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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.

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.

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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 over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. 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 increased again last week

It is the highest number of new claims recorded in a single week since July.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 14,084 new unemployment claims filed last week, up from 10,986 new claims the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

The number of new claims was the highest in a single week since July.

Of last week’s claims, 11,124 were related to COVID-19, representing 79 percent. Of the previous week’s claims, 80 percent were related to COVID-19.

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Economy

Officials offer thoughts on Huntsville Space Command decision

“We welcome Space Command to Huntsville with open arms and a good dose of southern hospitality,” the lieutenant governor said.

Charlie Walker

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Several elected officials on Wednesday offered their appreciation toward the U.S. Space Command location decision that was made for Huntsville.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth released the following statement regarding the announcement of Huntsville’s selection as the headquarters of U.S. Space Command:

“Alabama-made rockets first launched Americans into space and later carried them safely to the moon. Huntsville’s selection as the headquarters for the U.S. Space Command further solidifies Alabama as the national leader in aerospace research and development. We welcome Space Command to Huntsville with open arms and a good dose of southern hospitality.” 

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, in a statement, said:

“Today’s historic announcement that the Redstone Arsenal will be home to the permanent headquarters of the U.S. Space Force Command is fantastic news for Huntsville, the Tennessee Valley region, and the entire state of Alabama. I’m pleased that the site selection team recognized the obvious: Redstone and Space Command are a perfect fit. Alabama is already widely recognized for its important contributions to our national defense, and this decision further elevates our state as a leader in space and defense technology. I applaud the work of the Huntsville community, State leaders, the Congressional delegation, and especially my colleague Sen. Richard Shelby, for helping make this decision a reality. There will be a lot of work to do in the years ahead to turn today’s announcement into a reality on the ground, and I look forward to working closely with state and local leaders, Alabama’s Congressional delegation, and the Department of Defense to fully and efficiently implement this basing decision. It will be one of my top priorities.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, released the following statement:

“With the Pentagon’s selection of the Redstone as the new home of the U.S. Space Command, Alabama is once again blessed with new jobs, new opportunities for our citizens, and new recognition for all that our state has to offer. Since Redstone Arsenal first opened its gates, Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley have been the centerpiece of our nation’s efforts in spaceflight, aerospace, and missile defense. Bringing the headquarters of U.S. Space Command to Alabama only brightens that spotlight and enhances our prestige on a global level. As the need to defend American assets in space becomes commonplace in the 21st century and beyond, Alabama will remain firmly on the front lines of nation’s exploration and defense of the final frontier.”

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The U.S. Space Command was established in 2019, and is said to be the leading force of the Department of Defense’s space operations.

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Congress

Delegation’s actions diminish Alabama’s economic development outlook, say insiders

Brooks faces censure. Tuberville is considered by most a pariah. Only Shelby and Sewell will hold influence on Capitol Hill.

Bill Britt

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Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama., speaks Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, at a rally in support of President Donald Trump called the "Save America Rally." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, last week, along with President Donald Trump, used incendiary language to incite a group of Trump’s supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol Building — an offense that has never been undertaken by American citizens.

Add to Brooks’s insurrectionary role in the pro-Trump mob the fact that Republicans lost control of the U.S. Senate a day earlier and the combination has Alabama business leaders privately voicing concern over the state’s ability to advance economic development and secure federal funding for projects in the state.

Seven members of the Alabama congressional delegation moved to overturn the presidential election of President-elect Joe Biden by voting to not certify the Electoral College vote, thereby disenfranchise millions of lawfully cast ballots based on little more than social media-fueled conspiracy theories.

Brooks, long considered a political grand-standing rube, was joined by Congressman Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer, Barry Moore, Jerry Carl and Mike Rogers, who, with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, worked to throw the presidential election to Trump illegally.

Only Alabama’s Republican senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell followed the law.

While some Alabama voters and at least one media outlet heralded the seven as heroes, most found their actions to overturn an election reprehensible. These men are also being viewed by many in the business community as impediments to the state’s economic progress.

Businesses nationwide have begun disavowing those who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election and will withhold campaign contributions for those who took part in the spectacle.

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Alabama-based businesses are expected to follow suit with their own sanctions in the coming days.

The group of seven’s efforts to suborn insurrection seems to have awakened some business leaders to the fact that Alabama’s political extremism has finally reached a boiling point, much like Bloody Sunday, the Birmingham riots and numerous other heinous events in Alabama’s Civil Rights struggle.

Brooks finds himself facing censure in the House while the other Alabama House members are further diminished in the capacity to help their districts. And Tuberville, widely seen by Senate colleagues as unqualified for the job, is now considered by most a pariah.

Only Shelby and Sewell will continue to hold influence in the halls of power.

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APR is already hearing from Hill insiders that Alabama will pay a price for Brooks’s actions and the others’ revolt, which may very well cost billions in economic development and federal funds over the next two years.

As one insider put it: “Welcome to a new reality Alabama, enough is enough.”

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Economy

New unemployment claims spiked last week

Of those claims, 80 percent were related to COVID-19.

Micah Danney

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on

(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 10,986 new unemployment claims filed online or by phone last week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of those claims, 8,734 were related to COVID-19, representing 80 percent.

The number of new claims increased from 5,506 the previous week, of which 39 percent were COVID-19-related.

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