Business Council of Alabama Turns 32

The Business Council of Alabama was born 32 years ago today from the political necessity of bringing a united business voice to the table. Today the BCA is the leading advocate for Alabama businesses that are the job creators and innovators that drive our state’s economy.

The BCA is a non-partisan, statewide business association representing the interests and concerns of nearly 1 million working Alabamians through its member companies and The Partnership with the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.

As Alabama’s exclusive affiliate to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The National Association of Manufacturers, and with its partnered state associations, the BCA works to improve Alabama’s business climate by utilizing the strength of members and affiliations.

“It’s our job to advocate for Alabama businesses, their employees, and owners in order that they and their families can prosper,” BCA President and CEO William J. Canary said. “Businesses face mounting costs due to increased regulation, an unprepared workforce, rising health care costs, and unfair labor laws. It’s our goal to remain a strong advocate to ensure a sound business climate.

The BCA partners with the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association, the Alabama Manufacturing Council, and the Business Education Alliance of Alabama to enhance business opportunities and share the combined efforts of the important industry segments.

“We listen to our members every day and they tell us to advocate for policies that level the playing field and to oppose unfair taxation and regulations that single out certain economic sectors,” Canary said. “Alabama’s business competition is global, so our policies need to reflect that.”

The BCA was created Nov. 1, 1985, with consolidation of the Alabama Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Alabama.

Frank Mason was chairman of the Alabama Chamber and Dick Dickson, the BCA’s first chairman who was with the Russell Corp., was chairman of Associated Industries of Alabama.

Mason was the BCA’s second chairman in 1986. The retired president and chairman of the family owned Mason Corp. remembers the merger.

“Dick and I got together to form the Business Council,” Mason said. “It had been discussed previously but for whatever reason people running the organizations at the time never did get it accomplished.”

Legislators would say they didn’t know what the business positions were on issues, Mason said.

“They’d be told one thing and then another,” Mason said. “We wanted to have a unified voice and create a friendly environment for business activities for small and large businesses.”

Dickson was interviewed for Business Alabama magazine’s first issue in January 1986.

He said business was slipping in its political and economic impact. “After getting our pants beat off in the last general election and the last special election, we realized we needed to be a united community and speak with a united voice,” Dickson told Business Alabama.

Montgomery governmental affairs director Tom Coker said the 1983 off-year legislative election cycle was the impetus to create a unified political action committee – ProgressPAC – that would back pro-business candidates.

Previously, business interests did not articulate common goals and the political climate continued to elect legislators and judges that were hostile to business interests. ProgressPAC-backed candidates were successful, Coker said, and from that unified beginning the BCA grew into the leading advocate for business interests in Alabama.

Fournier J. “Boots” Gale III, general counsel for Regions Financial Corp. and the BCA’s legal counsel who incorporated the BCA, said 32 years of advocating for Alabama business is the BCA’s foundation for future interaction with the political and regulatory institutions that affect business.

“The BCA was created out of a need for a unified business voice during a time of political solidarity that, frankly, was not in tune with much of Alabama’s business interests,” Gale said. “The past guides the future as we seek to continue growing Alabama’s positive business climate.”

BCA Chairman Emeritus Robert “Bubba” Lee was involved in the BCA’s tort reform and judicial elections of the 1990s, the first unified success after the tort reform setback of the late 1980s.

“The BCA has remained in my estimation very true to its origins and it’s gotten even better than when it started out,” Bubba Lee said. “One thing the BCA has tried to do was get the voice of business more fairly represented whether the Legislature was Republican or Democrat.”

Bubba Lee said the BCA played a lot of defense into the first decade of the 2000s but after the 2010 election with a pro-business House and Senate, “business was able to get things moving.”

The BCA was a key player in tort reform efforts and today plays an important role in legislation on expert evidence, venue reform, post-judgment interest, and product liability issues.

BCA strength is its membership and its association with The Partnership created in 2003 between the BCA and the CCAA.

“The CCAA has a long tenure as the preeminent organization serving Chamber of Commerce professionals, and the Chambers of Commerce they represent, in the state of Alabama,” CCAA President and CEO Jeremy Arthur said.

“The organization exists to strengthen the vital role local Chambers of Commerce play in economic and community development,” Arthur said. “The CCAA’s partnership with the BCA made sense then and is stronger today almost 15 years later.”

Mike Kemp, the BCA’s second vice chairman and president and chief executive officer of Kemp Management Solutions LLC in Birmingham, said whether it’s for small or large operations, a positive business climate in Alabama results from a unified voice backed by strength in numbers.

“It takes dedication to advocate for the underlying principles that create, nurture, and expand jobs in Alabama, jobs that will support families and help create wealth for citizens,” Kemp said. “The BCA has been doing that for one-third of a century and will continue that role in the future.”

BCA Immediate Past President Tommy Lee, president and CEO of Vulcan Inc. in Foley, said the BCA works to improve education in order to enable personal and business success and advance economic development. “An overriding issue is making sure our education is the best it can be for the children of our state so that we can produce the workforce we need,” Tommy Lee said.

In that vein, the BCA formed the Business Education Alliance with (former State School Superintendent) Joe Morton, Ph.D., at the helm. Through the BEA, the BCA supports adequate funding and relevant curriculum for K-12 and post-high school education for both public and charter schools.

The BCA also was instrumental in creating the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure that advocates for more investment in Alabama’s surface transportation infrastructure, an ongoing project.

Tommy Lee said joining the BCA allows members to concentrate on running their businesses knowing they have a strong advocate in Montgomery and Washington, D.C.

“It’s very difficult for a small business person to run a business on a day-to-day basis, attend meetings, go to rallies, to get involved,” Tommy Lee said. “The BCA provides small business the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Today, the BCA is an award-winning, unified voice for Alabama business and industry.

In 2011, the BCA received the 2011 Outstanding Organization Award at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s (ILR) 12th Annual Legal Reform Summit for its continuing contributions to the legal reform movement in Alabama, a movement that continues.

BCA Secretary Denson Henry, vice president of Henry Brick Co. Inc. in Selma, said the BCA stands up for all Alabamians in the work force. “It is an honor to be associated with a group that has the conviction to not only say what needs to be done based on common sense and economic growth principles but also has the courage to act,” he said.

The challenge for the next one-third century, Bubba Lee said, is to keep in perspective the BCA’s founding origins representing small and large businesses, the men and women in the sales division, the machine shop, “the guy sweeping the floor.”

“For every man and woman and every working person,” Bubba Lee said. “That’s a good tag line.”

BCA First Vice Chairman Perry Hand, CEO and chairman of Volkert Inc. in Mobile, said the BCA remembers the past and applies its lessons to craft a brighter future for all Alabamians.

“Alabama’s economic future depends on an adequately educated and engaged workforce that will provide future generations of leadership and employees,” Hand said. “Today’s BCA leaders are setting the stage for its ever-evolving membership for the next 32 years and beyond.”

The BCA elects its slate of officers and adopts it agenda during annual meetings held late in the calendar year. This year’s meeting, a combined meeting with the CCAA, is Dec. 1 at the Harbert Center in Birmingham.

A year ago, BCA First Vice Chairman Jeff Coleman, president and CEO of Coleman Worldwide Moving in Dothan, was elected BCA chairman for 2017. His vision then remains as strong today.

“Tomorrow promises growth and prosperity, and the BCA is committed to making the Alabama of tomorrow a place where businesses want to be, and all students can receive the very best education,” Coleman said.