Alabama immigration law: Construction trade group disappointed in ruling

IMMIGRATION_LAW_PROTEST_9.28.2011[1].JPGAshley Hendricks, a University of Alabama student from Huntsville, holds a sign and chants while protesting HB-56 on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Approximately 40 students gathered for a protest of the immigration bill on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The president of a Birmingham-based construction trade group says employers who count on immigrants to help fill jobs are calling lawmakers to help them fix a job shortage caused by Alabama’s new immigration law.

Jay Reed of Associated Builders Contractors, who along with Johnny Adams of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association co-chairs a group that calls itself Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform, said the group made up of about 15 trade groups held an emergency meeting today in response to what he called a disappointing ruling by a federal judge who let most of Alabama’s new immigration bill stand Wednesday.

“As an association, we certainly hoped more thought would be given to the message HB56 sent to those working here legally,” Reed said. “We have come up with a three-prong approach we are asking lawmakers to take to address this issue - education, new legislation, and vocational career training.”

Reed said the state’s new immigration law, believed to be the toughest in the country, has had two results that hurt industries that depend on Hispanic workers — many legal workers have left Alabama due to the legislation, and the language in the law is so unclear that it has left many business owners “confused and unsure” of how to comply.

“Our industry, along with poultry and farming, struggle to fill positions for labor intensive jobs that need to be performed,” Reed said. “While our association will continue to focus on workforce voids and look for ways to fill construction craft positions, we will be meeting with Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform in Montgomery to collectively join group efforts to deal with this issue the Legislature has dealt our industries.”

Reed said if a continued shortage of workers remains prevalent in agriculture and construction, Alabama lawmakers that passed the law need to stand ready to help employers find workers.

“In Alabama we must continue to roof projects, plant landscaping and harvest crops,” Reed said. “Today the question is, ‘Who is left to do that?’”

Reed said the employers reform group has heard from several lawmakers who originally supported the immigration law, but since have expressed concern about “some of the unintended consequences of the bill.”

“Contrary to what was represented, there have not been a lot of Alabama workers lining up to get these jobs in poultry, farming and at our job sites,” Reed said. “We want state lawmakers to put more funding into educating and recruiting Alabamians to do these jobs, and to help us encourage more high school students to consider vocational training or two-year colleges.”    

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Alabama Agriculture Department to offer web-based seminars on state’s immigration law

John McMillan.jpgView full sizeAlabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, flanked by Mike Tate of Tate Farms, left, state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison; Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison; Monrovia farmer Rex Vaughn; Anne Burkett, director of Planning Economic Development with the Madison County Commission; and Henry Oldham, president of the North Alabama International Trade Association. (The Huntsville Times, Michael Mercier)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said a statewide web seminar on Alabama’s new immigration law will be held Oct. 14.

The law passed in June and largely upheld by a federal judge Wednesday, has widespread implication for business, law enforcement, local governments and Alabama residents.

“Now that there is a ruling from the federal district court, we are moving forward to help farmers and agribusiness understand their role and responsibilities in complying with the immigration law,” McMillan said. “This law contains many provisions with stiff fines and penalties. It is critical for farmers and agribusiness to understand fully how this law applies to them.”

The three-part one day seminars are being held in cooperation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Agriculture stakeholder groups are encouraged to invite their members to the three-part web seminar series, which begins at 10 am and concludes at 1 p.m.

Labor law expert Thomas M. Eden of the Capell Howard law firm will conduct the seminars, which include an overview of the law, complying with key provisions and record-keeping. Seminar topics include “Do’s and Don’ts for Employers,” “The E-Verify Enrollment Process” and “Form I-9 Supervisor Training Tips.”

The Alabama Cooperative Extensive System has offices in all 67 Alabama counties where people can attend the live seminars, which also will be available online. The seminars will be recorded and archived for people to access via the Internet.

For more information, contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture Industries at 334-240-7100. For a listing of ACES office locations, go to

In other immigration news today: Plaintiffs’ group files motion to stay Alabama immigration law, gives notice of plans to appeal

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Report: Alabama Gulf Coast chamber gets new leader

According to published reports, the Alabama Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce has a new leader: Ed Rodriguez, who is leaving a post as president and chief executive officer of the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.

More than 90 people applied to fill the position formerly held by Linda Whitlock, who left the Gulf Shores-based chamber on June 30.


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Cigar and hookah bar to open off Birmingham’s Highland Avenue


gorji.jpgDavid Gorji sits at the bar in the new cigar and hookah lounge. (The Birmingham News/Stan Diel)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The end of smoking in restaurants and the growing popularity of non-smoking bars is leading to a rebound in the cigar bar business. Birmingham’s latest entry in the fast-growing market, Highland Cigar Lounge Hookah Bar, is expected to open Friday behind the popular Highland Package store.

Owner Jimmy Gorji and his brother David spent three months building out an old storage room at the back of their store into a posh bar. Patrons will be able to buy cigars from a selection of 30 to 40 brands ranging in price from $6 to $20, David said this week. The bar will offer liquor and beer from the selection of 55 brands the package store sells on tap.

The brothers expect to capture customers who have just had dinner at the nearby Hot Hot Fish Club and Bottega restaurants, and to grab a share of Birmingham’s hookah-loving immigrants from all over the Middle East.

The hookah, for the uninitiated, is that octopus-looking water pipe from which Middle Easterners have smoked flavored tobacco for centuries.

The brothers, who spent 20 years working in construction after immigrating to the U.S. from Azerbaijan, did the work themselves to keep costs down, David said.

“The space was there, so we put it to use,” he said. “We might as well do something with it.”

The new bar will be managed by Luke Hampton, who has worked at Marty’s and the Wine Loft.

This item appeared in The Insider, a weekly column in The Birmingham News.

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UA economists see grim fourth quarter in Alabama


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama business executives are pessimistic about the fourth quarter, with many anticipating lower profits, less hiring and a decline in capital expenditures, according to a quarterly report from the University of Alabama.

The university’s Center for Business and Economic Research fourth-quarter survey, released this morning, found that both an index measuring confidence among Alabama executives and an index of economic indicators declined.

That indicates “possible contraction in the state’s economy for the first time in over two years,” the report says.

According to the report:

–The Alabama Business Confidence Index declined 5.9 points to 45.5.

–Nearly 35 percent of executives surveyed in the state expect lower profits in the fourth quarter. Finance, insurance and real estate was the only sector in which executives expect an increase in profits.

–Small businesses were the least pessimistic, with positive expectations for both sales and profits.

For the Birmingham-Hoover metro area, the outlook is dim. Sales was the lone bright spot, with 29.8 percent of executives expecting an increase and 41.8 percent expecting no change.

“Growth is not expected in the fourth quarter in any component of the index” for the Birmingham area, the report said.

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Bevill State to get $81,000 to make mine safety videos

coal.jpgBIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Bevill State Community College in Jasper will receive an $81,000 federal grant to develop more video training programs for coal mine emergencies, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said today.

The college will use the money to develop short safety training videos to be shown at mine entrances and over the Internet communication, MSHA said in a statement.

“The ability to keep up with technological advances will not only lead to increased safety, but also gives us a unique opportunity to expand the types of training materials available,” said Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

“These materials will allow us to use new and innovative methods to train mine rescue responders and educate the mining community on safety, and that will save lives.”

Bevill State operates a comprehensive miner training curriculum, complete with mock-ups of underground mines equipped with realistic special effects to simulate the air quality, lighting conditions and working environment of an underground coal mine.

The grant is part of $1 million MSHA passed out today to organizations nationwide. The Brookwood-Sago grants are named for the Sago mining disaster in West Virginia in 2006, and the Brookwood mishap in 2001, when 13 miners died in Tuscaloosa County.

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Army training National Guard pilots on new helicopter at Madison County Executive Airport


HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The Army is using Madison County Executive Airport to teach National Guard crews from several states how to operate specially equipped UH-72A Lakota helicopters for homeland security, FEMA and counter-drug missions.

If you haven’t already noticed, you likely won’t. The aircraft fly at night to remote locations, operate at higher altitudes, and crews are being careful to “fly friendly,” said Maj. Jay Maher, assistant product manager for Training and Fielding in the Light Utility Helicopter product office on Redstone Arsenal. The airport was selected because it offers the necessary classrooms, hangars and other facilities and is less busy than the arsenal, allowing them to concentrate on this National Guard mission.

Four of the Lakotas, the Army’s newest helicopter, are being flown here from Columbus, Miss., where they are manufactured by American Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS North America. The twin-engined aircraft are typically used for medical evacuation and light utility missions such as surveillance or search and rescue.

These Lakotas – part of about 100 set for delivery to Guard units – have been made specifically for stateside missions and are specially equipped. They have a three-camera sensor ball under the nose, a powerful searchlight that can be linked to the cameras, special radios that allow communication with law enforcement and other agencies, a downlink capability to transmit images and other data, and more.

As the Lakotas are delivered to Guard units, they can stop flying old UH-1 Hueys and Kiowas. The Lakotas, which are being procured under a 10-year plan through 2016, are also allowing the Army to put other aircraft back in the field in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere.

“It’s already freed up 23 Black Hawks out of the National Guard fleet,” Maher said this afternoon.

“I’m excited about having the advanced capabilities over what we already have,” said Lt. Col. Dallas Jones, a pilot with the Louisiana National Guard. Just one example: Jones has had to close within a mile of the subjects he wants to watch, but the L-3 Wescam-made MX-15 sensor ball beneath the Lakota’s nose allows him to be five miles away.

“They can’t hear me or see me,” he said. At least, not unless he fires up the 43-million-candlepower searchlight: “From 1,500 feet you can light up a city block,” Jones said.

“There are a lot of ‘firsts’ in this aircraft for the Army,” said Jay Johnston, who works for contractor S3 in the UH-72 program office as director of flight operations for New Equipment Training. Those firsts include the use of touch-screens in the cockpit and other technological advancements.

“I can’t wait to get these tools to the guys in the field,” he said.

About 50 National Guard pilots from seven states will have completed the training by December. Crews from Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida are here now; Alabama, Texas and Arkansas pilots will be in the next class.

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2 Alabama banks splitting $13.5 million for business loans

100dollarbills.JPGBIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The U.S. Treasury Department said today two Alabama community banks have received $13.5 million from the Small Business Lending Fund championed by President Barack Obama to encourage business loans and job creation.

The recipients are Andalusia’s Southern National Corp., which got $6 million and Anniston’s Southern States Bancshares, which got $7.5 million. Southern States has a location in Office Park in Mountain Brook.

So far, five Alabama community banks received $88.7 million in small business lending capital, the Treasury Department said.

“Billions of dollars in SBLF funds are now being put to use in communities all across the nation, spurring small business growth and job creation,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin. “These investments, which will help propel lending by Main Street banks, are good for our economy and good for America’s small businesses.”

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Colonial Properties Trust sells apartments, buys others in ‘recycling’

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Colonial Properties Trust said today it has completed several transactions involving apartment communities as part of what it calls its “multifamily asset recycling strategy.”

Birmingham-based Colonial said it sold six apartment communities for $105.8 million and acquired three others for $93.5 million. None of the complexes was in the Birmingham area.

“This transaction is consistent with our strategy of upgrading the multifamily portfolio,” Thomas H. Lowder, chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

The acquired properties are in in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area; Raleigh., N.C., and Charleston, S.C. and have an average age of 3.7 years. The properties being sold in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas have an average age of 21.8 years.

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Navistar to get as much as $50 million in state incentives in rail car plant, document shows

National Alabama plant.JPGNavistar will lease the former National Alabama rail car plant in Colbert County, shown here.BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — A document signed today by Gov. Robert Bentley and Navistar International Corp. says the company could collect as much as $50 million in cash incentives from the state for remaking a little-used rail car plant in Colbert County into a manufacturing facility with as many as 2,200 workers.

The plan for Navistar to lease the National Alabama railcar facility in northwest Alabama, owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, was announced Tuesday and finalized today.

As part of the deal, the state will give the Illinois-based company as much as $40 million in cash payments over a period of time as the company hits employment benchmarks. The document says Navistar can collect $10 million for site work at the one-mile-long facility.

Navistar hasn’t said exactly how it plans to use the rail car plant, though an official has said the company hopes to “capture synergies” between the facility and its two diesel engine plants in Huntsville. The documents signed today say the purpose of the lease is for Navistar to engage in its “business of motor vehicle and related product manufacture and assembly.”

Local governments in the northwest Alabama area have also committed almost $20 million in cash incentives for the project, according to the document.

The agreement also transfers the tax abatements and worker training incentives approved for National Alabama to Navistar.

The RSA loaned $625 million to National Alabama, which said in 2007 that it would create 1,800 jobs at the rail car plant. The project fell on hard times with the nation’s economic downturn and produced only a trickle of rail cars.

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