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Economy

Small Business Commission holds listening session in Guntersville

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, the Alabama Small Business Commission held the first of four listening sessions with small business owners across the state ahead of the 2020 legislative session.

Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth (R) said that the public meetings and the surveys that participants fill out helps the Commission know what the concerns of the small business owners are concerned with so that the Commission can recommend legislation to the legislature to address those issues.

There has been a lot of efforts by the state to lure large business to the state; but most job growth comes from small business growth and expansion Ainsworth said.

The State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) Rosemary Elebash said that the Alabama Small Business Commission was created by the legislature during the Great Recession when more small businesses were closing than opening.

The NFIB is the nation’s leading small-business association.

“It is the duty of the commission to formulate policies encouraging innovation of small business in the state to discuss issues critical to the economic growth of small independent businesses and their interests,” Elebash said. 99.4 percent of all businesses in Alabama are small businesses and over half of the jobs in Alabama are with small businesses. The largest sector in Alabama are agriculture and forestry followed by construction.

Elebash said that five members of the commission have rolled off when their terms expired and Ainsworth has appointed new members. State Representative Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) is one of the new members, The members are diverse and include members from all of the business sectors in the state.

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Elebash said that the Commission has printed decals honoring the veterans who own businesses. The decals recognize the 25,000 veteran owned businesses in the state.

“We passed legislation that if you deliver less than $10,000 in sales to a municipality you do not have to get a delivery vehicle license in that municipality,” Elebash said. “One municipality in the Birmingham area decided that every business delivery vehicle must have a license.” The commission helped pass legislation that stated that there was just one license per business, not per vehicle. One North Alabama town decided that every business vehicle that drove through their town, whether they delivered anything there or not, had to have a business delivery license. We passed legislation to stop that.

Elebash said that the Commission lobbied the Public Service Commission so that small businesses who pay their bill on time and operate for a period of time can get their security deposits on their utility bills back and not at the close of the business. Alabama Power Company will now do a free inspection of a building for energy efficiency before a small business opens.

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Elebash said that the Commission promotes Small Business Saturday. This was the tenth year to have done it. Across nation $19.6 billion was spent in small businesses this year on Small Business Saturday.

The Commission also helped create Atlas Alabama, a website for small business owners. There they can get statistics and information useful to small business owners.

“Alabama has worked hard to create a business friendly climate that encourages the creation of new businesses and an opportunity for existing business to expand,” Elebash said. “Working together business owners and community and government leaders will continue to serve and support small businesses across the state.”

One of the businessmen in attendance said that the apprenticeship program would work better if the state had a longer summer vacation break. By the time you get a high school student trained and up to speed they are going back to school.

Ainsworth said that the workforce development commission will look at that issue.

Ainsworth said that workforce development is the largest crisis we have in our state and that state leaders are looking at Pre-K and are looking at apprenticeships. The state has hired two consulting companies that are working on a master plan for K-12 and a master plan for apprenticeships.

“The best country on that (apprenticeships) is Germany,” Ainsworth said.

“You can’t have an apprenticeship of any value with that short of a summer,” the business owner said.

Ainsworth said that a few years ago, nobody thought of Alabama when you thought about Pre-K now through the efforts of Jenna Ross and the Department of Early Childhood Education we are recognized as having the best Pre-K program in the country. “We want to do the same thing for apprenticeship as we did with pre-K.”

Elebash said that the unemployment trust fund in Alabama is funded only through employer contributions. As unemployment has dropped the Commission has successfully pushed through reforms that decreased the amount of time a person can draw unemployment from 20 weeks to 14 weeks. Last week the trust fund had $723 million. Once the trust fund reaches $800 million, likely after April 21, that will trigger a reduction in the rate that employers contribute to the unemployment trust fund.

“You as businessowners will save $45 million from this change,” Elebash explained.

Elebash said that the booming economy has meant that more people are joining the workforce.

“We are getting people who have not been working,” Elebash explained. Training them in those soft skills, showing up for work on time, not being on their cell phones during work, not leaving before their shift ends, looking at customers when they speak to them, etc. has fallen on business owners.

Many of the business owners agreed that developing those soft skills has been a problem.

One business owner said that as the economy has improved there are fewer people applying that come from households where no one is working. This has made it harder to find people who will qualify for existing job training programs. Most applicants now are either already working or come from a household where somebody is working.

“They almost have to be homeless or making minimum wage to qualify for these training programs,” the business owner complained.

State Senator Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) said that Stonebridge Wedding Chapel in Cullman fought the lodging tax that was being charged on them on the chairs they set up, the tables they rented, venue rental etc. They challenged the Alabama Revenue Department and won; but the Revenue Department appealed the ruling and the chapel won again. “We codified that lodging tax is lodging tax” and does not apply to renting wedding venues, tables, chairs, plates, etc.

Elebash says that fighting state agencies is difficult because they have attorneys on staff while you have to pay hourly fees.

One business owner said that the state needs to incentivize recycling for businesses so that material that could be recycled is rather than going to a landfill.

Elebash said that this is an ADEM question we have to refer.

One business owner wanted the schools to teach soft skills to the work force.

Elebash said that the community colleges have started a pilot program teaching graduates to look a customer in the eye, to clock in and clock out and be on time.

State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) said that this is the read to work program.

“They need it expand it and get it in to the high school level,” one business owner said.

“Alabama made products should get preferred vender status,” from state government one businesswoman state. Alabama state bid law has a preferred vender status in the law for products made in Alabama, but that is often ignored by state agencies.

Her business makes American flags; but she recently lost the bid to provide the state of Alabama flags to a company that makes their flags in China.

“Alabama made should be number one, American flags should be number two, and foreign made should be a last resort when there is more than a five percent difference in price,” the textile plant owner said.

One business personal complained about the personal business property tax that is charged. They have to pay 16 to 17 counties and everyone of them calculates it differently.

“This has been a bur under my saddle for years,” Elebash said. She favors its elimination but since it all goes to the education trust fund (ETF) it would have to be made up by something. Elebash said that it should at least follow the federal depreciation schedule.

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

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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Economy

Gov. Kay Ivey announces $87 million peanut shelling plant coming to Atmore

The facility is expected to ultimately employ 150 workers and attract other businesses to the area.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced that an $87 million peanut shelling plant is to come to the Atmore Industrial Park. The new plant is likely to produce more than a hundred jobs.

Coastal Growers LLC — owned by a cooperative of farmers, most of them from Alabama — plans to build the plant in Atmore, turning the Escambia County city into a hub for peanut shelling in southwest Alabama, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“The Coastal Growers facility in Atmore will become a vital resource for peanut farmers in Alabama and beyond by helping to make their operations more sustainable and profitable,” Ivey said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the impact that this project is going to have for our farmers and for the region.”

Paul Turner, an attorney representing the company, said the average wage in the plant will be more than $17 per hour, and there will be temporary positions added during peak shelling times, according to the release. 

“We are excited to be able to announce this project today, to bring peanut shelling to south Alabama, and to bring economic benefit to the hard-working farmers of our state who so desperately need it,” Turner said in a statement. 

“We also offer our sincere gratitude to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Atmore Mayor Jim Staff and everyone else who made this project possible and brought us to Atmore, including the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, both of which were vital in the project’s development,” Turner continued.  

Jess Nicholas of Centerfire Economic, who serves as executive director of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, said he expects the facility to ultimately employ 150 workers and attract other businesses to the area, according to the release.

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“Shelling operations tend to attract other businesses in this sector, and also spur development in infrastructure and other areas. We expect it to have a positive effect on the Port of Mobile as well,” Nicholas said in a statement. “We worked hard to bring Coastal Growers here, and we’re very thankful to Coastal Growers for picking us, and for Governor Ivey for supporting our efforts. We’re on the map now as far as peanut production is concerned.” 

Glenn Spivey, president of Dothan’s Hollis & Spann Inc. and lead on construction of the plant, said it will take about one year to build the 400,000 square foot facility. 

Coastal Growers’ Brad Smith and Joe Parker are two of the driving forces behind the project. Both said the Atmore location is the perfect site for the company. 

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“The peanuts we have in this area are among the highest quality available, yet we really had no infrastructure for shelling in this area,” said Parker, owner and general manager of Summerdale Peanut in Baldwin County.

“While we looked at other possibilities in other states, Atmore really did make the best sense for us in the end, and the state was strongly supportive of our efforts the entire time,” Smith said. “They did a fantastic job of making us feel welcome in Escambia County.”

Mark Kaiser, a Baldwin County farmer, said the new facility will allow farmers to capture more profit from their own crops, giving them more control over their own operations.

“This facility will be owned by the farmers that use it, and they’ll keep those profits themselves,” Kaiser said. “That’s good for both the farmers and for the immediate area, because the money will just keep turning over locally.”

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff in a statement welcomed the new plant, and said in addition to the new jobs, the facility will bring opportunity to the city. 

“It’s what we’re able to do for our farmers and their families who have lived here and worked here for generations. They’ve spent their money in Atmore, and they’re an important part of our community,” Staff said. 

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