Category: Economy

This Time It’s for Real, Officials Say After Breaking Ground on a Planned BJCC Stadium

You’d have to excuse Valerie Abbot for feeling a sense of déjà vu when she attended the groundbreaking Thursday for the new BJCC stadium.

The president of the Birmingham City Council had been here twice before when ground was broken to build a stadium near the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

“I was present for both of them, back when Mayor (Larry) Langford was mayor of Birmingham,” Abbott said. “It was right over there in that other block. This is my third groundbreaking for this structure so I’m glad that it’s finally going to happen.”

Dozens of elected officials and citizens were near the corner of 11th Avenue North and 23rd Street for the latest edition of turning dirt. But this one is different.

This time, it seems that everyone is on board with making the stadium a reality. The difference, Abbott said, is cooperation. Read more.

Grip, Gaffer, Best Boy – Movie Job Titles Have Joined the Scene in Birmingham

Birmingham builder Victor Sellers and fellow stage hand Kevin Sappington didn’t start out to be in the movie business. But with experience in more than 10 made-in-Birmingham movies, the two Jefferson County natives are among hundreds of area residents who find challenging work, good pay and benefits, and chances for new avocations working as crew on the scores of films being made here. Read more.

Ready, Set, Action: Birmingham’s Become a Film-Making Destination That Brings Jobs, Millions of Dollars to Economy

The Magic City is not quite Hollywood, yet.

But Birmingham’s economy is getting a show business-sized boost with millions of film dollars flowing into the local economy. The city’s Red Mountain substituted for the Hollywood Hills, wearing the famous HOLLYWOOD sign in “Bigger,” one of dozens of films made in metro Birmingham in recent years.

Capitalizing on Alabama’s incentive program for film productions, the city is recruiting a growing number of projects, said Buddy Palmer, president and CEO of Create Birmingham and its offshoot Film Birmingham.

From 2016 to 2017, the number of film projects in metro Birmingham increased 200 percent, he said. Three feature films and 24 other projects, including commercials and videos, were produced in Birmingham in 2016. By 2017, when Film Birmingham officially began recruiting projects with support from the city and other sponsors, Film Birmingham assisted 55 projects. Of that total, 30 film productions were completed in Birmingham, including eight feature films.

“In 2016 and 2017, about $32 million in film production activity translated into, conservatively, a $10 (million) to $12 million impact on the local economy,” Palmer said.

In 2018, Film Birmingham assisted 67 projects, including 30 productions, of which nine were feature films, said Jessica Moody of Film Birmingham. Read more.

Grip, Gaffer, Best Boy – Movie Job Titles Have Joined the Scene in Birmingham

Birmingham builder Victor Sellers and fellow stage hand Kevin Sappington didn’t start out to be in the movie business. But with experience in more than 10 made-in-Birmingham movies, the two Jefferson County natives are among hundreds of area residents who find challenging work, good pay and benefits, and chances for new avocations working as crew on the scores of films being made here. Read more.

A Growing List of Movies Have Been Made in Alabama

Film-making is booming in Birmingham and across the state since Alabama began its film incentive program. The movies are as varied as the locations where they were shot. One is a real-time suspense film with chase scenes filmed on Morris Avenue; another is the story of brothers who created Mr. Universe and a fitness empire, filmed in several locations across the city. Then there are family dramas and stories about dirt track racing, football, ultimate fighting and music. See the list of films made in Alabama.

A Growing List of Movies Have Been Made in Alabama

Film-making is booming in Birmingham and across the state since Alabama began its film incentive program. The movies are as varied as the locations where they were shot. One is a real-time suspense film with chase scenes filmed on Morris Avenue; another is the story of brothers who created Mr. Universe and a fitness empire, filmed in several locations across the city. Then there are family dramas and stories about dirt track racing, football, ultimate fighting and music. See the list of films made in Birmingham and in Alabama in recent years.

As Alabama’s Unemployment Rate Decreases, Medicaid Enrollment Does Not

Alabama’s unemployment rate hit record lows in the past year, falling below 4 percent, but the number of people enrolled in Medicaid hasn’t decreased.

Medicaid, the health care provider for the state’s poor and disabled, has higher enrollment now than when the unemployment rate hit nearly 12 percent in 2009. September enrollment was up slightly this year compared to September 2017.

While more people are working, not all of them are in jobs that pay enough to get their families off Medicaid, advocates say.

Medicaid’s enrollment is troubling to state lawmakers, who’ve been advised that the way to curtail Medicaid’s ever-expanding cost is to get more Alabamians employed.

“It’s a large concern, why the rolls aren’t shrinking as people get into the workforce,” state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said recently. “I remember being told that as unemployment falls, so would Medicaid enrollment.” Read more.

Jefferson County Commission Approves Workforce Development Funds for Lawson

Sheila Tyson called a pair of rental assistance agreements “a Band-Aid on a bad wound” as the newly installed Jefferson County Commission met for the first time on Monday.

Tyson and her fellow commissioners had heard two items during their committee meeting that allotted money to pay the rent for a couple of Jefferson County households to keep each from becoming homeless.

Tyson, who chairs the commission’s Community Services and Workforce Development Committee, said poor persons in the county need training so they can provide for themselves.

During their meeting, commissioners also approved $75,000 from the general fund for Lawson State Community College for workforce development and job training programs. Read more.

In Soap-Making and Landscaping, ‘Creative’ Entrepreneurs Get Help Building Business Skills from Co.Starters

A designer, a scuba diver, an art curator, a furniture maker. They all share something in common – seeking and receiving help with the business side of their creative work from the Co.Starters program of Create Birmingham.

The Co.Starters program – prompted by research and aimed at unlocking economic potential – has 200 graduates and a new class of 15 people following their dreams to turn their passions into sustainable and thriving small businesses.

With graduates pursuing the business side of everything from massage therapy to landscaping, Co.Starters is a 10-week business training program designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with insights, relationships and tools to turn their business ideas into action, said Buddy Palmer, CEO of Create Birmingham, the nonprofit that administers the program. The organization is dedicated to the development of Birmingham’s creative industries that contribute to economic growth as well as enhance quality of life.

The 15 students, who meet on Monday nights, represent the 17th Co.Starters class since the program began in 2014 after a comprehensive study of the area’s creative industries and occupations.

Gathered around a U-shaped table at Woodlawn’s Social Venture building, members of Co.Starters’ fall 2018 class take turns telling about their week’s highs and lows and the number of customer conversations they logged for the week.

“My high for this week is this,” says Co.Starters student Joy Smith. She shows a glossy page of Birmingham Magazine’s food issue, in which a tempting slice of cheesecake from Smith’s Sorelle catering business is pictured as one of the 40 best treats in Birmingham. Her classmates applaud, then tell about their week’s progress, contacts made and business plans drafted. Read more.

Co.Starters Graduate Kim Lee Realizes Dream of Coworking Venue

Long before she enrolled in Birmingham’s Co.Starters program, Kim Lee had the dream and business plan for what eventually became The Forge, a downtown professional coworking space on the mezzanine level of the historic Pizitz Building. Read more.

President’s Proposed Budget Cut: Eliminate Help to Keep Power On for Poor Families

Erica Dunning is proud of her tidy house, built by Habitat for Humanity in a quiet Chalkville neighborhood, and her job working for Jefferson County. But she’s not too proud to admit that, once upon a time, she needed help to make ends meet.

That help particularly made it possible for Dunning to pay her electric bills, which could become out of reach at certain times a year. And that’s where the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – known by the acronym LIHEAP – came in.

August, which is typically expected in Alabama to be the hottest month of any year, was LIHEAP Awareness month, the month set aside to demonstrate the value of the program. But you don’t have to convince Dunning, who used the program when she was down on her luck and not working, she said.

“It just helps you get over that slump,” she said. “Now I am employed by Jefferson County… but I have used the program to get over that slump. And it’s just good to know you’ve got help.”

Dunning, who has two children, also has a house that uses electricity for both heating and cooling, as opposed to using natural gas in the winter, as many do.

“Without power, how do you get your kids ready for school?” she said.

While shortfalls can happen any time of the year, Dunning said it was particularly hard around Christmas. “You don’t want to disappoint your kids at the time, so you just try and be balanced and make sure they have at least something for Christmas.”
LIHEAP helped make that possible, she said.

This year’s awareness month arrived with the program under threat from the Trump administration, which has proposed eliminating what many low-income residents have come to depend on to keep their air conditioning going in the summer and heat on during the winter.

Thousands of people in Jefferson County depend on LIHEAP, which is administered by the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity. Some 5,000 families are served each summer and another 5,000 each winter, said Dorothy Crosby, who works in the Energy Assistance arm of JCCEO.

But where those residents see a lifeline, the Trump administration sees a drain on federal resources subject to fraud.
“The Budget proposes to eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in order to reduce the size and scope of the Federal Government, and better target resources within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families,” the Trump administration wrote in its budget proposal for 2019. “LIHEAP is a Federal program that has been known to have sizeable fraud and abuse, leading to program integrity concerns.” Read more.

Opportunity Zones Pull Investors Into Low-Income Areas

Alex Flachsbart’s business cards were hot properties at the Jefferson County Courthouse Tuesday after his presentation to the County Commission about opportunity zones in the area.

The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Opportunity Alabama briefed the commission on his group’s work with Opportunity Zones, which encourage investment in low-income areas.

“Our goal is to rally the ecosystem here in the state of Alabama around opportunism,” he said.

Flachsbart, a former tax attorney, said the zones were created with the passage of the tax bill in December. The idea is to give tax breaks to investors who put their money into a fund that then invests in businesses and real estate projects in low-income areas. The incentives grow the longer the money stays invested, he said.

“(It goes) all the way to the point where if you’re an investor who keeps their money in a fund that’s invested in the local community for 10 years or longer, you don’t pay any tax at all on the appreciation of your investment,” he said. “If I make a good bet on a place like Ensley, or a place like East Lake or a place like Fultondale, the good news (is) that, if my investment substantially improves, I get to walk away tax-free after 10 years.” Read more.