2013 to bring new businessPublished 12:05am Tuesday, January 1, 2013
The new year is expected to bring new business, a continued real estate rebound, and new challenges, area leaders said.
Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said there are a number of prospects on the horizon for 2013 – retail, restaurant and industrial.
“We expect an announcement very soon about one of those,” he said.
Johnson said his hope is that the city will continue down the road of transforming Andalusia into a commercial center for South Central Alabama.
“We think we have sort of turned the corner,” he said. “Some of those businesses wouldn’t look at us before because our numbers and demograhics didn’t fit their criteria. Ordinarily, they would not consider Andalusia as a place to locate. That is changing, as is demonstrated by the the announcement expected early in 2012.”
Like the rest of the world, Andalusia’s leader is watching to see what Congress will do with the so-called fiscal cliff.
“It is affecting us, because business people are unsure of how it will be resolved and what the tax laws will be,” he said. “They are waiting to do anything until they find out.”
Meanwhile, he said the city administration remains committed to improving the infrastructure of South Three Notch Street.
“We have a grant application pending with the Department of Transportation and are waiting to see what they will do,” he said. “We also want to develop an entertainment district in the downtown area, much the way many other cities in Alabama have done.”
In Opp, Mayor John Bartholomew said there is a lot the city will be looking at in 2013, from infrastructure to community developmentto economic development.
“We are continuing to prioritize and address our streets through the different areas of town,” he said. “We are identifying areas that need maintenance to the drainage systems, and we are developing a plan that ensures a systematic means of keeping the streets clean.”
Bartholomew said as community development projects, the city has its sites set on the next Rattlesnake Rodeo as well as restoring the historic depot downtown and improving recreation facilities.
“We are exploring options to remodel the depot,” he said. “This will act as an anchor to our downtown activities as the year progresses. We are seeking funds and assistance to repair our parks and revitalize the recreation areas throughout our city.”
New growth and existing businesses are also top priority for the city.
“On the economic development front, we continue to address retaining our existing businesses while developing areas for new growth along the bypass,” Bartholomew said. “We intend on developing a master plan for the best means of locating any new company that wishes to invest in our community. We are seeking ways to best utilize and upgrade our current city buildings.”
In Florala, 2012 “paved the way” for a brighter future, and 2013 is expected to bring more of the same projects, Mayor Robert Williamson said.
City streets were given fresh and updated looks with new asphalt and some new sidewalks. Work began on the runway rehabilitation at the Florala Municipal Airport – one of the key components needed for 2013, Williamson said. He said work will also focus on a comprehensive plan for the city.
“We will continue to pursue tenants for the airport in 2013,” he said. “We are continuing to work with the hospital on attracting more services to our medical community.
“We also have to continue working on infrastructure,” he said. “I would also like to see us create an incubator for businesses using some of the property the city already possesses and begin the process of developing a recreational park. Obviously, funding, or the lack there of, is an inhibitor, but we can initiate the first steps toward such a facility.”
Covington Association of Realtors president Donna Raines said the county experienced a rebound in real estate in 2012, and she hopes changes being implemented by local Realtors will help them build on that rebound in 2013.
On Monday, she announced to association members that the group will begin using electronic lockboxes on listings.
“These boxes will be able to tell us who goes into a property, and when they went in,” she said.
The showing agent will automatically receive an email asking for feedback. The system should be installed around March 1.
In addition, association forms are being moved online and integrated into the multiple listing service, or MLS.
As the healthcare community prepares for the implementation of The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama Care, Andalusia Regional Hospital CEO Rebecca Brewer said she and other managers are bracing for what could be a challenging year.
“The issue is we really don’t know exactly how the Affordable Care Act is going to impact us,” Brewer said. “They are still going through it, making sure regulations are what it is supposed to do, and just getting it figured out.”
Regardless, she said, hospitals expect to continue to see government reimbursement rates go down. That can be problematic for rural hospitals like ARH, which treat a disproportionate number of Medicare and Medicaid patients. Special funding extended to hospitals like ARH in the past expired in September, and health care officials were hopeful the funding would be reinstated by the end of the year.
“With all that is going on in Washington with the fiscal cliff, it’s not likely that will happen,” she said.
Government-funded programs are really scrutinizing what they get for the dollars they put in health care. Hospitals are the largest pocket, so they will be under a lot of scrutiny this year, she said.
One good thing that will come from the Affordable Care Act is a focus on health care quality, Brewer said.
“In the past, we were paid to provide a service,” she said. “Now, the focus is not on the rising cost, but on the quality.”
The health care industry has a list of “never” events, or things that should never happen. For instance, if a patient enters the hospital with a urinary tract infection, he or she should not develop one while hospitalized. Other examples are bed sores.
“If, in fact, your patient develops a bed sore, etc., they penalize us financially. That, I think, is good. Really challenges us to give something of value,” she said.
Similarly, if a patient leaves the hospital and is readmitted within 20 days, the hospital is penalized.
“This challenges us to work with home health, nursing homes, and other agencies,” she said.
The third biggest thing in health care will be a trend of patients being responsible for a larger part of their health care expenses, she said.
Still, she is optimistic about health care in Andalusia.
“We just have to find a way to get people traveling out of Andalusia for services we can give to stay at home for those,” she said. “We’ve got a hard year ahead of us of telling our stories to get more people on our campus for services.”
Part of that plan is an aggressive recruitment plan to draw younger doctors to the area, she said.
“We need good men and women to come and help us,” she said.