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Business Council Chairman Sounds Off on Labor Issues

Wed January 26, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Bill Caton

Ab Conner, CEO and chairman of Conner Brothers Construction in Auburn, AL, is serving this year as chairman of the Business Council of Alabama. His role with the BCA provides a unique opportunity for the construction industry to voice its concerns within the business community. CEG had an opportunity to speak with Conner in a recent interview. Following are some thoughts on two subjects near and dear to his heart — the labor shortage and tort reform.

On the labor shortage:

“During a recent series of 11 roundtable meetings conducted statewide, the Alabama Commerce Commission found that the single greatest obstacle facing Alabama business and industry today is finding skilled workers. Nationwide, 88 percent of manufacturers report a shortage of qualified workers in at least one job category, and 70 percent of owners and CEOs of small- and medium-size businesses believe that hiring qualified employees is their single most pressing problem.

“Based on its findings, the Alabama Commerce Commission will release a report in late 1999 that will, among other things, recommend aggressive support for programs such as the AGC’s Craft Training Bill, which is so important to the growth and development of Alabama’s construction industry. We in the construction profession know, at least as well as those in other industries, the seriousness of Alabama’s vocational training shortfall.

And, with the growing demands of the information technology age, the problem will only get worse unless we take aggressive action to change course.”

On tort reform:

“The recent passage of three meaningful tort reform bills by Alabama’s legislature is just one example of the kind of progress that can be achieved when business people across this state unite and focus on a common goal.

“As a result of more than 10 years of determined effort, honest, hard-working Alabama business owners no longer have to live in fear of facing an economic death sentence for a civil misdemeanor. There is still more work to be done on the tort reform front, but we can all sleep better at night knowing that we have strong bills in place to set standards on class-action certifications, stop venue shopping, and fairly cap punitive damage awards.

“While it took a concerted and united pro-business effort to start the ball rolling on meaningful tort reform, we cannot be content to stop now. In the coming year, not only must we complete our comprehensive tort reform effort, but it is critical that we do all we can to maintain a conservative judiciary that will uphold the tort reform laws as passed by our Legislature. With five Alabama Supreme Court seats up for election in November 2000, the business community, and all those who support fair-minded jurists committed to upholding the law, not writing it, face a formidable challenge.

“Those of us who have faced the fear and uncertainty of anti-business tort laws for so many years have long held that a fair civil justice system is critical to Alabama’s ability to attract and retain top-notch business and industry. I believe as our new tort laws take hold, history will prove us correct.

“But, equally essential to the future of our businesses and our state is the quality and readiness of our work force.”

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