Let's clean out the notebook ...
• I'm getting a quick education about a company called Retail Strategies and their influence on Jasper. Oddly enough, my old newspaper had to teach me.
A business called Retail Strategies in Birmingham has been discussed at Hamilton City Council, according to the Journal Record, as it recruited Jack's Restaurants to come in with a $2 million facility within 12 months of its three-year contract. They are being paid $45,000 for the first year after contracting in 2017. (As I recall it, this was part of Plan B after the city ditched membership in the C3 of Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance, a three-county entity with Marion, Fayette and Lamar counties.) The city would pay $40,000 for each of the two following years, although the city gets annual rights to renew - which the city has been postponing. The city should get $51,000 in local sales tax revenue from the new restaurant.
Naturally, with all that success, renewal has been delayed, as the Hamilton City Council has been critical, particularly over incentives the firm said it was not advocating — and that the city did not adopt; Jack's started building anyway. But it looks like the council just didn't have enough trust. I have just heard from Journal Record News Editor Scott Johnson that the council voted down renewal Monday, with only the mayor in favor of Retail Strategies. It seems to me the city will likely have to crawl back to the C3. As I covered that council for years, don't even get me started about how Hamilton city councilmen seem to always argue and bicker themselves out of any progress.
According to the newspaper, the chief executive officer of Retail Strategies, Robert Jolly, told the Hamilton City Council on Sept. 4 that his agency was instrumental in locating Cracker Barrel in both Jasper and New Albany, Miss. (The chief operations officer with the firm, Scott VonCannon, said they had been talking with Cracker Barrel about Hamilton.) Jolly said the firm represents more than 140 municipalities across 30 states and that Retail Strategies had represented Jasper for six years.
Jolly said Retail Strategies was the firm that recruited TJ Maxx, Aldi, Shoe Carnival, Petco, Hobby Lobby, Zaxby's, Mattress Firm and a number of smaller, regional retailers to Jasper, according to the newspaper.
"The agency has an impressive tract record and for the last six years has had a partnership with the City of Jasper," the newspaper said in an editorial. "Considering the work that this group does to contract retailers, make connections and use its influence to represent municipalities, it is no wonder that there is a bloom of retail on Interstate 22's Exit 65 in Jasper." One councilman, by the way, pointed to Jasper as a prime example of a city that has been able to take advantage of their exposure on U.S. Interstate 22.
A quick search on our website showed Retail Strategies was credited by Linda Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County with Badcock Furniture and Planet Fitness coming to Jasper.
In the Planet Fitness announcement story, VonCannon said Jasper is a strong market. “Planet Fitness has seen the success of other retailers, such as T.J. Maxx and Hobby Lobby, in the Jasper market,” he said. “That success combined with the traffic numbers in the city make for an appealing market for retailers. We are happy to do our part in bringing Planet Fitness to Jasper, and we appreciate the hard work of the chamber and the city. Jasper is definitely a pro-business city.”
Well, if Hamilton don't want them, I'll settle for this firm any day.
• I ran late for the Carbon Hill City Council got there as they were ending after only eight minutes. They took in an update for the upcoming Hillfest and noted they were still taking applications until the close of business on Sept. 26 for the seat Anita Wood was leaving on the Carbon Hill Utility Board. The council voted to allow council members or the mayor to enroll in the city's health insurance program with the individual paying 100 percent of the premium, not the city. (City employees pay only 30 percent while department heads pay nothing.) The person would go in during open enrollment for 2019. District 4 Councilman Chandler Gann and District 5 Councilman Jason Chambers were absent. Mayor Mark Chambers said no one on the council has asked for the service, but the city had to report if anyone wanted it. Some councilmen had inquired about it in the past, as late as last year, but no one has inquired recently. The insurance is obtained through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama by way of the state insurance plan.
• At Monday's Jasper event for Secretary of State John Merrill, I told U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt to let me know of any local speaking engagements before the election. He said it may need to be an interview, which we would agree to if that is the only opportunity. I covered his opponent, Lee Auman, when he was in Jasper recently.
• Merrill noted at the event his wife had just returned from New York visiting their children. "Our daughter is an international flight attendant with American Airlines. Our son is in the Chick-fil-A leadership development program, so he is opening up Chick-fil-A's around the country. He has been in New York for the past four months now, and he is going to Minneapolis in a couple of weeks now to stay the rest of the year."
• Judge Doug Farris and his wife Jane are still being celebrated in social circles as the parents of the Miss D.C. who got to the Top 10 at the Miss America contest on Sept. 8. I could tell this week were still delighted. For her part, Allison Farris said on Instagram on Sept. 12, "Such an out of body experience getting to share my story and my heart with America. Incredibly grateful, honored, humbled, and inspired by all of the 50 sisters I gained the past two weeks. @niaimanifranklin , I could not be more proud to call you my @missamerica and to know, grow, and experience the journey to the Miss America stage with you the past three years. My heart is so full. DC, I am home and ready to continue serving this incredible community."
• As a reminder, Mule Day is this weekend, with Gov. Kay Ivey the grand marshal of the parade. It is a huge affair if you haven't been, with the Civil War re-enactment (the Friday session for students might not be bad, either, as they try to be authentic), the car show, the 5K run and the parade. Even Friday night is pretty busy with vendors and entertainment.
If people from Walker County want to be in the parade, you can get to the high school area by the Twin exit at the Holiday Inn (taking you straight to the high school and downtown) or by the Winfield exit with the blue water tower on Highway 129, turning right on County Road 14 and going all the way to the nursing home, turning right again and going a mile or less to the high school. Some go to that nursing homearea to watch the parade as well.
• For those in Winston and Marion counties, I had lunch with Tracy Estes, who has no opponents for the House 17 race on Nov. 6. He is already getting calls left and right, and has a full calendar of appointments. I don't think it has all set in yet, but he is pleased and eager to get involved.
• I got up unusually refreshed and early Saturday, still weighted 218, and celebrated by going to Cracker Barrel, being the first customer at 6 p.m. (I ate too much.) I was interested that the motel at the interstate looked pretty well booked for the night, meaning people are stopping. I've heard the other motels down Industrial Boulevard are doing well also.
• I know that superintendent of education salaries are above $100,000 these days. But when I read that the Walker County superintendent made $194,000, I was floored. I have a feeling that will have to be adjusted over time. I think it will take more than the perks, as that base salary has got to be scaled back.