Montgomery Business Journal

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 Reporter's Notebook



David Zaslawsky





The City of Montgomery has been named one of the 10 shining examples of economic development by Southern Business & Development. Montgomery was the only Alabama city on the list.

The magazine cited Montgomery’s “vast economic diversity,” which in 2013 included the new headquarters of a pharmaceutical company (Mims Management Group); global automotive supplier (DENSO Corp.); major financial operation center (Hancock Bank); and a Department of Defense Core Data Center.

The article also points to Montgomery’s location at the intersection of Interstates 65 and


85; Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex; and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

Montgomery has had more than 5,700 jobs created and $1 billion-plus in capital investments the past five years.

“A vibrant economy, the nation’s No. 1 magnet high school, the most post-secondary students in the state, and one of the top 10 largest Shakespeare theaters in the world are just a few reasons Montgomery is the Capital of Dreams,” the magazine stated.


Montgomery County’s newest commissioner, Ronda Walker, said she dealt with seven different counties when she worked for U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery. “I could see the difference in a county that functioned well and a county that didn’t function well,” Walker said. “The counties that didn’t function well fought; they didn’t cooperate; they didn’t communicate; and they didn’t succeed.” Walker said she has seen how well the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County, Montgomery County Board of Education and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce get along.

She was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the seat of former commissioner Dimitri Polizos, who won a special election for the Alabama House of Representatives. Walker said she grew up in Montgomery. “I know Montgomery very well. I’m a Montgomery girl. I love this area.”



Alabama exports totaled $19.3 billion last year, which was just shy of matching the record of $19.6 billion in 2012.

The state’s top export is transportation equipment, which increased 8.6 percent last year to $8.3 billion. Rounding out the top five exports are chemicals ($2.5 billion); primary metal manufacturing ($1.5 billion); minerals and ores ($1.4 billion); and machinery ($879 million).


Canada remains the state’s No. 1 export market ($4.3 billion) and China is now second at $2.5 billion with Germany third ($2.2 billion and declining); Mexico fourth ($2.2 billion and growing); and the United Kingdom fifth at $693 million.

Alabama ranked 23rd nationwide in its dollar value of exports last year.



The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which recently opened the Wind Creek Wetumpka casino, has now opened the adjacent, 283-room hotel.

There’s more. The tribe just opened a health clinic and an assisted living facility near its casino in Atmore. The Buford L. Rolin Health Clinic is for both tribal members and employees. The Lavan Martin Assisted Living Facility features 24 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments and four assisted living homes as well as a coffee shop, business center, quilting room and laundry area.


Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman Leslie Sanders said the city, county, Chamber, school district and two-year college system had a productive meeting about the future of the Montgomery Public Schools’ Montgomery Technical Education Center. “Probably the most game-changing thing that can happen is to have a real technical program, where we teach skills to our students, where they have a skill set when they graduate.” And can get a job.

She talked about a “promising” partnership between the Montgomery Public Schools district and H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College. “There is no reason that Montgomery doesn’t have a state-of-the-art, top-notch program.”



Suzanne Freeman has been named superintendent of the Pike Road School System – its first superintendent.

She previously served as superintendent for Trussville City Schools and Cullman City Schools. She was named the 2008 State Superintendent of the Year and was one of four finalists in 2009 for National School Superintendent of the Year.

“To the board, one of the biggest and most important factors is that she understands the vision and the dream that is Pike Road,” Pike Road School Board President Ray Hawthorne said in a statement.

“She understands that we are neighbors helping neighbors. She understands that we are a town doing the right thing for the right reasons. She understands that we are a community – that we are a team, and she understands that education is a strong cornerstone for this community.”



TCU Consulting Services will manage Huntsville City Schools’ $200 million building program, which includes new buildings and renovations. Plans call for two new high schools; two new elementary schools (Pre-K-6); one new school that is Pre-K-8; and a new freshman academy. One of the renovation projects is adding 130,000 square feet to a P-8 school. The district has 24,000 students.

TCU has four, full-time employees in Huntsville, one principal who attends weekly meetings and an architect.



The city’s revenues are up about 2.5 percent through one-third of the fiscal year, but that coupled with a 2 percent decrease in spending means there might be a $3 million to $4 million surplus. That money would be used to pay down debt, build up the city’s reserves or fund projects, Strange said.



Mayor Strange said that while he was being introduced at a breakfast the speaker noted that Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson had some kind words for Montgomery. He said something akin to “our goal is to be like Montgomery.” Strange said that Birmingham also paid Montgomery a compliment by “taking a page from our playbook.”


Bistro B owner Tracy Bhalla spent $25,000 to $30,000 renovating the former site of The Deli at The Alley, performing furniture repairs and buying and repairing equipment. “My goal right now is just to make a profit,” she said. She hopes to be in the black by April.



The Montgomery-based architecture and engineering firm of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood has been selected by the Pelham Board of Education to handle new school building and renovation projects.



Rep. John Knight said that the state, city and county are working closely together.
“I think the more we work together, the more that we can accomplish the things we’re trying to do on a local level.”





Rep. Dimitri Polizos said he is making new friends in the Legislature. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing so far.” He is also making some adjustments. He said the new job is more “fast-paced” compared to the county, which “was a little more laid back.” He has introduced a bill to allow Faulkner University to have its own police force.



Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange is opposed to sales tax on food, but at the same time is concerned that if the state removes its share it could recoup lost revenue from other sources. However, the city would be in a precarious position.

If the state Legislature agrees to remove the state’s tax on groceries, Strange said there would be great pressure on the city and county to remove their sales tax on food – 3.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. The city’s share results in about $30 million of revenue, according to City Council President Charles Jinright.

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, has introduced legislation to remove the state sales tax on food for years. “The problem is that working-class families and middleclass people really need some tax relief and they’re not getting it right now.” Knight supports removing the state’s federal income tax deduction to replace the lost revenue.

He said that the state does “everything under the sun in terms of helping where we want to help,” referring to incentives and tax breaks for companies coming to Alabama or expanding.

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