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Top News Links: Monday, Dec. 19

Round House closes in Opelika amid fraud allegations

The Round House, a downtown Opelika headquarters for startup businesses that touted itself as an innovation center seeking investment capital and high-tech enterprises, closed last week as an operating entity. Its owner, meanwhile, has become the target of misconduct allegations revolving around unpaid debts, and an in-depth investigation into his background revealed that he has a criminal record as a convicted felon for previous business misdeeds. The allegations regarding Round House owner Kyle Sandler surfaced publicly after multiple sources alerted the Opelika-Auburn News during the week. – OANow

Navy boosts Austal with renewed LCS order

Alabama-based defense shipbuilder Austal was given a boost Friday after the U.S. Navy announced that it would aim to expand its fleet from 308 ships to 355, one of the largest expansions in the last 30 years. The Force Structure Assessment, as the plan is known, called for the Pentagon to ensure the Navy received 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) rather than the reduced amount of 40 that outgoing Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered in a Dec. 2015 memo to the Navy. – AL.com

Once bountiful, state’s Christmas tree farms now sparse

When Frank Wadsworth was given 2,000 Virginia pine trees in 1976, he had no idea what that gift would grow into. At the time, the Christmas tree industry was booming, Wadsworth said. There were dozens of Christmas tree farms across the state, and Auburn University was even hosting seminars on Christmas tree pruning. – AP/SF Chronicle

Ajin USA, staffing firms fined $2.5M for worker death

An Alabama automotive parts supplier for Hyundai and Kia and two staffing agencies are facing a collective $2.5 million in fines after the horrifying death of a young woman. The U.S. Department of Labor Wednesday announced that Ajin USA, Alliance Total Solutions and Joynus Staffing Corp. were cited for 27 safety violations after 20-year-old bride-to-be Regina Elsea was crushed to death inside a robotic machine at the Ajin facility in Cusseta. – WKRN/WIAT

Gwendolyn Boyd reacts to firing at Alabama State

Former Alabama State University President Gwendolyn Boyd says she wishes her alma mater the best despite being fired. The school's Board of Trustees voted 8-6 late Friday to terminate her contract, citing her "failure to maintain the confidence of the board." Boyd told WSFA-TV that she felt her administration was moving in the right direction. Hired in 2013, Boyd was suspended at a Nov. 4 meeting called to discuss the budget. – AP/TimesDaily

Daimler CEO shrugs off Trump effect on European companies

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche does not expect Donald Trump to favor U.S. automakers over their European counterparts. Zetsche shrugged off concerns over the president-elect's protectionist rhetoric during his campaign. "I find it hard to believe that it would come to punitive tariffs," Zetsche told Bild am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday, adding he did not expect any negative consequences for Daimler's U.S. factory in Alabama. – Automotive News

It’s all happening today at America’s First Fed

America’s First Federal Credit Union will be the presenting sponsor for the 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 21-23 at Barber Motorsports Park. To kick off this sponsorship, today beginning at 10 a.m., America’s First members can ride in a specially designed Indy car at the Vestavia branch location.  WJOX will broadcast live from the branch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Light refreshments and beverages will be served. – News release

November unemployment rate at 5.9 percent

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced today that Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted November unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, up from October’s rate of 5.7 percent, and below November 2015’s rate of 6.2 percent. – Cherokee County Herald

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