The overall economic outlook for Alabama in 2022 looks “very promising,” according to Ellie Taylor, president of the Alabama Grocers Association. Data from the past year appears to support Taylor’s optimism.
An Economic Outlook Update for the fourth quarter of 2021, published by the Culverhouse College of Business at the University of Alabama, estimated the state’s economy would grow by 4.8 percent in 2021, following a 3.2 percent drop in 2020. It also noted that, with an easing of COVID-related restrictions, accommodation and food services-related businesses increased 80.5 percent in the second quarter of the year.
In the 2022 legislative session, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey sent lawmakers a proposed $2.7 billion General Fund budget and $8.3 billion Education Trust Fund budget – an increase of $300 million in the General Fund and $627 million in the Education Trust Fund, Taylor said.
For the 2021 fiscal year, revenues in the General Fund grew by 11.4 percent and 16.4 percent for the Education Trust Fund. It is projected that revenue is expected to grow another 3 percent overall in the current fiscal year, she said.
The governor called a special session of the legislature, which began Jan. 19, to handle the task of appropriating the $2.12 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Taylor said it is expected these funds will be used for pandemic-related healthcare costs, the expansion of broadband network access, water and sewer projects and to provide taxpayer relief to companies by replenishing the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.
The top priority for AGA, according to Taylor, “is to persuade legislators to approve a bill to allow the sale of ‘RTD’ (ready to drink) products in supermarkets. We will again be working on state legislation to add portions of federal legislation called the INFORM Act to specify the crime of shoplifting, as well as require transparency in the selling of items online that have been stolen.
“This is a major problem in some areas due to organized retail theft. We are also working on legislation updating the state food code to adopt the federal rule on menu labeling to ensure that frivolous lawsuits are not filed on our members,” Taylor said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Taylor said supply chain and labor shortages are among the most significant issues grocers face.
“Retailers have been creative to outsource from multiple entities to combat the supply chain, but it continues to be a challenge,” she said. “Many retailers that we have spoken with continue to have labor shortages but are finding creative ways to offer incentives, either through enhanced pay, bonus incentives or educational development opportunities.
“We are currently in a partnership with the community college system to develop curriculum and training for meat cutters, which is a definite need in the industry.”
Taylor said AGA will continue to work with government and business entities to help its members on these issues and will offer some educational opportunities throughout the year.
Along with many other grocer associations, on the state and national level, the AGA applauded the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 13 that halted the OSHA ETS Emergency Temporary Standard mandate for employers with 100 employees or more.
Taylor called the ruling “a huge win for U.S. businesses.” The decision by the court enjoins the Biden Administration from taking further steps to implement or enforce the OSHA ETS, she said.
“There were so many issues with this regulation, including the substantial cost for employers,” Taylor said. “The association had been in talks with Dr. Scott Harris, ADPH state health officer, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on the fact that at-home COVID tests administered at the office or place of employment were considered under Alabama law as medical waste. This would have been a huge burden for businesses, and OSHA has now formally withdrawn this rule.”
For more information, visit alabamagrocers.org.