Energy officials from around the country gathered Tuesday on the campus of Southern Research (SR), a Birmingham nonprofit specializing in science and technology, to celebrate the opening of the state’s first Energy Storage Research Center.
In his opening remarks, Corey Tyree, SR’s senior director of energy and environment, told the crowd of company executives, engineers and scientists that the center represents a new era.
“For 100 years in the electricity industry, the model was basically ‘make, move, sell electricity,’” Tyree said. “With the advent of energy storage, you can ‘make, move, hold, then sell electricity.’ Seems like not a big deal. It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”
Birmingham has gained attention for its downtown rebirth. But the Birmingham area economy still falls behind similar cities, particularly when it comes to job growth. A partnership announced in December between the city and the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank, aims to boost the Birmingham economy with an eye toward making those gains more equitable. Read more.
When Sheila Tyson asked DC BLOX CEO Jeff Uphues what his company could do for the Titusville Neighborhood it was joining, he offered a fun day in the neighboring park.
Tyson, the Jefferson County commissioner in whose district the company sits, had other ideas. “We want you to invest in our children’s education,” she said.
As DC BLOX held the grand opening of its data center on Thursday, Uphues talked about a $10,000 investment in a computer lab just across Sixth Street at Memorial Park Recreation Center. He said the lab is set for use by the entire community.
When online retail giant Amazon announced that it was looking for a home for a second headquarters that would bring 50,000 high-paying jobs, cities all over the nation — including Birmingham — mobilized to attract the latest holy grail of corporate prestige and new jobs.
In the end, the company decided to split the HQ2 project into parts, with half going to the Long Island City section of New York City and the other half to Arlington, Virginia. An additional “center of excellence” was located in Nashville with about 5,000 jobs. But metro Birmingham, which gained publicity with the giant Amazon shipping boxes it used in its promotion, didn’t come away empty-handed. A new distribution center employing at least 1,500 workers is being built at the western end of Bessemer.
The effort to attract Amazon was waged in public by both company and cities, an unusual approach. Amazon announced HQ2 in the news media and opened competition to any city. Most efforts to bring new employers to an area are much more subdued, partly to avoid tipping off other municipalities competing for a project.
David Carrington, the former Jefferson County commissioner who handled business and industrial development until his term ended last year, said the decision for Jefferson County to go after the Amazon project was a challenge.
“It was kind of a ‘whosoever will may come’,” Carrington said. “The decision to go after HQ2 was a tipping point. On paper, it was a reach. It was a very quick project and had a core of 15 to 20 people working on it. It was an out-of-the-box presentation (literally, featuring the giant Amazon shipping boxes) that we were told later precipitated their interest.”
In total, about $200,000 was spent on the drive to attract Amazon, plus incentives from the county, Bessemer city government and the state. Jefferson County kicked in $3.3 million, primarily for road improvements, while Bessemer agreed to cap permit and business license fees in exchange for meeting certain employment goals. The city will also make quarterly payments to Amazon to reimburse the company for part of its capital costs, again tied to employment levels. In return, metro Birmingham gets a company with instant brand recognition and a $40 million payroll.
While the Amazon HQ2 project was very public, Carrington and his successor, Steve Ammons, have a staffer labelled “confidential assistant” to usually keep such industry-recruiting information under wraps. “Most (companies) don’t want people knowing they are looking because they don’t want to get five RFPs (requests for proposals). Obviously, the community wants to keep it confidential because they don’t want, say, Greenville, S.C., to find out we’re in on a project,” Carrington said.
From Irondale to Gardendale, Hoover to Birmingham, incentives are deployed at the municipal level in a metropolitan area with three dozen cities, as well as by state and county governments in Alabama. Read more.
A new report concludes that housing costs outpace wages at such a rate that now a worker being paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has to work nearly 127 hours – the equivalent of more than three full-time jobs – to afford an average two-bedroom apartment. Read more.
Overall on children’s well-being, Alabama came in 44th nationwide, down from last year’s ranking of 42nd in the country. That’s according to the latest KIDS Count Data Book, released annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report ranks the well-being of kids across the U.S. The publication includes indicators of health, education, economic well-being and family and community. This year’s report is based on data from 2017 from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Education.
Despite that decline in rank, the state progressed in several areas. For example, from 2010 to 2017, there was a big drop in the percentage of high schoolers not graduating on time. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — A recently-passed bill aimed to spur job growth in rural and urban areas of the state has been signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey.
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, House Bill 540, dubbed the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, is a set of tax incentives designed to enhance development in counties that are experiencing slow economic conditions and to help bring new technology companies to the state. Proponents of the legislation say it enhances current incentives, encourages investments in designated opportunity zones and offers a capital gains tax cut for tech companies moving to Alabama. Read more.
Birmingham-area projects to prepare local workers for jobs likely to be in demand were among those that got support from Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham in its May round of grants, the foundation announced this week.