The Wire

  • Cagle named president of Alabama Coal Association

    Patrick Cagle has been named the new president of the Alabama Coal Association, succeeding George Barber, who has elected to retire after seven years of service to the coal group which was first formed in 1972.

    Cagle, who has worked with the association on legislative matters in the past, has more than 10 years of experience in navigating Alabama’s political landscape. As executive director of JobKeeper Alliance, a 501c(4) nonprofit whose mission is to protect and create quality jobs, he previously worked hand-in-hand with the coal industry to oppose onerous, job-killing regulations.

    Cagle and his wife, Molly, have a 15-month-old son, Bankston. They are active members at Church of the Highlands. Cagle is an avid outdoorsman and a member of the Conservation Advisory Board, which assists the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources with the formation of hunting and fishing regulations.

  • Don’t call $1K in tax cut savings ‘crumbs’ — U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer

    U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) delivered a speech on the House floor today about how tax reform has impacted Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.

  • Fatal deer disease would impact more than hunters in Alabama — Montgomery Advertiser

    Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease affecting deer; mule and whitetail deer, elk and moose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. It is fatal to animals that contact the disease, there is no vaccine, the CDC says.

    And it’s getting closer to Alabama.

    “The economic impact, of course, is huge,” Sykes said. “Hunting is a major part of the economy in rural areas of Alabama. And hunting is a huge part of the culture in Alabama. It is a part of the fabric of so many people’s lives.”

    Land values will likely be the first indicator of bad news if CWD comes to the state, said Jeff Roberts, a real estate agent who sells hunting land in the Black Belt.

    “For farmers and landowners, leasing the hunting rights to their places is a huge secondary income for many,” he said. “If CWD comes to Alabama, the land values are going to go into the basement. I’ve had clients turn their backs on absolutely beautiful hunting tracts when they found out feral hogs were on the property. You can imagine what CWD would do to spook buyers.”

11 hours ago

Peggy Sutton is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Peggy Sutton did not start out wanting to create a powerhouse food business. She just wanted to eat like her grandparents did.

Sutton, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, planted grains at her home in Fitzpatrick about 15 years ago and waited for them to sprout. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people made flour from spouted grains, not from crops harvested with a combine.

Sutton soaked the grains in mason jars in 2005, dried them and then ground them into flour with a small mill in her home.

“I was blown away by the taste,” she told in 2015. “It was so good, and I was hooked. And to me, that’s actually the most important thing.”


The real benefit, the secret to Sutton’s commercial success, were the health features. She told that flour from sprouted grains preserves vitamins and minerals that are eliminated in modern farming. Those nutrients produce naturally fortified flour.

At first, Sutton tried to spread the gospel of sprouted grains, but friends and relatives asked Sutton if she could just make the grains for them. She did, and To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. was born, according to the company’s website. More than a decade later, Sutton’s idea has grown into a business that produces more than 3.6 million organic whole-grain sprouted flour a year and is the largest supplier of organic sprouted flours in the world.

The production moved from her home kitchen to a commercial kitchen inside a barn in 2006 and four years later moved up to a 7,200-square-foot facility. The company added a second facility in 2013 and expanded again in 2015. To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. employs more than 30 people and ships grains, flours, legumes, seeds, nuts and other snacks to 14 different countries.

Sutton touts the not-too-subtle differences between her flour and the products on sale at the local supermarket.

“It’s the difference between eating a tomato and a potato,” she told Alabama Power’s Alabama NewsCenter last year. “Sprouted flour tastes better, is easier to digest, has more enzymes and is just more nutritious than regular flour.”

Sutton did not just luck into the business. She had spent three decades working in marketing and management positions in Montgomery, Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia. She returned home to Fitzpatrick, a rural community south of Montgomery, to take a job as director of the Alabama Hospice Organization.

Then, the flour business started to take off. Orders grew so fast that she decided to stop making baked goods and concentrate full time on producing flours. It was a call from Whole Foods that kicked the business to a different level. The chain grocery store wanted 10,000 pounds.

“At that time, we were only making about 1,000 pounds a week, but I knew we could do it,” she told Alabama NewsCenter. “Unfortunately, we live at the end of a dirt road, and the trucks couldn’t get in to pick up all that flour. So we had to expand.”

Sutton’s business even has landed her picture on the back of Kashi cereal boxes. She told This is Alabama last year that Kellogg’s, which makes the organic cereal, contacted her in 2014 and decided to use her image after hearing her company’s homegrown story and coming away impressed with the quality of the grain.

“I told my husband, it’s not the front of the Wheaties box, but I’m not complaining!” Sutton told the website.

Sutton will be honored with Gov. Kay Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

Deborah Edwards Barnhart is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center may teach visitors about space vehicles that defy gravity, but for its CEO and Executive Director Deborah Edwards Barnhart, the center itself has proved gravitational – pulling her into its orbit several times throughout her four-decade career.

Barnhart, who will this month be honored as a Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, began working in public affairs and marketing at the Space and Rocket Center in the early 1970s when she was in her final year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, according to a 2012 U.S. army article detailing her background.


After some time away, she returned to manage publicity when the center added the space shuttle.

“That’s when I became interested in satellites,” Barnhart told reporter Kari Hawkins. “At that time, the Navy was in charge of all satellite programs. My father had been a Navy Seabee in World War II and my brother attended the Naval Academy. So, at the age of 27, I joined the Navy to work on satellites.”

Barnhart would serve 26 years in the military — achieving the rank of Navy captain and becoming one of the first 10 women certified to serve aboard Navy ships — before returning to the Space and Rocket Center in 1986 to serve as the director of Space Camp and Space Academy.

She went on to hold leadership roles in three major aerospace and defense companies including Honeywell International, United Technologies Aerospace and McDonnell Douglas. She also raised two children and earned graduate degrees from the University of Maryland and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in strategy and supervision from Vanderbilt University.

Barnhart had retired from Honeywell and moved to Florida, where she did consulting and owned and managed two thoroughbred training centers, when she was recruited to take her fourth role at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center – this time as its CEO.

Since taking the position in 2010, Barnhart is credited with restoring the center’s financial health after it struggled for years with a staggering amount of debt racked up in the late 1990s.

Last year, the center saw an 11 percent increase in revenue and an 18 percent increase in camp revenue, as well as all-time record attendance, helping it maintain its spot as Alabama’s top attraction, according to a 2017 annual report.

“The Center is financially sound, engaged with our community, and focused on our mission of lighting the fires of imagination,” Barnhart wrote in the report.

Nearly 16 million people have toured the center since it opened in 1970. It is the largest spaceflight museum in the world.

Barnhart received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest non-government recognition, and last October she was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor, along with Gov. Kay Ivey and two other women (the first time a class of inductees has all been female).

Barnhart will again be honored with Gov. Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

VIDEO: Advocate against sex trafficking, porn interviewed on Living Life on Purpose

In this episode of Executive Lion’s Living Life On Purpose, Matt Wilson and Andrew Wells sit down with Melea Stephens, a Christian Counselor at Wellspring Christian Clinic in Vestavia Hills and an advocate against sex trafficking and pornography to discuss the effects these issues have on our society. This gripping episode tackles tough situations that are happening all around us and what we can do to help.


Stephens has been a successful counselor for many years in private practice and through her work with couples, she is working to shed light on root issues that lead to problems in life, marriage, and emotional and physical health. Stephens volunteers to fight against sex trafficking and is active in making people aware of the crimes and hurt that takes place as people view porn.


— Melea has used her faith and experience to go after root causes of the issues she helps people battle on a daily basis. She is trying to eradicate the evil practices that lead to some behaviors that cripple relationships and cause all sorts of issues.

— God can shine light on a situation and you can see it as though you have never seen it before, then he can put the cause on your heart and allow you to make a positive difference.

— Sometimes we have to have tough conversations about uncomfortable topics in order to solve problems. We can’t just sweep certain things under the rug and pretend as though they don’t exist.

Learn more about this critical issue and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation here.

(What do you think of this issue? Start a conversation with your family and friends on social media)

2 days ago

Bobwhite quail enthusiasts tour Alabama black belt

The bobwhite quail opportunities in the Alabama Black Belt were put under intense scrutiny recently. As expected, the Black Belt quail experience received nothing but praise.

Alabama Black Belt Adventures and sponsors hosted representatives of Quail Forever and the outdoors media for a grand tour of the quail hunting in the Alabama area famous for its rich, dark topsoil and abundant wildlife.

The tour started at Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs, followed by a day of hunting at High Log Creek Farm and Hunting Preserve near Hurtsboro. Great Southern Outdoors Plantation in Union Springs entertained the group with dinner prepared by Iron Chef winner David Bancroft. Another award-winning chef, Chris Hastings, prepared one day’s lunch for the hunters at Gusto Plantation in Lowndes County. A trip to the Boggy Hollow Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Conecuh National Forest was included in the tour.


Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, said the programs he represents have three main purposes.

“We’re a habitat organization with three enduring strategies,” Vincent said. “We raise dollars, and we drive them in the ground. We do advocacy in Washington, D.C., typically on the Farm Bill. We are the face of the Conservation Reserve Program. And then we do education and outreach – how do we introduce more youth into the outdoors and shooting sports and hunting sports? How do we generate the next conservationists? That’s what we do every single day.

“The unique feature of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever is the local chapters raise money, and then they retain control of that money. We just started a new chapter in Alabama, the Alabama Black Belt chapter in Union Springs. That makes six chapters in Alabama right now.”

Vincent and many of his Alabama excursion companions are based in Minnesota. Therefore, they enjoyed a break from the February cold up north and were treated to one of our main traditions.

“In Alabama, we learned that Southern hospitality is no cliché – it’s the absolute truth,” Vincent said. “Pam (Swanner of Alabama Black Belt Adventures) pulled all of this together. It was seamless. The Quail Forever team couldn’t be more proud to be down here to learn. We look forward to working together.”

To cap the week focused on Alabama quail, about 100 guests gathered at the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) NaturePlex in Millbrook to hear a presentation by Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Fla., where the bobwhite quail is one of the main focal points in its Game Bird Program.

Tim Gothard, AWF Executive Director, introduced Palmer and said interest in bobwhite quail restoration is as high as he has seen it in his 25 years in conservation.

“I don’t know that we have all the answers to make quail like they were in the 40s and 50s and 60s, but the interest in quail has really not waned,” Gothard said. “That is really the impetus for this event and the landowners we’ve talked with through the years. We knew that interest was still vibrant.”

Palmer, who has been at Tall Timbers ( for 21 years, agrees with Gothard’s assessment.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are really passionate about returning quail to the landscape, returning fire to the landscape,” Palmer said. “This is probably the most difficult conservation issue that the nation has faced. It’s a really tough turnaround for bobwhites.”

Palmer said Georgia is a perfect example of what has happened to quail populations and quail hunting over the years.

In 1961, 142,000 hunters harvested more than 3.5 million quail, likely all wild birds, in Georgia alone. By 2009, the number of hunters had shrunk to 22,000 and the number of birds taken was a little more than 800,000. The telling number, however, is that 97 percent of the birds taken in 2009 were pen-raised.

“That is a real shocking statistic,” Palmer said. “It’s just mind-boggling that millions of wild quail were shot just 50 years ago, and we no longer have those numbers.

“We’ll never go back to the 60s and 70s. That’s just not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have significant success and significant opportunities for young folks to enjoy our wild bird hunting again.”

Palmer said a variety of issues have been blamed for the decline of wild quail populations including land use, predators and even fire ants.

Tall Timbers’ research indicates it’s the lack of fire that is likely the main factor in the quail’s demise.

“The loss of fire in the South, the stamping out of fire in the South, is largely the reason for quail decline, frankly,” he said. “The idea that people were burning the South for fun. They were burning the South because they were bored. There was a strong federal and university effort to stamp out fire in the South. We bit into it. The nation bit into it, and we’ve got to dig out of that problem.”

Palmer said the evidence in the burn frequency in tree-ring studies (dendrochronology) shows that fire happened frequently.

“If you look at pre-settlement basis, the landscape was burned on about a two-year fire frequency. The South was burned. The Native Americans were burning in the West. The Native Americans were burning in the Northeast. That’s the bottom line.”

However, prescribed fire cannot be applied indiscriminately or it will adversely impact the quail habitat.

“There are more than a million acres of prescribed fire in this region,” Palmer said. “Probably no other area in the country burns as much as we do here. It’s up to us to make sure 25 years down the road there is more fire, and it’s safely and wisely used.

“On public lands, it hasn’t been as successful for one main reason – the scale of fire. When you burn on a 100-acre scale you have very normal breeding season survival. When you burn on a 1,000-acre scale, survival is half that amount. That population can’t grow. It’s going to go down or stay flat.”

Tall Timbers set up different plots, starting in 1962, that were burned by prescribed fire on different frequencies. Plots were burned every year, every two years, every three years and never.

“By the time you get to three years, you’ve lost your quail habitat,” Palmer said. “By the time you get to unburned, which is most of the Southeast these days, you’ve really lost your quail habitat. It’s great Cooper’s hawk habitat, but it’s not good quail habitat.”

Palmer said quality quail habitat includes pine or oak savannas, prescribed fire every two years, reasonable timber density and good ground cover. Predation management and supplemental feeding can also increase annual quail survival.

Translocation of wild birds is another technique Palmer discussed that has proven to be successful.

“What can we do to expand wild bird populations?” he asked. “Translocation is a key factor in that. Our research shows it’s a very viable technique. If you moved birds to a site, if the habitat was there and predators were managed, the quail did just as good or better than the site they came from.”

In the past few years, Tall Timbers has moved more than 2,000 quail to different sites around the Southeast. Alabama was the first state to work with Tall Timbers on relocation efforts.

“That’s from 50 to 100 birds per site,” Palmer said. “That adds up to a lot of landowners who had no hope, who, all of a sudden, are investing in wild quail management because they have a chance to build a population relatively quickly. We’re really focused, with our partners, on expanding our impact. Leveraging our translocation project is a big deal on both public and private land.”

Palmer said other than supporting groups like AWF and Quail Forever, those who wish to see the return of wild quail should contact their elected officials.

“Encourage your representatives to increase funding for prescribed fire,” he said. “This is key. We need to increase ecological management on public lands. And we need focal areas on public lands.”

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has such a focal area in the Boggy Hollow WMA, which is being converted into bobwhite quail habitat through selective timber thinning and more frequent, smaller prescribed burns. These efforts will encourage the growth of native grasses and forbs to provide opportunity for an increase in the current bobwhite population.

“We’re doing call counts on 22 WMAs; we’re doing habitat work on WMAs,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes, who managed a quail plantation for seven years earlier in his career. “The Division recently purchased property where a portion is dedicated to quail. We are working on Boggy Hollow in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

“We know what it takes. Give us a little bit of time. Partner with us and I can assure we can get things done. We have people in place. We have projects in place. Boggy Hollow is going to be a good thing.”

(Image: A covey of quail flush at High Log Creek on a recent tour of Alabama Black Belt quail-hunting opportunities — David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

4 days ago

WATCH: Cam Newton’s leadership message resonates with Boy Scouts

When Cam Newton speaks, people listen.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback had the full attention of the audience at the 11th annual American Values Luncheon.

Boy Scouts were among attendees that filled the meeting room at the North Exhibition Hall of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.


Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn joined Newton during a question and answer session. Famous for leading the Auburn Tigers to the 2010 National Championship under Malzahn’s leadership, Newton’s talk followed in the tradition of several other football greats, including Nick Saban, Shaquille O’Neal and Bo Jackson.

Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Jesse Lewis Sr. and Jimmy Rane were honored at the luncheon for their contributions to the community.

Newton shared his life experiences and lessons learned.

(Courtesy Alabama News Center)

4 days ago

Nancy Collat Goedecke is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Nancy Collat Goedecke is a powerhouse not just in the business world, but the philanthropic sphere, as well.

She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact.


Goedecke, who serves as CEO of Mayer Electric Supply in Birmingham, became the first-ever woman to chair the United Way of Central Alabama fundraising campaign in 2015. Under her leadership, the charity raised $38.8 million, about $600,000 more than the previous year.

Business and philanthropy both run in the family. Her grandfather, Ben Weil, founded Mayer Electric Supply in 1930, and her parents took over the business in 1979. Their philanthropy includes $25 million in contributions to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business, which took on the name Collat School of Business in 2013.

“I grew up watching my mom and dad give back to the community — first with their time, and then with their money and their time,” Goedecke told in 2015.

Goedecke told the website that she recalled her parents going door to door soliciting donations for the United Way. Community service, she said, is “just in my DNA.”

Goedecke worked her way up the company, starting with summer jobs in high school. After college, she worked as a sales associate in Tampa, Florida, before returning to Birmingham. She became vice chairwoman of the board in 2005 and chairwoman and CEO three years later.

The UAB Commission on the Status of Women honored Goedecke as one of seven Outstanding Women for 2015.

The list of Goedecke’s charitable activities is long. In addition to the United Way, she has supported the Collat School of Business and has contributed to the school’s Women and Infants Center. She has volunteered with the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama and Pathways of Birmingham. She has led more than a dozen fundraising campaigns, including the YWCA, the American Red Cross and Collat Jewish Family Services.

“You know how they say, you give a busy person something to do and they find a way to do it?” she told “I don’t waste a lot of time.”

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

5 days ago

How Opelika became Alabama’s gold standard for small-town downtown revitalization

You know the place – a dominant courthouse, a few oak trees, a park and a few businesses with storefronts along a sidewalk that is sheltered by awnings. Perhaps there is a post office, two or three churches, a museum or a library. Throw in a handful of offices, a diner or a coffee shop, and you have a small town downtown district.

They are scattered all throughout Alabama and serve as the primary junction in places like Eufaula, Ozark, Demopolis, Winfield, and Cullman. Some are weathering hard times as commerce has shifted beyond downtown to lower cost outposts along the highways—like the Walmart Supercenter or malls with Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.


Welcome to Opelika

In East Central Alabama’s Lee County, the city of Opelika is reversing that trend and making downtown the place to be. Opelika, a city with a population pushing 30,000, has a traditional, small-town Alabama downtown, but with a railroad corridor and two adjacent avenues at its northern boundary.

Opelika is often overshadowed by its sister city Auburn to the west with its well-known university and status as a destination during college football season. But with an economy that has benefitted from the presence of nearby Auburn University, Opelika has started a different trend and is growing from within by revitalizing its downtown.

Long-time Opelika resident Glenn Buxton, a 50-year veteran of the radio business who now serves as the director of the local museum, explains how Opelika resurgence has become noticeable in just the last several years.

“Even as late as 2010, there was nothing going on downtown until they started revitalizing the downtown restaurants,” he said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “Now, there are people living downtown. You got all the restaurants. The parking lots are filled all the way up to where we are even at night. You have a lot of activities going on.”

“From 2009 back, you could take a rock and throw it down that street and not hit anybody,” Buxton added. “And of course, a lot of the stores were in bad shape.”

After 5 p.m. on weekdays and the entire weekend, activity ceases in many a downtown. After working hours, people migrate out to their homes on the edge of town, out in the country and away from the blocks surrounding the courthouse square.

That trend had reversed for Opelika. While many of its establishments close shop after business hours, there are also businesses that start the day around the same time. Restaurants, bars, a brewery and now a distillery maintain the downtown’s pulse late into the night hours.

A decades-long process

Getting to this point was a gradual process that goes back decades. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller estimates the first steps took place under his predecessor former Mayor Bobby Freeman in the mid-1990s. Freeman’s successor Mayor Barbara Patton continued the effort, and the transformation is still taking place today.

“Toward the end of [Freeman’s] term, we started our first streetscape project,” Fuller explained to Yellowhammer News. “It was Courthouse Square, where the fountain is. Then we did some other streetscape downtown. We did a couple of blocks – underground utilities, landscape, new sidewalks. And then when I got here in 2004, we did several more streetscapes projects.”

What happened next Fuller suggests was something of an attitude adjustment by the downtown business owners. Initially, he explained the attitude seemed to be the businesses were downtown were something of a hobby for their owners. However, once they realized these businesses could be profitable, things started to change.

“We had some entrepreneurs come in,” he said. “They wanted to make some money. They were motivated by profit. They had a mortgage. They had a car payment. They had children in college. They wanted to make some money, so that changed that business atmosphere. So then, we got these great restaurants.”

The Marsh Collective

Fuller says the Irish Bred Pub, an establishment on the edge of the downtown district by the railroad, sparked his downtown’s resurgence.

The Irish Bred Pub (not to be confused with its franchise in Montgomery on Dexter Avenue that started that downtown’s revitalization) replaced an old drug store. The two-story gastropub has a balcony that wraps around a street corner and has an interior that is outfitted with mahogany to give a classic look.

Fuller credits local developer John Marsh the Irish Bred Pub’s interior and many of the other revitalized elements in Opelika.

Marsh, who Fuller describes as a “young entrepreneur,” is the owner of J Marsh Enterprises, Inc., a company that is in the business of—as Marsh would say—redemptifying historic spaces.

“We’ve done 185-plus houses and buildings and ten blocks, so we’ve dedicated a good portion of the last 20 years to redeeming this small patch of ground,” Marsh said. “I grew up in Opelika. It’s been my home for about 30 years, and we believe there is something powerful about redeeming cities. So we’ve renovated all these downtown buildings and residential houses in an effort to make a difference.

“We believe that when you save historic structures, it makes a generational difference,” he added. “We know that Opelika’s blessed with some great historic structures. In fact, it’s our Mount Rushmore in so many ways. It’s something unique for us to have the type of historic downtown we have with historic districts that are in such beautiful condition.”

Marsh said his 50-year vision for Opelika has opened up other opportunities for his business, which include Stanford, Ky., Winter Haven, Fla., Bloomfield, Ky. and Albany, Ga.

“We believe it is such a huge part of our opportunity to have Opelika flourish for the next 50 years,” he added. “That’s our dream. How do we help our city flourish for the next 50 years? We learned that by slowly doing the work, and we stored a huge vision we have for our downtown and for this area. Then secondly, it opened up the door for us to help cities all around America. We have seven cities that have different patrons with portfolios of up to $100 million that we helped through our consulting company that we helped steward whole towns.”

Critics of downtown revitalization projects cry gentrification, wherein the city improvements attract more affluent patrons and residents, with the effect of displacing lower-income people. Marsh says that is a faulty label for his efforts.

“People say, ‘Well, is this gentrification?’” he said. “We kind of coined our own word. We say, ‘No, we do redemptification.’ And that’s the creative work of redeeming a place to its intending beauty or glory. We have a different mindset about this type of work, and we paid the price over 25 years to learn with our own money.”

Marsh seeks to break the cycle of cookie-cutter development, which has plagued a lot of places in Alabama – strip malls with chain restaurants that offer a near-identical experience, be it in Tulsa, Okla. or Lakeland, Fla.

“Opelika has got a bright future – smart folks trying to do good work in the world and uniqueness,” he said. “Nobody ever goes to a city and says, ‘I had the most amazing dinner. I went to this town.’ ‘How was it?’ ‘Well, it was Ruby Tuesday’s.’ Nobody says that. We only celebrate uniqueness and to be honest with you, that’s one of the benefits of downtown Opelika. It’s not loaded with a bunch of chains that have the same experience as anywhere else in America.”

The formula

As Fuller had said, the business owners’ attitudes have a lot to do with the character of the downtown. Marsh says the first ingredient to set that tone is the culinary offerings.

“That’s in the hearts of the people that are running the businesses,” he said. “Businesses – you reproduce who you are, not what you want. Those are the operators who are creating. We realize food is powerful. Most town revitalization, we always start with food.”

“We know we can get people to drive through the worst part of town for good barbecue,” he added.  “Food moves people. We use food as the primary starting point for building communities.”

The other elements beyond food he says are the overnight stay options, the specialty shops and retail and the residential component.

“We think we can bring people in from one gas tank away,” Marsh explained.

Beverage attractions

Two of downtown Opelika’s “unique” offerings, the John Emerald Distilling Company and the Red Clay Brewing Company, are side by side on the north edge of the city’s downtown.

The John Emerald Distilling Company is a father-son team that released its first whiskey in 2015. That was a historic occasion given Alabama’s embrace of prohibition long before the rest of the country.

“They distilled the first legal whiskey made in Alabama since before prohibition,” Mayor Fuller explained. “Alabama, and we’re the only state capable of this, we declared prohibition five years before the federal [government] did. I’m sure the bootleggers helped promote that, them and the preachers – but they make whiskey.”

Fuller also touted Red Clay Brewing, which he praised as one of Opelika’s big draws.

“Next door to that is Red Clay Brewing,” he continued. “Both of those are attractions. Folks come in and want to go to the tasting room, and it just draws people downtown.”

More development to come

Fuller anticipates the city will continue its role in downtown revitalization, just as it had when it started decades earlier.

“We’d like to extend our streetscapes – take it a few more blocks in town to go to the underground wiring, redo the sidewalks, landscape, and so I suspect we’ll be doing some more of that.”

Currently, Fuller says there are a handful of downtown loft apartments that he highly recommends as nice and convenient.

“I want to tell you – I’ve been in a couple of those lofts. My wife and I could live there just like that,” he said.

Fuller, a four-term mayor, said he would like to see more residential offerings, perhaps in the form of a condo development.

“I can see in the coming years we’re going to see more and more of it,” Fuller said. “I’d love to see somebody find a nice piece of property downtown and put some kind of nice condo development, maybe with some underground parking and maybe with some retail on the ground floor.”

Lacking in Opelika’s downtown portfolio are hotel options. Aside from the Golden Cherry Motel, made famous by the 1979 Academy Award-nominated film “Norma Rae” and has seen better days, and the Heritage House Bed & Breakfast, most of Opelika’s lodging accommodations are away from downtown. They are around exits off of nearby I-85, or north of town near the city’s much-celebrated Grand National golf courses, part of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones golf trail.

Marsh told Yellowhammer there is a plan in place to change that.

“We’re in the process of putting together an 88-room boutique hotel,” he said.

Marsh explained the entire effort had been a learning process through trial and error, which he indicated has made his business better positioned for the future.

“We have our heart and life invested in 10 blocks,” he explained. “We believe that we’re stewards of that place and we have to do a good job and make a difference for the people that live there. We want everyone in Opelika to flourish. That’s a pretty big order.”

Marsh predicted there would be “a lot more” over the next two years.

“People don’t want to drive as much,” he said. “They want to have fast Internet, good shipping and walkable to all the things they need, and a good quality of life. If we can provide that, I think Opelika has a unique – probably the most unique downtown, properly located to the I-85 corridor between Atlanta and Montgomery. I don’t think there’s any downtown that is better located with distance to the Interstate and inventory of historic buildings. Hopefully soon, with offerings – we have more restaurants and hospitality concepts and all of that coming. You’re going to see a lot more within the next 24 months.”

Jeff Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and works as the editor of Breitbart TV. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_poor.

(Top image: View of Downtown Opelika, Ala. from Railroad Ave. facing south — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Dr. Patti Dare is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Alabamians who live in Huntsville know it’s not unusual for their neighbors, friends and other folks they meet around town to have the letters Ph.D behind their names and work in engineering, defense, tech and science fields that have helped the city earn its reputation as the smartest city in Alabama.

One of those Huntsville-area Ph.Ds is Patti Dare of Boeing, who earned her doctorate in chemistry from the University of South Florida. She now leads global sales and marketing for the company’s Strategic Deterrent Systems business, which includes its Minuteman programs, the Boeing Guidance Repair Center, Ground Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD), and other intercontinental ballistic missile efforts, according to the company.

Dare, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, led the successful campaign to win one of the two government contracts awarded this past August to design and develop the next generation of ICBMs to replace the Minuteman system.


The project has brought hundreds of new jobs to Alabama and will continue to grow over the projected 50-year life of the program, according to company materials.

“I am so humbled and honored to have the opportunity to help protect our nation and lead this campaign … which will bring high wage, high tech, clean industry jobs to Alabama,” Dare said in a statement about the contract. “This mission is so critical to our generation and the generations to come – we need to get the best capability into the warfighter’s hands as quickly as possible and affordably. I am up for the challenge with this very talented government, Boeing and industry team.”

Dare’s diverse industry experience at various corporations is an asset, considering her responsibilities include “leveraging capabilities, expertise and resources” not just within Boeing but across the industry, according to a company bio.

Before joining Boeing, Dare was chief operating officer for Davidson Technologies, where she was responsible for programs in missiles, aerospace, cybersecurity and intelligence markets, as well as company growth and overall strategic vision.

Dare also served as a program director at Lockheed Martin, and among other achievements and responsibilities she was “responsible for the design, build, test and launch of targets and countermeasures supporting the Missile Defense Agency with 100% mission success,” the bio says.

Dare began her career at Honeywell International as a senior materials engineer and progressed to the positions of program manager for missile activities and business development manager for missiles and interceptors and special programs.

Dare credits her successful career trajectory to education, setting high goals and the people who helped her along the way.

“I had great mentors, coaches, people willing to take a chance on me, and an awesome support structure with family and friends,” Dare told Yellowhammer News. “I was very blessed having an encouraging and supportive family.”

Dare was born in Ohio and was the middle child between two brothers in a family that moved frequently for her father’s career.

When asked about leading as a woman in her industry, Dare said she’s learned some important lessons.

“Focus on the mission and the positive,” she said. “You need to gain respect. Relationships and communication are key. Asking for help is okay. Be yourself. Little things can make a big difference, and it’s not always about you or your career.”

Dare, who serves on the board for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation and on the University of Alabama in Huntsville engineering board, said the best life and work advice she could give is to try to find work-life balance, to mentor and help others, and to address problems “head-on.”

“Find things that make you happy,” she said. “Take time to think and reflect, find people you admire, respect and want to learn from, and share your lessons learned.”

Dare will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

6 days ago

Terry Lathan is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

In three years as chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, Terry Lathan has presided over a party that dominates state politics.

Under her supervision in 2016, the party delivered a landslide victory for President Donald Trump in the Heart of Dixie.


The electoral success, however, masks the fact that Lathan’s tenure has been challenging. She has had to deal with scandals not of her own making that touched all three branches of state government and decide how to navigate various allegations of disloyalty against GOP primary candidates.

And, of course, she watched as Democrat Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) became the first Democrat in a generation to win a U.S. Senate seat.

Lathan seemed clear-eyed about the difficulties — and potential rewards — when she launched her bid to lead the party in 2014.

“I look forward to this challenge and am excited about the opportunity to assist you and Republican voters as a servant of conservative causes,” she wrote in a letter to party faithful at the time.

Few party leaders have been better-prepared than Lathan, a 2018 Yellohammer Woman of Impact. Forming one half of a Republican power couple, along with Mobile County contractor and longtime GOP activist Jerry Lathan, Terry Lathan has spent decades toiling in the trenches.

Before her election as chairwoman, she had spent a quarter century on the Alabama Republican Executive Committee. She also led the Mobile County Republican Party and served in eight different leadership positions.

A veteran of seven Republican National Conventions, Lathan received the Mobile County Republican Party Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and shared the 2004 Alabama Republican of the Year award with her husband.

Much of Lathan’s time has been spent trying to put out fires. In January 2016, she guided the party’s executive committee to pass a resolution calling on House Speaker Mike Hubbard — then under indictment on corruption charges — to step down from his leadership role. Lathan said in a news release at the time that the Legislature needed “full time focused attention on the people’s business.”

Fifteen months later, the state party called on then-Gov. Robert Bentley to resign amid allegations that he abused his office by hiding an affair with an adviser.

But Lathan and the Executive Committee stuck with Senate nominee Roy Moore last year after allegations that he had inappropriate contact with young girls in the 1970s when he was a prosecutor in Etowah County.

The party under Lathan also has taken actions against candidates accused of disloyalty, barring some from the GOP primary ballots and allow others to run under the party’s banner.

Despite the challenges, though, the party has had much to crow about under Lathan’s leadership. With 60 percent of all partisan offices in the state, the Republican Party is at its highest standing in history in Alabama.

Meanwhile, the party attracted more than 867,000 votes in the GOP presidential primary in 2016. That was up 35 percent from the 2012 primary.

“Our state saw a large number of new registered voters participate for the first time in our election,” Lathan said at the time. “There is no doubt that the opportunity to take back our country from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s liberal agenda has the full attention of our citizens.”

Lathan will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Updated at 5:18 p.m. to correct an error in when Lathan’s tenure as party chairwoman began.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.


7 days ago

‘Black Panther’ star Letitia Wright: ‘I became a Christian,’ and it ‘Gave me so much love and light’

In a recent interview on London’s “This Morning,” Actress Letitia Wright, best known for her breakout role in the latest Marvel film “Black Panther,” detailed how she left her acting career to pursue God, later returning to the acting scene after she became a Christian.

“It gave me so much love and light within myself,” said Wright.

“I just needed to take a break from acting because I really idolized it,” stated actress Letitia Wright on “This Morning” with Eamonn Holmes, Ruth Langsford and fellow star Daniel Kaluuya. “So I came off from it, and I went on a journey to discover God and my relationship with God. And I became a Christian, and it really just gave me so much love and light within myself. And so much— And I felt secure.”


“The 24-year-old born in Guyana and raised in London plays the character Shuri, the younger teenage sister of T’Challa, or the Black Panther,” reads a piece by Katie Yoder in CatholicVote. “But before she reached that role, she traveled on a journey of faith – something she’s never kept secret.”

On the date of the record-breaking film’s release, Feb. 16, 2018, Wright praised God on Twitter, thanking “God for all of the blessings and all he has done for the @theblackpanther cast & crew!”

Below is a transcript of Letitia Wright’s comments on her faith from “This Morning”:

Eammon Holmes: “Letitia, you’re both so young, and you’ve both done so, so well. But Letitia, you thought about packing all of this in. I mean, which is really hard to believe when you look that there is your break. You look fantastic on screen there, but actually, there was a stage in your life when you thought, ‘You know what? This is not for me.’”

Letitia Wright: “Yeah. I was going through a lot, a very difficult time in my life. I just needed to take a break from acting because I really idolized it. So I came off from it, and I went on a journey to discover God and my relationship with God. And I became a Christian, and it really just gave me so much love and light within myself. And so much— And I felt secure. And I felt like I didn’t need validation from anyone else or from getting a part. My happiness wasn’t dependent on that. It was dependent on my relationship with God.”

Holmes: “Because as an actress, you are judged …”

Wright: “Yes, you are.”

Holmes: “… all the time …”

Wright: “Criticized.”

Holmes: “… by producers – yes – by social media.”

Ruth Langsford: “And did that help, that break? Have you come back to acting thinking, ‘I love my work. I love my job. But it doesn’t define me completely.’”

Wright: “Exactly.”

Langsford: “Yeah.”

Wright: “And I’m centered in who I am, and I’m really grateful.

“I’m not perfect, especially as a Christian, you’re not perfect, you know. But you’re walking every day and trying to just stay connected.

“And yeah, it’s helped me a lot. So I’m really grateful.”

(Image: Black Panther stars Letitia Wright – This Morning/YouTube)


Stephanie Bryan is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Did you know that the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama operates as a sovereign nation with its own government and bylaws on a hard-won official reservation near Atmore?

Seated at the top of the tribe, in its highest leadership position, is a woman who has seen her people go from poverty to prosperity in the span of just a few decades.

In 2014, Stephanie Bryan, who will this month be honored as a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, became the first female political leader elected to the position of tribal chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, descendants of a segment of Creek Indians who once inhabited most of Alabama and Georgia.

Bryan told Yellowhammer News that it is not unusual for her tribe to prize women’s leadership because historically, they have had a “matrilineal society,” meaning that children are considered descendants from their mother’s clan, not their father’s.

“Women have traditionally been involved in the decision-making process for the greater good of the Tribe,” Bryan said, which includes nearly 3,000 enrolled members. “That said, I still grew up in the 80s in the deep South in a small town and there was no easy way to develop leadership skills.”

Bryan was raised by a single mother and said, “We didn’t have much money, but we had a lot of family, a lot of love, and a lot of fun.”

“We ran barefoot in the red dirt, played stickball, an old Indian game sort of like lacrosse, and spent a lot of time on the front porch shelling peas and just talking,” Bryan said. “I loved hearing the stories from my grandmother and aunts. They were funny and strong and had a deep faith in God and the future.

Bryan said her mother “pushed her to do more” because she did not want her daughter to remain poor, and that she went on to do well in high school, start a family young and attend the nearby junior college.

Bryan worked two jobs while raising her family in federally funded tribal housing and said her work in insurance taught her about business and customer service and forced her “to read a lot of complicated documents.”

Bryan’s mother was with her when she first won the tribal chair election, but passed away before she was reelected.

“I try to honor her by doing for others what she did for me. I listen,” said Bryan, who raised three children with her husband and has 10 grandchildren.

“Something else,” she said. “When another person has a good idea, I publicly recognize it. Because when we recognize each other’s value, we force others to recognize it too, and that is when one individual’s success strengthens us all.”

Today, Bryan oversees all tribal operations, including tribal government, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), and PCI Gaming Authority (PCIGA).

The tribe’s economy has grown a stunning 1000 percent since Bryan began serving as vice-chair in 2006, according to figures from the tribe’s office.

The Poarch Creeks also said their economic impact in Alabama includes these 2016 figures:

— 9,064: Direct and indirect jobs the tribe provides in Alabama.

— $414.1 million: Spent on goods and services by tribal government, CIEDA and PCIGA.

— $298.1 million: State, local and federal income, sales and other related taxes generated by tribal government, CIEDA and PCIGA.

— $88.4 million: Paid in wages to PCIGA employees.

— $49.2 million: Contributed by the tribe in donations, charitable contributions, sponsorships and mutual aid agreements since 2013, including county drug task forces, the Huntsville Redstone Gateway nine project, fire departments, roads, buildings, hospitals, educational institutions, and many other community and government initiatives and projects.

— $25 million: Educational scholarships the PBCI have provided to tribal members and first generation descendants since 2013.

Perhaps the tribe is best known for its Wind Creek branded gaming facilities located in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, its resorts and casinos in Aruba and Curacao, and its $250 million OWA (pronounced oh- wah) complex in Foley, which includes an amusement park and was named by the Alabama Tourism Department as its 2018 attraction of the year.

Just last week, the Poarch Creeks announced another major expansion: the $1.3 billion acquisition of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvania.

“I will always stay humble, no matter how far we grow as a Tribe,” Bryan said. “…I will always remember where I come from and how blessed I have been.”

Bryan will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 weeks ago

Augusta Dowd is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Augusta Dowd disproves the conventional wisdom that taking time off to raise children spells career death in high-powered fields like the law.

Dowd, the president of the Alabama State Bar, did just that.

Dowd, honored as a Yellowhammer 2018 Woman of Impact, began practicing law at the Birmingham firm of Lange, Simpson, Robinson & Somerville after graduating from Vanderbilt University School of Law. After the birth of her third child in 1990, however, Dowd spent much of the next decade at home.

According to a biography produced by the State Bar, Dowd returned to work in 2000 at the firm that eventually became known as White Arnold & Dowd. She became managing partner when the firm restructured in 2003.

“Those who know me know how much I value relationships,” she said in a statement when she became head of the 18,110-member State Bar last summer. “One of my key impact areas for this year is to improve and solidify the relationships within our bar, the relationship between the bar and the judiciary, and the relationship between the bar and the general public we serve.”

The Birmingham native has served in a number of capacities, including the executive director of the Birmingham Bar Association’s diversity task force and on one of the association’s grievance panels and co-chairwoman of the BBA’s Grievance Committee.

She created the original course template for and led the inaugural class of the Birmingham Bar Association’s Future Leaders Forum and also spent seven years as a state bar commissioner and on the State Bar Disciplinary Committee.

From 2011 until March 2017, Dowd served on the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which investigates ethics complaints against state judges. She is a member of the Atticus Finch Society as well as a fellow of the Alabama Law Foundation.

In addition to her professional career, Dowd has devoted herself to a number of community and charitable projects, including the YWCA of Central Alabama and the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, where she has served as assistant chancellor to the bishop since 2009.

Dowd and Gov. Kay Ivey will be among 20 Alabama women honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham. Event details and registration may be found here.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.