Category: Economy

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.

Residents Weigh in on 10-Block Downtown Attraction Ideas

The open space under I-20/59 in downtown Birmingham will cover 10 blocks once the massive bridge replacement project is completed. Designers and Alabama Department of Transportation officials were getting the public’s thoughts today at the Boutwell Auditorium. Other sessions are set for July 24.

Ben Donsky, who works with the New York-based design group for CityWalk Birmingham, said there’s an opportunity to do things not tried elsewhere. “We’re open to all types of innovative ideas. I was just discussing with a gentleman new technology that would even allow us to grow plants underneath the highway.”

The project is to be completed by spring 2021, before the start of the World Games in Birmingham. Read more.

Shipt Commits to Birmingham Expansion

Shipt made its plans to expand in Birmingham and create up to 881 new jobs official Thursday after the Jefferson County Commission agreed to chip in up to $720,000 over three years in incentives.

“Birmingham has rolled out the red carpet,” Shipt founder Bill Smith said following a press conference in the company’s headquarters in the John Hand Building downtown. “The city and the county have said, ‘We want to partner with you to grow here.’ They’re working closely with us, and to get that kind of support is very attractive.”

The commission approved its incentives to encourage the company to create professional positions in Birmingham. Read more.

Birmingham Council OKs up to $1.762M for Shipt Expansion

A proposed incentives package for grocery delivery company Shipt nearly stalled over procedural questions at Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting. But after an impromptu presentation by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office, the council voted unanimously to approve the measure.

The incentives package gives Shipt up to $1.762 million from the city to “expand and grow” its Birmingham headquarters, according to the resolution. This will come in the form of reimbursing the costs the company incurs in finding and developing new hires . The city will pay Shipt $2,000 for each new employee, for an expected total of 881 employees. The average salary of these new jobs would be $50,000 per year, Shipt representatives told the council. Read more.

Data Center Announced for North Titusville Land

Calling Birmingham a “hidden jewel in the South,” DC BLOX announced today that it will build its flagship data center on the former Trinity Steel property in Birmingham’s North Titusville Neighborhood.

Officials of the Atlanta-based provider of data center, network and cloud services said it will use 27 acres to develop 200,000 square feet of secure government-grade data center space.

The project will be up to a $785 million investment spanning the next 10 years. Read more.

Touchdown! Bessemer Celebrates Scoring Deal to Secure Amazon Center

Several members of the “team” assembled at Bessemer City Hall Friday morning to celebrate crossing the goal line with the official announcement that an Amazon fulfillment center is coming to Bessemer.

Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, explained the secret to the success that is bringing 1,500 full-time jobs and an 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center to Powder Plant Road property previously owned by U.S. Steel.

“It’s all about the team,” Davis said. “People who are making decisions to bring companies here tell us one thing: ‘We love working in Alabama because you guys are a team.’ That’s what we have to do. What we’ve learned over the years is this only works when we all pull together.” Read more.

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.