3 months ago

Small business remains ‘upbeat’ about economy; Workforce needs remain a priority

The small business economic engine continues to run strong, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) October Optimism Index.

The nationwide small business organization released the findings of its monthly index on Tuesday, with the index once again showing gains in that sector of the economy.

The leader of NFIB’s Alabama association expressed continued optimism among members.

“[S]mall business owners in Alabama generally are upbeat about the direction of the economy,” explained NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash. “Their primary concern at the moment is finding enough good job applicants.”

NFIB president and CEO Juanita Duggan, an Alabama native, credits sound policy for the gains despite some recent media fixation on potential negative trends.

“A continued focus on a recession by policymakers, talking heads, and the media clearly caused some consternation among small businesses in previous months, but after shifting their focus to other topics, it’s become clear that owners are not experiencing the predicted turmoil,” said Duggan. “Small business owners are continuing to create jobs, raise wages, and grow their businesses, thanks to tax cuts and deregulation, and nothing is stopping them except for finding qualified workers.”

As a result of small business continuing to hire and create new jobs, the index found that actual job creation in October exceeded that in September.

As Elebash noted, meeting the workforce needs of thriving small businesses remain both a challenge and a priority.

Twenty-five percent of the owners in the NFIB survey selected “finding qualified labor” as their top business problem, more than cited taxes or regulations.

“Labor shortages are impacting investment adversely – a new truck, or tractor, or crane is of no value if operators cannot be hired to operate them,” said NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg.

At a small business panel hosted by Yellowhammer last month, Alabama’s workforce development needs drove much of the conversation.

“We have a significant shortage of qualified workers,” said Elebash, who participated in the panel discussion.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is a member of a workforce development commission assembled by Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth.

Also a participant in Yellowhammer’s small business event, he outlined the fact that Alabama needs to implement a sound strategy to address its workforce needs.

“Not only do we need to develop our workforce for current jobs, we’ve got to get out front and understand where we are going,” advised Garrett.

For now, NFIB’s Dunkelberg remains bullish on an economy in which small business is prospering.

“The economy is doing well given the labor constraints it faces. Unemployment is very low, incomes are rising, and inflation is low. That’s a good economy,” Dunkelberg concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

22 mins ago

7 Things: Doug Jones calls abortion question ‘stupid’, medical marijuana bill advances, Democrats slug it out and more …

7. If Moore can’t make the news for his campaign, he’ll make it for his lawsuit

  • Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has requested that the judge presiding over his case with Leigh Corfman recuse himself just before a status conference that could determine a date for the trial
  • Judge John Rochester donated to U.S. Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) campaign when he ran against Moore, and according to a press release from Moore, Rochester’s “criticism and mocking of Christianity on his Facebook page with full knowledge of Judge Moore’s belief in God” are reasons that he should be removed from the case.

6. Aniah’s Law has advanced

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  • As the nation continues to move towards more lacks bail rules, the Alabama House of Representatives advanced Aniah’s Law, a bill that would grant judges more ability to deny bail to those accused of violent crimes.
  • The bill is named after Aniah Blanchard, who was allegedly abducted and murdered by a man who has been released on bond despite prior violent offenses.

5. The GIRL Act is going further

  • The “Gender is Real Legislative” (GIRL) Act has been advanced by the Alabama House State Government Committee, which would require that public school student-athletes only compete in the gender which they were born.
  • The committee vote was along party lines, 8-4. Bill sponsor State Representative Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) has said that “gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students competing in female sports.”

4. Assange’s lawyer claims Trump dangled a pardon

  • Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made an allegation that former U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA) met with him at an Ecuadorean embassy to offer him a pardon in exchange for information about the DNC server and who fed him the information. The media is reporting this as an absolute fact because they need it to be true.
  • Rohrabacher and President Donald Trump say this is not true. Rohrabacher explains, “When speaking with Julian Assange, I told him that if he could provide me information and evidence about who actually gave him the DNC emails, I would then call on President Trump to pardon him.” He added, “At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President.”

3. Presidential debate Wednesday night, but the guy at a rally in Arizona won 

  • The Democratic presidential debate took place Wednesday night in Las Vegas. The main target was not President Donald Trump or the 78-year-old socialist that is running away with the race. Instead, most of the fire was trained on the 78-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg who was attacked for his money, his history with women and his history with “stop and frisk.”
  • There wasn’t really a moment at this debate that will reset the field, but U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) essentially took over the debate early on and attacked every person on the stage with pointed criticism, except for Bernie Sanders. This will probably be seen as her attempt to damage Bloomberg and will be compared to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s takedown of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) from 2016 because she won’t win but she tried to make sure he won’t either.

2. Medical marijuana is going before the full Senate

  • In an 8-1 vote, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee passed the medical marijuana bill by State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence). The bill will now face the full Senate; if eventually signed into law, Alabama would become the 34th state to legalize medical cannabis. Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.
  • This bill will require Republican votes to pass the Senate. State Sens. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), Will Barfoot (R-Montgomery) and Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) showed there is some Republican support for it. Only State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) voted no while State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) abstained.

1. Doug Jones really wants to be a one-term senator

  • U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) was recently asked by a tracker, “Do you think abortion should be banned after five months?” to which Jones responded, “[W]hat a stupid question.”
  • The tracker referenced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that Jones will be voting on next week. Jones said he’ll “vote on it next week, just like I did last time.”

1 hour ago

Medical marijuana bill clears Alabama Senate committee

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A medical marijuana bill cleared its first hurdle Wednesday in the Alabama legislature, giving hope to advocates after years of setbacks.

Audience members applauded as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 for the bill, putting it in line for a Senate floor vote later this session.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Melson would allow people with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions — including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain — and purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, gummy cubes, oils, skin patches, gels and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.

Advocates crowded into a public hearing at the Alabama Statehouse to watch the debate and tell lawmakers their stories.

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“This bill is not about getting high. This bill is about getting well,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Colorado doctor who described the success of using medical marijuana on people with seizures and cancer.

Cristi Cain said her son Hardy’s debilitating seizures have been helped by CBD oil, now legal in Alabama, but said the higher doses that could help him more aren’t legal in the state. Hardy had as many as 100 seizures per day before trying the oil, and now has about 20 to 30, she said

“An area code shouldn’t affect one health’s care. If Hardy didn’t live in Alabama, he could be seizure-free. We shouldn’t have to be and don’t want to be medical refugees,” Cain said.

Another woman described how patches used in another state were the only thing that relieved her husband’s leg pain from Parkinson’s

The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement and conservative groups. They expressed concern about dosing, safety and the potential for abuse.

“Just because we put the word medical in front of marijuana does not make it medicine,” Shelby County Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Hammac said.

The Rev. Rick Hagans described addicts he buried. He said that although they obviously didn’t overdose on marijuana, they started their drug use with pot.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall sent lawmakers a letter expressing his opposition that noted marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The vote was a moment of optimism for medical marijuana advocates who for years made little headway in the conservative-leaning state. A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives.

Melson said he is hopeful about the bill’s chances in 2020. He said there are multiple steps in the process of obtaining medical marijuana that should limit the danger of abuse.

“You are going to have to go to a physician. You are going to have to get a card. You are going to be on the (state) register,” Melson said. He defended the bill’s allowance of marijuana for a variety of conditions.

“I’m sure some people look at that 15 (conditions) and go, ‘Ýeah, really, that one?’ That’s because they don’t have it or don’t know the literature,” he said.

Sen. Larry Stutts, an obstetrician who cast the lone no vote on the committee, said state medical marijuana laws circumvent the process of drug trials usually required to introduce a new medicine

Stutts said other medications have been “through the process and been through the trials that study its effectiveness and side effects” before patients get them.

Before the vote, Sen. Cam Ward described his late father’s battle with cancer.

“I would have given anything, anything, had he had a tablet to take, something to chew on, some drops to put in his food to avoid the nauseousness from the chemotherapy. That would have changed his life. As a human being, who am I to say … you can’t have that to make you feel better?” Ward said.

(Associated Press, copyright 2020)

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2 hours ago

Alabamians can buy emergency preparedness items sales-tax free this weekend

The weekend from Friday, February 21 through Sunday, February 23 is Alabama’s ninth annual Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday.

As such, several items needed to help prepare for a weather-related disaster can be purchased without state sales tax across stores in Alabama.

Items that cost $60 or less like batteries, ice packs, duct tape, plywood and flashlights will all be exempt from state sales tax this weekend.

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The biggest ticket item that can be purchased without tax is a portable electricity generator, although, any generator that costs $1,000 or more will begin incurring regular taxes.

Dozens of cities and counties also exempt their local sales tax on the holiday weekend, including Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile and Tuscaloosa. A full list of those areas can be found here.

A full list of the tax-exempt items can be found here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

16 hours ago

Alabama’s Warrior Met Coal announces historic Blue Creek mine development

Brookwood-based Warrior Met Coal on Wednesday announced that they will begin development on a new “world-class” longwall mine near its existing mines located on the Blue Creek reserves in West Alabama.

Met coal is the type of coal sometimes referred to as coking coal. Unlike the thermal or steam variety, met coal is used as a vital ingredient in the steelmaking process instead of being utilized for power generation.

The new Blue Creek development is expected to have the capacity to produce an average of 4.3 million short tons per annum of premium High-Vol A met coal over the first ten years of production. It is one of the last remaining large-scale untapped premium High Vol A met coal mines in the U.S.

“We are extremely excited about our organic growth project that will transform Warrior and allow us to build upon our proven track record of creating value for stockholders. Blue Creek is truly a world-class asset and our commitment to this new initiative demonstrates our continued highly focused business strategy as a premium pure-play met coal producer,” Walt Scheller, CEO of Warrior Met Coal, said in a statement.

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The company expects to invest approximately $550 to $600 million over the next five years to develop Blue Creek with expected spending this year alone of approximately $25 million to kickstart the project.

Based on the current schedule, Warrior Met Coal expects first development tons from continuous miner units to occur in the third quarter of 2023 with the longwall scheduled to start up in the second quarter of 2025.

The company trades on the New York Stock Exchange and as such must report specific financial details on the project. This included the company projecting a “net present value” of “greater than $1 billion over the life of the mine with a projected after-tax internal rate of return (IRR) of nearly 30% and an expected payback of approximately two years from initial longwall production.”

Warrior Met Coal previewed this project at a Yellowhammer News event in 2019.

RELATED: Study: Alabama coal industry has nearly $3 billion impact; met coal reserves to last centuries

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

16 hours ago

‘Gender is Real Legislative Act’ advanced by Alabama House committee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House State Government Committee on Wednesday advanced the “Gender is Real Legislative” (GIRL) Act.

The bill, HB 35, is sponsored by State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile). Pringle is the chairman of the committee. The vote on Wednesday was 8-4 on party lines in favor of giving the legislation a favorable report. The GIRL Act now heads to the full House for consideration.

HB 35 would require Alabama public schools to make sure every entrant in an athletic competition is sorted by the gender on their birth certificate. The bill also forbids any state, county or municipal government/agency from providing a facility to a single-gender competition that allows a transgender entrant.The GIRL Act exempts any event that is specifically designed to have both boys and girls as competitors.

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“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance. The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student-athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage,” Pringle has stated. “Liberal Democrats are always trying to accuse us of refusing science, but gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students to compete in female sports.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, a first-grade girl from the Birmingham area called on the committee to support the bill. The girl said it was only “fair” that student-athletes be sorted by the gender on their birth certificate and that she not have to compete against boys.

A full public hearing was held on the legislation last week, when State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) made some interesting remarks about Auburn legend Cam Newton while speaking against HB 35. Rogers in a subsequent interview then called for mandatory genetic testing of all public school student-athletes.

Pringle is currently running in the competitive Republican primary race for Alabama’s First Congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).

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