1 year ago

A South Alabama ‘Renaissance’ – How Andalusia is getting its groove back

Small towns are scattered throughout South Alabama. To many, they are just blurs or brief stopping points during trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.

They come in different sizes and have funny names like Florala, Elba, Samson, Slocomb, McKenzie, Enterprise, Opp, Hartford and Brewton. They are not unlike any of Alabama’s numerous other small towns. Like many, bypass routes have been built to route traffic around their business districts. Some, like Castleberry, are notorious speed traps and have been for the last several decades.

There is one that seems a little different than the rest – the city of Andalusia.

People in nearby towns describe it as “aristocratic.” And they may be right. At first glance, it seems like a place with a little swagger to it – historic buildings that have been or are in the process of being refurbished, new schools with athletic facilities that outshine its nearby rivals and a lively downtown that doesn’t turn into a ghost town after 5 p.m.

From his office in a city hall, a structure built in 1914, renovated in 2004 and since retrofitted with modern bells and whistles one might expect for a small-to-mid-size company, Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson acknowledged the reputation.

Andalusia City Hall (Jeff Poor/YHN)

“Andalusia has always been seen to be a forward-moving progressive town,” Johnson said in a sit-down interview with Yellowhammer News. “There’s something about the name ‘Andalusia’ that’s sort of sexy, cool.”

It’s a posture that isn’t unwarranted.

Earlier this month, Shaw Industries, Inc., a Dalton, Ga.-based carpet manufacturer announced a $250 million technology investment into its Andalusia facility.

A week earlier, the nearby South Alabama Regional Airport announced the new tenet Dyncorp was “immediately” bringing 45 news jobs to maintain and repair the TH-57 Naval helicopters.

Those announcements suggest a trend is underway in the south-central Alabama city of nearly 9,000 residents.

Andalusia’s ‘Renaissance’

Upon one’s first visit to Andalusia, you can’t help but notice many of the city’s historic structures. Over the years, many of those buildings fell into disrepair and began to show their age.

Rather than tear them down and turn a blind eye to Andalusia’s heritage, Johnson saw the opportunity to preserve some of those structures, and in some cases at a bargain for the local taxpayers.

“This revitalization – I call it Andalusia’s renaissance,” Johnson explained. “We have been working on [it] for 20 years now – Andalusia has been getting in place to see a Renaissance of its old self coming into place, and we’re dead in it right now. We’re on top of it.”

Downtown Andalusia circa 1921 (Kristy Shuford White’s “Andalusia”/Three Notch Museum)

One of the first steps of this “Renaissance” was the city hall, a structure built in 1914 and was formerly the Three Notch School. It was renovated in 2004 by the city for $3.5 million – arguably much cheaper than what it might have been if the city had started from scratch in its quest for a new city hall.

In that same spirit of revitalizing old school properties, Johnson’s administration took what was known as the Church Street School, a building built in 1923, and renovate it to become the Church Street Cultural Arts Center, home to the Andalusia Ballet.

Like many of the small towns throughout the South, the heart of Andalusia is the town square. It is bordered by the Covington County Courthouse to the north and various shops and office buildings on its other three sides.

Covington County Courthouse, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

The city’s most memorable and iconic structure is the First National Bank Building, also referred to as the Timmerman Building, at the southeastern corner of the city’s square.

The six-story high-rise building was built in 1920 and has had a mixed history of occupancy in its nearly 100 years of existence. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The city acquired the building in early 2017 for $260,000 plus $1,500 in closing costs.

First National Bank Building, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Johnson explained how the city acquired the building from its previous owner in California and got half the purchase price donated from a charitable foundation.

“I knew the guy owed some money on it, and I knew the note was coming due at a certain time,” he explained. “I said if we were going to be able to get this, now was going to be the time. I started quietly negotiating about buying the building from him.”

Currently, the building’s ground floor is occupied by Wiregrass-based Milky Moos Homemade Ice Cream, a deal the city inked earlier this year. Johnson said he foresaw the remaining levels to be a mix of commercial and residential.

Another building featured in the city’s downtown portfolio, and one that about which Johnson speaks very enthusiastically is its historic theater. A lawyer by trade, Johnson was able to use his knowledge of the tax code to engineer a deal for the city’s acquisition of the theater through a donation of the property.

Under the previous owner, the theater building was deteriorating. However, once taking ownership of the building, the City of Andalusia put $1.4 million toward renovation, to make way for Clark Theaters and is now equipped with all the modern amenities one might expect for a movie-going experience.

Before and After Andalusia Downtown Theater 2017 Renovation (City of Andalusia/YHN)

Johnson isn’t shy about his city’s role in creating venues for private enterprise. He pledged his support for free enterprise but argued in some cases government has a role in improving the quality of life and opportunity for its constituents.

“I believe in the free market,” Johnson explained. “I believe in capitalism. I believe in the free-market system. But some people worship it. They think it has all the answers to all problems. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t always fix everything. Any manmade system is not perfect, and small rural towns – sometimes it doesn’t work. You’ve got to do something else to make it work. And the things that I’m talking to you and told you about are perfect examples.”

Among the other properties that have undergone rehabilitation were former Andalusia Mayor John G. Sherf’s Springdale Estate, the old AlaTex headquarters, now the home of the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and the former downtown Andala Building, which is adjacent to the First National Bank Building and is the home of Big Mike’s, an upscale steakhouse.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Evolution from agrarian to industrial and overcoming globalization

Like many of the small towns of the region, post-Civil War Andalusia relied mostly on agriculture and timber to fuel its local economy. That would change after the turn of the century.

In South Alabama, cotton was plentiful, and labor was relatively cheaper than the national average and free from any entanglements of labor unions. Disruptions in domestic labor markets and that proximity to cotton enticed textile manufacturers to move their operations to the South.

Eventually, throughout South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, many of the local economies of the 20th century were reliant upon the success of American textiles.

Andalusia was no exception. In 1924, John G. Scherf, a German immigrant with a background in the textile industry assumed control of the local Chamber of Commerce and co-founded Andala Co., and later Alatex. Scherf would later become Andalusia’s mayor.

‘Big Shirt’ tribute to Alatex in front of Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Those two companies manufactured products and distributed them throughout the world, including men’s dress shirts, shorts and underwear. Those products included garments for household brands like Arrow and Van Heusen.

The 1990s brought globalization, a trend that was aided by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With that, a lot of the textile production operations that existed in Alabama for generations moved to Latin America and the Far East.

Andalusia was also no exception to this trend, and in the mid-1990s, it lost its textile industry.

“When Alatex closed its doors, it was a huge negative economic impact to this area,” Johnson said. “And not just Andalusia. Alatex had plants in Luverne, Troy, Crestview (Fla.), Enterprise and Panama City (Fla.). And one time, they had a big warehouse operation up in Montgomery. It was a regional player as far as employment was concerned.”

1935 State of Alabama Highway Map (University of Alabama Map Archives)

“When they finally shut the doors and locked the gate, that was a bad day,” Johnson added.

Throughout the 20th century, many localities in the region were discouraged from recruiting other industries to diversify their economy. The fear was that new industry might create a competitive market for labor and force an increase in wages.

But when textiles left, some municipalities were caught flat-footed and scrambling for answers on how to fill that void.

“Basically, what I saw was people – all they wanted to do was cuss NAFTA,” Johnson said. “’If it wasn’t for NAFTA, if it wasn’t for NAFTA.’ Well you know, we can’t change that.”

From that point forward, Johnson said he saw the need for Andalusia to diversify its economy. At the time, Johnson was practicing law and serving on the board of the local airport authority. The desire to see his hometown expand its economy catapulted him into politics and eventually mayor.

Hometown utilities give workforce, economic advantages

In the 1930s during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Rural Electrification Act (REA) was passed into law. At the time, electricity in Andalusia was sparse, and only a few places had it, which was just enough to power some lights. Under REA, the Alabama Electric Co-op (AEC) came into existence and was headquartered in Andalusia given its proximity to the Conecuh River, which could be dammed to generate hydroelectricity.

AEC generated and sold the electricity to municipal and county electric cooperatives and eventually became PowerSouth and is still headquartered in Andalusia today.

Later came the Southeast Alabama Gas District, also headquartered in Andalusia.

According to Johnson, all those were ingredients in setting the city of Andalusia apart from some of its neighbors.

“Though we were primarily agriculture, timber and textiles, we had these other things going for us that a lot of cities didn’t have,” he explained.

Johnson maintains there are more engineers in his city per capita than anywhere else in the state and that the raw number is tops anywhere outside of Alabama’s major metropolitan areas.

A unique set of problems

As much of rural Alabama struggles with maintaining quality education and health care offerings, this seems to be the least of Andalusia’s challenges.

Mayor Johnson contended his city’s public-school system is the best south of Auburn. He also pointed out there are no private schools in the entire county, which suggests residents are satisfied with the public schools.

While many places in rural Alabama struggle to keep their hospitals open and functioning, his city’s hospital Andalusia Health isn’t facing those struggles.

Instead, Johnson said Andalusia’s areas of concern are retail and housing.

On the retail front, Johnson is seeking suitors to fill the void left behind by the now mostly vacant Covington Mall. With the nearest major shopping centers in Montgomery, Dothan and Destin, Fla., Johnson insists Andalusia is a prime opportunity for a prospective retailer.

Hollowed-out Covington Mall, Andalusia in December 2018 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

“People who are interested in the retail business, I would show them are market studies that show we have 150,000 people in our retail market,” Johnson said. “Then I would take them and introduce them to about four or five retailers we have brought to Andalusia in recent years and ask that person to talk to this prospect and tell them what working with the City of Andalusia is like. And I will guarantee you they will tell you it’s the best experience they ever had working with a government. Andalusia is the best experience they ever had as far as getting things done, business taken care of, and cutting the expense and costs of getting their business in business as quickly as possible.”

“The market we have and the reputation and experience we have understanding their problems and making their job easier,” he added.

Housing in the City of Andalusia is relatively affordable. With a median home price of $125,000, Andalusia is slightly lower than the state’s median price at $129,000. However, there is a lack of apartment housing in the city.

“Our other big challenge is housing, apartments – and we’re working real hard on that,” the Andalusia mayor said.

Johnson said he anticipates that problem to be self-correcting.

“More housing in the way of upper-level apartments and also single-family dwellings,” he said. “All that’s starting to show up now, and that’s coming.”

Geographic location, airport highlight city’s transportation offerings

Given the city’s unique location, an hour and a half drive from Montgomery, Dothan and the Florida coastline and two hours from Mobile, Johnson has a wish list of road and highway projects but knows his city isn’t a priority.

Currently, the city is connected to Interstate 65 by four-laned Alabama Highway 55 headed north and to Dothan by a four-lane U.S. Highway 84 headed east. Ideally, Johnson says he would like to see U.S. Highway 331, which passes through nearby Opp, four-laned to the beach and U.S. Highway 84 four-laned westbound to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

However, the most significant transportation asset for the city may not be its highway connectivity, but instead, it’s an airport.

USAF aircraft sit near the terminal of South Alabama Regional Airport Jeff Poor/YHN)

Johnson, who launched his career in politics from his position on the board of the local airport, touts the South Alabama Regional Airport as one of the many jewels in his city’s crown.

The airport touts a 6,000-foot by 100-foot instrument equipped runway and can support most types of military and general aviation aircraft.

Johnson tells of the airport’s evolution from his early involvement to now — which includes 50 hangars, two of which are large enough to house the military’s C-130s and are now a center of operations contractor Yulista.

South Alabama Regional Airport Hangars Operated by Yulista (Jeff Poor/YHN)

The airport also has a unique capability that allows for hot refueling of military aircraft, including airplanes and helicopters. Aircraft can refuel at Andalusia’s airport without having to shut down, and therefore avoid wear and tear on engines.

Johnson notes the airport’s proximity to Ft. Rucker to the east and Eglin Air Force Base and Pensacola Naval Air Station to the south, which makes it a favorite refueling spot.

The closing argument: Come to Andalusia for quality of life, lower cost of living

After spending more than four hours with Mayor Johnson, I asked him to offer a closing argument to those who might consider Andalusia as a location for a home or a business.

His answer: quality of life for a bargain.

“Our quality of life in Andalusia – I don’t think you can beat it, and here’s the reason why: We have a lot of things in Andalusia you won’t find necessarily in the Birminghams of the world,” he said. “We have schools that are among the top schools in the state. To get that in Montgomery, you’re going to have to pay about $15,000 a year in tuition to somebody per child. Health care, top-notch. No, we don’t have a university hospital here. We don’t have many of the specialists, but you’re still within just a short drive of that.”

Johnson plugged his city’s “active faith community” and its people as another aspect of his closing argument.

“I know people say every you go ‘we got great people,’ but we really do,” he continued. “And as far as looking for something to do, if you want to be involved, you can get involved to the level you want to be involved and make a difference in the community in a town like this.”

All this comes, he adds, at a much lower cost than Alabama’s bigger cities.

“You can live in Andalusia at a level that would cost you probably 30-to-40 percent more in one of the metro areas,” Johnson added.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

42 mins ago

UAH Hockey saved after supporters successfully raise over $750K in less than five days

Just one week after the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) announced that its men’s hockey team would be discontinued, UAH on Friday confirmed the program has been saved by supporters.

The university last Friday had listed financial shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for cutting the popular program.

Following that announcement, a GoFundMe was launched on Monday evening in an effort to raise $500,000 by close-of-business on Friday. That ambitious goal was reached shortly after noon on Friday, with hours to spare.

As of 2:30 p.m. CT, the GoFundMe had garnered a total of $516,585 from more than 2,200 donors. Additionally, a t-shirt fundraising page had raised an additional $29,792.

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In addition to these crowdfunded donations, UAH in a statement advised that two long time hockey supporters, Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski, have each gifted $125,000 to support the program.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, UAH Athletic Director Cade Smith confirmed that these funds, combined with the crowdsourced funds, will enable the program to continue for the duration of the 2020-2021 season. The total amount of almost $800,000 in private dollars is the largest athletic campaign contribution in the history of UAH.

In addition to the private funds, UAH President Darren Dawson has committed dollars from the university to cover the balance of the hockey team’s operations during the upcoming season. The program will continue to compete in Division I.

Moving forward, supporters of the program will still need to secure long-term funding and competitive stability.

“We are thankful and gratified from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey,” stated Dawson. “We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success.”

Smith said, “The university is fully committed to the upcoming season. The university will work with the supporters of the UAH hockey program and a newly formed Hockey Advisory Board to develop a plan that will allow the Chargers to thrive in 2021-2022 season and beyond.”

One key obstacle moving forward besides funding will be UAH Hockey finding a new conference, as their current conference is disbanding following this upcoming season.

Smith stressed that “UAH is committed to building a world-class D1 hockey program with a permanent conference home that will allow the Chargers to continue past the 2020-2021 season.”

To continue beyond the current season, UAH said that the Chargers must develop a five-year philanthropic funding model and resolve the associated conference-related issues.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama Lt. Governor Ainsworth comments on death of George Floyd

The death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police Department custody on Monday evening has sparked bipartisan national outrage, including in the Yellowhammer State.

The situation on-the-ground in Minneapolis has gradually deteriorated since video footage of Floyd’s death surfaced. Four officers have been fired, however no one had — as of Friday morning — been charged. What began as peaceful protests demanding justice for Floyd have escalated into heavily publicized rioting, looting and arson.

President Donald J. Trump on Friday tweeted that the Minnesota National Guard has arrived in the city to get a hold of the situation.

This came shortly after Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) in a social media post warned, “Chaos rules without law and order.”

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“The death of George Floyd In Minneapolis was inexcusable and angers me greatly, but we must remember that all but a few officers are dedicated servants who risk their lives daily,” Ainsworth said. “My thanks to those who serve in law enforcement. Your brave service is appreciated. Chaos rules without law and order.”

Earlier in the week, Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge shared a photo of the since-fired officer who was video taped kneeling on Floyd’s neck, with Partridge saying, “This is not a police officer. This is not American law enforcement. This is someone who has no integrity, honor, emotion, or respect.”

Partridge currently serves as president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police.

“These four people have stained every professional law enforcement officer who swore an oath to protect and defend the communities they serve,” he continued, referring to the former Minneapolis PD officers.

“It is up to every officer, supervisor, and administrator to stand against this type of abuse of power. Each of these four officers will be prosecuted, as they should,” Partridge advised.

“As a police officer, I do not see color; I see human beings with thoughts, feelings and I will be the first to stand and say enough is enough to this type of rogue behavior by anyone,” he added. “To see this type of brutality makes me sick and disgusted. But, I know justice will prevail in this case. We just need to allow the system to work.”

Partridge remarked, “While Americans have the right to peacefully assemble and protest, they do not have the right to riot, loot and destroy innocent people’s property.”

“Please know that 99.9% of American law enforcement officers do the job flawlessly every day and risk their lives doing so. We work extremely hard to make inroads into the community and build strong relationships,” the Alabama police chief concluded.

UPDATE:

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis PD officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, media outlets reported Friday afternoon.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Alabama’s OWA to reopen amusement park on June 5

OWA this week announced that it will officially reopen its popular amusement park on Friday, June 5, at 11:00 a.m. CT, incorporating enhanced health and safety measures that were developed based on guidance from the CDC and health officials.

The heightened health and safety measures are being implemented for guests and team members to ensure the well-being of everyone visiting OWA, which is located in Foley, Alabama.

The new policies, which can be found here, will include health screenings for guests before entering The Park at OWA, installation of additional hand sanitizing stations throughout the resort, enhanced cleaning and sanitization practices, and added signage to encourage social distancing.

“Our entire team has worked tirelessly the past few months to get The Park ready for guests. We are excited to see guests enjoying the rides and share special family moments once again,” stated Kristin Hellmich, OWA’s director of marketing/PR.

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“We have always taken great pride in our Parks’ safety and cleanliness,” she continued. “The upcoming Park reopening will be no exception as we continue to implement recommended health and safety practices to ensure our guests have a great experience.”

Additional steps are being implemented to accommodate social distancing, such as limiting the number of guests allowed in the amusement park at one time. Riders will continue to purchase an attractions wristband to enjoy a day filled with unlimited access to amusement park rides. Guests wishing not to partake in any attractions can purchase a $5.00 Non-Rider Pass, which allows guests to enjoy strolling The Park and watching loved ones without having to purchase a full-priced ticket.

Downtown OWA businesses began reopening in April consistent with state health orders and continue to welcome guests using recommended health and safety standards.

Restaurants now open at OWA include Groovy Goat, Crazy Donuts, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, Trattoria Pizza & Italian, Hershey’s Ice Cream Parlor, C’est Le Vin Wine Bar & Shop, Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon.

Retailers currently open include Fairhope Soap Company, Parker & Co. (a women’s boutique), Alvin’s Island, The Spice & Tea Exchange and Body Tune Plus.

Brandon Styles Live is currently welcoming guests to both his Magic and Variety shows six days a week. Clash eSports Center, OWA’s state-of-the-art video gaming venue, and Sweet Tooth at OWA are set to open on June 5 in conjunction with the amusement park.

The Park will be open seven days a week during the summer season. Learn more at OWA’s website here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Auburn offering on-campus instruction beginning with second summer mini-term

Auburn University on Friday announced plans for its second summer mini-term that include a variety of instructional delivery methods, including on-campus instruction.

In March, the university announced its decision to suspend on-campus instruction for the full 10-week summer session and the first of two summer five-week mini-terms following guidance from public health officials due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision announced Friday comes following months of careful preparation, with the recently amended State Health Order allowing for increased access to educational institutions beginning June 1.

Beginning June 29, Auburn plans to offer multiple course sections during the second summer five-week mini-term through a variety of instructional delivery methods. Consistent with the updated order, the university’s options incorporate important measures designed to protect students, faculty, staff and the broader campus community.

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“Following the Governor’s guidelines, Auburn is preparing to start re-opening our campus to students slowly,” stated Auburn University Provost Bill Hardgrave.

“While the pandemic has not affected our ability to offer quality instruction, it did restrict our options for delivering instruction,” he continued. “With the new guidance from the state, we can utilize instructional delivery modalities that will enable our campus to implement important protocols as we prepare for the broader re-entry of students this fall.”

In addition to the face-to-face and online options Auburn traditionally offers, the university will also offer blended and Hyflex courses. With blended courses, students utilize both face-to- face instruction and remote learning. Hyflex courses provide a structure that gives students the flexibility of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online or doing both through synchronous delivery. As the university prepares to implement physical distancing guidelines across campus, both blended and Hyflex options will reportedly enable students to experience some face-to-face instruction while remaining flexible to accommodate the institution’s safety protocols.

Auburn advised that more than 3,000 students are currently registered for courses in the second summer mini-term, with almost 150 faculty slated to teach. By working with their colleges and schools, faculty can select which of the four modalities best align with the learning outcomes for their courses to deliver instruction. The type of delivery method will be published so students can make informed choices when building their course schedule.

Opening academic buildings and offering face-to-face instruction during the latter part of the summer will allow the university to begin implementing several new protocols developed for students preparing to return in the fall.

Among these, the university will employ a mobile COVID-19 health check for all students and faculty, and appropriate social distancing will be followed in classrooms.

Following the university’s transition to remote teaching this spring, all faculty going forward are being asked to create a “syllabus B” in the event of a resurgence of the coronavirus that requires the institution to once again transition to full remote instruction.

“The second summer mini-term will allow us to glean important information for the fall,” Hardgrave concluded. “The current plan is to implement some key elements for summer that we see as necessary for fall and prepare to welcome our students, faculty and staff back to learning environments that support the well-being of our campus.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

What Jobs to Move America misses as we reopen Alabama

As the economic crisis due to the coronavirus has impacted our state, Alabama’s job creators and our state’s workers have been focused on reopening our state and getting back to work.

Before the coronavirus, Alabama’s economy was strong and one of the biggest challenges many Alabama businesses faced was filling vacant jobs with skilled workers. The gap in skills and lack of training prevented many in our state from connecting with Alabama’s job creators to receive a good-paying job.

That is why I was encouraged to see companies like New Flyer, North America’s largest bus manufacturer with a world-class manufacturing facility in Anniston, released a Community Benefits Framework (CBF). Among many principles of the CBF were increased opportunities for Alabamians with apprenticeship programs in addition to the execution of sustainable business practices and diversify hiring for management and manufacturing jobs.

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But like many businesses in Alabama, this pandemic quickly shifted priorities for New Flyer. New Flyer focused on short-term survival to ensure their long-term viability in Anniston so that many Alabamians would have a job waiting for them.

Like many businesses across the country, New Flyer of America made the difficult choice to halt production and idle their facility in Anniston due to the speed and gravity of coronavirus. While there was short-term pain for many in our community, New Flyer’s decision to reopen earlier this month has put many in Anniston back to work.

Sadly, Jobs to Move America (JMA), a progressive Astroturf organization with a chapter here in Alabama, chose to amplify their self-righteous campaign against New Flyer. JMA since engaging in Alabama has worked alongside out-of-state labor unions to spread baseless mistruths and targeted Alabama’s job creators, including Mercedes-Benz that employs over 4,000 in our state.

While Alabamians were concerned where they would get their next paycheck, JMA accelerated the pace of their baseless and unfounded attacks. As Alabama business fought to stay open, JMA elevated the attacks that only proved their intense focus on pursuing anti-jobs and anti-Alabama policies far outweighed anything else.

Be sure, JMA’s self-serving game here in Alabama is not over. As New Flyer has judiciously moved to reopen the Anniston facility and put our neighbors back to work with good jobs that offer economic mobility with extensive on-the-job and classroom training, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, JMA continues to employ its same tactics to endanger workforce morale when all people want is to work again and earn a living.

New Flyer has undertaken extensive measures to protect employees with stringent social and physical distancing guidelines, continuous cleaning and sanitization measures and additional Personal Protective Equipment requirements for employees, while JMA in return, continues to strike fear through false claims.

450,000 people in our state are out of work. Now is not the time to take advantage of a crisis but rather it is time to reopen and give employees their jobs again without outside groups like JMA setting up even more obstacles between Alabamians and their next paycheck.

If we want good-paying jobs in Anniston and across our state, especially as our country faces historic job loss, vilifying companies that provide those jobs and mentorship opportunities puts no one at an advantage. On the contrary, it damages our state’s reputation of being pro-business and pro-jobs that could stunt further job creation when so many in our state need a good-paying job.

Sen. Del Marsh is President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. He represents District 12, including Calhoun and Talladega counties. Marsh was elected to the Senate in 1998 and was reelected for a fifth term in 2014. He was first elected President Pro Tempore in 2010.