4 months ago

Watch live: Alabama Senate debates clean lottery bill

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate is set to debate and consider State Sen. Greg Albritton’s lottery bill, SB 220, on Thursday.

The bill was favorably recommended on a 6-5 vote by the Senate Tourism Committee on Tuesday.

Watch the debate live:

Ahead of the Senate gaveling in for the day, Albritton spoke with reporters outside of the chamber.

He explained his bill would be alone on a one-bill special order calendar on the day, even though there is a back-up special order calendar if something unexpected occurs.

Albritton said he was unsure if he has enough votes to pass SB 220 on Thursday, saying, “I’m optimistic but it is certainly not in the bag.”

The sponsor expects “heated, open debate” on the floor.

Albritton also decried the “regionalism” that occurs when trying to make statewide gaming changes in Alabama, due to previous “piecemeal” approaches with certain counties and types of gaming.

“When you start getting into video gambling, there’s still a lot we don’t understand,” Albritton said. He added that sports gambling will become a part of that complication, too.

Albritton advised that video gaming “opens the wound.” His legislation would not legalize any video gaming or alter any existing parimutuel gaming in the state.

“This paper lottery is a simple matter that most of us understand, comprehend, and I believe it has the greatest opportunity for passing,” he remarked. “The people of Alabama want to make the decision on this principle … most of them I believe want to have a lottery.”

Albritton concluded that attempting passage of the lottery bill in the legislature should be tougher than getting it passed in by a referendum of the people, which would occur if the legislature advances it.

“We’ve been working it but so has everyone else,” Albritton said, speaking of the opponents of the bill.

He explained that the greatest challenge to the bill is “misunderstanding” fueled by misinformation efforts by the “opposite side.” Albritton further mentioned floor amendments as a challenge to passage and keeping the legislation clean.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Roby: A recap from the road

Each year, during the month of August, Congress is out of session for a month-long district work period. This is an excellent time for me to travel throughout the Second District to hear directly from many of the people I’m honored to represent. During my recent time on the road, I made several productive stops in Enterprise, Dothan, Headland, Montgomery, Troy, Opp, Andalusia and Red Level, and I would like to take this opportunity to share what I learned.

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In Enterprise, I visited Enterprise State Community College (ESCC) with several members of my staff, and we received a very warm welcome. I received updates from ESCC President Matt Rodgers, division chairs and directors, and State Representative Rhett Marques. It was exciting to learn more about the college’s many facility improvements, as well as new programs and opportunities ranging from academics to athletics. As I told ESCC leadership, I will continue to do all I can in Congress to support their critical role in workforce development. We are certainly fortunate to have this outstanding school in the Wiregrass.

In Dothan, I had the privilege of speaking to the Associated General Contractors (AGC) during their monthly lunch meeting. We had a fantastic discussion, and I appreciated the opportunity to update the group on my committee assignments for the 116th Congress and how I will continue to fight for their priorities in Washington. AGC has been a friend to me over the years, and I am thankful for their diligent efforts to keep me informed about what’s important to their organization.

On my second stop in Dothan, I visited Key Fire Hose Industries, Inc. (KFH) to talk with company leadership and greet employees. I was truly blown away by their impressive operation designing and manufacturing hoses for firefighting, forestry, the military, agriculture industry, and more. KFH has more than 300 distributors reaching more than 70 different countries worldwide, and the company has sold a fire hose to every continent. I was glad to see the work they perform firsthand.

In Headland, I participated in a roundtable discussion with local farmers and business owners. We had a very productive conversation about some of the challenges they’re facing and how I can be helpful. I sincerely appreciate all who took the time to speak with me.

In Montgomery, I was honored to offer the keynote address at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues event. I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with friends in my hometown, and I am glad the event was a success. My next stop in Montgomery was to the Alabama Fusion Center where I received an informative update from Secretary Hal Taylor, Fusion Center Director Jay Moseley, and others. I appreciated their presentation about the important work they’re doing each day to combat human trafficking and other heinous crimes against humanity. These men and women are on the front lines fighting the terrible crimes that plague communities throughout our state, and I am tremendously grateful for their work.

In Troy, I attended Rex Lumber’s open house and was given an awesome tour of their extensive operation. Rex is one of the most technologically-advanced sawmills in the South, and I am so grateful they’ve chosen to invest in the Second District. I am looking forward to partnering with their company and others as we work to strengthen our economy and create more jobs for Alabamians.

In Opp, I visited with local leaders and small business owners. I was glad to hear directly from these hardworking folks on the ground in Covington County, and it was especially great to see my good friend, Mayor Becky Bracke.

Down the road from Opp in Andalusia, I enjoyed lunch at the Buckboard Restaurant with my friends at PowerSouth, the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and many other constituents. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to speak one-on-one with some of the people I represent, and I appreciate all who attended.

My next stop in Andalusia was to the South Alabama Regional Airport (SARA) for a tour and an update from Executive Director Jed Blackwell. SARA is a major job creator for the area, and we are fortunate to have this economic activity in our district.

Last, but certainly not least, in Red Level, I stopped by the municipal complex where I sat down with Mayor Willie Hendrix, Water Clerk Sandy Williamson and Town Clerk Tonya Cook. We discussed some of the ways we can help each other improve the lives of our shared constituency.

My time on the road during the August district work period was very productive, and it would not have been possible without the many constituents and local leaders who took the time to share their thoughts with me. Spending this valuable time with the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District enables me to better represent our shared priorities in Washington.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

2 hours ago

Commerce secretary says Alabama needs new economic development plan

How does Alabama’s commerce secretary react to a record year of economic development in the state? By calling for a revamp of the statewide plan that has guided that growth.

Greg Canfield knows that Alabama’s successes have come because the state has been willing to constantly improve on everything from incentives to targeted industries. It started with the state’s first comprehensive strategic plan with Accelerate Alabama more than seven years ago.

“I know when we came out of the gate with Accelerate Alabama in January of 2012, I believe we labeled it as a five- to six-year plan,” Canfield told Alabama NewsCenter. “Well, no. You know, the world’s changing too fast. So, we’re already in the second iteration with Accelerate Alabama 2.0 and we just launched it in 2016. Well, now here we are about three years later, maybe close to four, and it’s time again, because the world’s changing and we just want to make sure that the future is made in Alabama.”

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Canfield called on professionals gathered at the Economic Development Association of Alabama summer conference to get ready for a new plan that responds to disruptive technologies and growth industries that the state wasn’t targeting a few years ago.

The state’s economic development plan identifies key business sectors Alabama is targeting in its recruitment and expansion strategies as well as the foundational processes that stretch across different industries, such as research and development or data centers.

Since launching the first iteration of Accelerate Alabama in 2012, the state has seen $37 billion in capital investment and 122,000 new jobs.

That includes new heights in 2018.

“We have been fortunate in Alabama that we have had a good story to tell and 2018 was a great story – record-breaking year, $8.7 billion in new investment was announced that will come into our state, not only from new companies coming here to Alabama but even more importantly perhaps is existing companies who are making the decision that they want to reinvest new capital and expand in Alabama as opposed to doing that somewhere else,” Canfield said. “All of that is bringing about 17,000 jobs just from the activity in that one year alone.”

The recent legislative session set the stage for how the Alabama Department of Commerce will expand its economic development efforts going forward.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act expands on the Alabama Jobs Act that was passed in 2015. That was a fundamental shift in the way Alabama offers incentives. Previous incentives were more debt-driven for the state while the Jobs Act allowed a company to receive incentives on a pay-as-you-go basis as the state realized capital investment and job growth. That sustainable approach was not only better for the state, but it offered incentives as more meaningful tax breaks for companies.

As a result, for the $1.7 billion in incentives the state gave between July 2, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, it has realized $10.5 billion in capital investments and seen 23,952 jobs created – a more than 5-1 return.

Even better news is the types of jobs being created. Projects supported by Jobs Act incentives pay $23.04 per hour, a 46% boost over the $15.77 per hour median wage in the state.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act builds on the Jobs Act by applying incentives to knowledge-based, innovation, technology and R&D industries. It also expands the number of rural counties in the state that get enhanced incentives and adds some distressed counties that don’t qualify as rural based on population, but face other issues that would allow them to benefit from the special incentives.

Alabama’s rural economic development incentives now apply to 13 additional counties (light red) and seven distressed counties (dark red) joining the previously designated 27 rural counties (red). (Alabama Department of Commerce)

“We’re really looking forward to implementing the new tools from the Modernization Act and having them apply for new technology companies as well as rural economic development opportunities,” Canfield said.

Canfield said rural economic development is getting added attention.

“We’re continuing our focus on rural economic development,” he said. “Again, 2018 was a record year — $1.1 billion of new investment in rural Alabama, over 1,100 jobs that will flow from that – so we’re proud about that, but this new set of tools from the Modernization Act are going to allow us to go even further in rural Alabama.”

Canfield announced last week that economic development veteran Brenda Tuck is in the newly created rural development manager position at the Alabama Department of Commerce.

In addition to that, EDAA has created the position of rural development strategist, which is held by Brian Hilson, who has headed economic development entities in Huntsville and Birmingham.

While it might seem a bit contradictory for the Commerce Department to say it wants to see high-tech, innovation industries grow while also saying rural economic development is a priority, Canfield said both are necessary.

“Alabamians are building great things, building great products that are found in over 192 countries around the globe,” he said. “So we need to underpin that activity and make that foundation more solid by creating the types of product development and R&D that anchors those industries in Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Record year for foreign investment sparks growth in Alabama

With major new growth projects moving forward across Alabama, foreign direct investment continues to play a vital role in the state’s economy, building on a record total of foreign investment approaching $4.2 billion last year.These FDI projects represent major job-creation engines for many Alabama communities.

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Last year, companies from 16 different countries launched projects with more than 7,500 new jobs. So far in 2019, FDI projects approaching $1 billion in value will bring another 3,300 jobs to the state, according to an Alabama Department of Commerce estimate.

In Enterprise, Tier 1 auto supplier Hwaseung Automotive Alabama (HSAA) in March announced plans to add 168 jobs to its Alabama operation through a $6 million expansion that represents Coffee County’s largest FDI project in four years.

HSAA, which launched its Alabama operation in 2003 with 20 employees, will have nearly 600 when the new hires are added, said Jonathan Tullos, executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp. Its last major expansion in Enterprise came in 2015.

HSAA, which produces weather-stripping and air conditioner hoses, serves Hyundai’s Montgomery assembly plant, along with Kia, Chrysler and General Motors. Its Alabama-made products are found in more than a dozen automobiles.

“Having a company like HSAA make an investment in Enterprise is a ringing endorsement of the quality of workforce and opportunities that exist in our area,” Tullos said.

“We have seen in the past that these investments can yield additional job-creation opportunities from other companies looking for a home.”

One example: Advanced Carrier Products, whose parent company is based in Germany, opened a manufacturing operation in Enterprise to supply metal inserts to HSAA.

FDI IMPACT

Similar stories have played out in a number of Alabama communities in recent years, particularly as growth in the state’s auto industry has intensified.

Select USA, a federal government program that facilitates foreign investment in the U.S., says the Alabama operations of foreign-owned companies employ 109,000 people in the state. Read a report.

Since 2013, FDI projects in Alabama have involved nearly $13 billion in new capital investment, generating almost 25,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

FDI typically accounts for 30 to 50 percent of new and expanding industry activity in the state each year, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Clearly, this is a huge priority for us as a state, and we’re fortunate to have a diverse base of industries, along with a highly-skilled workforce, to attract and retain these commitments from global manufacturers year after year,” Secretary Canfield said.

Not all FDI flowing into Alabama is tied to the auto industry.

In fact, foreign investment recorded in 2018 originated from a diverse slate of sources in a variety of industries.

Major FDI projects now under way include French planemaker Airbus’ $264 million, 432-job expansion of its Mobile manufacturing plant, and the $101 million, 150-job expansion of the Calhoun County plant operated by Austria-based Kronospan, a leading manufacturer of wood-based panel products.

Other big projects were Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions Inc., part of a China-based conglomerate and parent company of GE Appliance, which announced a $115 million, 255-job expansion of its Decatur refrigerator plant.

In Mobile, Swedish steelmaker SSAB is investing $100 million, adding 60 jobs and relocating its North American headquarters from suburban Chicago.

FDI HORSEPOWER

Alabama has seen significant increases in FDI in the automotive sector over the past 25 years, thanks to the growing operations of foreign automakers Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, and their sprawling supplier networks.

Toyota has also played a major role. Earlier this year, Toyota announced a $288 million expansion at its Huntsville engine plant, where it will add two new production lines and 450 workers. The project will push the investment in the plant to $1.2 billion and its workforce for more than 1,800.

Meanwhile, just miles away, construction on the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA joint venture auto assembly plant is well under way. After production begins in 2021, the facility will have up to 4,000 workers.

Already, suppliers have begun circling the plant, bringing $380 million in new investment and nearly 1,500 jobs. More announcements are expected in 2019.

For Alabama, 2018 was a banner year for automotive FDI.

In addition to the new Mazda Toyota factory, other major projects included Mercedes-Benz’s new $268 million, 325-job EV battery plant in Bibb County, along with a $495.5 million expansion at the automaker’s Tuscaloosa County campus.

Elsewhere in the auto industry, Hyundai constructed a $388 million facility for engine manufacturing operations in Montgomery, and Honda announced plans to spend $55 million to improve weld operations and add more than 50,000 square feet at its Talladega County factory.

According to Select USA data, Alabama has attracted 114 auto-related FDI projects.

TARGETING INVESTMENT

Like other areas of the state, Tullos said Enterprise and Coffee County are making moves to position their region for future investment opportunities by focusing on education and workforce development.

“Our workforce is anchored by one of the best K-12 school systems in the state of Alabama as well as the efforts of Enterprise State Community College President Matt Rodgers, who recently launched a mechatronics program to support companies like HSAA,” he said.

The mechatronics program, offered at the Alabama Aviation College in Ozark beginning this fall, will train workers for high-demand industrial automation careers that focus on electrical, mechanical and computer engineering.

There are similar programs in place to assist Mercedes and Toyota. In addition, Alabama has rolled out initiatives including Success Plus and Apprenticeship Alabama that are designed to fill the pipeline of skilled workers needed in the future.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 hours ago

Urban Ministry tackles West End community needs

A visit to Urban Ministry proves to be equally eventful and heartwarming.

It’s lunchtime and the cafeteria is packed. The aroma of home-cooked meats and fresh vegetables billows through the air. Once inside the cafe, the tables are packed. Patrons are eating and communing just as they would at any other eatery.

Urban Ministry Executive Director Melodie Agnew walks around greeting customers with a welcoming smile.

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Agnew is equally comfortable greeting lunch guests and advocating for those served in this community.

Urban Ministry meeting community needs one soul at a time from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Ministering through healthy meals

There are several novelties about this spot called West End Cafe, or WE Cafe, which makes it unique among its restaurant neighbors.

For one, the produce doesn’t come from a local market. It is harvested just steps away in West End Garden, or WE garden, the community garden.

Those who abound financially, and even those who don’t, break bread together. Hearty soul food in a welcoming environment is the common thread regardless of person’s pay scale, and all are welcome.

WE cafe started as a soup kitchen, but now people come and pay as they can. So educators, volunteers and community and business leaders can sit at family-style tables where food is prepared fresh.

The garden fruits and vegetables are also sold at local markets. These include Pepper Place and twice-weekly at Princeton Hospital.

The WE Cafe is open each Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Meeting more than financial needs

Some customers also have a great need for suitable housing.

Not only does Urban Ministry provide assistance with rent, home repairs and maintenance like painting, Urban Ministries partners with the Salvation Army to provide energy assistance to elderly and disabled clients through Project Share.

Urban Ministry has the largest Project Share clientele in Birmingham.

[Related: Project Share meeting community needs]

Agnew says the new Energy Assistance Portal( EAP),created by Alabama Power, is an invaluable resource to the agency.  Agency leaders say EAP provides a user-friendly platform for intake workers to quickly access information needed to post real-time energy assistance pledges and payments.

This in turn gives more time for workers to serve clients.

Under a broad umbrella, their work covers financial needs, but in its simplest form, it’s all about providing a better quality of life for adults who are in need, along with their children.

A record number of children enrolled in summer school. Staff had to prepare for 90 schoolchildren this year at Urban Ministry – including meals, activities and accommodations for each student.

And Agnew says it doesn’t stop there.

“In addition to our students, families of these students also come with various needs. Urban Ministries works to help support those needs of families with the help of our church and corporate partners.”

Empowering those they serve 

For Agnew, serving as executive director holds a two-fold meaning. She can look out her office window, where she grew up in West End just steps from where she sits today. Not only does she serve this community: she and her family are a part of it.

Her great-grandfather and grandfather had businesses in the community. Her father and grandmother were educators in the community. She saw them providing opportunities for the community.

Agnew believes in not only providing programs and resources for neighbors, but investing in people by teaching them to be their own advocates and support. The work is great, but Agnew’s determination and vision are without end.

Prior to joining Urban Ministry, Agnew worked as executive director of the Norwood Resource Center,where she dedicated her time to supporting families and building vibrant neighborhoods.

Agnew says she wants to leave a legacy of service and strengthening her community, just as her family did.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Opposition research: When is the right time for a campaign to attack their opponents?

This time of year before an upcoming spring primary election, I get asked a lot, “When are we going to see some opposition research dropped from campaigns?”

Long-term strategy during a political campaign can be a fragile thing knowing when to start and complete certain tasks. It’s an easy decision to have a campaign web site early on. It’s easy to decide that raising money early on is crucial to getting the campaign off on a solid foundation. Hiring staff and consultants is done early and adding more throughout the campaign is an easy call to make. When to open a campaign office and getting volunteers is also an easy decision to make. However, timing is everything, especially when it comes to knowing when to drop a piece of opposition research on an opponent. If a campaign uses what they have too early and in the wrong way, they run the risk of it leaving the voters’ minds in advance of Election Day. If a campaign waits too long, voters can turn off any information because towards the end of a long campaign season, voters get tired of all the ads and revolt against any and all campaign happenings.

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As a veteran opposition research consultant, I have been involved in well over 100 political campaigns over a span of 28 years, and have seen about all there is to see regarding opposition research and there is no concrete answer as to when a campaign should drop a piece of oppo on an opponent. Every campaign is different and having people on the team that know from experience when oppo should be dropped helps, but still isn’t a guaranteed way to know when to release the information.

These are some of the factors that go into the decision of when to release opposition research:

  1. If your campaign is hanging on by a thread: If your candidate has damaging opposition research on any other candidate who is even or above them in the polls, releasing the information can turn a campaign around and give it life due to the attention they will get once the oppo is released to the public. Holding information “for later” many times is never used because your candidate doesn’t make it until Election Day. If you have it, use it.
  2. If you are being attacked by an opponent: The old saying, “Fight fire with fire,” applies here. It could be deemed school-yard antics, but if your candidate is getting ravaged by another campaign, one way to stop it or at least slow it down is to release your own opposition research on the candidate that is attacking you. Many think that this sort of behavior turns off voters, but in reality, it works.
  3. To raise money: Donors love to see a candidate who will fight and will reward them accordingly if they feel that they have something to say and can win. Releasing opposition research on opponents can make some donors think twice about who they will support especially if what you have on an opponent is quite damaging to their campaign. Remember that an overwhelming majority of possible donors don’t have access to the information that you do, so releasing it to the public makes sense in a financial standpoint.
  4. To bake it in: If your campaign has incredible opposition research especially on the perceived front-runner, that in your opinion can dramatically affect the outcome of the race, releasing it early in the campaign season and hammering it daily can serve to “bake it in,” the voters’ minds.
  5. To drive the last nail in a coffin of an opponent: If one of your main opponents’ campaign is losing steam, some consultants like to do all they can to knock them out of the race by piling on with opposition research. Other consultants like to stay out of it and allow the opponent to slowly descend in the polls and drop out when the money dries up. I have found that both are credible strategies, however, if you want to use a boxing analogy, when you have an opponent on the ropes, you go for the knock-out and don’t back off in order to give him time to catch his second breath.
  6. Being the last word: For years, consultants have believed that all opposition research should be released a few days before Election Day. Their thought process was that if they waited that deep into the campaign season to release information, their opponent wouldn’t have time to adequately answer the attacks. That thinking has become antiquated due to the 24-hour news cycle that we currently live. Candidates have the ability now to answer attacks via a number of social media platforms, by talk radio appearances, and doing their own TV ads that answer the attacks. Technology and social media has changed the world and certainly has had a dramatic effect on political campaigns as well.

One thing is for sure, opposition research is always going to be used as a strategy and campaigns who know how to gather it and when and how to use it correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing a campaign.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.