The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

We need a level playing field for franchise owners in Alabama

(Contributed/State Sen. Chris Elliott)

I knew it had happened to me, so I concluded it was happening to others.

I’m a small business owner, and for years I owned and operated small catastrophe-restoration franchises in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. If your home or store had fire or water damage, my team and I would come in and restore your shop or house.

It was hard work: there’s nothing clean or easy about ripping out walls that are rotting from mold, or painstakingly assessing the best way to remove fire-damaged cabinets while preserving the integrity of a kitchen’s interior. But it was rewarding, too: I was providing for my family, my team was giving great service to our customers and we were creating jobs.

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Unfortunately, it turned out that my franchisor was not interested in the long-term success of my business. They were interested in corporate profits, regardless of how it impacted the small business owners who operated their franchises.

I wanted to believe that this inequity was limited to my particular franchisor, but, sadly, it is not.

I learned that Alabama is a state without a franchisee-protection law. Through contact with the Alabama Franchisee Association, I learned that scores of Alabama businesses — both small and large — have essentially no rights and no protections. It has been a “take it or leave it” proposition, with franchisees having to take on more and more at each contract renewal.

I recently met Darrel Bush, whose family had operated the Huddle House in Wetumpka for more than 25 years. As the years went by, unreasonably-priced building and equipment upgrades were added to the extensions of the original contract, and the Bush family had no choice but to agree to the franchisor’s demands in order to stay afloat. Ultimately, the Bush family had to shut down its franchise. Huddle House is now looking to construct a new location, just down the road from the one the Bush family operated for a quarter-century.

None of this is right. Thankfully, I’m out of the franchisee business now, but I’m taking a stand for Alabama business owners with the introduction of the Protect Alabama Small Businesses Act, co-sponsored by Representative Connie Rowe of Jasper, in the Alabama legislature.

The Protect Small Businesses Act will create the level playing field that small business owners – particularly, our small franchisee owners – desperately need.

The bill provides three things:

  • Protection from unjust terminations and non-renewals without good cause. Franchisees should be compensated for fair market value for their investments.
  • Protection from unjust restrictions on sales and transfers.
  • Most importantly, the bill protects the right to sue in Alabama courts. Often, franchisors construct contracts that only allow for disputes to be settled in courts in New York City or Los Angles, where court costs and attorney’s fees are prohibitively expensive for small business owners in Alabama. If you’re 25 years old and working 80 hours a week to make your first Taco Bell franchisee profitable, you don’t have the time or money to battle Big Law hired-guns in a lower Manhattan courtroom, if a contract dispute arises.

I hope you will join me in protecting these Alabama family businesses, their employees, and our communities. Too many people have been harmed by one-sided agreements where the goalposts move quickly, and the deck is always stacked in favor of the large, out-of-state franchisors.

Chris Elliott represents Baldwin County in the Alabama State Senate, where he serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Follow him on Twitter for legislative updates: @SenatorElliott

Taxation without representation — Clearing up the confusion between cities and counties caused by exterritorial jurisdictions

(Contributed/State Sen. Chris Elliott)

Just before the Revolutionary War and largely in response to the Stamp Act imposed by the British on the American colonies, the Massachusetts lawyer James Otis famously proclaimed, “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny.”

Today, Alabama is one of only three states that permits municipalities to impose police, planning, and other exterritorial jurisdictions in areas well outside of their actual municipal limits. In short, Alabama law currently allows towns and cities to tax, regulate, and police citizens who can’t vote for or against the municipal leaders governing them.

This is fundamentally wrong, and I have introduced Senate Bill 23 to stop it.

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Recently, I listened to a well-meaning group of mayors and city councilors bemoan the lack of tax revenue in their cities, lament the high cost of providing public safety services and ask state legislators to impose more taxes. In the very next breath, however, many of these same elected officials argued that they should continue to provide municipal services to folks well outside their city limits, even if it is a financial loss and a detriment to the citizens they actually represent.

This is a nonsensical position.

If you live in a city, as most Alabamians do, you want your city’s revenue spent on your city’s public safety, parks, sidewalks and libraries; not in the county.

I say keep your money in your city.

The root problem is that state law currently requires that the revenue raised from business licenses, sales and use taxes be spent in the exterritorial jurisdictions in which it is raised. I know that many cities can have trouble documenting these expenditures, as required by state law; therefore, I don’t know how anyone can be sure that these expenses are being spent in accordance with state law. I can only imagine the mess that an audit of these funds would cause.

Smart municipalities that have done the math realize that the cost of providing services in exterritorial areas far exceeds whatever tax revenue is generated in these extended places. More importantly, they realize that providing these services is a disincentive to folks who might otherwise choose to annex into the city. The adage, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” comes to mind.

The bottom line is that if folks want to receive the benefit of city services, they should annex into the city — and city officials should keep their services focused on the people they are elected to serve.
Geographic diversity is part of what creates the rich fabric of a county, with a unique sense of place in each city, town and unincorporated area. It is important to preserve that sense of place in a city with its public parks and libraries, and to preserve rural areas where people can hunt, build bonfires and ride 4-wheelers along gravel roads — free from the regulations a city’s jurisdiction would bring.

As a former county commissioner, I can attest to the confusion caused by the tangled web of overlapping and contradictory building permits, planning jurisdictions, police jurisdictions, subdivision regulations and competing zoning classifications.

Senate Bill 23 is pretty simple: if you live in a city, you pay its municipal taxes and submit to its regulations; if you live outside the municipal limits, you don’t. In a city, you get to vote for the officials who tax, regulate and police you, and under SB23, your city leaders won’t be spending your hard-earned municipal tax dollars on folks out in the county.

I am not in favor of providing the cities more taxes, as they have asked. To me, the solution is one we should have all learned in kindergarten: if it isn’t yours, don’t touch it, and mind your own business.

Chris Elliott represents Baldwin County in the Alabama State Senate, where he serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Follow him on Twitter for legislative updates: @SenatorElliott