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BBA Economic Digest: Whoppers and Supersized

Photo by Marty Sellers |

Biggies, Whoppers and Supersized

Some very large projects were announced this past week, ranging from $830 million to $150 million. For future reference, I'll refer to capital investment projects above $100 million as "Biggies," $500 million and above as "Whoppers" and $1 billion and above as "Supersized."

The first is actually a continuation of a Supersized one already in the works. Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, building a $1.6 billion auto assembly plant in Huntsville, said it was upping its investment a year before production is expected to begin.

The Japanese automakers, who formed a joint company in north Alabama, announced the increased investment of $830 million. That brings the MTM investment to $2.311 billion at the sprawling Limestone County facility. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the additional investment will “incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.” Construction continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical. Mazda Toyota has hired about 600 people so far and will resume hiring later this year.

A Whopper in Gallatin, Tennessee

Construction has begun on an $800 million Facebook data center northeast of Nashville that will take up to three years to build and cover nearly 1 million square feet.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the center will create 100 high-paying jobs and be supported by two new solar energy projects in south and west Tennessee.

This Whopper will be the 13th Facebook data center in the U.S. and 17th worldwide. It is going up in a Gallatin industrial park next to Beretta USA's firearms plant, a Gap distribution center, SERVPRO, and American Colors paint manufacturer.

A Biggie in Detroit

Amazon will invest $400 million to build a 3.8 million-square-foot distribution center at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit, bringing at least 1,200 new jobs to the city. And get this -- no tax breaks or incentives for this Biggie, which will create 1,200 jobs, according to Mayor Mike Duggan.

The distribution center is expected to open in 2022, and employees will make a minimum of $15 an hour, plus benefits. The City has agreed to sell a portion of the fairgrounds for $9 million to the real estate company The Sterling Group and Hillwood Investment Properties, which will develop the site.

Duggan said the city will give Amazon lists of qualified Detroiters to fill these jobs. The city also is opening what it calls the "Detroit Entrepreneurship Academy" in response to Amazon's program that offers people the chance to run their own delivery business and partner with Amazon.

Other Biggies: Commercial Metals Company will build its third micro mill facility at Mesa, Ariz. The $300 million facility, to be built beside an existing CMC plant, is expected to employ 185 people and begin production in 2023.

BAE Systems, a British defense and aerospace company, will build a 390,000-square-foot-facility as part of a new $150 million campus at the Parmer Austin Business Park in Austin. The project is expected to be completed in 2022.

If you have a Biggie, Whopper or Supersized project to report, please let me know.

The Actual Death Count

At least 200,000 more people have died in the United States than usual since March, according to a New York Times analysis of estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is about 60,000 higher than the number of deaths that have been directly linked to the coronavirus. That suggests that the official death counts are underestimating the overall effects of the virus, as people die from the virus as well as by other causes linked to the pandemic. And a new study found the coronavirus is at least as deadly as the 1918 flu pandemic and the death toll could even be worse if world leaders and public health officials fail to adequately contain it, researchers warned in a study published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

“What we want people to know is that this has 1918 potential,” lead author Dr. Jeremy Faust said in an interview, adding the outbreak in New York was at least 70 percent as bad as the one in 1918 when doctors didn’t have ventilators or other advances to help save lives like they do today. “This is not something to just shrug off like the flu.”

The Deniers

Dozens of people have been barred from flying on Delta airplanes for refusing to comply with the airline's mask policies, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNN. "We've had well over 100 people that have refused to keep their mask on during the flight," he added. A spokesperson confirmed that those people have lost the ability to book future flights on Delta. Delta, along with other major US carriers, warned in mid-June that airlines would begin banning passengers who refuse to wear masks during air travel in an effort to beef up enforcement of the policy.

No Mask, Says Sheriff

As Florida set a daily record for Covid-19 deaths, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods prohibited his deputies from wearing masks at work. His order also applies to visitors to the sheriff’s office.

In an email to the sheriff’s department shared with The Washington Post, Woods disputed the idea that masks are a consensus approach to battling the pandemic.

“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not. The fact is, the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t,” Woods wrote in an email, first reported by the Ocala Star-Banner.

No Mask, Says CEO

Five employees at a Texas real estate company told BuzzFeed News what it’s like working for a conspiracy theorist boss who lashes out if they try to wear masks.

Since the pandemic began, Al Hartman, the CEO of commercial real estate company Hartman Income REIT, has sent out emails seen by BuzzFeed News decrying the use of face masks, minimizing the seriousness of the coronavirus, and encouraging employees to protect themselves from the virus by taking a drug that has not been tested or recommended by mainstream health experts.

“If we’re at work, he doesn’t want us wearing a mask,” an employee said. “He says coronavirus is a hoax, more people die of the flu, and there’s no evidence it'll really hurt us.”

Let's Do the Math

Businesses can operate successfully while preventing outbreaks—but only by following broad safety measures, according to 14 mathematicians and biostatisticians who published their findings in Frontiers in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. Their recommendations: 1. Social distancing 2. Robust sanitation of high-touch and shared spaces 3. Accessible COVID-19 tests for symptomatic or exposed workers 4. A policy for case reporting and quarantine 5. A work-from-home policy for as many employees as is feasible 6. Mask, glove, and goggle wearing when not alone, along with frequent handwashing 7. Fever scanning 8. 30% lower working hours to lower exposure 9. Quality ventilation equipment When running the numbers for a large company, three scenarios were considered: • No safety measures: Workers die; the company does not. The company’s infection rates rose to 30 times the U.S. rate with a catastrophic number of deaths, though profits remained high. • All safety measures: The company remained over 100 times below the U.S. infection rate, and profits remained high and stable. • Some safety measures: Good news! When a company follows measures No. 1-No. 6, removing only the most expensive measures (No. 7- No. 9), results are notably similar to all-safety-measures option.

The Power of Books

Almost every night at bedtime, I open a book. I am currently reading "Lawrence in Arabia" by Scott Anderson. It's about the Arab Revolt against the Turks during World War I and the role that T.E. Lawrence played in it. Why it matters: Books can reduce stress; reading for just six minutes can reduce your stress levels by up to 68 percent. Books can slow cognitive aging; compared to non-readers , readers experience a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline in their later years. Books can even change your brain, at least over the short-term: For up to five days after, reading can heighten connectivity in areas of the brain responsible for language and sensation. Smarter, less stressed, better brain functioning: What small business owner can't benefit from that trifecta? And then there's this: A 2018 study of over 160,000 adults in 31 countries found that the more books were present in participants' childhood homes, the more proficient they are as adults in literacy, math, and using technology to both communicate and gather and analyze information.

The Riches of This Land

In his new book, “The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True Story of America’s Middle Class,” New York Times reporter Jim Tankersley challenges the “whitewashed, ‘Leave It to Beaver’ tale that so many people have been led to believe” about the post-World War II economic boom.

Tankersley, who covers economic and tax policy for The Times, lays out a compelling argument: Economic progress for immigrants, women and Blacks is essential to the overall health of the American economy.

"I hope that it’s both enlightening and challenging. And, perhaps, hopeful," Tankersley said. "The basic idea is that reducing discrimination in the American economy is what really got us the prolonged middle-class boom of the postwar era.

"The research says that 40 percent of post-1960 growth in this country came from breaking down occupational barriers for women of all races and for Black men. If we could break down the barriers for women and Americans of color to advance, get good jobs and be paid what they’re worth, we can unleash another productivity boom, which I know is something that Wall Street loves to contemplate."

On the racial injustice protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Tankersley has a contrarian take.

"I think the protests, more than any other development in the last couple of months, have given me economic hope for America. The protests have forced an increasingly large share of white Americans to acknowledge the degree to which systemic racism still exists. Recognition of a problem is always the first step toward policy. That gives me some hope that we can have another middle-class resurgence in our country."

What We're Reading and Watching

How Hollywood accidentally built Netflix Vox

The Last of the Zoroastrians The Guardian

Fear of a Black Uprising The New Republic

That Time a Toxic PowerPoint Helped Kill 7 Astronauts Inc.

The Good Son The Atlantic

Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs Picking John Hardy (Above)