Category: Economy

$25 Million Alabama Futures Fund: ‘This state is open for business for startups.’

Alabama’s startup scene grabbed eyeballs last year when Target bought Birmingham-based Shipt for $550 million. The city’s entrepreneurial community wants to keep that momentum going. One new effort is the Alabama Futures Fund. The $25 million fund will provide venture capital to new companies either in Alabama or to those willing to relocate here. WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Matt Hottle of Redhawk Advisory.
Read more.

Amazon Breaks Ground Oct. 2, Laying Path for Western-Area Development

The official groundbreaking on the new Amazon development in Bessemer will be Oct. 2, Jefferson County commissioners said Thursday.

“Amazon is a game-changer,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “It’s going to open up the western Jefferson County corridor to much more development and opportunity for our citizens.”

Amazon and other developments in western Jefferson County already are starting to have an effect. West Jefferson Mayor Charles Nix told the commission his town is ready to grow with a new garden home subdivision on more than 23 acres being annexed at 6700 Quinton Road.

“We don’t think there’s a better place than the town of West Jefferson to start that growth,” Nix said while asking for the property to be rezoned for the homes. Commissioners approved his request.
Read more.

Birmingham to Request Expansion of Foreign-Trade Subzone to Include BNSF Railway

The City of Birmingham will apply to expand its foreign-trade subzone to include a property owned by BNSF Railway, a move proponents argued would extend the Mercedes-Benz brand within the city.

Foreign-trade subzones are areas within the United States in which a certain company’s commercial merchandise is not subject to import tariffs and taxes, which is intended to lower costs for companies engaged in international trade. BNSF Railway wants to add a 261-acre area near Finley Boulevard, which officials said could make the city more “business-friendly” to Mercedes-Benz, one of BNSF’s clients. Read more.

Newspaper Publishers Get Welcome News as Tariff on Canadian Paper Overturned

Newspaper publishers throughout the state, already suffering financially as readers move from their print product to online news, have caught a break in another recent drain on their resources.

The International Trade Commission overturned on Wednesday a tariff imposed by the Trump Administration on newsprint imported from Canada, which supplies most of the paper used by American newspapers. The tariff increased production costs significantly for publishers, as newsprint is usually either their top expense item or a close second behind personnel.

The tariff was different from most of the others Trump has implemented or proposed as part of his escalating battle with China and the European Union, among other international trade partners. The newsprint tariff came at the request of one specific company, a paper mill in Washington state, whose owners claimed that the Canadian government was subsidizing newsprint producers north of the border, thereby hurting American producers.
Read more.

Read BirminghamWatch’s rundown on the tariffs:

Tariffs Imposed by U.S., Trading Partners Hit Home in Alabama

President Donald Trump is battling with countries he says are unfairly hurting America’s foreign trade, but some of his moves may adversely affect industries in Alabama in the process.

Trump’s new tariffs against China, Canada and the European Union — some proposed, some already in effect — are concerning the state’s auto manufacturers, farmers and newspaper publishers, and they have prompted responses from both industry representatives and politicians.

Connecting With Seniors One Phone Call at a Time

Birmingham has a service for seniors that’s like few others in the country. It started in 2002 when the Crisis Center noticed older residents would call its emergency hotline because they were lonely. The organization developed the Senior Talk Line. Through the service, volunteers connect with people one phone call at a time. Read more.

Read earlier stories in the series:

Birmingham’s Senior Population Rises While Affordable Housing Remains Limited
Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work
Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Birmingham’s Senior Population Rises While Affordable Housing Remains Limited

Greater Birmingham’s senior population is rising faster than all other age groups and is expected to double by 2025. But federal money for senior housing has been cut in half during the past decade. Read more.

Read the first two stories in the series:
Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work
Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Timothy Townsend offers loans for a living in north Alabama. It’s kind of like a middle ground between a payday lender and a bank. He remembers one time when a 19-year-old applied for a truck loan. The young man didn’t have any credit and had only been working a few weeks. So he got his grandfather to co-sign the loan application.

“When I talked to the older gentlemen he was like ‘Well, I guess. I really don’t want to, but they’re saying it’s the only way he can get it,’” Townsend says.

That hesitation was a red flag for Townsend, but it’s awkward because, as much as he wanted to do right by the young man and his grandfather — and follow the law — he’s in business. Read more.

Read the first in the series:
Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work

Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work

It’s a good time to be in the market for a job in this state. That goes for older adults, too. Alabama’s overall unemployment rate is low – just 4 percent. It’s even lower among seniors. But the older adults who are most likely to be hired are those who are willing to adapt and learn new skills or try on a whole new career.

“I’m a 25-year-old. I’m just trapped in an 81-year-old body,” said Johnny Ward. “I’ve got a lot of energy, and I’m saying, why waste this knowledge and experience I have. Why not use it?”

Here in Alabama and across the U.S., there are many like Ward. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, senior citizens represent a growing demographic in America’s work force.

Many still need jobs. It can be difficult to make ends meet with a Social Security check or disability payment. And some want to work because they enjoy it. Read more.

Jones Visits Mercedes-Benz, Deflects Comment on Possible Shift of Production to Asia

VANCE — Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has co-sponsored a bill along with a Republican colleague from Tennessee that would delay President Donald Trump’s proposed imposition of tariffs on vehicles and parts imported into the United States. But in a press conference held Friday morning at Mercedes-Benz’s factory complex near Tuscaloosa, Jones deflected comment on a report that the company may move some production from the Alabama plants to Asia because of tariffs already levied by China.

The report by Reuters quoted the head of Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company in Germany, saying the tariffs have forced the company to consider a shift overseas. Read more.

Amazon’s a Big Deal, but West Jefferson’s Economic Rebirth is Bigger and Broader

The television cameras were in action and the local politicians were all smiling at the recent announcement of a huge new distribution center in Bessemer for Amazon, the online retail behemoth. It’s a project that will bring an estimated 1,500 jobs, and it makes for a great picture of a down-on-its-heels part of Alabama that is remaking itself for the digital age.

But in fact, the Bessemer Cut-Off area — the traditional name for the separate division of Jefferson County that has its own courthouse and other separate government functions — has been in transformation from steelmaking, mining and heavy manufacturing for the past decade or so. Unless you’re involved in recruiting businesses to locate in an area – or you glimpse a part of Bessemer when you travel to the legendary Bright Star Restaurant – that transformation may have slipped under your radar.

Jimmie Stephens has seen the area’s heyday, the downturns and its recent rebirth. The president of the Jefferson County Commission, as a lifelong Bessemer resident, remembers when the nickname “Marvel City” came to be, because of explosive growth in the first half of the 20th Century, when the economy rivaled that of Birmingham itself. In his current position, he’s trying to restore the Cut-Off to better days.

“As a youngster growing up here in Bessemer, it was a vibrant mining and steel town,” Stephens said. “Bessemer was a hub of commerce and employment. But the mines shut down in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and the Pullman Standard (rail car manufacturing) plant closed in the ‘80s. Things just dried up, with 30 percent unemployment. But during that time, the economy began to diversify.” Read more.

Read more about economic development in the western area:
Touchdown! Bessemer Celebrates Scoring Deal to Secure Amazon Center
After Years of Tumult, Alabama Splash Adventure Is on the Rebound
Bessemer OKs Tax Rebate, Fee Reductions and Transit Services to Bring in Amazon Center
The Way Things Used to Be: Officials Recall Bessemer’s Heyday While Approving Incentives to Lure in Amazon
Shhh! Amazon ‘Consolation Prize’ Appears Headed to Bessemer