Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state – 10/9/15 edition

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What Alabama city has the ingredients necessary to become a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship? Who’s bringing 170 new jobs to Athens? Did you say ‘small business incentives that could drop power bills’? Who’s voting to a join a union?

Answers to those questions and more in today’s Alabama business roundup:

Alabama Newscenter: Airbus sponsorship brings private support for Mobile’s Riverside Ice to $80,000

With a $20,000 boost from Airbus Group, Mobile’s inaugural Riverside Ice attraction gained a title sponsor Tuesday, and the Port City took another step toward attaining “destination city” status.

Just ask Santa Claus.

In addition to its financial commitment, Airbus plans to fly Santa down from the North Pole to Riverside Ice every Saturday in December so the jolly old elf can keep a closer eye on exactly who’s being naughty or nice.“Airbus’ significant contribution will offer our community an amazing opportunity to delight in an outdoor pleasure that we typically don’t see in our neck of the woods,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said of the effort to install a 50-foot by 70-foot portable ice rink in Cooper Riverside Park for the holidays.

Allan McArtor, chairman and chief executive officer of Airbus Group, called the ice rink a “great activity for the Mobile community, and a terrific holiday experience for all.”

“We look forward to seeing everyone at the rink – let’s just keep the ‘hard landings’ to a minimum,” McArtor said.

The latest offshoot of the recently unveiled Mayor’s Initiative on Tourism, Riverside Ice will operate seven days a week from Nov. 12 through Jan. 16

Although the rink’s hours are expected to fluctuate according to holiday and school schedules, tentative hours of operation will be from noon to 10 p.m. on weekdays and noon until 11 p.m. on weekends. Admission for skating will be $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under, including the cost of skate rentals.
Stimpson’s office confirmed Wednesday Airbus’ contribution brings total private sponsorships to about $80,000 with more expected within the next 10 days. Admission fees are expected to cover the city’s portion of the initiative with any net proceeds slated to benefit the parks and recreation department.The total estimated cost of Riverside Ice hovers around $150,000, including a $132,350 contract with Florida-based Magic Ice USA Inc. to install, operate and maintain the rink. An additional $18,000 will be needed to cover utility costs, the operation of a ticket booth and other incidentals.

Al Hutchinson, president and chief executive officer of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, said there’s no question Riverside Ice will become a “great downtown attraction for locals,” but it also “gives us the additional opportunity to package it with other holiday activities like Bellingrath Garden‘s Magic Christmas in Lights … to encourage out-of-town visitors to come for a weekend.”

“The more seasonal activities Mobile has to offer, the better message we can deliver to potential tourists,” Hutchinson said.

Stimpson said the support the project has garnered outside Government Plaza speaks volumes about the momentum Mobile continues to gain.

“As we strive to become a destination city, we realize that through public-private partnerships many of our greatest desires can be accomplished,” he said.

And while no official decision has been made regarding Santa’s travel accommodations to Mobile throughout December, Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker said aircraft being produced by Airbus at Mobile Aeroplex and the CN235 are options.

“We’ll work with Mr. Claus to determine his needs,” Tucker said.

Alabama Newscenter: Andrew Yang: Venture for America aims to show world what’s possible in Birmingham

Birmingham has all the ingredients necessary to become a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship, according to Andrew Yang.

The founder and CEO of Venture for America made his first visit to the Magic City since the organization named Birmingham one of its designated cities for its distinguished fellowship programs in July.

Birmingham joins Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Antonio, St. Louis, Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Yang visited Alabama Power, where one of the first eight Birmingham fellows, Landon Acriche, works as a growth strategist for the company’s Innovation Team. The Yale University graduate has a degree in environmental engineering and a certificate for the completion of Yale’s Energy Studies Program.

Venture for America hand-picks bright college graduates who are aspiring entrepreneurs for its fellowship program and pairs them with companies in designated cities. From there the fellows could go on to leadership positions within those companies or go on to start companies of their own in the area.

More fellows will be introduced in an effort to help Birmingham achieve more of what Venture for America has already found here, Yang said.

“In Birmingham’s case, there was a champion who is a native son of Birmingham, Jared Weinstein, who brought Birmingham to our attention and said, ‘Hey, there are great things going on. You should really look into it,’” Yang said in an interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “And thanks to Jared’s introductions, we realized the opportunities here and we came here to explore a number of months ago and things moved very quickly.”

Yang said there is a checklist Venture for America follows in choosing a city for its fellowship program and there must also a feel for the culture and environment for young people. Birmingham had it all, including the clustering of young startup companies.

“I’m glad to say, thanks to the work at Innovation Depot and a lot of other orgs here in Birmingham, those companies are numerous here in Birmingham,” Yang said. “The second thing is supportive leadership, and we’re grateful for the support of Alabama Power, Goodrich Foundation and others to help bring us here.”

Yang said the plan is to add to the eight fellows already in Birmingham.

There are already a number of success stories, Yang said. He pointed to a fellow in Detroit who opened a factory with 25 people making Banza pasta.“We’re going to bring in a set of people every year and build over the next five to 10 years,” he said. “It’s not any kind of overnight success, it’s really just to grow and support the great work that’s happening here.”

“There are about 25 fellows like Brian Rudolph, who started that company, around the country doing great things,” Yang said.

Venture for America’s national connections can help fellows find the all-important venture capital capital needed to help make their big ideas a reality.

“We’re able to connect them to early-stage investors located in other parts of the country with the goal that they can help support their growth in Birmingham and other cities,” Yang said.

“There is no typical fellow at Venture for America,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who is actually quite versatile and adaptive.”A popular misconception is that fellows are only interested in high-tech and come from engineering backgrounds. Yang said, in reality, the fellows have diverse backgrounds and experiences and many of them come from creative fields of study. Much of their work in communities is using applied technology and addressing needs within the communities where they locate, Yang said.

Yang said he believes Birmingham has the potential to become the next hotbed for entrepreneurial growth.

“Birmingham’s been a tremendous environment already for our fellows. They have rave reviews about it,” he said. “What we want to do is we want to have people see all of the possibilities of Birmingham and bring that story around the country. That’s already happening. The fellows have a lot of friends and the various mechanisms our young people use to communicate with each other. So, if we have eight young people here and then 20 and then 30 over time, we think we can really open people’s eyes to what’s possible here in Birmingham.”

Birmingham Business Journal: Shape Corp. to build $24M plant in Athens, will add 170 jobs

Shape Corp. on Friday announced it will open a new injection molding and roll forming operation in Athens.

The move comes as the Michigan-based company looks to expand the its network of global manufacturing facilities, according to a release from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Shape will invest $24 million into the new facility that will ultimately add 170 jobs to the area, said Athens MayorRonnie Marks.

The company engineers, tests and manufactures metal and plastic components in North America, Europe and Asia for an array of industries, including automotive, office furniture, medical, agriculture and more. The family-owned company was founded in 1974 and has more than 3,000 employees and facilities in the U.S., Mexico, France, Czech Republic, China and Japan

Shape plans to begin construction on the project in late October, which should be operational in late summer 2016.

The new facility will be located on a 34-acre site in the Breeding Industrial Park on Roy Long Road in Athens, according to the Limestone County Economic Development Association.

“I am honored that Shape Corp. has selected Alabama as the home of their new manufacturing facility, and I am proud of our state’s resources that helped secure this exciting new company,” said Gov. Robert Bentley. “Alabama’s Robotics Technology Park and AIDT’s workforce training services were two key factors in securing Shape’s commitment to a long-term partnership with our state.”

Bentley said Alabama’s existing workforce, workforce training capabilities and pro-business infrastructure are all critical components in Bentley’s effort to bring new jobs to Alabama.

Several state and local agencies joined with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the North Alabama Industrial Development Association to recruit Shape to Alabama.

AIDT – a division of the Alabama Department of Commerce that serves as the state’s primary job-training agency – also played a pivotal role in recruiting the company.

The Athens City Council and the Limestone County Commission was set to approve the agreement with Shape on Thursday in a joint session.

“The City of Athens and Limestone County have a great working relationship, and when you have these good relations, you can make progressive things happen for our community,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough said.

Birmingham Business Journal: Alabama PSC approves new business incentives

 

The Alabama Public Service Commission during its Oct. 6 meeting unanimously approved two small business incentives aimed at strengthening and growing the Alabama economy by encouraging investments and creating jobs.

The two incentives officially approved by the PSC are the Community Redevelopment Incentive (CRI) and the Economic Development Incentive (EDI). Both will benefit new and expanding Alabama Power customers.

Alabama Power following the October meeting also established the Small Business Solutions program, which will include the CRI, along with other offerings for small businesses around the state.

Under this program – which begins November 2015 – small commercial customers in good standing with the company may be eligible for a one-time refund of the deposit they paid when establishing their business account. That could mean up to 13,000 small businesses may qualify to receive money back.

Average rebates are predicted to be about $500, but some could top $1,000.

Additionally, small businesses may qualify for a free energy audit. Representatives the company are available to visit businesses and help them identify ways to use energy more efficiently.

The CRI provides a one-year incentive for customers that establish a new account for an existing building that has been unoccupied for at least six months.

The EDI provides a two-year incentive for new or expanding customers meeting criteria related to additional incremental load. New or existing larger businesses that add one megawatt of energy may be eligible for a discount on their base rate of 10 percent for the first year and 5 percent for the second year.

The two incentives will ultimately increase the number of Alabama Power customers, and as a result, will put downward pressure on the rates of all customers.

“Small Business is a cornerstone to the American dream,” said Commissioner Jeremy H. Oden. “One of my top priorities has always been to protect and promote small business and help provide every man or woman with the opportunity to achieve that dream.”

To learn more about the incentives, call Alabama Power at 1-888-430-5787

Birmingham Business Journal: Tuscaloosa City BOE passes $160M facilities capital plan

The Tuscaloosa City Board of Eduction on Tuesday passed a five-year $160 million facilities capital plan.

The plan mirrors another proposal made by Superintendent Paul McKendrick on Sept. 14, according to a report from the Tuscaloosa News.

The board did not vote on McKendrink’s proposal, but did vote on the capital plan, due to the state’s deadline for capital plan submissions. The board was original slated to turn in the plans to the Alabama Department of Education by Sept. 21, but were given an extension until Oct. 8.

Prior to the vote, a motion was passed and the board decided to remove one middle school and two elementary schools from the list, to be replaced with new generic schools, such as one new middle school and two new elementary schools.

DeJong-Richter, an Ohio-based educational planning firm, was hired by the city to conduct a demographic study. The firm also constructed its own plan that only differed with a suggestion to keep Tuscaloosa Magnet Elementary and Middle School at its current site.

Under McKendrick’s proposal, pre-kindergarten classes would be located at the elementary schools instead of at pre-K centers. Westlawn Middle School would also become a system-wide school specializing in computer science and robotics.

The current Central Elementary School would be torn down so that the site could be redeveloped for Westlawn athletics.

The Northington site, the former Tuscaloosa Center for Technology and the old Tuscaloosa Jail across from Capitol Park in downtown Tuscaloosa would be all be sold as part of the superintendents plan.

 

Montgomery Advertiser: Workers at Alabama plant vote to join union

Workers at an automotive components manufacturing plant in northeast Alabama voted to join a labor union Wednesday, citing issues such as wage caps and growing use of temporary workers.

Commercial Vehicle Group Inc. plant employees in Piedmont voted to join the United Auto Workers. The plant roughly 85 miles northeast of Birmingham produces seats for commercial trucks and vehicles.

Workers said in a release that they voted 89-45 to join UAW because of high health care costs in addition to pay issues and wider use of temps who don’t qualify for benefits.

Alan Amos, a 50-year-old welder, said employees gradually noticed changes in the work environment after the plant, formerly known as Bostrom Seating, was bought by CVG Inc. several years ago.

“We started losing personal days, our insurance has tripled, the heat inside the plant has gotten pretty warm in the summer time, we lost some of our Christmas bonuses — they just kept taking and we got tired of it,” the 10-year employee said in a phone interview.

“It’s not easy to speak up for fair pay and respect on the job, but the workers at CVG have shown that by standing together, it’s possible to win real change,” UAW Region 8 Director Ray Curry said in a statement.

The company’s Chief Human Resources Officer Laura Macias said in an emailed statement that officials don’t believe union representation is in the best interest of employees, but officials respect workers’ rights to vote on the issue. Macias said the company has increased hourly wages and invested more than $67,000 in improving the plant’s cooling system. She acknowledged that some employee benefits were better under Bostrom Seating, but said others are better under CVG.

“We regret the conflict that the campaign created between co-workers and we are obviously disappointed in the result, but we will respect the certified outcome of the vote following the (National Labor Relations Board’s) review,” Macias said.

Growth of the temporary employee workforce and wage stagnation is common in manufacturing, but appears more pronounced in the South as more auto parts suppliers open plants in the region, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

“One of the trends coming out of the great recession and the resurgence of hiring has been disproportionate hiring into temporary positions and we know that temporary positions pay less than comparable full-time positions with the primary employer,” Owens said. “That’s one of the things we’ve certainly seen in Alabama, particularly in the parts supply sector, which accounts for a large share of the growth.”

Compensation at CVG is determined by salary ranges, “but employees at the top of each range are still eligible for general increases as those are considered each year,” Macias said in an email.

UAW has had limited success in establishing a presence at automotive components supply plants and vehicle assembly facilities in the Southeast. Union officials say the union has more than 390,000 active members and there are more than 750 local unions within the UAW.

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