NewsFlash header graphic
Here is today's summary of economic development news, presented by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. 
in this issue:
Problems in Japan may affect Alabama - Tuscaloosa News
State Supreme Court rules Jefferson County occupational tax unconstitutional - Birmingham News
New law overhauls education funding - Montgomery Advertiser
Gulf Coast Exploreum gets $50,000 grant from Airbus Corporate Foundation - Press Register
UAH team leads bid to bring National Solar Observatory laboratory to Huntsville - Huntsville Times
UAB gets high rankings in U.S. News' 'Best Graduate Schools' report - Birmingham Business Journal
Baldwin renews application for $1 million BP boat ramp funding - Press Register
Alabama's Gov. Bentley planning overhaul of State Health Plan - Birmingham News
Honda, Toyota assess manufacturing after earthquake - Birmingham News
Washington County seeks federal money for water tank at planned business park - Press Register
Alabama Aircraft Industries asks bankruptcy judge to terminate UAW contract - Birmingham News
Officials seeking broadband for counties - Decatur Daily
Innovation Depot in race for top industry award - Birmingham News
2011 World Trade Conference - EVENT


Problems in Japan may affect Alabama


By Patrick Rupinski Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.

The devastation that has crippled Japan since Friday's deadly earthquake and tsunami has affected world markets and could impact economies well beyond the Asian nation.

In Japan, many businesses have been disrupted and manufacturing plants have closed as parts of the country remain heavily damaged or without power. Potentially deadly radiation leaks from damaged nuclear reactors have further disrupted lives and commerce, even beyond the naturally devastated areas.

It is still too early to gauge the full worldwide economic impact of the disaster. But the upheaval to Japan's economy could eventually affect Alabama's economy and people in West Alabama.

That's because Japan is the state's fifth largest trading partner. Only Mexico, Canada, China and South Korea have more trade with the state, according to the Alabama Development Office.


State Supreme Court rules Jefferson County occupational tax unconstitutional


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 11:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 11:31 AM
By Barnett Wright -- The Birmingham News

The Alabama Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the 2009 Jefferson County occupational tax law was unconstitutional.

In a 45-page opinion, the court ruled 6-0 that the legislative act establishing the law was passed in violation of notice requirements and therefore unconstitutional.

The high court affirmed a lower court ruling that public notices about the 2009 tax bill did not meet the requirements of Section 106 of the state constitution.

The county appealed to the Supreme Court that ruling by Circuit Judge Charles Price.

Lawyers for taxpayers argued that Section 106 requires that each material aspect of the bill must be published over a 21-day period before a local bill can be passed.

The occupational tax generated $66 million in fiscal 2010 and will now disappear.
County commissioners said today they will appeal to the Alabama Legislature for a new law.

However, most members of the county's legislative delegation have said they are not inclined to pass a replacement occupational tax in the session that began this month.
That means, county officials say, that they are now left with the possibility of a fiscal crisis that could shut down the government in Alabama's most populous county or seriously consider filing for bankruptcy.


New law overhauls education funding


11:07 PM, Mar. 11, 2011 |

Gov. Robert Bentley signed his first bill into law on Friday, a day after the Republican-led Legislature passed the bill overhauling how lawmakers budget money for Alabama schools.

Republicans, including Bentley, pushed the so-called rolling reserve bill to keep lawmakers from spending all of the available money in good economic years and from keeping Bentley and future governors from having to declare proration, the across-the-board cuts that are required to balance the budget when not enough money is coming into the state to meet spending, during economic downturns.

Democrats are concerned the proposal could hurt Alabama schools, that Republicans are relegating their duties to a formula, and that the Legislature passed the bill during down economic times, which will place the cap unnecessarily low and keep funding from getting to schools for books, supplies, professional development and other needs.

The bill would use a 15-year average of money available for the education budget to set a spending cap. Additional revenue beyond that cap would be used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years.

Additional revenue after that was done would be placed in a reserve fund intended to stabilize the education budget. Based on the 2011 fiscal year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates there would be 3.38 percent growth for the 2013 education budget.


Gulf Coast Exploreum gets $50,000 grant from Airbus Corporate Foundation


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 7:33 AM
By Press-Register staff

MOBILE, Alabama -- Airbus Corporate Foundation announced Tuesday a $50,000 initial grant to the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, seeding a new advanced aerospace engineering program for students.

Staff members at the Airbus Engineering Center in Mobile will work hands-on with students as mentors.

The grant will add to a variety of aerospace opportunities already available through the Exploreum's state-of-the-art Explore TEC laboratory, according to a news release.

Beginning Saturday, the Exploreum will offer the "Airbus Airplane Engineering Challenge." On weekends, visiting families can learn the basics of flight while designing their own paper airplanes and enjoying the expertise of Airbus engineers.

In the summer, the science center will launch a "Principles of Flight" workshop for students in grades 6-12. Using 3-D computer-aided design and flight simulation software, students will apply flight concepts to aerodynamic modeling.

Also, students in grades 8-12 will be able to attend a "Flight School" workshop, where they will be transformed into Airbus experts, working in teams to solve real-world aviation design challenges.

Local Airbus engineers will be available to guide students through the workshops, and teachers also will have the opportunity to attend.


UAH team leads bid to bring National Solar Observatory laboratory to Huntsville


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 5:37 AM
By Lee Roop, The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, AL - The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is leading a team competing to bring a top national science laboratory to Huntsville's Cummings Research Park.

The National Solar Observatory Program, now looking for a new home, is a solar physics research effort operated for the National Science Foundation by an association of 40 universities and 1,000 scientists. Itg is currently housed in two solar observatories in New Mexcio and Arizona.

The observatory program, which operates two telescopes now, is seeking to become the county's top source for data to predict so-called "space weather." Predicting the impact of solar activity on electronic systems in space is important to the Pentagon and NASA

If it comes to Huntsville, the laboratory would bring 70 top scientists and engineers and an annual budget of $20 million. For UAH and other area schools, it would mean access to top scientific minds, ground-breaking science, and new research opportunities. The laboratory would be located in a new building behind the National Space Science and Technology Center on Sparkman Drive.

Dr. Malcolm Portera, chancellor of the University of Alabama System, said Tuesday the university's bid was led by outgoing UAH President Dr. David Williams, but will be carried forward after his departure. Williams announced Monday he is leaving the school on April 1.

"Team Huntsville assembled a first-rate group of collaborators to bring the National Solar Observatory to the UAHuntsville campus. The proposal developed under Dr. Williams' direction has our enthusiastic support," Portera said. "We're fully ready to proceed and hope to get final word on the project this summer."


UAB gets high rankings in U.S. News' 'Best Graduate Schools' report


Birmingham Business Journal - by Ben Piper, Staff

Date: Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 9:43am CDT - Last Modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 2:03pm CDT
U.S. News and World Report has ranked the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine as one of the top 10 programs in the nation in primary care.

And UAB graduate programs in health administration and AIDS were again ranked among the nation's top 10. The latest rankings were released in the 2012 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools."

UAB's primary care rankings rose to No. 10 from No. 23 last year.

Its AIDS program rose from No. 9 to No. 6, and its School of Health Professionals master's degree program in health services administration ranked fifth in the nation, up from seventh last year.



Baldwin renews application for $1 million BP boat ramp funding

Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 9:06 AM

By Connie Baggett, Press-Register


BAY MINETTE, Alabama - Last week, county officials learned that new state legal advisers rejected a plan to build two boat ramps in Baldwin with $1 million in BP PLC grant money. On Tuesday, commissioners voted to revise the language and try again.


"This is just like everything else we've done with BP," said Commissioner Charles "Skip" Gruber. "We had the plan approved and then one person can turn it down. But we still have a need here."


State officials said last week the project to build a boat launch in Lillian and another on Wolf Bay at a cost of $500,000 each were not acceptable uses of BP money. The $1 million had initially been approved for purchasing boom during the oil spill crisis even though officials and scientists agreed boom did little to protect the shoreline. Last fall, Baldwin officials asked to use the money to build boat launches instead and the projects gained approval.


The state's reversal under the new administration occurred because legal advisors found there was no reasonable purpose connected to the oil spill last year for building boat launches now.



"The cleanup has been concentrated strictly on the beaches but our back bays were impacted with oil," Gruber said. "These boat launches offer access to areas impacted by oil that have still not been addressed and need to be studied."



Press Register


Alabama's Gov. Bentley planning overhaul of State Health Plan


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 8:15 AM
By Stan Diel -- The Birmingham News

MONTGOMERY -- Gov. Robert Bentley is planning a "substantial" overhaul of the State Health Plan in a bid to lower health care costs and promote free-market competition, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Details of the governor's proposal are still being determined, but it likely will include the elimination of some regulations and licensing requirements, said Rebekah Mason, the governor's communications director.

The State Health Plan is the blueprint for health care in the state, setting guidelines for the number of hospital beds allowed by specialty and by region, and helping to determine where new hospitals can be built, among other things.

The plan typically is amended in small bits, as health care providers ask for changes. But Bentley is planning a much more ambitious revision, Mason said.

"The governor is more of a 'Let's just pull the Band-Aid off and do it all at one time' type of person," she said. "There will be some pretty significant changes. Things such as not having regulations and licenses that serve no purpose other than protecting someone's economic interest."

Honda, Toyota assess manufacturing after earthquake

Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 7:15 AM

By Dawn Kent -- The Birmingham News


The Japan earthquake and tsunami have left automakers in that country reeling, and the effects of the disaster are being felt in manufacturing operations across the United States, including those in Alabama.


Honda, which has an auto assembly factory in Lincoln, and Toyota, with an engine plant in Huntsville, are the most notable Japanese auto companies with a presence in the state, and both are assessing the status of their supply lines.


Most of the parts used at Toyota's plant are U.S.-made, but some come from Japan.


"We typically have two to three weeks' worth of parts in the supply line, so we're not anticipating any immediate changes to our local operations," said Tina Gess, spokeswoman for Toyota's Huntsville plant. "During that time, we'll be able to hopefully gather more information about any longer term impact."


But Toyota has suspended overtime and Saturday work at all of its North American facilities in an effort to conserve parts.



Birmingham News


Washington County seeks federal money for water tank at planned business park

Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:00 AM

By Jeff Amy, Press-Register



The Washington County Commission has agreed to seek a $700,000 federal grant to help build a water tank, breathing new life into a plan for a business park that had been sputtering.


The commission had earlier rejected the grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, saying the county didn't have enough money to chip in for a local match. But business advocates have said they hope to structure the application to cut the county's contribution, which would normally be a matching $700,000.


"We're just doing an application," said Probate Judge Charles Singleton, who chairs the commission. "Until we sign documents, we haven't made any commitments. Let's see if it's a deal the county can swing."


The county agreed last fall to lease 20 acres on U.S. 43, about two miles south of McIntosh, to a partnership of Goldin Materials Corp. of Gulfport and Dunn Real Estate of Birmingham. The developers pledged to pay $2,000 a month for 30 months and build at least one office-warehouse building. In return, the partners received an option to buy the land at the end of the two-and-a-half years for another $90,000. They also hold options to buy 58 adjoining acres owned by Washington County.


The idea is to build a Washington County home for industrial service firms brought to the area by ThyssenKrupp AG. The county bought the land in 2007, just before the $5 billion steel complex was announced, with the intention of offering it to an industrial prospect. The business park is an alternate strategy to bring jobs to the rural county, where the unemployment rate was 14.7 percent in January. 




Press Register 


Alabama Aircraft Industries asks bankruptcy judge to terminate UAW contract


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:00 AM

By Russell Hubbard -- The Birmingham News


Alabama Aircraft Industries Inc. has asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to terminate the union contract covering 325 workers at the Birmingham airport and trim wages, warning that the company otherwise faces liquidation.


The Birmingham-based company cited law that permits bankruptcy courts to approve such union terminations given certain conditions, which Alabama Aircraft said apply in this case.


The company once known as Pemco Aeroplex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, stung by a string of financial losses, missing out on a $1.1 billion U.S. Air Force contract and high pension obligations tied to the contract with the United Auto Workers.


The company said in the court filing late last week that 78 percent of costs stem from wages, medical benefits and the pension plan.


"The debtors will not be able to survive" without modifications, the court filing said.


Attempts to reach officials with the United Auto Workers were unsuccessful. Alabama Aircraft's papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware cite about $70.6 million of liabilities and assets of $10 million or less. About $68.5 million is owed to the UAW pension plan.




Birmingham News 


Officials seeking broadband for counties


By Evan Belanger


By September, ConnectingALABAMA will implement a short-term action plan to promote local development of broadband Internet infrastructure, officials said Tuesday.


In a meeting at Decatur's Turner-Surles Community Resource Center, officials told roughly 35 attendees - some of them local residents without broadband Internet access - their input would help develop the plan state and local agencies will use to request federal funding.


"As some of you are aware, President (Barack) Obama did put some money into his budget to help expand broadband in the United States," said North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments Director Neal Morrison. "What we're going to do and what we're attempting to do is basically figure out a way to tap into that money."


The meeting, organized by the NARCOG and ConnectingALABAMA - a federally funded state agency - was the third such meeting held in Decatur.




Decatur Daily 


Innovation Depot in race for top industry award


Published: Monday, March 14, 2011, 12:10 PM Updated: Monday, March 14, 2011, 12:15 PM

By The Birmingham News


Birmingham's Innovation Depot has been named as one of two finalists for the National Business Incubation Association's Incubator of the Year award in the technology focus category.


The winner will be announced April 12 at a conference in San Jose, Calif.


"Business incubation programs like the Innovation Depot catalyze the process of starting and growing companies by providing entrepreneurs with the expertise, networks and tools they need to make their ventures successful," the NBIA said.


The group didn't name the other finalist in a statement about Innovation Depot.



Birmingham News


2011 World Trade Conference, May 1-3

The Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce will host the regional World Trade Conference May 1-3, 2011 at Marriott's Grand Hotel and Resort in Point Clear. The World Trade Conference is an alliance of organizations in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and northwest Florida who share international business interests. The event itself rotates in location annually between the four states and was last held in Mobile in 2007. The 2011 conference will focus on the United Arab Emirates.  Over the past decade, U.S. trade with the U.A.E. has grown to become one of the pillars in the region.  U.S. exports have grown from $2.3 billion in 2000 to $12.1 billion in 2009, making the U.A.E. the top market in the Middle East/North Africa region for U.S. exports.  During the conference, seminars and meetings will highlight opportunities, challenges, and aspects of doing business with the U.A.E.

Export markets are not only vital to economic development but also to your company's growth. This year's conference will feature business leaders and officials from Washington, Dubai, and our region to help:

         Identify new export opportunities with the U.A.E.

         Obtain the resources necessary to succeed in the U.A.E.

         Develop market entry strategies

         One-on-one meetings with Commercial Service representatives


Please view the following link for a conference program. 



Click here for REGISTRATION 

Please feel free to forward along to someone who can use it by clicking on the "I'd like to forward this to a contact" link below the green bar.
Note also, that you can now make changes to your e-mail address and contact information through the link at the bottom. 
As always, if you have news or suggestions, please forward them along to me.
Enjoy the day,  
Wendy Wallace Johnson
Partners Thank You
Join Our Mailing List