Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state – 11/6/15 edition

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What’s happening to Girl Scout cookies in the Yellowhammer state? How did other markets close the deal with Uber? What’s Walter Energy having to auction off under its new agreement? What Alabama company got “Made In America” honors from Martha Stewart?

Answers to those questions and more in today’s Alabama business roundup: Price goes up on Girl Scout cookies in Alabama

The price of those irresistible Girl Scout cookies is going up.

Both the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama and the Girls Scouts of Southern Alabama are raising the cost of cookies by 50 cents to $4 a box for the 2016 season.

The price, however, is still one of the lowest in the nation, said Hannah Wallace, director of marketing and communications for the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, which represents troops in 36 counties.

Some troops in east Massachusetts, California and Hawaii are now selling cookies for $5 a box, according to reports.

“The last time the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama raised Girl Scout cookie prices was in 2007 when the four legacy councils merged together to create GSNCA,” Wallace said. “We are so excited to be able to offer our girls more profits, as well as use the increased cookie revenue to provide the Girl Scout leadership experience to girls across the state.”

Meghan Cochrane, director of public relations and marketing for the Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama, said the council is raising prices for the first time in more than a decade due to rising ingredients and transportation costs.

“The council has been absorbing these increases in cost, and now we must finally raise the price for a package to an even $4,” she said. “The increase allows us to maintain and expand our high-quality programming and services; we will be able to increase troop proceeds and rewards.”

Mary Charles, interim chief executive officer for the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, echoed those sentiments.

“This increased revenue means we will be able to better support our volunteers,” she said. “One of our most important goals is to make it as easy as possible for adults to lead troops that build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. An increase in the price of Girl Scout Cookies will help provide increased financial resources to troops for program and service to their communities as well as revenue for the council administrative functions.”

Councils set their own cookie prices and it’s generally based on baker costs, ingredient costs, market size and availability and shipping costs.

Troop proceeds from Girl Scout cookie sales in Alabama are anywhere from 55 cents per package ($6.60 per 12-package case) to 90 cents per package ($10.80 per 12-package case), Wallace said.

Proceeds are determined by a troop per girl average, she said. Troop per girl average is determined by the number of packages sold divided by the number of girls selling. After paying the baker, all proceeds stay within the local council.

New ways to purchase cookies

Scout troops will begin taking preorders in December and throughout the Christmas season.  Official sales will begin in February.

Toffee-tastic Girl Scout cookies, the first gluten-free cookie, will be available in higher quantities in Alabama this season, Wallace said. They will also sell for $4 a box.

For the first time, troops in Alabama will sell cookies online.

“Girls can sell their cookies online and send an invitation (to family and friends) to buy them online,” Wallace said, adding online orders will be shipped to the orders.

If you have trouble finding cookies for sale in February, visit GirlScoutCookies.organd type in your zip code to find booth sales.

Also, there’s an app for that. Download the Girl Scout cookie finder where you usually buy your smart phone apps.

Birmingham Business Journal: Walter Energy to auction assets under new agreement

Walter Energy Inc. on Thursday announced it has entered into an asset purchase agreement with a newly formed entity capitalized and owned by members of the firm’s senior lender group.

The new company will acquire nearly all of Walter Energy’s assets in Alabama, according to a release from Walter Energy. The decision to sell its Alabama assets will allow the company to continue to move forward with its current restructuring.

The agreement – filed with the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama – is in connection with a proposed, court-supervised auction process under section 363 of the bankruptcy code.

The agreement consists of cash consideration of $5.4 million, a $1.25 billion credit bid of existing indebtedness and the assumption of certain liabilities.

An asset sale was one of the options included in Walter Energy’s restructuring plan when it filed for Chapter 11 protection in July.

During the process, hundreds of Walter employees have been laid off – with the most recent round of temporary layoffs impacting 265 employees of Jim Walter Resources at its No.7 Mine in Brookwood, which is company’s largest and most productive mining operation.

Earlier this month, Walter Energy announced 129 workers at Jim Walter’s No. 4 mine in Brookwood would be laid off, as a result of poor market conditions.

The downturn for Alabama met coal producers is a result of another substantial downturn in the steelmaking sector – which is a primary customer of Alabama met coal.

As steelmakers transition to new technology– primarily in China, which is in the midst of a construction lag – met coal producers like Walter continue to struggle adapting to the volatile global market.

While Walter’s struggles have had the most profound impact on the Alabama coal sector, the company is not the only Alabama coal firm reeling as a result of the economic downturn facing the coal industry.

Cliffs Natural Resources recently announced plans to cut its workforce by about 50 percent at two mining sites – the Oak Grove Mine in Jefferson County and the Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia.

North American Coal Corp. on Oct. 10 also announced layoffs when it officially closed its Jasper operations, which impacted 118 workers.

Birmingham Business Journal: PSC approves two Alabama Power solar projects

The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday approved Alabama Power’s proposal for solar energy projects at the Anniston Army Depot and Fort Rucker.

Michael Sznajderman, a spokesman for Alabama Power, told the BBJ that construction on the two projects is expected to begin in spring 2016, with completion anticipated before the end of the year.

“We want customers to understand that this project has broader benefits,” Sznajderman said. “We are working with the military to meet their goals, and they are important to the state, so it is important to us to help them.”

The need for increased renewable energy generation comes as a result of federal energy mandates and goals set by companies to move towards a transition in energy.

Together, the two projects will cost approximately $48 million and add an additional 20 megawatts of renewable energy to Alabama Power’s portfolio – which is roughly the amount of electricity needed to power 4,200 homes in Alabama.

The new solar projects will be the first of their kind to come online for Alabama Power customers, but customers can fit their homes with solar panels and, in turn, sell the excess energy to the company.

Customers can also harness renewable energy through the company’s Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) program. Those interested can purchase certificates for around $1.25 a month, which is associated with energy generated from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Alabama Power worked with the Army, which has to meet its own set of federally-mandated energy standards.

“They have certain requirements they are trying to meet regarding renewable energy, and we have been having ongoing conversations with them and these are just the first projects out of the gate,” Sznajderman said.

Sznajderman said the company is also in talks with other military bases in its coverage area.

The PSC in September unanimously approved a proposal by Alabama Power to construct up to 500 megawatts of renewable energy generation projects in the state over the next six years. The proposal was made so the company could meet the growing demands of customers requesting renewable energy options.

Alabama Newscenter: Alabama among top states for flipped homes during third quarter 2015

Alabama had one of the largest shares of “flipped” homes in the U.S. during the third quarter, according to a recent report.

RealtyTrac is reporting the state and two of its metros, Mobile and Birmingham, had some of the nation’s top counts during the quarter for homes purchased for quick sales turnaround.

“After curtailing flipping activity last year due to slowing home price appreciation and shrinking inventory of flip-worthy homes, real estate investors have started to jump back on the flipping bandwagon in 2015,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “On the acquisition side, investors are finding creative ways to pinpoint potential flips in the off-market arena, and on the disposition side investors have a bigger pool of potential buyers thanks to a surge in FHA (Federal Housing Administration) buyers this year, many of them first-time buyers looking for starter homes.”

RealtyTrac’s Home Flipping Report records units sold as part of an arms-length sale for the second time in a 12-month period, the report said.

While Alabama did not show up on the lists for top flips for millennials or boomers, the state’s 7.5 percent share of flipped homes placed third behind just Nevada (8.4 percent) and Florida (7.9 percent).

Mobile had a 9.2 percent share of flipped homes, behind just Memphis (10.5 percent) and Fresno (9.5 percent).

Birmingham, the state’s largest metro, was farther down the list at 7.4 percent.

Nationally, there were 43,197 single-family units flipped during the third quarter, which makes up 5 percent of all single-family home and condo transactions, RealtyTrac said. That’s down 7 percent from second quarter flips but up 18 percent from a year ago.

Birmingham Business Journal: How these markets closed the deal with Uber

The Uber in Birmingham saga continues to drag out.

More than two months after Uber executives travelled to Birmingham and met with the city’s Committee of the Wholein what at the time was considered a positive discussion, little progress has been made toward finding a workable solutionfor the popular ridesharing company to start operations in the Magic City.

“Despite providing clarification on how the Uber platform works, sharing examples of ridesharing laws passed in other jurisdictions, and offering edits to the current code, the proposals we’ve seen thus far from city officials are unworkable,” said Billy Guernier, general manager for regional expansion at Uber.

But for Uber, a prime example of a disruptive technology, running into regulatory problems is nothing new. While Birmingham is turning into one of its most difficult domestic expansions, the company has encountered plenty of problems elsewhere.

However in certain markets where Uber had trouble alternate routes have been taken to land the service. Here are a few examples.

Portland, Ore.

After facing initial resistance when planning an entrance within the city limits of Portland last year, Uber decided to launch in four suburban municipalities all within a few miles of Portland. The mayors of those cities, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard and Gresham, were the first riders of the service.

Uber then launched in Portland without complying with the existing regulations, which the company said were very similar to Birmingham’s. Uber then agreed to momentarily halt operations while the city formed a temporary operating agreement. Uber relaunched in Portland a few months later under the temporary agreement, which is still in place as the city continues to work out a permanent solution.

South Carolina

It may take a higher power to grant Uber access to Birmingham, and that’s exactly what happened in South Carolina.

Uber operated in South Carolina for six months before receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the state’s Public Safety Commission. But operations weren’t stalled for long. Uber was able to gain a temporary operating agreement while the state legislature formed a bill that would grant regulatory power of transportation network companies to the state.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed that bill into law during this year’s legislative session.

Greater Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

In South Florida, residents of Broward County teamed up with Uber on extensive lobbying efforts to land the service.

Towards the end of April, the Broward County Commission passed a set of regulations similar to those in Birmingham that placed Uber in the same category as other transportation companies.

But after hearing from concerned constituents, the commission revised their rules in October and allowed Uber to renenter the market.

Birmingham Business Journal: Alabama company gets “Made In America” honors from Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart – the famed homemaker and pop culture personality – recently honored an Alabama company among her “Made In America” winners.

Little River Sock Mill in Fort Payne was a 2015 honoree, cited for its small batches of high-quality knit socks, according to the Martha Stewart website.

The company was founded in 1991 in Fort Payne, which was once referred to as the “sock capital of the world.”

Little River Sock Mill prides itself on the use of certified-organic cotton in its sock making, along with the company’s family-owned appeal.

“We’re a family business, and we work together every day to make a product we believe in,” said Gina Locklear, whose family founded Little River Sock Mill. “We make every sock ourselves, handling every step of the process, from design to manufacture to packaging, which is almost unheard of in the sock business.”


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