Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across state – 6/16/16 edition

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Which mega-retailer now allows Alabama shoppers to pay with their smartphones? Are you familiar with the new Alabama tax laws that could affect your company?

Answers to all of these questions and more in today’s business roundup:

Birmingham Business Journal: North Alabama megasite primed for development

A 1,252-acre site off Powell Road in Limestone County was certified as a Tennessee Valley Authority megasite, rendering the site more competitive when it comes to large-scale development.

The Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County said the site – which sits in the same area as other recent large scale manufacturing projects like Polaris Industries and GE Aviation- can now compete globally to land a major manufacturer. It’s the first TVA certification of its kind in Alabama.

“The certification is our international calling card telling global manufacturers we are open for business and a prime place for industry and jobs,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “This site should attract a high-tech, high-end company for worldwide customers.”

The TVA has seen its certified mega sites go on to land major projects, as five of the seven certified locations have brought a collective capital investment total of more than $5 billion.

AL.com: Alabama Walmart customers can now pay with their smartphones

Starting today, customers at the more than 120 Walmart locations across Alabama can check out using their smartphones.

Walmart Pay was already available in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas and today rolled out in four Southern states, including Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to company spokeswoman Molly Blakeman. The service will soon be available nationwide.

Here’s how it works:

  • Open: Visit any register, open the Walmart app and choose Walmart Pay. Activate the camera.
  • Scan: At any time during checkout, simply scan the code displayed at the register. Walmart Pay is now connected.
  • Done: Associate scans and bags the items and it’s done. An eReceipt will be sent to the app and can be viewed at any time.

The service, first announced in December, makes Walmart “the only retailer to offer its own payment solution that works with any iOS or Android device (that can download the Walmart app), at any checkout lane, and with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart gift card – all through the Walmart mobile app,” according to a press release.

“We can’t wait to hear what our customers and associates in Alabama think of Walmart Pay. The service was built to make shopping easier and faster, something we know our customers want,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president, Services, Walmart U.S.

“Walmart Pay is a powerful addition to our app, a tool that we’re using to transform the shopping experience by seamlessly connecting our online assets and our stores for customers. The service opens the door to new and better ways we can serve the 140 million customers who shop our stores each week.”

Alabama NewsCenter: Gulf Coast facility helps keep saltwater fishing afloat in Alabama

Marie Head works long hours monitoring conditions and tending to the fish at the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores. She shares on-call duties on weekends and holidays for a facility that requires constant attention. Being a biologist’s aide isn’t a high-paying job, either.

And there’s nowhere else she’d rather be than the hatchery that grows saltwater fish for research and stock enhancement.

“I love it,” Head said with a smile. “We watch them hatch out under a microscope. We feed them and grow them so that they can be released and fishermen can fish. You get to see life right here in this building.”

Despite Alabama’s small coastline, recreational saltwater fishing is a $900-million-plus business for the state. The Alabama Department of Conservation Division of Marine Resources oversees both recreation and commercial fishing in saltwater. Its hatchery spearheads efforts to make sure anglers have plenty of fish to pursue down at the Gulf.

“We’re two-fold,” said Josh Neese, hatchery manager. “We do research and raise fish in mass numbers to release at one inch long.”

Completed in January 2015, the hatchery, tucked away behind the Gulf Shores Airport, includes a brood stock room, a fry room, grow-out tanks, an algae room where food for the larval and fish fry is grown, a pond production area and 35 one-fifth-acre ponds, said Chris Blankenship, director of Marine Resources. Raw water lines connect the facility to the Intracoastal Waterway Canal, where it draws its brackish water, and the Gulf of Mexico at Gulf State Park Pier, where it gets its pure salt water.

Read the rest of the article here.

Birmingham Business Journal: Alabama tax law changes your company needs to know

The Alabama Legislature concluded a relatively productive 2016 regular session on May 4. The 2017 Regular Session will begin next February, although there is a good possibility of the governor calling a special session this fall to address his prison plan, increased Medicaid funding, how to spend the BP settlement funds awarded to the state and perhaps another vote on the popular historic renovation tax credit legislation.

Here is a look at the some noteworthy state tax bills that were signed into law:

Act #2016-412 – Federal/State Filing Date Conformity Bill: Conforms the state income tax return filing dates for corporations and pass-through entities to the inverted filing dates established by Congress last year. CPAs across the state breathed a sigh of relief.

Act #2016-345 – HSA Conformity Bill finally passes: Generally conforms the state income tax rules for creating a health savings account to the federal tax rules, but not until 2018. Beginning that year, taxpayers can claim a state income tax deduction for contributions to HSAs, limited to the annual cap imposed by federal tax law (currently $3,350 for individuals and $6,750 for families). Alabama was one of only three states with an income tax that didn’t conform to the federal rules. Many Alabama employers offer this useful option to their employees.

Act #2016-406 – Additional restrictions on private auditing firms: Clarifies that the statutory ban on contingent fee audits includes unwritten agreements between counties or municipalities and private auditing firms. The initial version of the bill would have imposed an outright ban on counties and municipalities even hiring these firms.

As a compromise, the bill allows a municipality or county to terminate its auditing agreement with a private auditing firm on 90 days’ written notice (or vice versa). Private auditing firms will also be required to furnish to the taxpayer or its representative a signed and dated written authorization of audit from each of its local government clients, as well as a copy of the auditing contract between the firm and the local government client and a statement whether the local government has elected-out of the Alabama Tax Tribunal’s appeal process. A final assessment based on an audit conducted by a private auditing firm must now be signed by a public official or employee designated by the county or municipality. Although redundant, the bill also states that a private auditing firm is subject to the taxpayer confidentiality rules applicable to the ADOR.

Read the full article here.

Alabama NewsCenter: Alabama claims Silver Shovel Award for 2015 projects totaling $7.1 billion, 20,000 jobs

Alabama’s economic development team earned a Silver Shovel Award from Area Development magazine for its strong performance in 2015, keeping alive a winning streak that dates back a decade.

The publication, which targets economic developers and site-selection experts, noted in announcing the award that Alabama secured 2015 projects involving $7.1 billion in new capital investment and nearly 20,000 jobs.

“Much of this growth is in key sectors such as technology, aerospace and automotive,” Area Development noted. “This investment figure is twice the 2014 total and one of the highest annual totals in recent years. Alabama also attracted foreign direct investment approaching $3.5 billion in 2015.”

Area Development’s Gold and Silver Awards are meant to recognize individual states for their overall economic development effectiveness. Alabama has won one of the awards each year since 2006, when it won a Gold Shovel. It won another Gold in 2012,  and Silver in 2013 and 2014.

Joining Alabama with 2015 Silver Shovel awards among states with populations between 3 million and 5 million were Kentucky and Louisiana.

‘High-caliber jobs’

In its report, Area Development singled out 2015 Alabama projects including Google’s $600 million data center in Jackson County, GE Aviation’s $300 million advanced materials factories in Huntsville, and Mercedes-Benz’s $1.3 billion expansion in Tuscaloosa County.

Polaris Industries’ off-road vehicle manufacturing facility in Huntsville, which could eventually have as many as 2,000 jobs, was selected as one of the magazine’s “Automotive Projects of the Year.”

“The Alabama economic development team is committed to bringing high-caliber jobs to the state’s citizens by following a strategy that seeks to maximize growth in target sectors such as automotive, aerospace and bioscience,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This Silver Shovel Award is a testament to the results being delivered by the state’s hard-working economic development organizations.”

Alabama’s 2015 economic development results are outlined in the department’s “New & Expanding Industry Report,” released earlier this year.

“My chief priority continues to be the focus of creating jobs and new opportunities for citizens across the state,” Gov. Robert Bentley said when the report was released. “This new report shows once again that Alabama is well-positioned to achieve those goals because of a skilled workforce, proven job-training programs and a business climate that promotes growth.”

Alabama’s economic development successes during 2015 had already drawn attention.

Business Facilities, a magazine focusing on economic development, selected Alabama as its State of the Year for 2015, while Trade & Industry Development, a similar publication, picked three Alabama projects for investment impact awards.

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