Category: Economy

Hallmark Cooperative Takes Control of Iconic Property in Warrior, Plans Development

Warrior Mayor Johnny Ragland is like a child looking forward to Christmas as he envisions Warrior’s Hallmark Farms development coming to fruition.

Considering the floating Christmas tree and decorated barn with which passersby had become familiar, that is understandable.

“Myself, I would love to have it next month,” Ragland said. “Two businesses over here. Five over here. But it takes time.”

Members of the Hallmark Cooperative announced today that it has officially taken control of the property just off Interstate 65 and nearly surrounded by Locust Fork, one of three major tributaries of the Black Warrior River.

Along with revealing the logo for the cooperative, which features the iconic barn on the property, cooperative members talked about what is to come to the area in north Jefferson County.

“We can bring as much as 720 jobs to just this property,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons, who is president of the cooperative. “That is a huge influx of daytime folks.” Read more.

Getting by in Food Deserts: Mobile Grocery Stores, Neighborhood Farms Help Residents Find Fresh Food

Roland Washington checked off the names of his neighbors who had come to buy groceries at the mobile store that twice a month visits his apartment complex near Tarrant, an area of Birmingham that has few to no options for fresh food.

The mini crowd-control task for which Washington volunteers his time is managing the people who come to take advantage of the wholesale-priced fresh produce, meat and other food provisions sold on a first come-first serve basis. He makes sure no more than a few people enter the trailer at a time.

For Washington and his neighbors, that mobile grocery store is the difference between getting fresh vegetables and fruits or not. The Corner Market, the mobile grocery store run through a program of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, is an initiative aimed at relieving the difficulties faced by people who live in food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas where at least 500 people live more than half a mile from a full-service grocery store.

The lack of access to fresh food is a problem faced by people across the world. About 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in food deserts, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Nearly half of them are low-income.

Closer to home, almost 2 million people in Alabama live in food deserts, according to a 2015 report on food access by the The Food Trust. In Jefferson County, that number is 205,657.

In Birmingham, 69 percent of residents live far enough away from a grocery store to make it difficult for them to obtain fresh food, Mayor Randall Woodfin told the City Council in a meeting this spring. He said part of all nine council districts exist in a food desert.
The Corner Market and other mobile grocery stores are one way communities are trying to alleviate the difficulties for people who live in food deserts. Read more.

New Grocery Delivery Program Aims to Curb Senior Hunger

Alabama ranks poorly when it comes to food insecurity among seniors. In Jefferson County alone, more than 129,000 older adults struggle with hunger. A new grocery delivery program through the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama aims to improve seniors’ access to healthy food.

Under the program, eligible seniors will receive 30 pounds of dry goods, canned fruits and vegetables, and fresh cheese delivered to their homes each month. The program is aimed at seniors who can’t afford to buy groceries or who live in areas where it’s difficult to find healthy food. Jamie McLynn, director of partnerships at the food bank, says seniors often have to make tough decisions. Read more.

Revitalization Planned for Historic Black Business District

During the days of segregation, African Americans in Birmingham were restricted on where they could shop, eat, and do business. The historic Fourth Avenue District downtown became the place for the growing African American business community to set up shop.

The community thrived with professional offices, barber shops, a bowling alley, motels, theaters and restaurants. Now there’s renewed focus on revitalizing the district. Read more.

Energy Storage Research Center Opens in Birmingham

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.”
Read more.

Partnership Aims to Make Birmingham’s Economic Growth More Equitable

WBHM

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.

DC BLOX Sponsors a $10,000 Computer Lab at Memorial Park Rec Center in Titusville Community

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.
Read more.

Let’s Make a Deal: What Metro Birmingham Cities, Counties Give Away to Get New Businesses

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.