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September 2012 Group Watch

September’s been a busy month so far with announcements about new hires, new jobs and lower utility rates for businesses. Plus, a major issue is up for vote tomorrow. Will the people speak and what will they say?

  • Proponents of September 18 Referendum Say Vote is Key: Proponents of using $437 million from a state trust fund to prevent deep budget cuts are encouraging a big voter turnout by people whose paychecks or loved ones will be affected by the outcome. Proponents, like Governor Robert Bentley, are aiming their pitch toward those who could be affected the most. He says he is counting on people such as the Alabama State Employees Association, hospitals and nursing homes to take the lead in turning out yes votes. At Manufacture Alabama, which represents many of the state’s largest industries, President George Clark is distributing material for his members to display in employee break rooms. Clark, a former state representative from west Alabama, sponsored legislation in 1981 that created what is now the $2.3 billion Alabama Trust Fund. According to Clark the money was set aside for use during tough economic times like these. If the constitutional amendment fails, he said states competing with Alabama for new industries will make sure those industries know Alabama is cutting state services. Single-issue elections such as this usually draw an extremely low turnout. Will this be different?
  • New Community College Chancellor: The State Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Shelton State President Mark Heinrich of Tuscaloosa as head of the state’s two-year college system. The board president, Governor Robert Bentley, who is from Tuscaloosa, said he voted for Heinrich because he saw firsthand what he did at Shelton State after the Board named him president in 2008 following a corruption investigation. Heinrich, 59, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tennessee Tech University and his doctorate from the University of Alabama. The school board still must negotiate a contract with the chancellor, but Bentley said the salary is likely to be closer to the $198,000 paid to the state school superintendent than the $289,000 paid to the previous chancellor.
  • New Auto Supplier: Governor Robert Bentley was recently in his hometown of Tuscaloosa to announce that a new auto supplier will create 100 jobs.  The governor joined Tuscaloosa officials for the announcement of the new supplier at the North River Yacht Club. According to the governor’s office, the supplier will invest $34 million and will supply products to the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Vance.
  • PSC Extends Special Rates: The Alabama Public Service Commission voted unanimously to extend special electric rates that were started last year to stimulate the economy. Commissioners say the rates are designed to give businesses one more reason to create jobs during tough times. One of the special rates provides a one-year rate discount for a business that opens in a building that has been vacant for at least six months. The incentive applies to a new business or to a business that opens an additional location. Relocations don’t qualify. The other program is aimed at larger companies that invest enough money and create enough jobs to qualify for the state’s Capital Investment Tax Credits. The discount is for two years, with 10 percent off the base rate for the first year and 5 percent for the second year. The PSC extended the program from January 1, 2014 to January 1, 2016.

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