWA. The event featured a broad slate of experts with unique perspectives to address rural Alabama’s need for building a workforce pipeline and economic development system.

“Following the impact and success of the recent Alabama Summit on Rural Technology earlier this year, we decided to continue to expand our efforts in rural workforce development,” said Dr. Tina Jones, Vice President of UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development. “UWA has grown into one of the state’s leading institutions of higher learning in fostering rural development. This is a natural next step in our strategic efforts.”

Alabama Department of Commerce’s Ed Castile said, “The year 2018 was a banner year for economy development, business development, and growth…. Workforce development is hard work and is a priority for many people. Many in our country and in other counties are struggling to find workforce. It takes creativity, innovation, and getting out of the box to do this work. The question is – how do you mine for the gold?”

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Rural Alabama needs hope and folks to reach out and show them success stories that have occurred in other rural areas. When members of a community have the opportunity to collaborate, cities and towns are built. It takes a team of residents, businesses, government, schools, churches, and nonprofits with a community mindset of pride, optimism, and innovation to help an area do well.”

West Alabama Works and West Alabama Chamber COO Donny Jones said, “We need to look at education and training – not just a ‘college or bust’ mentality. Teachers haven’t been prepared to teach like a business, so we helped bridge the gap between education and industry by creating Educator Works Academy. It allows teachers to get experience in business and industry (through professional development and facility tours) so they can better help their students.”

Mercedes, Nucor Steel, and others participate in this program.

Alabama Works Region 5 Chair Aubrey Carter said, “Some rural counties do not see the need of what is happening and do not know about companies and their suppliers. It is about exposure – knowing what is there and the available opportunities. The Career Discovery Expo, for example, held twice a year, helps kids get introduced to career paths.”

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Alabama Works Region 7 Chair Josh Duplantis said, “There is a direct correlation between access to broadband and access to information. I see kids crowded in the McDonald’s parking lot trying to get WiFi for homework.”

“We need to see more of our industry and community,” Donny Jones said. “It is still the parents’ job and the community’s job to raise our children. Teachers are part of the equation, but we have to stop putting all of the weight on our educators.” “We are the biggest barrier to getting things done. Generation after generation of mistrust and not working together. There is not always a hidden motive for wat we do. Some rural communities have a hesitancy to work with others – then we cannot serve others properly. Communities that work together are the communities that get it – the jobs and the quality of life There is not a guy with a PowerPoint and a grant that can come in and fix everything.”

Nick Moore, Education Policy Advisor & Coordinator for the Governor’s Office of Education & Workforce Transformation, said, “Stackable credentials provide progressive wage increases and a path to self-sufficiency. Right now we have the highest labor participation rate in Alabama history. The challenge is that there is a still group of people with barriers and who need to be trained. Find people where they are and what their barriers are [so we can see if we can help them]. Transportation, child care, etc. are all barriers.”

Nick Moore mentioned the Wee Cats program in Enterprise, Alabama, where 3 and 4 years old run a business. Governor Ivey plans toured the facility on Wednesday.

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said, “When I was appointed, I noticed there was a disconnect between the Alabama Department of Labor resources and how we could get them to the people. Most people did not know the resources existed. We needed to meet people where the were at. The Job Fair initiative, for example, helped take some counties in double digits into single digits or the first time in history. For example, 40 employers went to Wilcox County for job fairs in high school gymnasiums, which knocked down the barrier of nervousness for attendees. In August 2015, Wilcox County had 16.1% unemployment. In September 2019 that number was 6.2%, the lowest in this history of the county. That is progress.”

Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Strong local economies are built upon strong local communities. Exposure and cultivating relationships help win projects. Let’s leave the politics and egos aside and start working together to benefit Alabamians and rural communities.”

“Our purpose is to help equip employers, economic development leaders, public and governmental officials, educators, and community leaders with the skills, knowledge and practical tools for addressing the unique talent and workforce development opportunities in our rural areas,” emphasized Dr. Tina Jones.

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Economy

Gov. Ivey launches state guide to COVID-19 relief efforts

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Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced the launch of altogetheralabama.org, an online resource that will serve as a hub of information for the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

The site becomes the state’s official guide to COVID-19 relief efforts, to help empower those impacted by the outbreak and those who want to offer support.

“We wanted to quickly create a trusted resource that centralizes information, resources and opportunities for businesses and individuals in need of support,” Governor Ivey said. “We are all in this together.”

The website is designed to be a comprehensive guide to aid in navigating all issues related to the COVID-19 response. Individuals and business owners can seek help and identify state and federal resources that can provide a lifeline in the form of low-interest loans and financial assistance.

Business owners, for example, can learn about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which launched April 3 to provide a direct incentive for them to keep their workers on the payroll. Displaced workers, meanwhile, can use the site to learn about enhanced unemployment benefits.

“It’s important for Alabama’s business owners and its workforce to take full advantage of the resources being made available through the federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The site is meant to expedite the process so both employers and employees can get back up on their feet as fast as possible.”

At the same time, the site will function as a pathway for Alabama’s good corporate citizens and the general public to offer support and solutions that can help spark recovery across the state. It will act as a portal for companies, non-profits and individuals to volunteer, make donations of supplies, offer an assistance program, and even post job openings.

The site was developed in partnership with Opportunity Alabama, a non-profit organization that promotes investment in the state’s designated Opportunity Zones. It was facilitated by a partnership with Alabama Power.

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“Over the last two years, Opportunity Zones have allowed us to build a network of stakeholders that care deeply about helping distressed places,” said Alex Flachsbart, Opportunity Alabama founder and CEO. “We hope this site will provide a gateway linking our network to those businesses and communities in economic distress, no matter where they are in Alabama.”

“These are challenging times,” added Governor Ivey. “We needed a place to efficiently and rapidly post and disseminate information – as soon as it’s available – for all affected parties. Thank you for your support and partnership in helping bring Alabama together.”

Any business, program or individual who would like to join ALtogether as a resource in COVID-19 response and relief can register at altogetheralabama.org/join.

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Economy

BCA partners with Alabama Public Television to help small businesses

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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) will present the Small Business Exchange on Alabama Public Television (APT) Thursday night, an event designed to help small businesses apply for federal stimulus funding under the new CARES Act.

In partnership with APT, BCA will bring together experts in business, banking, accounting and law to answer phone calls from Alabama business owners and employers as they grapple with the impact of the coronavirus on the state’s economy. New federal loans are now available for small businesses, but funding is limited in some cases and quick action is required.

“We have to make sure that Alabama’s small businesses get the loans and support they deserve in these tough economic times,” said Katie Boyd Britt, President and CEO of BCA.  “These business owners need as much help as we can give them to work through the process.  The first step in getting Alabama back to work is to get this loan money flowing to our businesses.

“Our team of experts is donating their time and resources because this is a critical time for small businesses,” said Britt.  “This federal funding can and will save companies and save jobs, so the BCA is facilitating this process in any way we can.”

There are $10 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loans and $349 billion in Paycheck Protection Loans available to help the nation’s small businesses.  Each program has different eligibility criteria, financing, and application processes.  For the most part, small businesses of fewer than 500 employees, sole proprietors, freelancers and the self-employed, independent contractors, and 501(c)(6) organizations are eligible for one or both programs.

Because there has been confusion about the programs, too many business owners are uncertain about availability, qualifications, requirements and deadlines for each loan program.  The point of the Small Business Exchange is to get that much-needed information to business owners as quickly as possible.

The Small Business Exchange program airs Thursday night on APT from 7-8 p.m.  BCA experts will be available to answer questions from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Thursday night.  In addition, experts will be available for consultation from 9.a.m. to noon Friday.

To ask a question or consult with our BCA experts during these times, the phone number is 1-833-BCA4BIZ (1-833-222-4249).

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Economy

Alabama automakers contribute to COVID-19 fight

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama’s automakers are doing what they can to help fight the coronavirus global pandemic.

Toyota’s engine plant in Huntsville engine is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

The plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals. Toyota has also made a $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Toyota is performing similar services at its facilities across the country.

Toyota is not alone. The other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have already donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand testing for COVID-19.

UAB CEO Will Ferniany said that the grant will support the existing drive-through testing site UAB is operating in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening.

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“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” Ferniany said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

If you think you might have symptoms of the virus or have been exposed to someone with the virus call 205-975-1881 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. to schedule appointments at the downtown testing site.

Appointments will be scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. seven days a week. Those who are given appointments will be asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment time and to follow the detailed instructions located on-site. You will not be tested without an appointment.

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer. COVID-19 is a particular risk to children with cancer because fighting cancer means that they have a compromised immune system.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled due to the spread of COVID-19 to the Montgomery area.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are assisting during the crisis, including its factory in Lincoln.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Honda’s plants have donated equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers. They have also deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and are investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance has donated N100 reusable filters, protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways that the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

Mercedes has also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Whether retooling to create products or donating funds to obtain supplies needed to combat COVID-19, Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz certainly have demonstrated their roles as key Alabama economic development partners. Until a treatment is found, supplies and strategy are of great value for fellow Alabamians and Americans. Thank you to all companies and individuals who contribute in various ways.”

 

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Congress

Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”

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“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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