Local businesses seeing economic improvement, optimistic about future
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Oct 15, 2013 | 2980 views |  0 comments | 66 66 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gerwin Wallace, left, plays the Operation Game as Angela Cobb looks on at the RMC booth at the 2013 Calhoun County Business Expo Tuesday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Gerwin Wallace, left, plays the Operation Game as Angela Cobb looks on at the RMC booth at the 2013 Calhoun County Business Expo Tuesday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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If the economy is still sluggish, Mike Fortner has not noticed.

Since opening his Anniston business Budget Blinds in August, Fortner has experienced considerable growth in his customer base, providing custom blinds and window coverings to the commercial and residential sectors in Calhoun County.

"I'm doing very well so far," Fortner said. "My business is growing every day."

Fortner said he expects sales to continue improving into next year, and he's not alone. The economy is still recovering from the recession of 2008 and several area businesses are reporting growth this year and optimism about the foreseeable future. Their optimism is in keeping with reports from other businesses in the state, recent economic statistics show.

Fortner’s was one of more than 100 businesses that had booths at the 2013 Calhoun County Regional Business Expo at the Anniston City Meeting Center on Tuesday. Organized by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the event allows local businesses to show off their services and products to current and potential customers.

Hundreds of residents attended. On Tuesday afternoon, visitors parked their cars in grassy lots near the event because the center's parking lot was full.

"I'm meeting a lot of good business owners ... these people have needs for services like mine as well," Fortner said.

Fortner said he attributes much of his recent success to improvements in the housing industry, specifically in regard to renovation.

"Most people think only people who are buying new homes want to buy from me," Fortner said. "But eight out of 10 of the people I sell to have been in their home seven years or more and want to remodel."

According to statistics released last week by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, the state's economy is expected to grow around 2 percent by the end of year, based on fourth-quarter forecasts. The report indicates that the Alabama Business Confidence Index is at 51.9 points for the fourth quarter, higher than the 48.3 points the index had at the same time last year. The index is a survey of state business executives that measures economic expectations, with a score above 50 points meaning positive business confidence.

Jennifer Watts, an accounts payable employee of Remodeler's Outlet in Anniston, had an expo booth near Fortner's, to present products from her company, including wooden cabinets and replacement windows. Watts said business had improved significantly for Remodeler's in the past year.

"We hired an in-house cabinet designer because business has done so well," Watts said.

Watts said Remodeler's also expanded its facility this year to make more room for retail merchandise in anticipation of future business growth.

Jason Broome, a salesman with Miller Office Furniture and Steel in Anniston, said the business had seen moderate improvement so far this year and expected more of the same in the coming months.

"We're optimistic about the remainder of this year and next year," Broome said.

While Miller sells office furniture, the bulk of its business is selling raw steel parts to factories and facilities like the Anniston Army Depot.

"The depot is our biggest customer and as long as the depot is running good, we're doing good," Broome said.

Despite the federal government shutdown, all of the depot's funding has been allocated for continuous work through 2014.

Arelia Kimbert, branch manager for Onin Staffing, a temporary staffing agency that has locations across the state, said her company has had steady business this year. Kimbert noted that Onin opened an Oxford location two weeks ago. Previously, the nearest Onin site was in Lincoln.

"We are broadening our coverage to pull in more applicants," Kimbert said. "The businesses we supply for here are looking for more local workers."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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