Category: Economy

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.

From Gardendale to Syria: BirminghamWatch Reprises Its Most Interesting Stories of 2017

BirminghamWatch stepped out of the mainstream in 2017 to give you stories that didn’t just recap the news, but also explained how the news was affecting our culture and the people in it.

BW has followed, and continues to follow, arguments for and against Gardendale’s attempts to break away from the county and form its own school system. It has brought you stories of immigrants who have made Alabama their home, of the state’s attempts to improve student performance regardless of high poverty rates in schools, and of the effect the state’s budget decisions are having on the environment.

2017 also was a year of elections, from the culmination of the presidential election with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to the Birmingham city elections, to the U.S. Senate special election that attracted national attention. BirminghamWatch worked to give voters the information they needed before going to the polls, in addition to delivering that something extra that helped explain the issues, the politics and the ramifications of the elections.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading BirminghamWatch in 2017, and please continue reading to see what we have in store for 2018! Read more.

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

It’s a $53 billion* question for Alabama, and that’s just the U.S. government dollars at play in a year in the state. There are also the personalities, policies and practices setting the direction of federal influence on everything from Alabama retirees’ Social Security checks to Boeing Company’s more than $900 million* in contracts. Today’s report on the Children’s Health Insurance Program is the first of BirminghamWatch’s looks at the Alabama-Washington connection.

If your child needed medicine for asthma or ADHD or treatment for an infection or injury, what would you do if you didn’t have insurance or the funds to pay?

That’s the scenario thousands of Alabama families face if Congress fails to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. Despite bipartisan support, including professed support from the Trump White House, CHIP was not reauthorized in time for a Sept. 30 deadline. And now as the clock ticks, the funding for 160,000 children in Alabama hangs in the balance.

About 77,000 of those children have insurance paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, using CHIP funds. Medicaid could still choose to provide insurance for these children if Congress fails to act, but the state of Alabama would have to pick up the cost for covering them. Medicaid routinely faces yearly struggles for funding in the Alabama Legislature.

But 83,000 children whose insurance through Alabama’s ALL Kids program is subsidized by about $200 million from CHIP would find themselves without insurance that many of their parents can afford. If Congress doesn’t act soon, that’s what will happen early in 2018, said Cathy Caldwell, director of the ALL Kids program.

“If CHIP funding is not continued, it’s very likely that the ALL Kids program would go away,” Caldwell said. She estimated the program could be canceled in about February. Read more.

JeffCo Commission Closing Its Books on Time and on Budget

Sept. 26, 2017 – Jefferson County Commissioners will have a brief meeting Wednesday to deal with a “good” problem, according to Commission President Jimmie Stephens. Wednesday’s meetings, arranged during today’s committee session, will be conducted to close the financial books as the fiscal year comes to a close. “Really, that’s a good problem to have because