1 month 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

1 hour ago

Report: Alabama has nation’s 5th-best Christmas spirit

A study conducted by CenturyLink has determined that Alabamians really love Christmas.

In a nationwide ranking of which states have the most Christmas spirit, the Yellowhammer State came in at No. 5.

CenturyLink advised that their data analysis team compared data in two main categories: online activity and area culture.

Ten metrics comprised the two categories, and the Christmas spirit ranking were finalized by calculating the weighted average for each state across all metrics.

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Under online activity, metrics included: Google searches for Christmas movies and gingerbread houses (29%); Google shopping trends for wrapping paper, Christmas cards, Christmas ornaments and “elf on a shelf” (28%); Number of Christmas songs streamed (14.5%); and Number of tweets related to Christmas (7%).

For area culture, metrics were the number of Christmas tree farms per capita (7%) and amount of charitable donations (14.5%).

Only Tennessee, North Carolina, Utah and Ohio scored above Sweet Home Alabama.

Left-leaning states such as Hawaii and California came in at the bottom of the rankings.

RELATED: Ivey lights official Alabama Christmas Tree

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

2 hours ago

Former Birmingham Water Works chair Sherry Lewis sentenced on two felony ethics charges

Former Birmingham Water Works Board Chairwoman Sherry Lewis on Thursday was sentenced for two felony ethics-law convictions. She will almost certainly avoid prison time if she satisfies the requirements of her sentence.

In a joint press release from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and FBI Birmingham special agent in charge Johnnie Sharp, it was outlined that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones sentenced Lewis under Alabama’s split sentence law to 10 years of imprisonment for both counts, to run concurrently, with a “reverse split” of two years in prison. However, under a reverse-split sentence, the term of imprisonment is not imposed until the end of the sentence — which in this case is three years of supervised probation.

Jones additionally ordered Lewis to pay a fine of $15,000 for each count, for a total of $30,000, and to complete a total of 400 hours of community service for charities or agencies that feed the elderly and homeless. If she completes these conditions and her probation period satisfactorily, the judge is expected to suspend the prison time involved in the sentence.

Lewis has been in county jail since being convicted in October but walked away Thursday as a free woman.

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Her conviction followed a one and a half-week trial and involves Lewis having used her position as a director of the Birmingham Water Works Board to obtain personal gain for herself and her family, as well as having voted and participated in matters before the board involving issues about which she had a financial interest or gain.

The jury’s verdict was reportedly based on five days of testimony and hundreds of exhibits proving Lewis obtained three jobs for her son, tickets to the 2015 Cotton Bowl, trips and travel expenses and extravagant meals from a contractor performing work for the board.

This case was investigated by the special prosecution division of the Alabama attorney general’s office and the FBI. The state attorney general’s office prosecuted the case and specifically requested during sentencing that Lewis be required to perform a type of community service focused on charities or agencies that feed the elderly, needy and disadvantaged.

In a statement, Attorney General Marshall expressed his appreciation for the assistance of the FBI in this case.

“As first-vice chairperson of the Birmingham Water Works Board, Sherry Lewis advocated on behalf of, and voted for, compensation to pay a contractor three times their actual labor costs at the same time she was enjoying $63 a-la-carte steaks, $50 shellfish appetizers, and $70 bottles of wine bought for her by that contractor,” Marshall remarked. “Such abuse of public office is unacceptable. It is appropriate that she has been called to account and is being punished for this crime.”

The FBI’s Sharp added, “Lewis not only betrayed her community, but violated the law, and all in an effort to serve her own personal interests. Public officials entrusted to perform public service should do so legitimately and in the best interest of the community they represent. If not, they should expect the same outcome as Lewis had today, because the FBI and our partners will pursue you and hold you accountable for your actions.”

A contractor and a subcontractor have also been charged subsequent to this investigation and are awaiting trial in state and federal courts.

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

2 hours ago

Central-Phenix City star OL flips to Bama from Auburn — ‘No respect for that university at all’

One new Crimson Tide commitment already seems ready for the Iron Bowl rivalry.

As reported by Opelika-Auburn News, four-star Central-Phenix City offensive lineman Javion Cohen on Wednesday announced he has decommitted from Auburn and will instead sign with the University of Alabama on the December 18 early signing date.

This is not the first time Cohen has changed his mind, as he originally committed to South Carolina and then flipped to Auburn this spring.

About committing to Bama, he tweeted, “God led me home after everything I’ve been [through].”

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His switch did not come without some extra controversy.

Opelika-Auburn News added that reports began circulating Wednesday that Auburn had pulled his scholarship offer rather than Cohen withdrawing his commitment to the Tigers. However, according to the lineman, he informed Auburn on Sunday of his decommitment before publicly announcing his plans on Wednesday. Cohen’s account seems to be corroborated by a screenshot he posted and then deleted on Twitter.

Now, there is apparently no love lost between Cohen and Auburn.

“They were upset and sent reports saying my offer was pulled,” Cohen told Opelika-Auburn News. “I have no respect for that university at all, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.”

He also emphasized his decision to flip to the Tide was purely based on his best interests — both as a player and as a human. Cohen wants to play in the NFL one day, and Nick Saban’s Alabama program is the best in the business at making that happen, as far as statistics go.

“They had a different approach to the game than anyone else,” Cohen advised. “They actually cared about me as a person by showing me the many different things that would help me grow as a young man. And it’s Alabama, where the standard is a national championship and not just a bowl game.”

Circumstances and drama aside, Cohen likes where he has landed.

“I’m super excited,” he commented. “I finally get to finish it all with where I’m supposed to be.”

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

Episode 7: Interview with Alabama Democratic Party Chair Chris England

Dale Jackson is joined the new chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa). England describes how growing up as the son of two public servants in Alabama led him to where he is today, from leaving the state to attend Howard University to winning the contentious inner-party struggle within the Alabama Democratic Party.

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Celebrate the Seventh Amendment in Tuscaloosa

The Alabama Association of Justice will conclude its Courthouse Appreciation Tour and Social next week in Tuscaloosa. The Association and its members invite all courthouse employees and judicial staff to celebrate 230 years of the Seventh Amendment guaranteeing the right to a civil jury trial.

Join us for fun and refreshments in Tuscaloosa County on Monday, December 16, 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., 714 Greensboro Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL.

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The Courthouse Appreciation Tour began in September and has included several stops around the state. Check out highlights from the tour’s first stop in Jefferson County.

For more information contact jsmith@alabamajustice.org.