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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.

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Economy

Likely Republican primary voters reject Poarch Creeks “winning” plan

Bill Britt

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A survey of likely Republican primary voters obtained by APR shows that a majority do not support giving the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly over gaming in the state despite the tribe’s promise of a billion dollars.

Over the last several months, PCI has orchestrated a massive media blitz to convince Alabamians that they have a winning plan for the state’s future in exchange for a Tribal-State compact and exclusive rights to Vegas-style casino gaming.

The survey commissioned by the Republican House and Senate caucuses and conducted by CYGNAL, a highly respected Republican polling firm, found that only 34.1 percent of likely Republican primary voters are buying what the tribe is selling. On the contrary, nearly 50 percent of Republicans oppose the plan, with almost 40 percent voicing strong opposition.

Of those surveyed, females are against the plan by nearly 50 percent, with men weighing-in at almost 60 percent unfavorable to PCI’s proposal.

Perhaps most significant is that PCI’s monopoly plan was widely rejected in areas where the tribe already operates casinos. In the Mobile area, nearest Windcreek Atmore, over half of Republicans see a monopoly unfavorably. The same is true in the Montgomery area, where PCI has two gaming facilities.

Not a single big city surveyed in the state held a favorable view of PCI’s plan with Birmingham and Huntsville rejecting the tribal monopoly by almost 50 percent.

Very conservative, somewhat conservative and moderate voters didn’t view the plan as positive.

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Ninety-one percent of respondents said they defiantly would be voting in the upcoming Republican primary on March 3.

PCI has lavished money on media outlets throughout the state, garnering favorable coverage, especially on talk radio and internet outlets. The tribe has also spent freely on Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps some good news for PCI is that Republican primary voters believe that state legislators are more likely to represent special interests above the interests of their constituents.

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PCI lobbyists continue to push the tribe’s agenda at the State House in defiance of Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for no action on gaming until her study group returns its findings.

The survey found that Ivey enjoys a 76.3 percent favorability rating among likely Republican primary voters.

 

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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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