JeffCo Commission OKs Eco Dev Funds, Tyson Wants More to Go to Small Black-Owned Businesses

Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson. 10.26.23 (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday authorized its support of Innovation Depot and the Birmingham Business Alliance, but not without Commissioner Sheila Tyson voicing her objection.

Fifty-nine of the resolutions on the agenda were passed by unanimous consent in the commission meeting at the Bessemer Criminal Justice Center. Two items — allotting $300,000 in economic development funds for Innovation Depot and $250,000 for BBA — were considered separately by Tyson’s request.

The motion to approve both passed 3-1 with Tyson casting the no vote. Commissioner Lashunda Scales was absent.

“I feel like both of those organizations do not address the businesses in the minority community,” she said, specifying “small, Black businesses. “(They) don’t reach further out from downtown. It doesn’t cover the deep crevasses of the Black and brown communities, the mom-and-pop stores. You might have a small convenience store in the community.

“It doesn’t cover the business classes that we need in order to grow our businesses,” Tyson continued. “It doesn’t cover stuff like that. We need more of that in order to grow our community businesses.”

Clinical Trials

Commissioners also held a public hearing concerning Acclinate Genetics Inc.’s appeal for up to $75,000 in economic incentives as the Birmingham-based company hires 25 more people at an average wage of $39.90 per hour. Jeff Traywick said the company is focused on connecting under-represented minorities with clinical trials.

Acclinate’s biggest client is UAB but it does assist in clinical trials at other hospitals. The funding was approved, but Tyson expressed concern that the company might not be doing enough in the community, including providing study results and perhaps leaving a tangible benefit to the community, like a walking track.

“What sets Acclinate apart in that it is an African American-owned company,” Traywick said, “is they are driven to make sure trust is rebuilt within the community.”

Jimmie Stephens, the commission president, and Commissioner Joe Knight acknowledged their interest in county funds being used in the county.

“If they’re going to West End or Ensley or Lipscomb or Tarrant or Mount Olive or Bessemer, we’re OK,” Stephens said. “But if they’re going to Siluria and Alabaster and Tuscaloosa, not so much.”

Extension Service Proclamation

Lisa M. Jones, county extension coordinator for the Jefferson County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, attended the meeting to accept the commission’s proclamation that Oct. 22-28 is Alabama Extension Week in Jefferson County.

“I’m about to change into some shorts and a 4H T-shirt and go set up a healthy tailgate at the Magic City Classic,” Jones said. “Thank you to the commission again for supporting our work.”