With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.
North Alabama has spoken.
When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence. The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.
Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.
Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.
Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.
Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
Amazon to create 1,500 jobs at Alabama fulfillment center
Internet retail giant Amazon confirmed plans Friday to open a fulfillment center in Jefferson County with 1,500 full-time employees working alongside advanced robotics technology.
Amazon will build the 855,000-square-foot facility center on 133 acres of property being purchased from U.S. Steel off Powder Plant Road in Bessemer, located just minutes away from Birmingham. Total investment in the project is $325 million.
The Seattle, Washington-based company confirmed its plans for the Alabama facility in an announcement that said the project is moving forward, following a series of public meetings with local governments.
“We are thrilled to bring our first fulfillment center to the state of Alabama, creating 1,500 full-time jobs,” said Mark Stewart, Amazon’s vice president of North America customer fulfillment. “Alabama has a talented workforce and we look forward to making a positive economic impact in a state where we are committed to providing great job opportunities and an exceptional customer experience.”
Employees at the Bessemer facility will work with technology created by Amazon Robotics to pick, pack and ship items to the company’s customers.
“Amazon is one of the world’s most dynamic companies, and we couldn’t be more proud to see the company select Alabama for one of its high-tech fulfillment centers,” Governor Kay Ivey said.
“This facility represents good jobs for our citizens and the beginning of a long partnership that I believe will see Amazon expand and grow in Alabama in the future.”
An analysis projects that the Amazon fulfillment center will generate a significant economic impact on Jefferson County and Alabama. The center will contribute $203 million to the county’s economic output annually, while adding $123 million to the county’s GDP, according to the study prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research in the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business.
The facility will contribute $232 million to Alabama’s economic output each year and add $137 million to the state’s GDP, the study says.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said the Amazon project represents the largest single private investment in the city’s 131-year history. As an added bonus, the company has pledged to create a tuition-assistance program for its workforce.
“Amazon is bringing jobs and opportunity to our residents and students. I am particularly proud of the educational incentives Amazon will offer our young people: get your high school diploma, work one year and receive $3,000 the next four years toward furthering your education,” he said.
GROWING TECH JOBS
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Amazon’s project perfectly aligns with a strategic emphasis to facilitate the growth of tech jobs across the state.
“Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Bessemer will create a large number of high-quality jobs and feature cutting-edge automation and technological innovation,” Secretary Canfield said. “We’ve made recruiting technology-focused jobs a priority, and Amazon’s presence in the state will help us advance toward our goal.”
This is Amazon’s second project in Alabama. In June 2017, the company announced plans for a $30 million “sortation center” in Mobile to accelerate delivery of online purchases. The facility will have 1,000 part-time workers during peak periods.
Lee Smith, chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said the successful recruitment of Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer stemmed from a team effort that included a number of economic development agencies, utilities, transportation departments, and others.
“Amazon’s investment in our community is a big win for the Birmingham region,” Smith said. “This state-of-the-art facility will be able to accommodate an expanding workforce and a changing economy as Amazon continues to prepare for its future.”
Amazon said full-time employees receive competitive hourly wages and a comprehensive benefits package, including health care, 401(k) and company stock awards starting on day one. Amazon also offers generous maternity and parental leave benefits and access to innovative programs like Career Choice, where it will pre-pay up to 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.
Since the program’s launch, more than 16,000 employees have pursued degrees in game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology, to name a few.
Evonik expands Birmingham health care business with 50 new jobs
(Gov's office/Hal Yaeger)
Evonik Corp. officials last week announced that significant new investments in the company’s Birmingham labs will add extensive manufacturing and R&D capabilities while also creating more than 50 high-paying jobs.
Following $50 million in investments over the past four years, the Birmingham site is now home to Evonik’s global Competence Center for Medical Devices, which aims to develop new system solutions for medical technology and to expand the competencies of Evonik in the areas of biomaterials and medical polymers.
In addition, the company said it is installing a new, high-speed fill line for its extended-release drug delivery business, which focuses on polymer-based microparticles administered through injection or IV.
Evonik has also begun construction of a new RESOMER-brand polymers production facility adjacent to its existing Birmingham location. The new facility will increase production of bioresorbable polymers and add new production clean rooms and a pilot unit for contract polymer research projects.
Company leaders joined state and local officials at a ceremony to announce the expansion plans at the Birmingham location, which serves as the company’s hub for the development and production of parenteral drug delivery products.“Evonik’s investments in the Birmingham site reflect its commitment to the medical device and drug delivery business as well as the city of Birmingham and its history of world-class medical research and technology,” said Kel Boisvert, Evonik’s site manager.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who attended the announcement ceremony, welcomed Evonik’s growth in Birmingham’s bioscience sector.
“Evonik is making a significant investment to expand its R&D activities and manufacturing operation in Birmingham, which demonstrates the high level of confidence this global company has in its facility in the city,” Governor Ivey said.
“The addition of the global Competence Center will add momentum to Birmingham’s thriving bioscience industry and attract more talented individuals to the state.”
She said the 50-plus jobs being created will pay salaries ranging from $75,000 to $200,000 a year.
“That’s a real shot in the arm for all of us,” she said at the announcement event.
Evonik said the fill line and RESOMER plant are expected to be up and running in the second half of 2018. These polymers are used to formulate extended release parenteral drug delivery systems and to manufacture bioresorbable medical devices such as plates and screws for trauma and orthopedic applications, as well as bioresorbable stents and coatings for next-generation cardiovascular treatments.
“Evonik and its predecessor companies have been active in Alabama for more than 40 years, and we have thrived thanks to the skilled workforce and business-friendly environment here,” said John Rolando, president of Evonik North America.
“We appreciate the city, county and state’s recognition of Evonik’s contributions to the local and statewide economy and look forward to continuing to serve the global healthcare market from our Birmingham site.”
The company worked closely with the Alabama Department of Commerce, City of Birmingham, Jefferson County and the Birmingham Business Alliance to move forward with the expansion.
“Evonik’s decision to expand its work on highly advanced drug delivery systems in Birmingham is a testament to the talented workforce and broad capabilities that the city offers in the bioscience realm,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“We have developed a long-standing partnership with Evonik over the years, and we’re committed to supporting the company as it carries out this significant expansion project.”
Germany-based Evonik employs more than 1,000 people in Alabama between Birmingham Labs and its Mobile chemicals production site, which is also its largest in North America.
Birmingham Business Alliance pursuing ‘all-time high’ economic development projects
The BBA Chairman’s Meeting automotive panel included, from left, Andrew Taitz of Autocar, Mike Oatridge of Honda, John Hudson of Alabama Power, Jason Hoff of Mercedes-Benz and John Hackett of Kamtek. (BBA/Made in Alabama)
The head of the Birmingham Business Alliance said the metro area is coming off a very successful year for economic development, but the prospects for even more growth in 2018 are “at an all-time high.”
BBA CEO Brian Hilson said at the organization’s annual Chairman’s Meeting Tuesday that economic development in the seven-county metro area was very strong in 2017.
“So far in 2017, we’ve seen 2,957 jobs and over $560 million in investment announced by 25 different new and expanding companies within our core business sectors,” Hilson said.
This year continues a string of successful years for attracting new and expanding industry to the state, Hilson said.
“Between 2011 and 2017, we have seen 19,394 jobs and over $3.9 billion in capital investment committed within our seven-county metro area,” he said.
That has caused the BBA to be ambitious with its current five-year plan.
“At the BBA, we have a goal of 19,000 jobs and $3.5 billion of investment being announced between 2016 and 2020,” Hilson said. “So we’re at the halfway point as we approach the year 2018 and as we continue to execute our five-year strategic plan, which we call Blueprint 2020.”
With the current pipeline of potential projects, those numbers could be well within reach.
“Our level of project activity is at an all-time high, at least for the six and a half years that I’ve been in Birmingham,” Hilson said in an interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “But probably more important, the quality of those projects and the diversity of skills that they would require of the workforce – it’s not all automotive and it’s not all something else – that’s very encouraging.”
Automotive projects dominated the headlines in the metro area in 2017.
Representatives of those three companies as well as Honda’s plant in Lincoln made up a panel discussion of the auto industry and the metro area’s business climate. John Hudson, senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Alabama Power, moderated the panel.
A shared concern among the panel is that the metro area may become a victim of its own success – namely in a dwindling available workforce.
Hilson said the BBA’s Blueprint 2020 calls for at least a 5 percent growth in overall workforce between 2016 and 2020.
“What we really want to see, though, is much faster growth than that and for that to happen we will need a higher and better rate of workforce participation, more connectivity between employers and workforces as well as educators and trainers, and, of course, we will need to see our community image continue to get better,” he said.
BIRMINGHAM BOOM: More than $1 billion invested in Magic City region in 2015
Members of the Birmingham area business community attend the Birmingham Business Alliance's Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit on Thursday, May 12. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
The nearly $1.1 billion in capital investment from the announced economic development projects in the Birmingham metro area last year may be an all-time high for the region.
Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), told business and community leaders at this morning’s 2016 Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit that the figure is at or near a record. The investment came from 90 announced projects that will create more than 3,500 jobs.
“The goal isn’t statistics, it’s creating economic opportunity,” Hilson said.
However, statistics for 2015 did show mostly encouraging signs for that economic opportunity. Consider:
• Manufacturing accounted for 64 percent of the projects, 49 percent of the jobs and 75 percent of the capital investment announced last year.
• Finance and insurance industries made up 8 percent of the projects, 29 percent of the jobs and 14 percent of capital investment.
• Life sciences and information technology, where the BBA sees potential for great growth, accounted for 12 percent of the projects, 8 percent of the jobs and 4 percent of the capital investment in 2015.
• Between 2001 and 2010, the metro area had an annual average of 55 new projects, 1,875 jobs and capital investment of $255.7 million. Between 2011 and 2015, the first years of Blueprint Birmingham, those annual averages were 76 projects (up 38 percent), 2,890 jobs (up 54 percent) and $569.3 million invested (up 123 percent).
“Our economy remains strong and continues to grow,” said Ray Watts, president of UAB and chairman of the BBA board of directors. “But more than that, I believe the trends we are seeing in Birmingham and in the metro region are moving us in the right direction.”
Levine said while some people associate the Jefferson County bankruptcy as a modern-day negative, there are positive perceptions centering on Birmingham’s culinary scene, downtown redevelopment and UAB.
Overall, there is an absence of perception, Levine said.
“I think there is a lot more people could know about Birmingham and there are a lot of positive things that could be shared about it,” Levine said.
He said the entrepreneurial environment is the most powerful story Birmingham has to tell in 2016.
Most business leaders’ perceptions of a community come from what they hear from peers, what they read in newspapers and magazines, and through travel to a city, Levine said.
Levine called on leaders in Birmingham to act as ambassadors, share their news with BBA so it can be amplified, and embrace visitors to the region.
BBA officials updated how Birmingham fared against 11 peer cities in 15 key categories.
Hilson said Birmingham improved its ranking in 10 of the categories, was unchanged in three and declined in two.
The 10 where it improved were average labor force (from 12th to ninth), gross domestic product (12th to seventh), annual average employment (from 12th to 10th), per capita personal income (eighth to fifth), construction investment (10th to seventh), merchandise export totals (12th to ninth), population age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree (ninth to eighth), population age 25 or older with an associate’s degree (10th to sixth), population estimate (11th to ninth) and at-risk youth age 16 to 19 not a high school graduate or not in the labor force or unemployed (eighth to fifth).
Birmingham remained unchanged in National Institutes of Health awards (fourth), National Science Foundation total research and development expenditures (fifth) and population age 25 or older with a high school diploma (ninth).
The two areas where Birmingham declined were in cost of living annual average composite index (fourth to fifth) and violent crime rate per 100,000 (seventh to ninth).
Those declining areas are a concern, Hilson said. Another red flag is in the total employment in the metro area. The region had a high of 533,400 jobs in 2007 but has not since reached that figure. Hilson said total employment dipped below 500,000 during the recession and ended 2015 at 515,500.
That is one of several areas addressed in Blueprint 2020, the new five-year economic growth plan that will guide the BBA’s efforts starting this year.
Blueprint 2020 takes a targeted approach to key economic development components such as human capital, physical capital and financial capital. It updates BBA’s approach to business development and existing industry retention and renewal.
It also makes innovation and technology a separate strategic initiative at BBA.
For the next five years, the BBA plans to focus on eight industry recruitment and expansion clusters: aerospace, automotive, chemicals, financial and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, life sciences, machinery manufacturing and metal manufacturing.
Hilson said the industry clusters that will receive the greatest emphasis are automotive, finance and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, and life sciences.
“I think what you will see in the next five years is a continuation of the best of what we’ve been doing through Blueprint Birmingham but a significant narrowing of our focus in order to be more attentive to the areas that need the most attention,”Hilson said.
Birmingham positioning itself as Alabama’s hotbed of innovation
Officials want the kind of innovation that exists inside Innovation Depot can spread into the newly named Innovation District. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
By Michael Tomberlin
When the Birmingham City Council voted last month to change the name of the city’s “Entrepreneurial District” to the “Innovation District,” some influential leaders applauded the move not just for branding reasons, but for the realization of what the Magic City has become and can become.
“The City Council’s action to change the formal name of the ‘Entrepreneurial District’ to the ‘Innovation District’ is a declaration of the intent of the City of Birmingham, UAB, Innovation Depot, BBA and other partners to put Birmingham’s City Center on the global map as a hotbed of innovation,” David Fleming, president of REV Birmingham, said. “It is a response to recognition by stakeholders that the goal of this area is to be a place in our city that fosters new methods, ideas and products. This area can be defined by the connection, culture and collaboration that results in an innovation economy in our city. This is critical for the growth of the Birmingham region and our competiveness in the modern economy.”
As with the Entrepreneurial District, the Innovation District is bordered by the railroad lines to the south, Second Avenue North to the north, Interstate 65 to the west and 18th Street to the east.
At the heart of the district is Innovation Depot, a business incubator established by UAB that is home to a number of startups, many of them in innovative and emerging technology fields.
Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said having an identified district provides a place for companies to grow in a place where they have indicated they want to be.
“Having an established Innovation District focused on the connectivity, walkability and clustered technology industries startups most desire can have a major impact on this region moving forward,” Laney said. “Innovation Depot’s member companies overwhelmingly want to remain ‘close’ or ‘adjacent’ to Innovation Depot when they graduate. Seventy-five percent of our companies indicate a preference to remaining in the downtown area, with a majority specifically citing the Innovation District. Connectivity is essential, both in terms of infrastructure and the relationships and resources the companies have developed here at Innovation Depot. This is a new model of urban economic development.”
Economic development officials agree.
“We feel that changing the name to Innovation District better represents what’s currently happening, and will happen, in the area anchored by Innovation Depot,” Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the BBA, said. “This is a great way to help spread innovation throughout Birmingham’s central business district, and attract and retain more businesses in our area.”
At some point the signs that mark the “Entrepreneurial District” will come down and new ones will go up declaring it the “Innovation District.” But the real signs will be the innovation taking place by those who are already in or will come into the district, Laney said.
‘The New Alabama’ showcased to top Japanese leaders during major trade conference
Dr. Condoleezza Rice addresses the SEUS Japan 38 conference at Birmingham’s historic Alabama Theatre. (Photo: Jamie Martin/Gov. Robert Bentley’s office)
By: Michael Tomberlin
The SEUS Japan 38 conference may have ended nearly a week ago, but economic development officials believe it will have lasting effects for Birmingham and the state.
The 38th joint meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan and the Japan-U.S Southeast Associations was held in Birmingham last week. Seven southeastern states had their own positive stories to tell about the business and cultural relationships with Japan – to the tune of nearly 140,000 employees working at Japanese companies in those states.
But Alabama had the home-field advantage for the conference and used it to showcase Birmingham with events at the Alabama Theatre, Barber Motorsports Park and within the Magic City’s culinary scene.
“Hosting the SEUS conference gave us a prime opportunity to showcase the new Alabama to influential Japanese leaders, including the ambassador, consuls general and VIPs,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Many of the Japanese delegates had never been to Alabama, and we believe we were able to present them with a view of Birmingham and the state that positions us to build on this partnership.”
“Successful business development, and in particular international direct investment and trade, depends first upon relationships,” Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said. “That is especially true with Japanese companies. Alabama has over 70 Japanese direct investments, including 13 companies in the Birmingham area. It is important that we maintain strong and active relationships with those companies, and that we develop new relationships with other Japanese companies interested in doing business here.”
Those in attendance left with a fresh image of the state, according to Hilda Lockhart, director of International Trade for the Alabama Department of Commerce and the chief organizer of SEUS Japan 38.
“Feedback from the delegates from Japan and the other SEUS states indicates that we were able to show them that Alabama has a lot of offer,” Lockhart said. “Hosting events at venues like the Alabama Theatre and the Barber museum made an impression, as did speakers such as Dr. (Condoleezza) Rice and Martin Luther King III. This allowed us to share our vision of Alabama and the future of our relationship with Japan.”
The BBA made it a point to use Birmingham’s hosting position as an opportunity for economic development. Hilson said there were talks with Japanese business leaders and officials to explore how the metro area could see more expansion and recruitment prospects.
“We have always used the conference to develop relationships and identify new business opportunities. The Birmingham community and the state of Alabama were on a world stage during last week’s conference, and the planning and leadership that went into making the conference such a success, as we had hoped, also led to some new business opportunities for Birmingham,” Hilson said. “In addition to the conference, we hosted meetings with individual Japanese companies that came here for the conference, but also scheduled additional time to meet with us and get to know Birmingham.”
Those meetings were fruitful, he said.
“It was obvious that they sensed the momentum our community has, and they channeled their interests toward several key partnership opportunities, including UAB and Southern Research,” Hilson said. “Thanks to the strong impression they had of Birmingham through the conference, we have planned additional follow-up meetings with each of them.”
This year was the third time the SEUS Japan conference has been in Alabama. It was the second time Birmingham has hosted the conference since the very first SEUS Japan in 1984.
“I think the bottom line is that SEUS demonstrated the high level of commitment Alabama has to our relationship with Japan and how the state is growing and innovating to meet the needs of future Japanese investment,” Canfield said. “This investment has been very good to Alabama, and we want to continue being a favored destination of Japanese companies.”
Lockhart said the corporate community helped make SEUS Japan 38 successful.
“The support of Alabama’s corporate sector was key to the success of SEUS Japan 38, with substantial backing from Alabama Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority and many others,” she said. “Significantly, officials from the Alabama operations of Honda, Toyota and Protective Life/Dai-ichi were able to tell their stories directly to the Japanese delegates. The involvement of Regions, as Alabama’s only Fortune 500 company, and CEO Grayson Hall as the event co-chair, was also a tremendous benefit.”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Oxford Pharmaceuticals LLC announced on Tuesday that the company will invest $29.4 million to build a new pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Birmingham that will immediately create 61 jobs when it opens in 2016 and employ up to 200 once it’s fully operational. The Oxford, England-based startup pharmaceutical company will build a 120,000-square-foot facility on nearly 24 acres in the Jefferson Metropolitan Park.
“We are proud that Oxford Pharmaceuticals will locate in Alabama and employ 200 citizens,” said Gov. Robert Bentley, who made the announcement to more than 500 people gathered for the 2014 Governor’s Luncheon hosted by the Birmingham Business Alliance.
“This announcement is a testament to the strong pro-business climate that we have worked to create in Alabama,” he said. “Two hundred jobs is a major announcement for any town, and these are the types of high quality jobs that we have targeted for Alabama. I appreciate Oxford Pharmaceuticals’ investment in Alabama, and I look forward to celebrating the company’s success in the future.”
Today's announcement is a testament to the strong pro-biz climate we've created. 200 jobs is an impt. investment & we welcome Oxford to AL.
Oxford Pharmaceuticals’ Chairman John Hoffmire said Birmingham was chosen over other competing markets because of its workforce, established healthcare industry, and a recruiting effort that involved a number of teams.
“Oxford Pharmaceuticals has made the decision to locate a new state-of-the-art pharmaceutical facility in Birmingham over other competing markets because of many positive factors, including a good employment base, a great history of health care-related businesses in Alabama and a tremendous recruiting effort by State, County and City leaders,” said Hoffmire.
Oxford will have access to a number of assets in the Birmingham community, including Innovation Depot’s Soft Landing Designation for international companies to receive free rent until its facility is up and running, and life sciences and pharmaceutical consulting from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The company will be focused on construction and strategic planning for several months, but when it enters the hiring and training phase, AIDT will assist the company in its recruiting, screening, hiring and training programs.
The company will be filling a wide variety of jobs ranging from manufacturing technicians, packaging technicians, and warehouse staff to microbiologists, chemists and IT technicians, among others.
So here, in no particular order, are five reasons The Washington Post bloggers are darn near out of their minds to list Alabama among the country’s most politically boring states.
1. We produce the best viral video stars in politics
The Yellowhammer State produced arguably the web’s greatest viral political video star: Dale Peterson. His rise to YouTube stardom began with this ad for Agriculture Commissioner in 2010:
…Which spawned the Internet’s all-time greatest political ad parody (Warning: strong language):
Dale Peterson has since then run for President of the United States (sort of), been convicted of shoplifting twice (he’s appealing), and is now running for Alabama State Auditor, whose sole job is to keep track of the property owned by the state.
And then there was Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James, who devoted an entire campaign ad to the question, “Why do our politicians make us give driver’s license exams in 12 languages?” (Hey, he’s got a point!)
…Which spawned another one of the Internet’s all-time greatest political ad parodies:
And then there’s Erick Wright, who’s currently running for the U.S. House in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Wright burst onto the scene earlier this year by releasing a YouTube video titled “Politics on the Throne” in which he publicly pontificated on the potty. Yellowhammer picked it up first, but Wright’s restroom ramblings ultimately landed him on Fox News, where he ascended to his rightful place as American’s Great Commode Communicator.
And then there’s Darius Foster, a current Republican candidate for Alabama House who went viral for all the right reasons. Foster spent $350 to self-produce an incredible ad first picked up by Yellowhammer that propelled him into multiple national cable news appearances and the top spot on Time Magazines newly released list of the year’s best political ads.
2. We have Alvin Holmes
State Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) is a walking headline. When he saunters to the mic on the floor of the Alabama House, reporters grab their recorders and the gallery pays attention to see if Holmes is going to deliver one of his famous quasi-filibusters.
The list of absurd Alvin Holmes moments could fill volumes, but his most famous rant came when a gourmet beer bill came before the Legislature. “What’s wrong with the beer we got?!” He exclaimed.
3. Our politicians defend their mother’s honor
Republican Sen. Charles Bishop punched Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron on the floor of the Alabama Senate in 2007. Why? Because Barron called him an S.O.B.
“Where I grew up, that’s somebody talking bad about your mother,” Bishop explained after he teed off on Barron’s face.
4. One-Party rule doesn’t mean there aren’t political wars being waged
Democrats ruled Alabama for 136 consecutive years until Republicans took control in 2010. It took over a century for the political pendulum to swing, but when it did, it swung hard. Republicans went from the minority to a super-majority in a single election cycle and now control every statewide office. So you can basically forget about the concept of incrementalism in Alabama’s Legislature, on some issues at least.
The Alabama Democratic Party is practically non-existent, but they were always a relatively minor player in comparison to the Alabama Education Association (AEA) anyway.
For much of the last four decades, the Alabama Education Association has risen to become one of the most powerful teachers’ unions in the country. As odd as it may seem in a dark red state, over the years long-time AEA executive director Paul Hubbert, oftentimes described as the “shadow governor” of Alabama, has earned his union the distinction of being one of the most politically involved organizations of its type in the country.
Even legendary Alabama Gov. George Wallace didn’t know what to do with the AEA back in the early 1970s. Flash forward over four decades and they spent $7 million on the 2014 election cycle, much of it apparently funneled through an elaborate web of entities designed to make it impossible to figure out where their money is going and to hide their involvement in GOP primaries, which are now the only game in town.
Combine that with the non-stop intra-party spats between feuding Republican factions and a bevy of ultra-ambitious politicos and you’ve got more political intrigue than a season of House of Cards.
5. Politics, business and sports — it’s all the same thing
One of the most fascinating (and certainly not boring!) aspects of Alabama politics is how interconnected it is with business and, most notably, sports.
Here are a just a handful of the hundreds of examples that could illustrate what I mean:
The Alabama Senate stalled for hours last year while debating a bill related to high school athletics. HIGH SCHOOL!
Businessman Edgar Welden, who is Chairman of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, is a former ALGOP Chairman and Republican National Committeeman.
State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, who Yellowhammer ranked the 5th most powerful person in Alabama politics this year, also serves on the board of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and played basketball at Auburn, and is on the Executive Committee of the Birmingham Business Alliance.
Alabama Power Company’s (Business!) Vice President of Governmental Relations (Politics!) is Auburn football legend and SEC Hall of Famer (Sports!) Quentin Riggins. He was number 28 on Yellowhammer’s 2014 Power & Influence 40 list.
President Pro Tem of the Auburn University Board Jimmy Rane runs the largest manufacturer of pressure-treated lumber in the world, has the ear of the state’s top elected officials, and hosts a massive charity event each year that brings in a who’s who of the sports world.
The list could go on and on… And by the way, is there any doubt that Nick Saban could win any political office in the state he wants?
If you love any combination of sports, business and politics, Alabama is a heckuva place to live.
So in summary, Alabama politics is a lot of things — some good, some bad — but “boring” isn’t one of them.
Milo’s may just turn this Alabama town into the Sweet Tea Capital of the World
Milo and Bea Carlton founded Milo’s Restaurant in Bessemer, Ala. in 1946 after Milo returned from serving our country in World War II. Milo’s philosophy was simple – use high quality, fresh, natural ingredients, listen to your customers and never sacrifice taste. In 1989, Milo’s began selling its fresh brewed Famous Sweet Tea to local Birmingham grocery stores. It can now be found in thousands of retailers across the United States. And this week, Milo’s announced a $13.1 million expansion at its Bessemer operations, which will create 29 new jobs.
The City of Bessemer recently approved property and sales tax abatements for Milo’s Tea to expand and improve its current plant, and to purchase an adjoining 3.3 acre site and building for additional cold storage and future growth.
“We are so thankful for the opportunity to grow our plant, offices and distribution center in Bessemer,” said Patricia Wallwork, CEO of Milo’s Tea Co. “The outstanding team of people that consistently produce high-quality drinks for our customers make it possible for us to continue to grow and expand. In fact, the launch of our new all-natural Lemonade, Decaf Tea and Tea & Lemonade products would not be possible without such a strong team and support from the entire community.”
The expansion will meet the growing demand for Milo’s beverage products across the United States. In the last six months, the family-owned company has added three new products to its iced-tea lineup and expanded its reach from 18 to 38 states across the country. The company had planned a $4.6 million expansion at the end of 2013, which would have created 24 jobs. However, Milo’s soon revised the expansion plan to include additional plant improvements and the purchase of the adjacent property, which also includes a 25,000-square-foot building.
“We’re proud as a Mayor and City Council to have Milo’s Tea headquartered here in our city and we’re excited about the company’s continued growth and success,” said Bessemer Mayor Kenneth E. Gulley. “Milo’s Tea is a first-class organization with a great vision and a tremendous product line, as evidenced by this recent expansion into 38 states. We commend Milo’s Tea on its new initiatives and we’re honored as a Mayor and Council to have worked with the company to help make this expansion a reality. The company’s achievements are a testament that Bessemer, Alabama, is open for business.”
Milo’s worked closely with the City of Bessemer, the Bessemer Industrial Development Board and the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) to purchase the adjoining property and seek abatements of property taxes and sales taxes on new equipment.
“We are happy to see Milo’s Tea Co. continuing to grow and expand into new markets,” said Jefferson Traywick, senior project manager at the Birmingham Business Alliance. “The company’s success in our region is quite impressive and we expect more great things from Milo’s Tea in the future. Their commitment to quality and community is to be commended.”
Proventix CEO Harvey Nix named Alabama’s ‘Small Business Person of the Year”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – March 28, 2014 – Harvey Nix, Chief Executive Officer of Birmingham-based Proventix Systems, Inc., has been named Alabama’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Nix will be invited to Washington, D.C. May 15-16 for National Small Business Week where one representative will be selected as the 2014 National Small Business Person of the Year.
Proventix, along with Alabama Power Co., recently instituted a major community project to help eliminate healthcare-associated infections. Proventix’ nGage™ system has become the most widely adopted healthcare hand hygiene monitoring system in the United States.
Nix’s SBA award is not the first time he or his company has been honored in recent months. Proventix was also an award recipient at the Birmingham Business Alliance’s 2013 Small Business awards last fall.
“When the BBA Small Business Award judges recognized Proventix last fall, I was not at all surprised,” said Victor Brown, Vice President of Minority Business and Small Business Development for the BBA. “Proventix is a tremendous asset for our region, and this award is a testament to Harvey Nix’s hard work and continuing success in business growth and development.”
Nix and other states’ representatives from across the U.S. were notified of their recognition this week by SBA Assistant Administer Fred Baldassaro, who said, “Your hard work, innovative ideas and dedication to your community have helped you succeed. The SBA is pleased to recognize your achievement and your role in driving our nation’s economic growth.”
Coming in at #10 on this year’s list, Livability.com calls Birmingham “a comeback story that’s still being written.”
“Downtown Birmingham, Ala., is on the rise after suffering from years of economic loss stemming from a dwindling population and industry decline,” the site explained. “The redesign and renovation of a park kick-started a series of ongoing revitalization projects that continue to attract new businesses, visitors and residents.
Some of the “key indicators” Livability.com cited as evidence of downtown Birmingham’s resurgence include its 6.8% unemployment rate, 2.8% average income growth, and the fact that retail vacancies dropped 1.7 percent from 2012 to 2013.
But it’s the city’s intangible qualities that propel it into the top 10.
“The best downtowns foster creativity, inclusion and innovation,” Livibility.com said. “They showcase what is good about a community by offering a diverse array of local architecture, art, lifestyles and things to do. Great downtowns unite residents from all walks of life, even those in the suburbs, by providing places to connect. Above all, the top-performing downtowns must maintain a high level of energy and give all residents in a city a reason to come on down.”
Birmingham Business Alliance CEO Brian Hilson said Birmingham’s inclusion on the list will help to further promote investment in the downtown area.
“This is fantastic news, not only for the City of Birmingham, but for the entire Birmingham region,” said Hilson. “Downtowns, especially active ones like ours in Birmingham, help project a positive community image. Downtowns serve as a signature place for the community they are part of. They contain history, and they represent current and future economic vitality. In most metropolitan areas the downtown is the economic hub of the region, and that’s definitely true in Birmingham because of the concentration of employment, as well as the livability features downtown Birmingham offers. It is exciting to see downtown Birmingham receive this much-deserved recognition. We’ll use this positive news to promote further investment in Birmingham.”
Now, email records obtained through open records requests reveal that government employees working for the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham shared privileged information with the Southern Environmental Law Center in an attempt to aid their efforts to halt progress on The Northern Beltline.
THE NORTHERN BELTLINE — ADVOCATES & OPPOSITION
Once completed, the Northern Beltline will be a 52-mile highway that will run from Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County to the Interstate 459 and I-20/59 junction in southwest Jefferson County. The first phase of construction is set to begin in 2014.
“The Northern Beltline will support economic development and additional job creation in Jefferson County,” Gov. Bentley said in support of the project.
A 2010 study by the University of Alabama’s Center of Business and Economic Research found that the project would support up to 70,000 jobs. It could also lead to almost 21,000 more jobs in the coming years.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers approved the permit for construction, but the Southern Environmental Law Center in late October filed a lawsuit on behalf of a local environmental group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc., challenging the permit and seeking to block construction.
“The Northern Beltline will cross and permanently alter Black Warrior and Cahaba river tributaries in 67 places,” Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper said. “The (Alabama Department of Transportation) and (Federal Highway Administration) have not adequately studied impacts to water resources and wildlife along the entire chosen route, which is the longest and most environmentally destructive of the seven routes considered.”
REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION OF GREATER BIRMINGHAM
When federal government money is coming into a state for transportation projects, a group of local elected officials (e.g. city councilmen, mayors, county commissioners, etc.) plan out how those funds can best be used. That group of elected officials is called a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is funded by 90 percent federal dollars and 10 percent money from the state.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization then hires a Regional Planning Commission. These individuals are charged with executing the mission given to them by the MPO. They do all the legwork.
The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) was tasked by our Metropolitan Planning Organization with handling the Northern Beltline Project. The Executive Director of the RPCGB is Charles Ball. Darrell Howard is his deputy director of planning. They are both taxpayer-funded government employees.
COLLUSION BETWEEN THE REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS
Once the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham was told to move forward with the Northern Beltine project, RPCGB executive director Charles Ball and his deputy director of planning, Darrell Howard, began work.
However, emails reveal that Howard and other employees of the RPCGB seem to have spent a good bit of his time actually working to harm the Northern Beltline project, rather than advance it, as their job required them to do.
Here are three easy-to-understand ways they did that:
1. On Jan. 3, 2012, RPCBG began the process of selecting a consulting firm to “serve as General Planning Consultants… for the sole purpose of aiding the RPCGB to develop the update of the Birmingham metropolitan planning area’s long-range transportation plan.” The contract was worth $250,000 and firms interested in applying were instructed to submit their response in a “sealed envelop” to Darrell Howard. Nine firms applied. The top 3 would be eligible to receive the contract.
On. Feb. 22, 2012, Howard received an email from the Southern Environmental Law Center, whose staff had — for reasons unknown — been allowed to “rank” which consulting firm they thought would be best. They ranked Renaissance Planning Group as their top choice. Mr. Howard followed suit and ranked his top 5 choices exactly as SELC did.
The City of Birmingham and Shelby County also completed evaluations of the firms. Renaissance Planning Group actually ranked last or near the bottom in their rankings. Yet they somehow were ranked third in the composite rankings, making them eligible to receive the contract.
Renaissance Planning Group was given the contract, as SELC hoped.
SUMMARY: SELC, a group suing to stop the Northern Beltline, appears to have inexplicably been allowed by Mr. Howard to choose which consulting firm would oversee an important part of the transportation plan leading up to the Northern Beltline project. RPCGB executive director Charles Ball on Wednesday denied that SELC had any influence over the decision.
2. The SELC hired a group called The Ochs Center to create data to counteract the University of Alabama’s economic impact study that showed the Northern Beltline being a huge economic boon for central Alabama.
Before the study was released publicly, the SELC contacted Mr. Howard to ask if they could meet with them and a representative from the Ochs Center to go over the data.
Howard agreed, but only if they could meet at a location where their meeting could be kept secret. “I’d prefer someplace a bit off the beaten path — for obvious reasons,” Howard said in an email to Sarah Stokes and Keither Johnston of the SELC.
Once the Ochs Center’s economic impact study was completed in an attempt to discredit the University of Alabama’s positive review of the Northern Beltline, the SELC shared it with Howard. He in turn sent it to The Birmingham News the next day.
“I’ve got a new report re: the Northern Beltline from the Ochs Center out of UT Chattanooga that picks apart the CBER Economic (Center for Business and Economic Research at the Univ. of Alabama) Study that was done for NBL (Northern Beltline) proponents,” Howard said in an email to Birmingham News reporter Thomas Spencer. “I’ll forward it to you if you (sic) like.”
SUMMARY: Howard, a taxpayer-funded government employee whose job at the time was to advance the Northern Beltline project at the direction of his superiors, appears to have been working in secret to undermine the project using the SELC-commissioned economic study by The Ochs Group, even to the point of actively pursuing media coverage of the study to negatively influence public opinion.
3. On Feb. 26, 2011, Alison Howell of the Birmingham Business Alliance sent an email to their members, including the RPCGB, encouraging them to vote in favor of the Northern Beltline in an online poll.
Bill Foisy, who was at one time Director of Transportation Planning at the RPCGB, forwarded that email to RPCGB employees, including Mr. Ball and Mr. Howard, with the comment, “vote early and often against as designed. That ought to get the chambers’ attention.”
SUMMARY: Foisy’s use of the language “as designed,” suggests the RPCGB had communicated internally to undermine the Northern Beltline project. By coordinating internally to vote against the Beltline in the online poll, government employees of the RPCGB again appear to be attempting to negatively influence public opinion of the Northern Beltline, in direct conflict with the job the taxpayers are paying them to do.
RPCGB QUESTIONED ABOUT THEIR ACTIONS
Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Mountain Brook, who serves on the Alabama legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, on Wednesday questioned RPCGB executive director Charles Ball about the incidents laid out above, as well as other ways the RPCGB appears to have undermined the Northern Beltline project by colluding with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Ball ultimately requested not to answer any further questions without an attorney present. Blackwell told him the Joint Transportation Committee will draft additional questions and give him 30 days to respond.
“It’s not really about the Northern Beltline,” Blackwell told Yellowhammer. “It’s about employees undermining a process that’s been directed by the Metropolitical Planning organization and the RPC to go down this path. They’re undermining it as much as they can throughout the whole process. It’s like Legislative Reference Services (in-house attorneys at the State House who draft bills for legislators) writing a bill for me, while at the same time trying to stop it from passing. With the recent incidences in Jefferson county that have eroded the public’s trust in government, when information like this comes to light it is our duty to ask the tough questions and hold folks accountable.”
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, who had been made aware of the issues in late October, sent a letter to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Inspector General requesting that he review what had taken place.
“Given that U.S. Department of Transportation funds are involved, it is imperative that the expenditure of such taxpayer money comply with all applicable program requirements,” Bachus said. “It would be my request that the Office of Inspector General review the enclosed documents to help ensure that the planning process steps are properly taken.”