The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

23 mins ago

Huntsville’s economic future is tied to our airport’s success

(Huntsville International Airport/Facebook)

Huntsville is one of the fastest-growing local economies in our nation.

Boosted by federal and private sector investments, our region is on a strong economic trajectory. In fact, a recent population boom has put the Rocket City on track to potentially be the largest city in Alabama in the next six years. Our airport represents a key component to continuing this trend because current and new industry considering locating to our region depend on passenger and air cargo operations that support their own operating needs. The local economy depends on our ability to connect with other communities across the globe, so Huntsville International Airport (HSV) is vital to maintain those bonds as the region’s gateway to the world.

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But similar to other airports around the country, HSV needs infrastructure investments in order to continue to be able to meet the expected flow of passengers and goods in the future. Projected growth in the area and HSV’s desire to continue to propel this region forward is why in 2012 the airport completed a major $92 million dollar terminal and landside project that included creation of a public waiting area, a new security screening checkpoint, a new baggage claim and a second parking deck. Those necessary upgrades that were a part of the 2002 Master Plan update, have improved the passenger experience and the efficiency of the airport.

Although HSV has seen many improvements and aesthetically offers visitors a very warm welcome to our community, other portions of our terminal are between 30 and 50 years old and in immediate need of improvement. As determined by HSV’s current Master Plan update, the parts of the airport’s facility that passengers use every day like our elevators, escalators, restrooms and concessions need redevelopment and expansion to keep up with demand. In addition, these anticipated terminal improvement projects are imperative to adhere to new federal standards and provide our passengers with facilities that meet their expectations like nursing rooms and pet relief areas. The aforementioned terminal improvement projects would reinvigorate HSV and set the stage for continued growth for our region for years to come.

We are grateful to Senator Shelby and our Alabama congressional delegation for recently securing significant FAA discretionary grants, however, these funds are designated for specific federal government high priority airfield projects. The previously mentioned terminal improvement projects are considered a lower priority for federal discretionary grants. Therefore, our challenge is to find funding for these necessary terminal improvement projects that are currently on hold.

The good news is that there’s a solution that doesn’t require taxpayers to foot the bill. If Congress would lift the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) — a small user fee paid only by air travelers on which airports depend to fund their infrastructure – HSV could begin this project immediately. The PFC is federally capped at a maximum of $4.50 and it hasn’t been updated in nearly 20 years, making it ineffective and inadequate to serve 21st-century airports that have experienced inflation just like everyone else. For example, HSV’s current PFC dollars are already committed through 2030. By modernizing the PFC for the first time since 2001, Congress would allow our airport to generate funding from only the people using the airport, for the project referenced above – all without a dime of taxpayer dollars.

Starting these terminal improvement projects would have a major impact on our region’s economy. On top of the tens of thousands of jobs that Alabama’s airports already support, it’s estimated that these projects would create 608 construction jobs and inject $19.1 million into the Huntsville economy via construction labor wages alone.

Some will say that we should leave the PFC alone. However, those voices fail to acknowledge that maintaining the current PFC could result in stalled growth in Huntsville. The airport has a major footprint on the local economy, with a total regional economic direct impact of 7,692 jobs equating to a payroll of $474,327,000 and a total multiplied impact of 24,293 jobs equating to a payroll of $942,828,000. Failing to upgrade our airport infrastructure could harm our economy and job growth. We have recently experienced lower fares at HSV due to the addition of two new carriers and the competition that those carriers created in the market. The improved and expanded infrastructure projects will further encourage the airlines to grow and expand, therefore modernizing the PFC can have a positive and direct impact on passenger fares.

HSV is not alone, America’s airports need nearly $130 billion in infrastructure over the next five years in order to match the demand. It sounds like a staggering number, but the number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports has doubled since 2000 to approximately one billion annually. Conversely, the PFC that pays for critical infrastructure of those airports has not increased in nearly two decades. These airports in their current state were designed for half of that traffic so it is clear that something must be done to modernize airports.

Airports across the country and organizations like Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives stand alongside numerous conservative organizations asking Congress to consider eliminating the PFC cap entirely or, raising the cap and adjusting it periodically for construction cost inflation.

There’s no doubt that Huntsville is a city on the rise. With a strong economy and a growing population, we are poised to continue to enjoy this success. HSV has always worked to provide the community with an airport that acts as an economic engine by taking proactive measures that allow for immediate and long-term growth. However, to stay on this path we must ensure that our airport is able to meet the vital needs of the growing population and business community. Modernizing the PFC isn’t just important for HSV – it’s critical for the future of our region.

Rick Tucker is the executive director at Huntsville International Airport

2 hours ago

Roby: A recap from the road

(M. Roby/Facebook)

Each year, during the month of August, Congress is out of session for a month-long district work period. This is an excellent time for me to travel throughout the Second District to hear directly from many of the people I’m honored to represent. During my recent time on the road, I made several productive stops in Enterprise, Dothan, Headland, Montgomery, Troy, Opp, Andalusia and Red Level, and I would like to take this opportunity to share what I learned.

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In Enterprise, I visited Enterprise State Community College (ESCC) with several members of my staff, and we received a very warm welcome. I received updates from ESCC President Matt Rodgers, division chairs and directors, and State Representative Rhett Marques. It was exciting to learn more about the college’s many facility improvements, as well as new programs and opportunities ranging from academics to athletics. As I told ESCC leadership, I will continue to do all I can in Congress to support their critical role in workforce development. We are certainly fortunate to have this outstanding school in the Wiregrass.

In Dothan, I had the privilege of speaking to the Associated General Contractors (AGC) during their monthly lunch meeting. We had a fantastic discussion, and I appreciated the opportunity to update the group on my committee assignments for the 116th Congress and how I will continue to fight for their priorities in Washington. AGC has been a friend to me over the years, and I am thankful for their diligent efforts to keep me informed about what’s important to their organization.

On my second stop in Dothan, I visited Key Fire Hose Industries, Inc. (KFH) to talk with company leadership and greet employees. I was truly blown away by their impressive operation designing and manufacturing hoses for firefighting, forestry, the military, agriculture industry, and more. KFH has more than 300 distributors reaching more than 70 different countries worldwide, and the company has sold a fire hose to every continent. I was glad to see the work they perform firsthand.

In Headland, I participated in a roundtable discussion with local farmers and business owners. We had a very productive conversation about some of the challenges they’re facing and how I can be helpful. I sincerely appreciate all who took the time to speak with me.

In Montgomery, I was honored to offer the keynote address at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues event. I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with friends in my hometown, and I am glad the event was a success. My next stop in Montgomery was to the Alabama Fusion Center where I received an informative update from Secretary Hal Taylor, Fusion Center Director Jay Moseley, and others. I appreciated their presentation about the important work they’re doing each day to combat human trafficking and other heinous crimes against humanity. These men and women are on the front lines fighting the terrible crimes that plague communities throughout our state, and I am tremendously grateful for their work.

In Troy, I attended Rex Lumber’s open house and was given an awesome tour of their extensive operation. Rex is one of the most technologically-advanced sawmills in the South, and I am so grateful they’ve chosen to invest in the Second District. I am looking forward to partnering with their company and others as we work to strengthen our economy and create more jobs for Alabamians.

In Opp, I visited with local leaders and small business owners. I was glad to hear directly from these hardworking folks on the ground in Covington County, and it was especially great to see my good friend, Mayor Becky Bracke.

Down the road from Opp in Andalusia, I enjoyed lunch at the Buckboard Restaurant with my friends at PowerSouth, the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and many other constituents. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to speak one-on-one with some of the people I represent, and I appreciate all who attended.

My next stop in Andalusia was to the South Alabama Regional Airport (SARA) for a tour and an update from Executive Director Jed Blackwell. SARA is a major job creator for the area, and we are fortunate to have this economic activity in our district.

Last, but certainly not least, in Red Level, I stopped by the municipal complex where I sat down with Mayor Willie Hendrix, Water Clerk Sandy Williamson and Town Clerk Tonya Cook. We discussed some of the ways we can help each other improve the lives of our shared constituency.

My time on the road during the August district work period was very productive, and it would not have been possible without the many constituents and local leaders who took the time to share their thoughts with me. Spending this valuable time with the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District enables me to better represent our shared priorities in Washington.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

3 hours ago

Commerce secretary says Alabama needs new economic development plan

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield addresses the Economic Development Association of Alabama at its summer conference. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

How does Alabama’s commerce secretary react to a record year of economic development in the state? By calling for a revamp of the statewide plan that has guided that growth.

Greg Canfield knows that Alabama’s successes have come because the state has been willing to constantly improve on everything from incentives to targeted industries. It started with the state’s first comprehensive strategic plan with Accelerate Alabama more than seven years ago.

“I know when we came out of the gate with Accelerate Alabama in January of 2012, I believe we labeled it as a five- to six-year plan,” Canfield told Alabama NewsCenter. “Well, no. You know, the world’s changing too fast. So, we’re already in the second iteration with Accelerate Alabama 2.0 and we just launched it in 2016. Well, now here we are about three years later, maybe close to four, and it’s time again, because the world’s changing and we just want to make sure that the future is made in Alabama.”

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Canfield called on professionals gathered at the Economic Development Association of Alabama summer conference to get ready for a new plan that responds to disruptive technologies and growth industries that the state wasn’t targeting a few years ago.

The state’s economic development plan identifies key business sectors Alabama is targeting in its recruitment and expansion strategies as well as the foundational processes that stretch across different industries, such as research and development or data centers.

Since launching the first iteration of Accelerate Alabama in 2012, the state has seen $37 billion in capital investment and 122,000 new jobs.

That includes new heights in 2018.

“We have been fortunate in Alabama that we have had a good story to tell and 2018 was a great story – record-breaking year, $8.7 billion in new investment was announced that will come into our state, not only from new companies coming here to Alabama but even more importantly perhaps is existing companies who are making the decision that they want to reinvest new capital and expand in Alabama as opposed to doing that somewhere else,” Canfield said. “All of that is bringing about 17,000 jobs just from the activity in that one year alone.”

The recent legislative session set the stage for how the Alabama Department of Commerce will expand its economic development efforts going forward.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act expands on the Alabama Jobs Act that was passed in 2015. That was a fundamental shift in the way Alabama offers incentives. Previous incentives were more debt-driven for the state while the Jobs Act allowed a company to receive incentives on a pay-as-you-go basis as the state realized capital investment and job growth. That sustainable approach was not only better for the state, but it offered incentives as more meaningful tax breaks for companies.

As a result, for the $1.7 billion in incentives the state gave between July 2, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, it has realized $10.5 billion in capital investments and seen 23,952 jobs created – a more than 5-1 return.

Even better news is the types of jobs being created. Projects supported by Jobs Act incentives pay $23.04 per hour, a 46% boost over the $15.77 per hour median wage in the state.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act builds on the Jobs Act by applying incentives to knowledge-based, innovation, technology and R&D industries. It also expands the number of rural counties in the state that get enhanced incentives and adds some distressed counties that don’t qualify as rural based on population, but face other issues that would allow them to benefit from the special incentives.

Alabama’s rural economic development incentives now apply to 13 additional counties (light red) and seven distressed counties (dark red) joining the previously designated 27 rural counties (red). (Alabama Department of Commerce)

“We’re really looking forward to implementing the new tools from the Modernization Act and having them apply for new technology companies as well as rural economic development opportunities,” Canfield said.

Canfield said rural economic development is getting added attention.

“We’re continuing our focus on rural economic development,” he said. “Again, 2018 was a record year — $1.1 billion of new investment in rural Alabama, over 1,100 jobs that will flow from that – so we’re proud about that, but this new set of tools from the Modernization Act are going to allow us to go even further in rural Alabama.”

Canfield announced last week that economic development veteran Brenda Tuck is in the newly created rural development manager position at the Alabama Department of Commerce.

In addition to that, EDAA has created the position of rural development strategist, which is held by Brian Hilson, who has headed economic development entities in Huntsville and Birmingham.

While it might seem a bit contradictory for the Commerce Department to say it wants to see high-tech, innovation industries grow while also saying rural economic development is a priority, Canfield said both are necessary.

“Alabamians are building great things, building great products that are found in over 192 countries around the globe,” he said. “So we need to underpin that activity and make that foundation more solid by creating the types of product development and R&D that anchors those industries in Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Record year for foreign investment sparks growth in Alabama

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

With major new growth projects moving forward across Alabama, foreign direct investment continues to play a vital role in the state’s economy, building on a record total of foreign investment approaching $4.2 billion last year.These FDI projects represent major job-creation engines for many Alabama communities.

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Last year, companies from 16 different countries launched projects with more than 7,500 new jobs. So far in 2019, FDI projects approaching $1 billion in value will bring another 3,300 jobs to the state, according to an Alabama Department of Commerce estimate.

In Enterprise, Tier 1 auto supplier Hwaseung Automotive Alabama (HSAA) in March announced plans to add 168 jobs to its Alabama operation through a $6 million expansion that represents Coffee County’s largest FDI project in four years.

HSAA, which launched its Alabama operation in 2003 with 20 employees, will have nearly 600 when the new hires are added, said Jonathan Tullos, executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp. Its last major expansion in Enterprise came in 2015.

HSAA, which produces weather-stripping and air conditioner hoses, serves Hyundai’s Montgomery assembly plant, along with Kia, Chrysler and General Motors. Its Alabama-made products are found in more than a dozen automobiles.

“Having a company like HSAA make an investment in Enterprise is a ringing endorsement of the quality of workforce and opportunities that exist in our area,” Tullos said.

“We have seen in the past that these investments can yield additional job-creation opportunities from other companies looking for a home.”

One example: Advanced Carrier Products, whose parent company is based in Germany, opened a manufacturing operation in Enterprise to supply metal inserts to HSAA.

FDI IMPACT

Similar stories have played out in a number of Alabama communities in recent years, particularly as growth in the state’s auto industry has intensified.

Select USA, a federal government program that facilitates foreign investment in the U.S., says the Alabama operations of foreign-owned companies employ 109,000 people in the state. Read a report.

Since 2013, FDI projects in Alabama have involved nearly $13 billion in new capital investment, generating almost 25,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

FDI typically accounts for 30 to 50 percent of new and expanding industry activity in the state each year, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Clearly, this is a huge priority for us as a state, and we’re fortunate to have a diverse base of industries, along with a highly-skilled workforce, to attract and retain these commitments from global manufacturers year after year,” Secretary Canfield said.

Not all FDI flowing into Alabama is tied to the auto industry.

In fact, foreign investment recorded in 2018 originated from a diverse slate of sources in a variety of industries.

Major FDI projects now under way include French planemaker Airbus’ $264 million, 432-job expansion of its Mobile manufacturing plant, and the $101 million, 150-job expansion of the Calhoun County plant operated by Austria-based Kronospan, a leading manufacturer of wood-based panel products.

Other big projects were Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions Inc., part of a China-based conglomerate and parent company of GE Appliance, which announced a $115 million, 255-job expansion of its Decatur refrigerator plant.

In Mobile, Swedish steelmaker SSAB is investing $100 million, adding 60 jobs and relocating its North American headquarters from suburban Chicago.

FDI HORSEPOWER

Alabama has seen significant increases in FDI in the automotive sector over the past 25 years, thanks to the growing operations of foreign automakers Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, and their sprawling supplier networks.

Toyota has also played a major role. Earlier this year, Toyota announced a $288 million expansion at its Huntsville engine plant, where it will add two new production lines and 450 workers. The project will push the investment in the plant to $1.2 billion and its workforce for more than 1,800.

Meanwhile, just miles away, construction on the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA joint venture auto assembly plant is well under way. After production begins in 2021, the facility will have up to 4,000 workers.

Already, suppliers have begun circling the plant, bringing $380 million in new investment and nearly 1,500 jobs. More announcements are expected in 2019.

For Alabama, 2018 was a banner year for automotive FDI.

In addition to the new Mazda Toyota factory, other major projects included Mercedes-Benz’s new $268 million, 325-job EV battery plant in Bibb County, along with a $495.5 million expansion at the automaker’s Tuscaloosa County campus.

Elsewhere in the auto industry, Hyundai constructed a $388 million facility for engine manufacturing operations in Montgomery, and Honda announced plans to spend $55 million to improve weld operations and add more than 50,000 square feet at its Talladega County factory.

According to Select USA data, Alabama has attracted 114 auto-related FDI projects.

TARGETING INVESTMENT

Like other areas of the state, Tullos said Enterprise and Coffee County are making moves to position their region for future investment opportunities by focusing on education and workforce development.

“Our workforce is anchored by one of the best K-12 school systems in the state of Alabama as well as the efforts of Enterprise State Community College President Matt Rodgers, who recently launched a mechatronics program to support companies like HSAA,” he said.

The mechatronics program, offered at the Alabama Aviation College in Ozark beginning this fall, will train workers for high-demand industrial automation careers that focus on electrical, mechanical and computer engineering.

There are similar programs in place to assist Mercedes and Toyota. In addition, Alabama has rolled out initiatives including Success Plus and Apprenticeship Alabama that are designed to fill the pipeline of skilled workers needed in the future.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 hours ago

Urban Ministry tackles West End community needs

(Keisa Sharpe/Contributed)

A visit to Urban Ministry proves to be equally eventful and heartwarming.

It’s lunchtime and the cafeteria is packed. The aroma of home-cooked meats and fresh vegetables billows through the air. Once inside the cafe, the tables are packed. Patrons are eating and communing just as they would at any other eatery.

Urban Ministry Executive Director Melodie Agnew walks around greeting customers with a welcoming smile.

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Agnew is equally comfortable greeting lunch guests and advocating for those served in this community.

Urban Ministry meeting community needs one soul at a time from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Ministering through healthy meals

There are several novelties about this spot called West End Cafe, or WE Cafe, which makes it unique among its restaurant neighbors.

For one, the produce doesn’t come from a local market. It is harvested just steps away in West End Garden, or WE garden, the community garden.

Those who abound financially, and even those who don’t, break bread together. Hearty soul food in a welcoming environment is the common thread regardless of person’s pay scale, and all are welcome.

WE cafe started as a soup kitchen, but now people come and pay as they can. So educators, volunteers and community and business leaders can sit at family-style tables where food is prepared fresh.

The garden fruits and vegetables are also sold at local markets. These include Pepper Place and twice-weekly at Princeton Hospital.

The WE Cafe is open each Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Meeting more than financial needs

Some customers also have a great need for suitable housing.

Not only does Urban Ministry provide assistance with rent, home repairs and maintenance like painting, Urban Ministries partners with the Salvation Army to provide energy assistance to elderly and disabled clients through Project Share.

Urban Ministry has the largest Project Share clientele in Birmingham.

[Related: Project Share meeting community needs]

Agnew says the new Energy Assistance Portal( EAP),created by Alabama Power, is an invaluable resource to the agency.  Agency leaders say EAP provides a user-friendly platform for intake workers to quickly access information needed to post real-time energy assistance pledges and payments.

This in turn gives more time for workers to serve clients.

Under a broad umbrella, their work covers financial needs, but in its simplest form, it’s all about providing a better quality of life for adults who are in need, along with their children.

A record number of children enrolled in summer school. Staff had to prepare for 90 schoolchildren this year at Urban Ministry – including meals, activities and accommodations for each student.

And Agnew says it doesn’t stop there.

“In addition to our students, families of these students also come with various needs. Urban Ministries works to help support those needs of families with the help of our church and corporate partners.”

Empowering those they serve 

For Agnew, serving as executive director holds a two-fold meaning. She can look out her office window, where she grew up in West End just steps from where she sits today. Not only does she serve this community: she and her family are a part of it.

Her great-grandfather and grandfather had businesses in the community. Her father and grandmother were educators in the community. She saw them providing opportunities for the community.

Agnew believes in not only providing programs and resources for neighbors, but investing in people by teaching them to be their own advocates and support. The work is great, but Agnew’s determination and vision are without end.

Prior to joining Urban Ministry, Agnew worked as executive director of the Norwood Resource Center,where she dedicated her time to supporting families and building vibrant neighborhoods.

Agnew says she wants to leave a legacy of service and strengthening her community, just as her family did.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

Opposition research: When is the right time for a campaign to attack their opponents?

(Adobe Stock)

This time of year before an upcoming spring primary election, I get asked a lot, “When are we going to see some opposition research dropped from campaigns?”

Long-term strategy during a political campaign can be a fragile thing knowing when to start and complete certain tasks. It’s an easy decision to have a campaign web site early on. It’s easy to decide that raising money early on is crucial to getting the campaign off on a solid foundation. Hiring staff and consultants is done early and adding more throughout the campaign is an easy call to make. When to open a campaign office and getting volunteers is also an easy decision to make. However, timing is everything, especially when it comes to knowing when to drop a piece of opposition research on an opponent. If a campaign uses what they have too early and in the wrong way, they run the risk of it leaving the voters’ minds in advance of Election Day. If a campaign waits too long, voters can turn off any information because towards the end of a long campaign season, voters get tired of all the ads and revolt against any and all campaign happenings.

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As a veteran opposition research consultant, I have been involved in well over 100 political campaigns over a span of 28 years, and have seen about all there is to see regarding opposition research and there is no concrete answer as to when a campaign should drop a piece of oppo on an opponent. Every campaign is different and having people on the team that know from experience when oppo should be dropped helps, but still isn’t a guaranteed way to know when to release the information.

These are some of the factors that go into the decision of when to release opposition research:

  1. If your campaign is hanging on by a thread: If your candidate has damaging opposition research on any other candidate who is even or above them in the polls, releasing the information can turn a campaign around and give it life due to the attention they will get once the oppo is released to the public. Holding information “for later” many times is never used because your candidate doesn’t make it until Election Day. If you have it, use it.
  2. If you are being attacked by an opponent: The old saying, “Fight fire with fire,” applies here. It could be deemed school-yard antics, but if your candidate is getting ravaged by another campaign, one way to stop it or at least slow it down is to release your own opposition research on the candidate that is attacking you. Many think that this sort of behavior turns off voters, but in reality, it works.
  3. To raise money: Donors love to see a candidate who will fight and will reward them accordingly if they feel that they have something to say and can win. Releasing opposition research on opponents can make some donors think twice about who they will support especially if what you have on an opponent is quite damaging to their campaign. Remember that an overwhelming majority of possible donors don’t have access to the information that you do, so releasing it to the public makes sense in a financial standpoint.
  4. To bake it in: If your campaign has incredible opposition research especially on the perceived front-runner, that in your opinion can dramatically affect the outcome of the race, releasing it early in the campaign season and hammering it daily can serve to “bake it in,” the voters’ minds.
  5. To drive the last nail in a coffin of an opponent: If one of your main opponents’ campaign is losing steam, some consultants like to do all they can to knock them out of the race by piling on with opposition research. Other consultants like to stay out of it and allow the opponent to slowly descend in the polls and drop out when the money dries up. I have found that both are credible strategies, however, if you want to use a boxing analogy, when you have an opponent on the ropes, you go for the knock-out and don’t back off in order to give him time to catch his second breath.
  6. Being the last word: For years, consultants have believed that all opposition research should be released a few days before Election Day. Their thought process was that if they waited that deep into the campaign season to release information, their opponent wouldn’t have time to adequately answer the attacks. That thinking has become antiquated due to the 24-hour news cycle that we currently live. Candidates have the ability now to answer attacks via a number of social media platforms, by talk radio appearances, and doing their own TV ads that answer the attacks. Technology and social media has changed the world and certainly has had a dramatic effect on political campaigns as well.

One thing is for sure, opposition research is always going to be used as a strategy and campaigns who know how to gather it and when and how to use it correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing a campaign.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.

18 hours ago

Three siblings share cancer diagnosis caused by rare genetic mutation

The Perkins family got a new lease on life when siblings Kevin, Kiala and Keaira had thyroid surgery at UAB. The children had a rare genetic condition that causes thyroid cancer because of a mutation on the RET gene. (Adam Pope/UAB)

At first glance, Kevin, Kiala and Keaira Perkins may seem like typical 17-, 14- and 11-year-old children, respectively. But, after getting to know them, you might be shocked to find out that all three have suffered from thyroid cancer.

The siblings, from Madison, Alabama, all suffer from a rare genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A), a rare, hereditary condition occurring in roughly one in 35,000 people in the United States. It is caused by a mutation in the RET gene, which provides instruction for producing a protein that is involved in cell signaling and is needed for the normal development of several kinds of nerve cells.

“In December 2018, Kevin was tested for MEN2A by his pediatrician, and later received a call from UAB and Dr. Herb Chen,” said LaToya Wade, the mother of Kevin, Kiala and Keaira. “Dr. Chen said, ‘we need you here as soon as possible,’ and soon after we met with Dr. Chen, we scheduled surgery for Kevin.”

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Soon after Kevin’s surgery to remove his thyroid, Kiala and Keaira underwent the same testing. The result: Both tested positive for MEN2A.

People with MEN2A have one functioning RET gene and one that triggers cells to divide abnormally, causing tumors in the endocrine system and other tissues. MEN2A, identified in the children’s father and aunt by the aforementioned blood test, leads to medullary cancer of the thyroid, pheochromocytoma – tumors in the adrenal gland – and hyperparathyroidism, which causes excessive calcium in the blood and can lead to kidney damage. If one parent has MEN2A, the children have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the same mutation.

“Thyroid cancers, including medullary thyroid cancer, start out so small that you don’t notice them,” Chen said. “With genetic testing in patients with MEN2A, if the child tests positive, I can tell a parent there is a 100 percent chance their child will develop thyroid cancer.  Importantly, we can do surgery ahead of time to remove the thyroid before the cancer develops.”

Chen, chair of the UAB Department of Surgery, says cases like the Perkins’ are an example of how genetic testing can diagnose someone’s risk and eventual prevention of cancer by doing prophylactic surgery (an operation before the cancer develops in the organ).

To treat the Perkins family, Chen removed the thyroids of all three children in addition to Kiala’s parathyroid. They will have to take medications for the rest of their lives to make up the hormones their body loses after removing the thyroid glands.

It is a small sacrifice to prevent a larger problem.

“We were fortunate to treat the Perkins family while their cancers were very, very small,” Chen said.

Wade said finding out a loved one has cancer is always scary, let alone three of her children. However, she knew her family would be in the best of care with Chen and Nurse Practitioner Kelly Lovell.

“For me, this was a trying process,” Wade said. “When your kids have surgery, you never know what’s going to happen. I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t want to tell them I was nervous, so I had my moments alone, and I just kept praying. My mind was all over the place, but now they are doing well. They’re on top of their game.”

Chen agreed the siblings have a bright future ahead.

Kevin, a senior in high school, plans to study engineering in college, while Kiala and Keaira want to become an actress and a doctor, respectively.

Wade said she hopes her family’s story will help others seek genetic testing, so doctors can prevent more cases of thyroid cancer from developing.

Chen, who also serves as a senior scientist with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, echoed her wishes.

“We’re taking a cancer that could cause harm and completely removing it before it starts,” he said. “That’s why it is so important that people hear about this condition.”

If you would like to learn more about this rare genetic condition, the UAB Endocrine/Neuroendocrine Neoplasia Program of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Surgery in conjunction with AMENSupport Foundation will host a multiple endocrine neoplasia patient conference Saturday, Nov. 16.

For more information, visit the Department of Surgery’s website.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Alabama couple grow produce delivery service from the ground up

(Till/Contributed)

With summer in full swing, it’s the prime season for fresh fruits and vegetables. But who wants to get up at dawn on Saturday morning to make the trip to the local farmers market to buy produce?

That’s no longer necessary in the Birmingham area. In April, Will and Hayley DeShazo launched till, the city’s first-ever service that delivers produce fresh from the farm directly to your doorstep.

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The DeShazos said their idea for an online market grew out of “selfish motives.” While they were dating, they loved to cook together and eat locally grown, healthy foods, but getting to the market became a hassle.

“We love fresh produce, but we don’t necessarily love the challenges of getting fresh produce,” Will said. “We had been spending every Saturday for the past several years at the farmers market, but it was always difficult to work our schedules around it. In January, we were having brunch, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Why is buying local food so difficult?’”

Now married, Will and Hayley began their search for a better way.

The Cahaba Heights couple have a background in marketing. Will also had learned a lot about the use of local ingredients while working as a waiter’s assistant after college at Hot and Hot Fish Club, one of Birmingham’s most exclusive restaurants.

Till will shop Alabama farmers markets for you from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

With experience guiding them, the DeShazos began using Facebook and email to canvass people who enjoy eating healthy foods and to develop partnerships with local farmers. The response was overwhelming.

“We found that people not only wanted something like till in the Birmingham area, they needed it,” Hayley said. “There are stories of people who literally don’t have transportation to the farmers market, or who are disabled and can’t drive a vehicle to the market. There are people who work on Saturday mornings and can’t get to the market. We found everybody wants it, so we decided we’re doing it.”

Till offers a wide selection of produce, including fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, along with meats and pantry items, such as breads and baked goods.

The selection of available products is ever-changing, depending on the season, Will said.

“We update our website regularly,” he said. “We don’t want people to think they can only eat local in June, July or August. That’s so not true. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are found in the wintertime.”

Customers can order online for $12 a month or $99 a year. The delivery service is currently available to 10 Birmingham-area ZIP codes.

Free pickup is also available at the DeShazos’ drive-through location next to Doodles Italian ice in Cahaba Heights.

Ordering produce is easy. Customers can order online anytime between Sunday and Wednesday. When they sign up for the service, customers will receive an insulated bag, which they will fill with ice packs and leave on their porch on delivery days. On Saturday mornings, the till team delivers the goods and notifies you when they have arrived.

“Till is a metaphor for all of the options that the food industry in America gives us,” Hayley noted, explaining the premise behind the business’s colorful name. “We’ve been accustomed to getting the food we want, when we want it, without knowing where it comes from or what nutrients it has in it. Till is a metaphor for searching for all the options that are in the ground right beneath you, which is locally sourced food.”

Hayley added that spreading the word about the importance of eating nutritious food is a large part of the job.

“Teaching people to eat seasonally and change their lifestyle can be a challenge,” Hayley said. “We are used to having a wide variety of items available at the grocery store. But we have to realize that processed foods are lacking in nutrients and have been treated with pesticides that can cause health issues. But when you sacrifice these items and choose local produce, your life is changed.”

Realizing that thousands of Alabamians are going hungry every day, Will and Hayley are also giving back through their farm-to-door delivery service. They are donating a portion of the local produce to Grace Klein Community, a nonprofit that provides food to those in need. Customers can donate to Grace Klein directly through the till website.

The DeShazos said their favorite part of the business has been meeting their customers – many of whom have become friends.

“It’s fun starting at the grassroots level and getting to know our customers,” Will said. “We know that food is the one thing that connects everyone. Some of our best moments as families have been eating food around the table. Getting to know our customers while we’re still small is allowing us to create, pivot and tweak our service based upon our till members’ needs.”

Hayley said although Will is the entrepreneur in the family, she is thrilled that they took the plunge.

“I’ve never considered myself a risk-taker and probably would not have started the business without Will,” Hayley said. “But I’ve always been super-passionate about local produce and supporting Alabama farmers. Alabama is an amazing place, and you can grow amazing foods in Alabama because of our soil. I’m proud of the resources we have in our state, and I’m proud of our farmers and want to help people learn about the foods available to them.”

To learn more about till or sign up for the delivery service, click https://usetill.com. Along with ordering food, customers can check out the DeShazos’ recipe blog, which offers tasty ways to turn local produce into memorable dishes.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

University of Alabama named top college football program of last 150 years; Auburn no. 20

(AU, UA/Facebook)

The University of Alabama has been ranked as the best college football program over the last 150 years, with Auburn University also representing the Yellowhammer State well.

A report by ESPN’s Stats & Information Group used a formula based on the number of national championships, the winning percentage for the best 50 seasons in program history and the winning percentage over the past 150 years, with the most recent 50-year block being weighted heaviest, followed by 1919-1968 and then 1869-1918 coming in as holding the least weight.

Additional adjustments were made to account for discrepancies across divisions and eras, such as national championships below the FBS level counting at 50%, national championships before the poll era (1936) counting at 50% and winning percentages when a team was not in Division I being reduced by 10%.

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Using ESPN’s formula, the University of Alabama was awarded a 74.9 rating.

ESPN outlined, “The Crimson Tide’s history is a panorama of strength and longevity: From Wallace Wade in 1925 to Nick Saban five times in the past decade, four coaches have won a national championship. Seven have won an SEC title. Twelve have at least one 10-win season. Everyone wins there — except Ears Whitworth (4-24-2, 1955-57). But Bama fans even love him. Without Ears, Bear Bryant wouldn’t have heard Mama call.”

The University of Notre Dame was ranked second with a 72.9 rating, followed by Ohio State at 69.6, the University of Oklahoma at 68.5 and the University of Southern California (USC) at 67.25.

Auburn also received a high ranking, coming in at 20th best with a 56.82 rating.

The only current SEC schools ranked above Auburn, besides the Tide, were the University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University (LSU) at numbers 14 and 15 respectively.

ESPN wrote, “What’s it like to live in the shadow of the most successful program in the history of college football? Why, it’s pretty successful, thanks for asking, and War Eagle. The Tigers won national titles in 1957 and 2010, and stopped Alabama from playing for national titles with momentous upsets in 1972, 1989 and 2013 — and a true Tiger fan would have a hard time telling you which was more enjoyable. Auburn became a more successful program in the last generation, when the Tigers began playing home games on campus instead of in Birmingham, two hours away. The Tigers waited more than a century for a true home-field advantage.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

23 hours ago

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers named Water Conservationist of the Year

A Renew Our Rivers cleanup crew displays its "catch" near Alabama Power's Plant Gaston. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers campaign has earned one of the state’s most prestigious environmental conservation awards.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) honored Renew Our Rivers Aug. 9 as the Water Conservationist of the Year during the group’s annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony.

For more than 40 years, AWF has presented the awards to people and organizations that work to conserve the state’s wildlife and other natural resources.

The Water Conservationist of the Year award recognizes work in water resources conservation. Efforts focused on protection and improvement of water quality are especially important.

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Renew Our Rivers began in the spring of 2000 with one Alabama Power employee’s vision to clean a stretch of the Coosa River near the company’s generating plant in Gadsden. Since then, more than 117,000 volunteers have joined the effort and collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast.

More than 117,000 volunteers have participated in Renew Our Rivers cleanups during the past 20 years. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

“I experienced the positive impact of the Renew Our Rivers program firsthand during my time as executive director of the Freshwater Land Trust,” said Wendy Jackson, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance.

Jackson nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “This program truly benefits the rivers while inspiring people and communities to care. I understand the prestigious nature of the conservationist award, and I believe Renew Our Rivers exemplifies great dedication to conservation.”

More than 30 cleanups are taking place in 2019, the program’s 20th year.

“Renew Our Rivers, now celebrating 20 years, has become known nationally as a conservation leader in waterway cleanup,” said Thomas A. Harris, president of Alabama Black Belt Adventures. Harris also nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “The natural instinct to conserve and preserve water resources spurred this initiative and grew each year with the help of neighboring community partners, volunteers and organizations.”

In 2018 alone, 4,000 volunteers removed more than 268,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes, rivers and shorelines.

“The commitment to Renew Our Rivers continues to grow,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “We couldn’t do this without the wonderful partnerships we have made along the way. The campaign’s continued success is a testament to our partners and their passion for protecting our state’s precious natural resources.”

In addition to the Water Conservationist of the Year award, recent Alabama Power retiree Steve Krotzer was honored as the Fisheries Conservationist of the Year.

Krotzer worked 37 years with Alabama Power, collaborating on numerous projects with state and federal biologists. This included work on assessing fish communities; discovering the most viable population of the threatened trispot darter; and assisting with data collection and water quality improvements for the Tulotoma snail, which contributed to the first federal “downlisting” of an aquatic snail, from endangered to the less-dire threatened category. He also worked as the principal biologist on a landmark project to restore flows to a bypassed section of the Coosa River downstream of Weiss Lake.

“Steve’s fisheries career spans nearly 40 years. In that time, he has made significant contributions to the conservation, research and education of Alabama’s fisheries resources,” said Jason Carlee, Alabama Power Environmental Affairs supervisor. Carlee nominated Krotzer for the award. “In addition to his tremendous contributions to fisheries research and conservation throughout Alabama, Steve has served as a mentor for numerous other biologists and naturalists.”

For a list of all the honorees and more details about the ceremony, visit https://www.alabamawildlife.org/governors-conservation-achievement-awards/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 day ago

State Sen. Elliott: ‘We don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge…[The port director] doesn’t need it for port operations’

(Contributed-State Sen. Chris Elliott/ALDOT)

The controversy surrounding the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed $2.1 billion I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge that will require a toll of $6 each way may have hit another boiling point on Friday.

On the heels of a standing-room-only public meeting a night earlier in Spanish Fort, State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) criticized the design parameters of the ALDOT proposal that appears to have the support of Gov. Kay Ivey.

He contends those features have more than doubled the estimated cost of the structure over the past few years. Elliott told Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings” host Sean Sullivan on Friday the height of the bridge, which under the current plan is 215 feet, is unnecessary and should be reconsidered.

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“I think it all goes back to the cost of the project,” Elliott said. “The cost of the project drives the need for tolling. The cost of the project drives the need for a very long timeframe on the tolling. So that’s where in my mind we need to start – is we need to go back to some of the design input that were made early on in this process and take a step back and look and say, ‘Do we need this bridge to be this tall?’ for instance.”

Elliott recounted the Mobile and Baldwin County delegation’s meeting with Ivey at last week’s Business Council of Alabama Governmental Affairs Conference in Point Clear and said she had “read from a sheet of paper” that made the case for the current ALDOT proposal. He went on to reject the necessity of the height of the bridge.

“And that’s one thing I want to focus on,” he continued. “We met with Governor Ivey last week in Point Clear. She had the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations in. And she read from a sheet of paper and proclaimed that we needed a 215-foot bridge for post-Panamax vessels to go under.”

“Now Sean, you know the Port of Mobile as well as I do,” Elliott added. “You’ve fished up there. I’ve fished up there. But you know how it works. You know what the upper harbor looks like and how that is different from the lower harbor and how they serve different kinds of ships. But my problem is, and you can ask Jimmy Lyons at the State Port Authority, and he’ll tell you – we don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge. We don’t need it! Why in the world is that a design parameter? Why do we have several hundred million dollars in cost on this project we don’t need? Why in the world is ALDOT proceeding with that?”

The Baldwin County Republican state senator was asked by Sullivan to reiterate his contention Alabama Port Authority director Jimmy Lyons saw the 215-foot height as unnecessary and said that height was based on a survey of the cruise ship industry of the tallest ships.

“We don’t,” Elliott confirmed. “He doesn’t need it for port operations. The 215-feet came out of the cruise ship industry and the poll that was done 10-15 years ago where they asked, ‘Cruise ship industry, how tall is the tallest ship that you have? Now listen, I have all the respect in the world for the City of Mobile and their cruise ship industry. But I think it is fair to categorize that as probably a tenuous grip on that industry. Why the governor’s administration is doing right now is designing a bridge for the Queen Mary 2 to sail under. And that’s just nuts. We’ve got a problem keeping just the smallest ship Carnival has here. And we’re designing for the Cunard Line to steam up Mobile Bay. That’s crazy. It really is.

“I think that’s we may have some success changing the governor’s mind is pointing out some but very digestible facts like that that says, ‘Time to take a step back. Time to look at reality, and oh, by the way, time to figure out what we can actually afford,’” he added.

Later in the appearance, Elliott urged Ivey to convene a meeting toll authority scheduled for October 7 in Southwest Alabama instead of Montgomery given the location of the bridge. Ivey as late as Friday afternoon has rejected such overtures.

He was also asked about the composition of the toll authority board, which includes two at-large appointments made by the governor. Ivey has filled those two positions with her chief of staff Jo Bonner and her deputy chief of staff Liz Filmore. Elliott predicted forthcoming legislation that would change that.

“You’re probably going to see legislation this year that changes that,” Elliott said. “There are certain things the legislature can do and certain things the legislature can’t do. But what you are going to see out of the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations is probably a dozen pieces of legislation that tries to address some of the failings that we’re seeing right now. Governor Ivey has two appointments that are at-large appointments. She can pick anybody in the state. And instead of picking anybody in the state, she picked her chief of staff and her deputy chief of staff. And I do not think that was the intent of the legislation.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 day ago

Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro helping strengthen community, improve quality of life

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro offers something for all ages.

The nonprofit, founded in 2007, provides housing, meals, transportation, community center programs and other services to seniors, but also works with young people through after-school and summer programs.

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John Dorsey is the director, and while he works with a small staff and a board of directors, college students from around the U.S. come to Greensboro every year to work as paid fellows and interns for one year.

“Recent college graduates from across the country come here,” Dorsey said. “Students come here to us to learn about engaging in the community and learn about service and the relationship between those two.”

Project Horseshoe Farm in Greensboro helps its neighbors in need from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The nonprofit’s mission is to strengthen the community, improve quality of life of vulnerable neighbors and prepare young leaders for tomorrow.

During their time in Greensboro, fellows learn to support local health systems, schools, community organizations and people.

“I think Horseshow Farm drew me to Alabama because it was such a unique organization,” said Amy Xu, from Riverside, California and a Stanford University graduate. “For one, it really gives a lot of opportunity to recent grads. We do so many wonderful programs here in Greensboro that help so many different populations.”

This past year’s fellows hail from as close as Mobile to as far away as New York City, California, Michigan and even Jamaica. Some have enjoyed their time in Greensboro so much, they decided to stay a second year.

“When I was a junior in college, I decided that I did not want to go straight into graduate school. I wanted to take some time off and get some real-world experience. I went to my adviser and just happened to stumble across a flyer for Project Horseshoe Farm, and it has so many of the things I wanted in a program,” said Morgan Zabow, a University of Georgia graduate. “That was community health care, working with children, working with people with mental illness. I decided to take a leap of faith and apply. And lo and behold, I decided to stay for two years because I loved the experience I got here.”

The center’s programs for senior focus on health, wellness, nutrition, social, volunteer and recreational activities, with primary care, mental health and other services also available. Horseshoe Farm also supports three housing programs for women.

The center’s after-school and summer programs work with local schools and universities to teach children academic and life skills as well as character traits vital to employment, higher education and civic involvement.

“This is an organization whose mission is to strengthen communities and improve the quality of life of all our vulnerable neighbors while teaching young people how to be leaders within the communities which they will go back to and live and work,” said Sarah Hallmark, assistant director. “We are here in the Black Belt of Alabama, the highest poverty level in the state of Alabama, and we don’t have resources that other larger communities have and I think the challenges are great.”

The Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund Inc., which was established to help low-income Alabamians, have supported Horseshoe Farm with grants and other support.

“The ABC Trust Fund has been instrumental in developing our community center in downtown. We are very lucky and ever so grateful to the trust and Alabama Power, who have supported Horseshoe Farms from the very beginning,” Hallmark said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 day ago

Roby: ‘My name isn’t on the ballot in 2020, but I still have a few fights left in me — The VA remains at the top of my list’

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay)

Last month’s announcement that U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) would not be seeking reelection remains as a shock to many. However, one of her signature achievements when she leaves office on January 3, 2021 will be the changes that resulted from her taking on the scandal-plagued Central Alabama Veterans Affairs system headquartered in Montgomery.

With some 16 months remaining in her term, Roby pledged to continue to make veterans’ issues a priority.

“My name isn’t on the ballot in 2020, but I still have a few fights left in me,” she said. “The VA remains at the top of my list. Throughout my time in Congress and especially over the last five years, we have made strides in the central Alabama veterans’ health care, veterans’ health services to turnaround a deeply broken system. But we still have a lot of work to do, and I fully intend to continue to fight. It is too important to quit. And until I take my last vote in Congress, you can rest assured and the people I represent can rest assured this is going to remain a top priority.”

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She explained that access to health care for veterans continues to be an issue with which her congressional office is confronted and noted that when it reaches her office, that constituent is likely “at the end of their rope” in handling whatever that issue may be.

“Not only do our veterans need access, they need the best health care we can give them,” Roby added. “We continue to face issues in our VA system with being able to hire enough physicians and the amount of casework that we do through our office, which we are there to do. That is what we do – we help veterans get care. But the amount of casework is still far too high to say that we have succeeded at this point because when a veteran calls our office, they’re at the end of their rope in terms of being able to get through the system on their own. So they’re calling our office to work on their behalf.”

“And of course, our caseload is still way too high for us to say that we’re there,” she continued. “There are things that need to be addressed. Personnel is a big part of it. And just overall, the veterans’ experience – are they being treated with respect when they walk through the door or do they feel as if they are getting the best quality care the VA can give them. And so, again our nation’s veterans deserve so much more than they’re getting right now when it comes to getting health care through the VA. And so, like I said I’m going to continue to pound my fist on their behalf to make sure that we make the right changes to make sure they get the best quality care we can give them.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 day ago

Buckmasters longest-running hunting show on TV

(Buckmasters/Contributed)

As a teenager and young adult, one TV show I did not miss was “The American Sportsman” with host Curt Gowdy. The highlights were the bird-hunting trips with Phil Harris, Bing Crosby and the legendary Bear Bryant. Gowdy’s show was one of the longest-running TV shows that featured hunting on a regular basis.

However, at 23 years, “The American Sportsman” does not come close to the longevity record.

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That honor belongs to Buckmasters, which is in its 33rd season on the air with Montgomery, Alabama, native Jackie Bushman as its main host.

“We’ve been chasing whitetails for 33 years on major cable television,” Bushman said with the 2019 Buckmasters Expo set for Friday through Sunday this week at the Montgomery Convention Center. “Just to watch how it’s changed from the cameras, the female hunters and new hosts, it’s amazing where it’s come in 33 years. I’m very, very proud of being a part of it.”

Bushman said his inspiration for Buckmasters was Ray Scott, who elevated bass fishing to elite status through Bassmasters, the organization Scott founded.

“Way back, Ray Scott was a good friend, and I watched what he did with Bassmasters,” Bushman said. “But bass fishing and deer hunting are two different sports. There are some things you can do in bass fishing you can’t do in deer hunting. I remember the hardest thing getting started was the cameras and light-gathering capabilities. That’s probably the reason nobody did a whitetail show. With the old cameras, I just wanted to pull my hair out. The most common two words from my camera guy were, ‘Don’t shoot,’ because there wasn’t enough light.”

When Buckmasters started, the cameramen were lugging around 25-pound cameras that cost $45,000 each. The evolution in video equipment to today makes it much easier with handheld cameras with high definition that cost $3,000 to $4,000.

“It’s amazing how far the technology has come since we started,” Bushman said. “And the light sensitivity allows us to hunt in conditions that we used to never dream of.”

Bushman said he really can’t pinpoint a time when he knew Buckmasters was going to be a success, and he could quit teaching tennis at Lagoon Park.

“I was doing the consumer shows, trying to sell Buckmasters, and still teaching tennis,” he said. “When we got to go to TNN (The Nashville Network), we went from 10,000 or 12,000 subscribers to 80,000. Then it just kept taking off from there. That was the biggest catalyst to get us going to the next level. For five years, we were the only hunting show on any of the major networks.”

When TNN was sold and the new buyers didn’t want any hunting or fishing programming, Buckmasters spent a couple of years searching for a new network home before settling in at the Outdoor Channel, its home for the past 16 years.

The TV show’s content has also changed over the years from strictly hunting whitetails to hunting a variety of big-game species.

“When it was all whitetails, that put a lot of pressure on us because you’ve got only X number of weeks to hunt to get original footage,” Bushman said. “We started mixing in elk hunts, caribou hunts and bear hunts. But it’s still 80-85% whitetail, because that’s what most people want to watch. When you go on location for 4½ days, you’re trying to get 17 minutes and 40 seconds of editorial content to fill up a TV show. I always tell everybody that if you see a lot of talking on the show, we had a bad week. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Over the years, Bushman introduced new features to the show, including Officer Rusty, a genuine Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Conservation Enforcement Officer, Rusty Morrow. A puppet character named Shotgun Red was also added.

“I always wanted to have something for the kids,” Bushman said. “For the 33 years, it’s always been about the kids and getting the new generation going. I was on ‘Nashville Now’ with Ralph Emery. We were talking about the new season of Buckmasters, and Steve Hall, who was Shotgun Red, was listening.

“Steve Hall said to me, ‘What you said about hunting and conservation, that’s the coolest things I’ve heard on national TV.’ I told Ralph that if it wasn’t for the hunters and fishermen, we wouldn’t have the abundant wildlife we have today.”

Bushman said anyone who loves to see and experience the wildlife and natural resources Americans enjoy should consider buying a hunting and/or fishing license regardless of whether they hunt or fish.

“I tell people, I promise that money will go toward conservation projects,” he said.

Shotgun Red quickly became a part of the Buckmasters TV show and was an instant hit. One promotion promised a Shotgun Red doll for youngsters who wrote into the show. Demand quickly outstripped supply.

“Kids loved Shotgun Red,” Bushman said. “I didn’t have a clue of how big it was going to get. I’ve had grown men come up to me and say, ‘I never got my Shotgun Red doll.’ It’s funny how it touched a lot of people.”

Another celebrity soon joined the show. The Buckmasters Classic was a huge event at Southern Sportsman’s Lodge outside Montgomery that combined deer hunting and a wide variety of celebrities who competed in all sorts of games. Jim Varney, the rubber-faced comedian of Ernest fame, came to Buckmasters Classic one year and asked how he could help promote the outdoors lifestyle.

“We couldn’t use Ernest, so we had to come up with another character,” Bushman said. “We went to an outdoors store, and Jim started trying on hats. He looked like Elmer Fudd in one hat, but then we found an orange hat with ear flaps. He put one flap up and one down, and he looked in the mirror and said, “Bush, this is it.’ From that day forward, he was Bubba. When we put Shotgun Red and Bubba together with me in the middle, it was a huge, huge hit. Now I’ve lost both my co-hosts. Jim Varney passed away when he was 50, and Steve Hall passed away this year.”

Bushman said Varney also helped him with his on-camera presence.

“He told me one day, ‘Bush, you look mad,’” Bushman said. “I said, ‘Jim, I ain’t mad, I’m scared.’ He taught me so much about the camera. He said, ‘The camera is your best friend. It’s not your enemy. When you’re talking to the camera, it’s got to be your buddy.’ I’m still not great, but I’ve learned to relax a little and be more myself.”

Bushman still marvels at the reach of the Buckmasters TV show.

“I’m just a country boy from Montgomery, Alabama, doing a hunting show,” he said. “You walk through an airport, or you walk on a beach, or you’re in a restaurant, and people come up and tell me they love the show. I never fathomed that so many people would watch the show. And believe me, the show was not about me. It was about getting people ready for deer season. I promise you, there are a lot better deer hunters out there than me. There are a lot of deer running around out there laughing at that part of it. I could do a three-year series on just missed deer.”

Bushman said his goal for the show is to project their love of hunting and try to point out the positive aspects of the outdoors experience.

“You know, bird watching is the fastest-growing sport in the nation,” he said. “What people don’t know is who funds the conservation efforts so that we have abundant wildlife of all species. The hunters fund it. But we want you to come hunting and be a part of our fraternity. A part of it is access to hunting land, but a lot of kids these days are in single-parent homes. If everybody in a hunting club took a kid or an adult newcomer hunting, it’s a pretty simple equation. We have 11 million hunters. If everybody took a kid hunting who didn’t have access to it, we’d double our numbers. If we don’t do that, our numbers will continue to decline.”

This weekend, Bushman will be hanging around the Buckmasters booth at the convention center with a variety of activities going on around him. More than 300 exhibitors will have the latest hunting equipment. The Brewster buck, the new world record whitetail, will be on display. Hunting celebrities will be available for autographs as well as the usual indoor archery championship. New this year will be the Buckmasters collegiate fishing competition.

Visit www.buckmasters.com/resources/expo for more information. Entry fee is a can of food that will be donated to the Montgomery Area Food Bank.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 days ago

NASA head visits Alabama public high school, praises ‘incredible teachers,’ ‘amazing’ students

NASA Admin. Jim Bridenstine addresses students at Arab High School (Rep. Aderholt/Twitter)

ARAB — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) visited Arab High School on Friday, speaking with students, faculty and local elected officials about all things space.

First on the agenda was meeting with the school’s student robotics team that is competing in NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, an annual competition in which student teams from around the country design, build, program and then operate their very own robotic moonbuggy.

The team’s teacher told Bridenstine that for him, “It’s not a job, it’s a calling.”

This type of passion was evident in the students and faculty when visiting with Bridenstine and Aderholt, as well as a contingent of NASA employees, some from the nearby Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, who were accompanying the administrator.

This included a starring appearance by Ricky Arnold, an active astronaut who has spent time on the International Space Station, among other missions.

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The next stop on the tour was another robotics team at the school, this one annually competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. This is a “legacy team” for NASA, as it was funded by the agency for the first three years of its existence from 2004-2007. Now, operating for 15 years, it has become a nationally respected program, winning the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award at last year’s regional and advancing to the world championships. 25,000 students across American participate in this competition. And while not receiving funding from NASA anymore, several employees of NASA and/or Marshall Space Flight Center do help the team out as mentors and volunteers.

Bridenstine, while speaking with the students on the team, turned to Aderholt and said, “We at NASA believe in this (supporting student robotics efforts) so much because of the benefit we get from it, from young folks that get involved and end up working in either industry that supports NASA or working directly for NASA.”

“We actually invest about $4,500,000 annually into the FIRST Robotics program,” he advised.

This was a major focus of NASA’s visit to Arab High School — emphasizing the value of STEM education and the pathways to high-quality, fulfilling careers that come from these types of classes and programs.

Bridenstine explained to the students on both teams that the work they were doing for their respective competitions “very closely mimics the kind of projects that NASA does.”

This builds real-world skills and prepares them realistically for STEM and technical jobs.

Bridenstine also offered words of encouragement.

“These kids here … could very well one day be building the robots that we put on Mars,” he stressed.

“I think you’ve got some future NASA employees right here,” Arnold chimed in.

“Yeah, no doubt,” the administrator responded. “No doubt.”

‘You guys are doing amazing things here’

While speaking to a more comprehensive group of Arab High School students shortly afterward in the school’s media center, Bridenstine shared some of the things NASA is working on now, things he told the students they could soon be directly involved in.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about this high school,” he remarked, adding that what he saw Friday affirmed what he had been told beforehand. “Clearly you guys are doing amazing things here.”

“Maybe, one day, NASA will be able to enlist you in some of the projects that we’re working on,” Bridenstine said.

The biggest project, perhaps, that NASA has on its plate was handed down directly from President Donald Trump: the Artemis program, which will see Americans return to the Moon, the first woman step onto the surface of the Moon and eventually see the first human voyage to Mars.

Much of the work on Artemis is actually being done at Marshall Space Flight Center, and Bridenstine, after leaving the high school in the Sand Mountain area, traveled up to Huntsville to announce even more goods news for north Alabama’s space industry — Marshall will lead the lunar lander program for Artemis now.

However, before leaving Arab High School, he left the students with more words of inspiration.

“I think if we were able to find life (microbial life) on another planet … if we can discover that, I think it’s going to change how we think, it’s going to change what we want to go discover and, of course, humanity will go further into the solar system than ever before,” Bridenstine concluded.

STEM — ‘Alabama has some really amazing programs’

Bridenstine and Aderholt also spoke to the members of the media present, sharing their enthusiasm for modern space exploration — and what the future could hold with students like the ones in Arab.

They both reiterated how educational tools like the robotics and STEM programs they witnessed on Friday help prepare students for real careers. The administrator added that at Arab High School and others like it, he hopes NASA can “inspire” students to travel the STEM pathway.

“When we talk about what it’s going to take for the United States of America to lead in the future, we’ve got to have folks entering the STEM educational programs — all across the country,” Bridenstine advised. “And of course, Alabama has some really amazing programs, some really amazing folks.”

Speaking with State Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) afterward, Bridenstine stressed how important state-federal partnerships are to NASA.

Legislators like Kitchens and State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) strongly supporting workforce development — whether it be technical training or STEM education — is important to build the highly skilled pipeline that keeps NASA and places like Marshall Space Flight Center running.

Kitchens told Yellowhammer News, “A lot of these things are teaching the kids what it’s like in a real-world application. Not only seeing it in the classroom, but being able to actually go out and be career-ready once they graduate high school.”

“Marshall Space Flight Center is so important to this area and this whole district, they have such an economic impact that kids are able to see and hopefully inspire them to be the next engineer or astronaut or whatever they want to be,” he added.

One important component that allows for successful STEM and workforce development programs like this, especially in rural areas like Marshall County, is having high-quality broadband in place. Scofield has recently led the charge in the legislature to expand rural broadband access across Alabama.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News, he called workforce development efforts “critical.”

“We’ve made every effort to invest in it here on the local level,” Scofield explained. “We’ve done that for the past nine years, and we’re really seeing the results firsthand here.”

“When we hear the administrator for NASA ask what these young people want to do and they say, ‘Precision machining,’ well that investment has paid off,” he continued. “That’s creating great opportunities for these young people.”

Scofield concluded that workforce development must continue to be invested in on the state and local levels.

You can view a tweet thread from the event, including photos and video clips, here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Marshall Space Flight Center to lead NASA lander program in return to moon

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine today announced that the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will lead the agency’s Human Landing System Program for its return to the Moon by 2024.

Bridenstine made the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket liquid hydrogen tank structural test article currently being tested at NASA’s Alabama installation.

He was joined at the event by U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee.

“We greatly appreciate the support shown here today by our representatives in Congress for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the Moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said.

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Illustration of a lunar lander on the Moon (Photo: NASA)

“We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”

‘UNIQUE CAPABILITIES’

Informed by years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with U.S. companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said.

“Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era.”

Aderholt said Marshall is the perfect pick to lead the Human Landing System Program.

“Marshall Space Flight Center, and North Alabama, have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program,” Aderholt said.

“I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the Moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

RELATED: Alabamian selected to oversee key part of Artemis Moon mission

2 days ago

‘Consistently improving’: Alabama breaks four more employment records

(Pixabay, YHN)

After shattering five economic records in June, Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington on Friday announced that the Yellowhammer State set four more new employment records in July.

This includes a historic record-low unemployment rate, with July’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate coming in at 3.3%. This beat the previous month’s rate of 3.5%, which at the time was the record.

July’s rate represents 2,171,721 employed people, another new record high, which was 11,244 more than June’s count and 57,413 more than in July 2018.

“I’m proud to see our unemployment rate decrease and continue to reach record lows,” Washington said in a statement.

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“This month we also saw the number of people counted as unemployed fall to its lowest count ever,” he continued. “More people are joining the workforce, with the expectation that they will find work, and, for the most part, they are. But even as we celebrate these records, we know that there is still work to be done. We’re proving month after month that Alabama has good, quality jobs. We stand ready to assist anyone who’s ready to work.”

The number of people counted as unemployed also dropped to a new record low of 75,157, which represents a drop of 12,761 people year-over-year.

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey lauded, “More than 57,000 Alabamians have jobs today that didn’t a year ago. That means that 57,000 more Alabamians have work and are contributing to their communities and our state.

“The effort we are making to bring jobs and employers to Alabama is working. We are consistently improving our workforce and preparing Alabama for the future,” the governor concluded.

Additionally, the civilian labor force increased over the year by 44,652 to a record high of 2,246,878. The civilian labor force represents the number of people, aged 16 and over, who are either working or looking for work, excluding the military and those in institutions.

Alabama’s labor secretary explained that the state’s progress is often outpacing the national average.

“Our over-the-year job growth measured 2.0% this month, which outpaced the nation’s job growth by half of a percentage point. In fact, Alabama has matched or outpaced the national growth rate for six out of seven months in 2019,” Washington advised. “Alabama’s economy added over 40,000 more jobs in the last 12 months, with at least four sectors reaching record level employment highs.”

Over-the-year job growth measured 2.0% in July, compared to the national growth rate of 1.5%. The only month in 2019 in which Alabama did not match or outpace the national growth was January, when Alabama’s growth rate measured 1.8%, and the national rate was 2.0%.

Over-the-year, wage and salary employment increased 40,200, with gains in the professional and business services sector (+8,700); the leisure and hospitality sector (+7,700); and the education and health services sector (+5,000), among others.

Four sectors saw record-high levels of employment in July: transportation equipment manufacturing (66,600); motor vehicle manufacturing (14,100); leisure and hospitality (219,200); and computer systems design (26,300).

All 67 counties saw declines in their over-the-year unemployment rates, with drops ranging from more than half of a percentage point to more than three percentage points. In fact, 64 counties saw no increase or a decline in their over-the-month unemployment rates, as well. All 67 counties saw monthly decreases in May and June.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates in July were Shelby County at 2.1%; Marshall County at 2.4%; and Elmore and Baldwin Counties at 2.5%.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were Wilcox County at 7.5%, Greene County at 7.0% and Perry County at 6.7%.

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates were Vestavia Hills at 1.7%; Homewood and Alabaster at 2.0%; and Hoover at 2.1%. Major cities with the highest unemployment rates were Selma at 7.3%, Prichard at 6.2% and Anniston at 4.6%.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

(Iron Tribe/Contributed)

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

2 days ago

Alabama psychologist admits to $1.5 million in Medicaid fraud

(S. Waltz/Facebook, YHN)

A Birmingham psychologist has admitted to trying to defraud Medicaid by billing for counseling services that were never provided, state and federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Sharon Waltz has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud Medicaid of at least $1.5 million, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced.

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Waltz also agreed to pay restitution to Medicaid in the amount of $1.5 million, they said.

Waltz billed the Alabama Medicaid Agency for counseling services to at-risk youth that her company did not actually perform, according to a prosecution filing in federal court.

“The greed of this defendant deprived mental health care to many at-risk young people in Alabama, with the focus on profit rather than the efficacy of care,” Town said in a statement.

The state Medicaid Agency started the investigation after an audit showed that Waltz’s billings jumped from $99,000 to more than $2.2 million over two years.

Alabama Attorney General Marshall said in a statement that it was “a callous abuse of this trust and a fraud of staggering proportions.”

Court filings did not indicate if Waltz has an attorney. A federal judge has scheduled an arraignment for next week.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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2 days ago

Fourth-generation Alabama state trooper graduates academy

(CBS 42/YouTube)

Thirty-two new state troopers graduated from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) academy in Selma on Thursday, but there is still a ways to go to reach the state’s target level of staffing.

CBS 42 reported that one of the new graduates is Pate Nelson, making him a fourth-generation trooper.

“My great grandfather was an Alabama state trooper, my grandfather [was] and my father is currently a state trooper,” Nelson told the television network.

Nelson’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all reportedly reached the rank of captain during their career. Nelson’s father, Tracy, and grandfather, Doug, attended the graduation ceremony.

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall spoke during the graduation ceremony.

Watch CBS 42′ report:

Even with the new graduates, ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor advised that the state is still well short of its goal of having 550 troopers. He still hopes to hire approximately 200 new troopers within the next year, per WSFA.

This comes after the Alabama legislature appropriated $5.5 million during its 2019 regular session to hire a total of 50 new state troopers.

Funding for additional troopers is also expected to be requested in the 2020 session.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Powerful video teases grand opening of Alabama sawmill — ‘American dreams begin with American jobs’

(YellaWood/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey recently declared, “Alabama’s timber industry is at full throttle.”

There is no greater evidence to support this statement than the upcoming August 27 grand opening of Abbeville Fiber Sawmill in Henry County.

A “who’s who” of state and local dignitaries will be in attendance, including the governor, to celebrate the creation of over 100 direct jobs in the area, as well as significant new tax revenue for the city and the county.

However, this new facility is about much more than the facts and figures involved. For this rural Yellowhammer State community, Abbeville Fiber is indicative of a way of life.

With the big event coming up, a chill-inducing video featuring the tagline “American dreams begin with American jobs” was released on Thursday evening.

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Watch:

Abbeville Fiber, a part of Jimmy Rane’s Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc., will occupy the former WestPoint Stevens textile plant off U.S. Highway 431 and Alabama Highway 27.

The state-of-the-art sawmill, featuring the latest technology in the industry, will have the capacity to produce 200,000 feet a day of finished wood and will purchase an estimated $14 million to $15 million of yellow pine timber annually from suppliers within a 50-mile radius of the plant, with local timber owners set to benefit as a result. Additionally, the facility will employ over 15 truckers from the surrounding area.

With the same innovation, honesty and hard work that helped build the YellaWood and Great Southern Wood Preserving brands, Abbeville Fiber is the latest reminder that Rane’s legacy is much more than being Alabama’s richest person. This project is all about empowering people in the area to provide a better life for their families and building a stronger, more prosperous community for all — a lofty goal that Rane has made his life’s work.

He and his company are truly committed to the Abbeville area, which is once again evident in this new facility’s location. Keep in mind that Abbeville Fiber will service Great Southern Wood Preserving locations across 28 different states, meaning this sawmill could have been built just about anywhere.

When asked by Yellowhammer News years ago, “Why Abbeville?” Rane showed his heartfelt passion — and loyalty — to his hometown, county and state.

“Why not Abbeville?” Rane replied without hesitation. “I think that’s the better question. Abbeville is home. I’ve lived here all my life. My mother’s family has been here a long time. My friends and family are here. Abbeville is composed of really fine, educated people who want an opportunity… so why not? I want to do all I can to help make Alabama as great as it can be.”

Production has begun

While the grand opening is still over a week away, business is already ramping up at Abbeville Fiber.

Charles Money Logging delivered the first load of logs on July 8 and sawing began that week, a source familiar confirmed to Yellowhammer News. The first finished lumber began shipping this month.

The sawmill has already hired over 50 employees and 15 truckers as of August 1, with more to come.

It should be noted that this is a two-phase project.

During Phase I, the facility will work its way up to an annual production rate of 50 million board feet per year.
In this phase, the sawmill will consume 40-45 truckloads of logs per day.

Then, in the next 12-15 months or so, Abbeville Fiber will ramp up production to 100 million feet, marking Phase II.
At that point, the facility will employ 105-115 people total, plus supporting 15 truckers. During this phase, the sawmill will consume 80-90 truckloads of logs per day.

The total cost of the sawmill will be approximately $40 million.

An $850,000 federal grant administered and awarded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will provide transportation construction assistance to ship lumber, timbers and posts produced at Abbeville Fiber. The Henry County Commission and the city of Abbeville have pledged an additional $160,000 to complete the project.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

7 Things: Gas tax and tolls are coming, Texas upset with NASA, everyone wants ‘Bama and more …

(Pixabay, Fox 10 WALA/YouTube, YHN)

7. Illegal immigrant sentenced to 99 years

  • Jorge Ruiz, the illegal immigrant who veered into oncoming traffic back in October and crashed into Marlena Hayes, killing Hayes, has been sentenced to 99 years and three months.
  • When Ruiz crashed into Hayes, he was speeding and there were open and unopen cans of beer in his car. Despite these facts, some in the Alabama media think his sentence was too much.

6. Poultry plants knowingly hired illegal immigrants

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  • After the poultry plants in Mississippi were raided, all five companies have been investigated further. Now, federal immigration officials have reason to believe that the companies knowingly hired illegal immigrants, according to videotaped statements of managers.
  • Some of the illegal immigrants had Social Security numbers that belonged to the deceased, some wore ankle monitors because they were waiting for their deportation hearing, and some of the workers had been hired by the same manager but used a different name upon rehiring. Both Koch Foods and Peco Foods have a long history of hiring illegal immigrants.

5. New polls bring new wrinkles to 2020

  • According to a new poll by Fox News, out of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden is still in first with 31%, which is the same rate he was polling at in March 2019, but U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has jumped to second place with 20%, which is a 16% increase since March.
  • President Donald Trump’s poll numbers are sliding with a glut of bad news as the media and their Democrats attack. As of today, all four leading Democratic candidates are still shown as beating President Trump in 2020.

4. Omar and Tlaib barred from entering Israel; Trump supports Israel

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has barred U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering Israel. President Trump tweeted that Israel would “show great weakness” if they allowed Tlaib and Omar into the country, and he went on to tweet that Tlaib and Omar “are very anti-Jewish and they are very anti-Israel. I think it is disgraceful the things they’ve said.”
  • Netanyahu, who recanted on Tlaib, has said that the congresswomen’s boycott of Israel was a leading reason in barring them from Israel. The prime minister has also said that the visit was planned with the objective “to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy,” but of course, Omar has already said that Netanyahu is imposing a “Muslim ban” in Israel.

3. 15 states are fighting back against Alabama

  • Fifteen states, including New York, California, Washington and Nevada, and cities like the District of Columbia, Seattle, Atlanta and others have decided to fight Alabama’s federal lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau to count only legal citizens in the 2020 Census.
  • The group of states and cities have used the Constitution to strengthen their argument, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “The United States Constitution is crystal clear that every person residing in this country at the time of the decennial census – regardless of legal status – must be counted, and no matter what President Trump says, or Alabama does, that face will never change.”

2. Texas wants what Alabama has

  • It’s expected that on Friday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is going to announce that the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will head up the development of two of the three moon landers needed for the 2024 mission.
  • However, Politico has reported that U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Brian Babin (R-TX) have signed a letter written to Bridenstine requesting that he reconsider Texas for leading the moon lander development, arguing that it would be more “cost-efficient, streamlined, and effective approach” if they were developed where astronaut corps and mission control are based, as well as being the place with “the longest history and deepest institutional knowledge of human space exploration.”

1. Get ready for the gas tax

  • On September 1, the six-cent increase on a gallon of gas will take effect, which will raise Alabama’s overall tax on one gallon of gas to 24 cents and 25 cents for diesel. Other increases will take place on October 1, 2020, when there will be a two-cent increase, and then another two cents on October 1, 2021.
  • Meanwhile, the talk of tolls is almost all located in the southern part of the state, but if these plans for tolls move forward, there will be growing opposition, according to State Representative Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals), who advised, “When they start tolling I-565, it is going to be an issue in our area,” adding, “It’s going to be an issue in North Alabama.”

2 days ago

Doug Jones takes mid-week trip to California to visit his biggest supporters

(D. Jones/Twitter)

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) on Wednesday took time out of the workweek to visit San Diego, California.

The unannounced trip to California was revealed by San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a fellow Democrat, in a tweet.

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Fletcher also shared that Jones signed a baseball for him, embracing his celebrity status on the West Coast.

“The election of @DougJones to the US Senate from Alabama restored my faith in humanity. It was great to welcome him in San Diego!” Fletcher tweeted.

Jones raised $171,499.38 from California last quarter alone, representing 15.10% of his quarterly total.

Alabama’s junior senator has raised $409,094.05 this year from California, making it his number one fundraising state over New York in 2019.

Jones has accepted $3,258,957.75 in California donations since announcing in May of 2017.

RELATED: Jones’ latest finance report: 88% of funds from out-of-state again

Ironically, Jones’ campaign tweeted about the merits of visiting Alabama as Jones himself was enjoying his California visit this week.

RELATED: Doug Jones, Will Ferrell star in cringe-inducing GOTV video

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

‘Heroes’: Huntsville man goes on nationwide lawn mowing tour dedicated to law enforcement

(Rodney Smith, Jr./Facebook)

Alabama’s Rodney Smith, Jr. has once again embarked on a 50-state lawn mowing tour, with this one honoring the “boys in blue.”

The tour kicked off in Huntsville on Tuesday, where Smith was joined by police officers as they helped him mow. Smith is inviting officers in the areas he is traveling to across the country to similarly join him. He has even designed a special police lawn mower for their use.

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According to a post on Smith’s “Raising Men Lawn Care Service” website, this tour, entitled “Mowing with Cops,” is expected to take just over three weeks to complete.

“Growing up I always wanted to be a police officer, but God had other plans. Mowing lawns for FREE is my way of serving the public,” Smith explained.

He will mow for at least one member of the elderly, disabled, single parent or veterans community in each state.

“The goal of this tour is not just to have officers mow with me and to thank them for their service, but to also bring the community together around those who serve and protect us,” Smith said.

You can follow the tour on Smith’s Facebook page.


Smith further discussed the new tour in a national appearance on Fox News this week. You can watch that interview here.

RELATED: Rodney Smith, Jr. has mowed veterans’ lawns in all 50 states — ‘I remember asking God to use me’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn