Category: Economy

After Years of Tumult, Alabama Splash Adventure Is on the Rebound

There’s a reason Pat Koch is better known as “The General.”

It’s more than just the role she plays in television commercials with her son Dan for their family-run park, Alabama Splash Adventure. If you see her zoom about the grounds of the Bessemer attraction on her motorized chair, you’ll see her command troops of young workers as if they were soldiers on an army post. She orders, and off they march.

Unlike most military generals, though, if she sees a problem that needs to be fixed quickly, she’s apt to take on the task herself.

On a recent tour of the park, Koch (pronounced “cook”) stopped in mid-sentence when she saw one of their free soft drink dispensers that was in a bit of disarray.

“Just look at this,” she said with a sigh. She pulled up to the dispenser, grabbed some trash and threw it into a garbage bin, then used paper towels to soak up some spills.

“I like things to be nice and neat. I can’t understand people who just leave trash lying around!” she exclaimed, and then was back into tour-guide mode.

Not bad for someone aged north of 80, but who’s been in the theme park business for most of her life.
It’s an attitude she tries to impart to the rest of the employees as her family continues its effort to put the long-troubled attraction on solid footing.

The park that started life as VisionLand in 1998 — the product of a plan by then-Fairfield Mayor Larry Langford and a consortium of other local governments — has seen as many ups and downs as its famous Rampage roller coaster. But since 2014, the facility has seen a turnabout under the Koch family, which has been in the business since before the term “theme park” was even in use. Read more.

UPDATED: Birmingham Lags Behind Other Southern Cities in Economic Growth, Study Says

Metro Birmingham is falling behind economically, compared to other large Southern cities and the nation in general, and needs a major effort to refocus industrial recruiting and workforce training.

That’s the essence of findings by a report from a Boston consulting and analysis company, which was commissioned by Bold Goals Coalition of Central Alabama. The study indicates that the metro area is considerably behind booming Southern cities such as Nashville, Charlotte and Atlanta and has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession of the previous decade.

Birmingham-area industries are too heavily reliant on workers without a college education or higher, and those workers are vulnerable to losing their jobs to automation, according to the 40-page report. Meanwhile, there’s a shortfall in industries specializing in high technology, especially life sciences, and local workers who are trained for such employment often leave the area to find work.

The numbers were a bit of a surprise for Bill Jones, the co-chair of the Bold Goals education steering committee, who presided over the public release of the report Tuesday morning.

“It was eye-opening to see how much we trail other cities that are not far away from us,” Jones said. Read more.

Shhh! Amazon ‘Consolation Prize’ Appears Headed to Bessemer

An ad that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of The Birmingham News said what several politicians can’t – that Jefferson County, the city of Bessemer and the state of Alabama are considering an incentive package to lure an Amazon customer fulfillment facility to Bessemer.

“I tell people this is the best unkept secret in Jefferson County and the state of Alabama right now,” Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said. “We’re still under that non-disclosure agreement. Everybody can talk about it and say the name of it except those of us who signed that. We’re looking forward to making sure that we lock down the deal.”

According to the legal ad, the Jefferson County Commission during its June 7 meeting will consider a resolution to enter a project development agreement with Amazon.com Services Inc. That agreement calls for the county to pay no more than $3.3 million for certain roadway improvements and/or reimburse Amazon for a portion of its capital investment.

The company is looking to develop about 133 acres on Powder Plant Road in Bessemer, on which it will build an 855,000-square-foot facility. The project could employ more than 1,500 people. Read more.

Birmingham Startups Take a Turn in the Spotlight

When Target bought Birmingham-based Shipt, the online grocery delivery service last year, it drew attention to the city’s tech startup scene. Local entrepreneurs got another chance in the spotlight this week. AOL co-founder Steve Case brought his Rise of the Rest tour to the Magic City Wednesday.

The tour is an effort to highlight startup communities that aren’t in tech hotbeds such as San Francisco and New York. Case spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager. Read more and listen to the interview.

Birmingham Economy’s Prospects? Study Under Wraps Takes Exacting Look

In January, Alabama’s Department of Labor reported online help-wanted ads for 2,089 openings for registered nurses in the state. Only truck drivers were more highly sought.

In metro Birmingham, the help-wanted website indeed.com listed more than 600 openings for jobs with the keyword “nurse” in early April.

Still, with the unemployment rate at a low 3.5 percent, 18,711 people in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area were officially unemployed in March of this year, according to estimates from the state Labor Department.

That kind of mismatch between jobs available and people seeking work is typically the kind of workforce issue addressed by Burning Glass Technologies, according to its website.

In Birmingham, a group of influential organizations is focusing on findings about the local economy from a Burning Glass data-based study. The study is complete but has not yet been released for the public to see.

2021 World Games Projected to Bring in a Quarter of a Billion Dollars (Yes, With a B)

April 24, 2018 – Jefferson County commissioners were told during their committee meeting Tuesday that the metro area should see a huge economic impact from the 2021 World Games.

D.J. Mackovets, CEO of World Games Birmingham, said the economic impact is expected to be a quarter of a billion dollars.

“That’s with a ‘B,’” Mackovets said, “with 100,000 visitors.” Read more.

The Tyranny of Sales Tax: Alabama Cities Rely on It. Walmart is the Sought-After Retailer. But E-Commerce Threatens.

In Alabama, the big catch for the state’s economic development prospectors is a manufacturing plant and its hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-paying jobs. But individual cities go to great lengths to get big-box retailers to set up shop in their city limits, deploying consultants and dangling incentives. They’re following the money. Because of the state’s tax laws, the largest single source of municipal tax revenues is sales tax.

Big-box retailers come in several types and brand names. The biggest of them all, though, is Walmart. The largest private employer in the world, Walmart grew from its roots in Arkansas to be a major force in virtually every part of the United States. In Alabama alone, 38,000 people are employed by Walmart.

Tens of millions of customers across America walk through the doors of the company’s stores every day. In Alabama, cities that have a Walmart get taxes on sales to those customers, which helps pay for services such as police and fire protection. Walmart’s website states the company collected $684.6 million in sales taxes and fees in Alabama for the fiscal year ending in 2017 and paid another $92.1 million in its own additional taxes and fees.

Dependence on sales taxes is unusual compared to most other states and harkens back to Alabama’s early days as a state that was almost entirely rural and dependent on the production of cotton and timber. Property taxes are lower than in other states, in some cases much lower, especially on agricultural and forest lands. Read more.

A Tale of Two Jefferson County Cities: Sales Tax Comes and Sometimes Goes

By Robert Carter
Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland is one of the city officials who work to attract retailers of all shapes and sizes – and their sales taxes.

He said he spends time trying to bring in retailers “every single day.” According to figures provided by City Clerk Melissa Honeycutt, Gardendale derives 70 percent of its tax receipts from sales taxes.

It’s a different story in Fairfield, about 20 miles away. Fairfield was once a thriving city and home to a massive U.S. Steel factory complex and numerous shopping centers. After the factory closed, the stores followed. When the Walmart there closed, it took about a third of what was left of the city’s tax revenues, according to the mayor. Read more.

BW Expands Economic Development Coverage

Robert Carter covers economic development in Birmingham and Alabama, a new assignment in 2018. He is a veteran journalist, both with newspapers and in radio. A Kentucky native, Carter began working at his hometown Glasgow Daily Times straight out of high school. He also worked with Christian Family Radio in Bowling Green and with Western Kentucky University’s public radio service. In Alabama, Carter has worked at The Birmingham News and The North Jefferson News in Gardendale.

A Tale of Two Jefferson County Cities: Sales Tax Comes and Sometimes Goes

Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland is one of the city officials who work to attract retailers of all shapes and sizes – and their sales taxes.
He said he spends time trying to bring in retailers “every single day.” According to figures provided by City Clerk Melissa Honeycutt, Gardendale derives 70 percent of its tax receipts from sales taxes.

It’s a different story in Fairfield, about 20 miles away. Fairfield was once a thriving city and home to a massive U.S. Steel factory complex and numerous shopping centers. After the factory closed, the stores followed. When the Walmart there closed, it took about a third of what was left of the city’s tax revenues, according to the mayor. Read more.

Update: Federal Funding for Children’s Insurance Program Approved in Budget Bill

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program was extended for six years in the compromise budget bill passed by Congress and signed by the president Monday.

Alabama and many other states had been particularly concerned about funding for the program, which was in danger of running out next month.

BirminghamWatch focused on the insurance program, known in Alabama as All Kids, in the first of a planned series exploring the connections between Alabama and Washington.
Read the story about the effect the federal funding has in the state:

What Happens If CHIP Goes Away? Congress’ Failure to Fund Popular Health Program for Kids Could Leave Thousands in Alabama Uninsured

New Tariff on Solar Panels May Give Companies Second Thoughts About Doing Business in Alabama

President Trump imposed a stiff tariff on cheap solar cells and panels imported from China and other countries, a move industry experts said may decimate the growth of solar energy in Alabama and stunt it elsewhere in the country.

The tariff starts at 30 percent for the first year.

“That level would squash Alabama business for us and similar businesses that operate in Alabama to provide turnkey solar systems to residential and small commercial customers,” said Larry Bradford, of north Alabama’s Southern Solar Systems.

About $5.6 billion in projects in just four Sunbelt states – Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas – could be jeopardized by a tariff, according to E&E News, which follows energy and environmental matters.

The tariff could have been worse, though. It drops by 5 percent each of the four succeeding years. It also exempts a substantial portion of initial imports each year.

Alabama is particularly vulnerable to the added cost of a tariff, experts in the field say, because policies of investor-owned utility Alabama Power Co. already limit solar energy penetration in a variety of ways that make solar installations more expensive here. Read more.