Category: Economy

Officials Dub Tuesday ‘Great Day’ as Ground is Broken for Amazon Center

Amazon held the official groundbreaking Tuesday for its first large-scale fulfillment center in Alabama, on a site just off Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

Dozens of state and local officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, came to put shovels into a long mound and fling red dirt into the air.
“This is a great day for Bessemer, a great day for Amazon and a great day for the state of Alabama,” Ivey said. “Momentum is on our side and that’s made possible when companies like Amazon choose to locate and do business in our great state.”

When complete, the $325 million facility – which will have the footprint of nearly 15 football fields – will employ 1,500 people with a starting minimum wage of $15 and company benefits that start on Day 1. Read more.

Serious Play: Hoover Met, Birmingham Crossplex Score Economic Wins with ‘Sports Tourism’

On a Saturday morning in Hoover, high school girls jumped and spiked, as coaches and parents cheered in an assortment of volleyball games in the annual Juanita Boddie Tournament, an event that draws teams not just from metro Birmingham, but from surrounding states.

The tournament used to be a fixture at Homewood High School but now calls the Finley Center its home. And what a home it is — a dozen or more courts in action at any given moment, more available for warm-ups, plus a snack bar, trainers’ facilities and much more.

Just steps away, you’ll find a new group of ball fields with high-tech lighting, artificial turf fields and the capability to hold up to a dozen games at once. There’s another baseball diamond with natural grass, built to the same field size as the original facility in the complex, Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The Met is the former home of the minor league Birmingham Barons, twice host to the NCAA Men’s College Cup soccer championships and still home to the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament and Hoover High School’s nationally famous football team.

Still under construction nearby are five more fields for football, soccer, lacrosse, or rugby — basically any sport using a rectangular field — and 16 tennis courts. The complex has all of that plus an RV park in the middle, an original part of the complex.

Hoover Buys in to Burgeoning Industry

The Hoover Met Complex expansion marks the city’s major buy-in to a burgeoning industry that’s generally known as sports tourism. It’s sometimes referred to as “tourno-cation,” which is a combination of “tournament” and “vacation.” That’s generally applied more to mega-complexes located in areas already known as tourist hotspots, such as Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach or Orlando. The idea is to draw large tournaments with dozens, even hundreds, of teams.

John Sparks moved to Hoover a couple of months ago to manage the new complex, after a stint as a manager with the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. He says the complex is already one of the top two or three of its kind in the Southeast, based on the size, the types of fields, and the ability to deal with wet weather thanks to artificial turf. Read more.

Despite Immigration Law, 40 Percent of New Hires Are Not Checked Through E-Verify

Many Alabama employees aren’t being screened to confirm their legal status to work in the United States, despite a 2011 state law requiring businesses to use the federal E-Verity system.

A recent report in the publication Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, said only 60 percent of new Alabama hires were screened with E-Verify in the year ending in June 2017. That’s up from 14 percent in 2011, before the state’s anti-illegal immigration law went into effect.

Now, state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, proposes requiring employers to prove their E-Verify usage before obtaining business licenses. He has a bill ready for the 2019 legislative session that mirrors a law in Georgia, where 94 percent of employees were screened through E-Verify, according to Pew.

Orr recently said there will always be bad actors who don’t follow the law, but he thinks some businesses are simply ignorant about it.
“They don’t know about the law or don’t think it applies to them,” Orr said. “Until someone is telling them or reminding them, they’ll continue to be ignorant.”
Read more.

$25 Million Alabama Futures Fund: ‘This state is open for business for startups.’

Alabama’s startup scene grabbed eyeballs last year when Target bought Birmingham-based Shipt for $550 million. The city’s entrepreneurial community wants to keep that momentum going. One new effort is the Alabama Futures Fund. The $25 million fund will provide venture capital to new companies either in Alabama or to those willing to relocate here. WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Matt Hottle of Redhawk Advisory.
Read more.

Amazon Breaks Ground Oct. 2, Laying Path for Western-Area Development

The official groundbreaking on the new Amazon development in Bessemer will be Oct. 2, Jefferson County commissioners said Thursday.

“Amazon is a game-changer,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “It’s going to open up the western Jefferson County corridor to much more development and opportunity for our citizens.”

Amazon and other developments in western Jefferson County already are starting to have an effect. West Jefferson Mayor Charles Nix told the commission his town is ready to grow with a new garden home subdivision on more than 23 acres being annexed at 6700 Quinton Road.

“We don’t think there’s a better place than the town of West Jefferson to start that growth,” Nix said while asking for the property to be rezoned for the homes. Commissioners approved his request.
Read more.

Birmingham to Request Expansion of Foreign-Trade Subzone to Include BNSF Railway

The City of Birmingham will apply to expand its foreign-trade subzone to include a property owned by BNSF Railway, a move proponents argued would extend the Mercedes-Benz brand within the city.

Foreign-trade subzones are areas within the United States in which a certain company’s commercial merchandise is not subject to import tariffs and taxes, which is intended to lower costs for companies engaged in international trade. BNSF Railway wants to add a 261-acre area near Finley Boulevard, which officials said could make the city more “business-friendly” to Mercedes-Benz, one of BNSF’s clients. Read more.

Newspaper Publishers Get Welcome News as Tariff on Canadian Paper Overturned

Newspaper publishers throughout the state, already suffering financially as readers move from their print product to online news, have caught a break in another recent drain on their resources.

The International Trade Commission overturned on Wednesday a tariff imposed by the Trump Administration on newsprint imported from Canada, which supplies most of the paper used by American newspapers. The tariff increased production costs significantly for publishers, as newsprint is usually either their top expense item or a close second behind personnel.

The tariff was different from most of the others Trump has implemented or proposed as part of his escalating battle with China and the European Union, among other international trade partners. The newsprint tariff came at the request of one specific company, a paper mill in Washington state, whose owners claimed that the Canadian government was subsidizing newsprint producers north of the border, thereby hurting American producers.
Read more.

Read BirminghamWatch’s rundown on the tariffs:

Tariffs Imposed by U.S., Trading Partners Hit Home in Alabama

President Donald Trump is battling with countries he says are unfairly hurting America’s foreign trade, but some of his moves may adversely affect industries in Alabama in the process.

Trump’s new tariffs against China, Canada and the European Union — some proposed, some already in effect — are concerning the state’s auto manufacturers, farmers and newspaper publishers, and they have prompted responses from both industry representatives and politicians.

Connecting With Seniors One Phone Call at a Time

Birmingham has a service for seniors that’s like few others in the country. It started in 2002 when the Crisis Center noticed older residents would call its emergency hotline because they were lonely. The organization developed the Senior Talk Line. Through the service, volunteers connect with people one phone call at a time. Read more.

Read earlier stories in the series:

Birmingham’s Senior Population Rises While Affordable Housing Remains Limited
Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work
Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

Birmingham’s Senior Population Rises While Affordable Housing Remains Limited

Greater Birmingham’s senior population is rising faster than all other age groups and is expected to double by 2025. But federal money for senior housing has been cut in half during the past decade. Read more.

Read the first two stories in the series:
Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work
Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.