12 months ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE: Who’s next?

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics, business and state government – the men and women who shape the state.

Today, we’re taking a look at a new group of Alabama leaders poised to be part of the next generation of power and influencers.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Christian Becraft, director of governmental affairs, Auburn University

As director of Governmental Affairs, Christian Becraft has significant responsibility in the university’s approach to its interactions within state government. This is a position for which she is well-qualified given her previous experience as Governor Ivey’s education policy advisor and her service on the Education Commission for the States.

Chris Beeker, III, state director for rural development, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture is a $55 billion industry in Alabama. Chris Beeker is the main point of contact between that industry and the critically important U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beeker was appointed to his position by President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Having grown up as part of a family-owned catfish farm and cattle business, Beeker was ready for this important job on day one.

Molly Cagle, director of external affairs, Manufacture Alabama

As the chief lobbyist for Manufacture Alabama, Molly Cagle boasts power and influence well beyond her age already. Besides her sway in policy matters affecting industrial giants in the Yellowhammer State, she is also the go-to staff member for candidates and elected officials wanting the support of JOBS PAC. This former Senate Liaison for Pro Tem Del Marsh will continue rising on the governmental affairs scene for decades to come.

Patrick Cagle, president, Alabama Coal Association

The former director of the JobKeeper Alliance, Patrick Cagle is now standing up for jobs in the state as head of the important Alabama Coal Association. After taking the reins this past spring, he is already making his mark on this vital industry, growing his power and influence along with the association. He is also a mover as a member of the Conservation Advisory Board, the 10-member group appointed by the governor to oversee hunting and fishing policies in the state. Patrick and Molly Cagle are a true power couple on Goat Hill.

Will Dismukes, Republican nominee, House District 88

Will Dismukes is poised to fill an open seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, and he did so by managing his way through a field that included the handpicked Business Council of Alabama candidate and an Autauga County political legend. Dismukes was a two-time All-American pitcher at Faulkner University, and he gained considerable political experience in the Alabama Farmers Federation governmental affairs shop. He is now a small business owner looking to make his mark in Montgomery.

Chris Elliott, Republican nominee, Senate District 32

Chris Elliott is likely the next state senator from the overwhelmingly Republican district 32. Elliott has a diverse business background and has already served a term on the Baldwin County Commission. The gulf coast region is a big part of Alabama’s economy. Elliott’s background and experience should come in handy navigating the treacherous waters of the Alabama Senate.

Garlan Gudger, Jr., Republican nominee, Senate District 4

Garlan Gudger, Jr. is a successful small businessman from Cullman who demonstrated some pretty strong popularity in defeating a two-term incumbent in his Republican primary for the Alabama Senate. That type of mandate from his district and strength of personality should allow him to carve out space for himself in the state senate.

Lance Hyche, owner, Greystone Public Affairs, LLC

Lance Hyche has been able to pull off the difficult challenge of maintaining a lobbying practice and being a campaign consultant. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. Yet, Hyche has an impressive client list in both practices and the wins to match. His years of experience in grassroots campaign and issue outreach have served his clients well and set him up for continued success.

Greg Keeley, managing partner, Dreadnaught

Greg Keeley is a highly sought-after expert on politics, international affairs and cyber-security. He is a frequent contributor on Fox News, Daily Caller and The Hill. During the last year, though, he has been in the unique position of localizing his national profile to Alabama politics. A veteran of combat theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq – with commissions from the U.S. Navy and the Australian Navy – Keeley is able to call on uncommon background and experiences as he grows his new firm Dreadnaught.

Wes Kitchens, Republican nominee, House District 27

Wes Kitchens will likely be representing a north Alabama district in the Alabama House of Representatives. Considering that the last person who held that seat launched themselves toward the lieutenant governor’s office, Kitchens has some pretty big shoes to fill. Kitchens has served as president of his chamber of commerce so his ability to focus on jobs and the economy should help him achieve that end.

Parker Duncan Moore, state representative, House District 4

State Representative Parker Duncan Moore has not even stepped foot onto the house floor yet, but this 29-year-old is already poised to be a player in Montgomery. After winning a special election in May to replace former House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, Moore is set to win a term of his own come November 6. From there, this Decatur-area conservative will look to acquire power and influence over the next four years.

Edward O’Neal, associate, Maynard, Cooper & Gale

Edward O’Neal has become a consistent presence at the Alabama statehouse. As an associate at the high-end law firm of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, O’Neal holds a prominent place in MCG’s governmental affairs practice. He has also been a legal advisor to numerous political campaigns. O’Neal has transitioned well from a decorated academic career into the governmental affairs arena.

Tim Parker, III, president, Parker Towing

Parker Towing has a long, storied history moving freight up and down Alabama’s river system. Tim Parker, III is now a director and president for the company which continues to play a vital role in keeping the state’s economy moving. Also a member of the board of the Alabama State Port Authority, Parker’s involvement in lasting public policy decisions will only increase.

John Rogers, communications director, Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed

After successfully managing a hotly contested race during the 2014 election cycle, John Rogers headed to work in the Alabama legislature where he now serves as communications director for Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. Rogers is responsible for much of the messaging and materials for members of the Republican caucus in the upper chamber. He is a student of politics and has the profile of someone who will continue to stay in the mix.

Paul Shashy, public affairs specialist, Big Communications

Communications guru, campaign specialist and government affairs consultant, Paul Shashy is a political jack-of-all-trades. His mastery of getting pro-growth, common sense conservatives elected is evidenced by the trust placed in him by the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee (ACJRC), the state’s biggest businesses and top-tier Republican candidates from Senator Richard Shelby to former Senator Luther Strange. Shashy is going to be shaping Alabama elections and influencing the entire political scene for the next half-century.

 

Charlie Taylor, director of government relations, the University of Alabama System

A 2017 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, Charlie Taylor has a professional and political resume that would make people twice his age jealous. As the director of Government Relations for the mighty University of Alabama System, he is set to become a household name in Montgomery. With his deep connections to the Birmingham business community and as a Senator Shelby alumnus, Taylor’s star is unquestionably on the rise.

Elizabeth Bloom Williams, owner, EBW Development

In Alabama politics, fundraising is the niche of all niches. Elizabeth Williams has mastered her craft, raising money for the state’s most cash-flush campaigns in recent cycles. Simply put, if you want someone with impeccable organizational skills, unsurpassed know-how and a rolodex only beat by the governor, Williams is the go-to federal and state fundraiser. Look for her power and influence to continue climbing.

 

1 hour ago

University of Alabama creates pediatric fellowship for family medicine physicians

The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences has created an innovative fellowship program to provide comprehensive instruction for family medicine physicians seeking additional skills in pediatric care.

The year-long pediatric fellowship will offer a variety of transformative experiences in both primary and tertiary care settings. Fellows will also receive research time and financial support for continuing education activities.

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“Many family medicine physicians are not comfortable taking care of extremely ill children because they don’t get a ton of exposure to pediatrics during their residency,” said Dr. Sara Phillips, assistant professor of pediatrics at the College and fellowship director. “The new program will provide fellows with ample opportunities to hone their pediatric skills.”

According to Phillips, most of the children seen by medical residents don’t have chronic illnesses or genetic disorders. Through the new program, fellows will get to treat neonatal intensive care unit patients and manage care plans for those with complex pediatric conditions.

In addition, the fellowship will equip family medicine physicians to care for chronically ill children in rural areas that may not have pediatric physicians.

“Family medicine doctors are the frontline care for kids in rural areas,” said Phillips. “Our program participants will have the advantage of seeing what children experience in the NICU and emergency room settings.”

Interviews for the program will begin in the fall with the fellowship starting in July 2020. For more information about the program, contact Dr. Sara Phillips at sbphillips@ua.edu.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Alabama’s newest ‘Smart Neighborhood’ to be finished in 2020

Holland Homes, builder of the state’s next “Smart Neighborhood,” says construction of the subdivision’s 51 homes will be complete by the end of 2020.

The builder hosted media outlets Monday at the model home in the Northwoods subdivision in Auburn. Owner Daniel Holland says seven of the 51 lots have been sold and plans to have the other 44 complete by the end of next year.

“Things are going good and going quick,” Holland said.

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Holland Homes is partnering with Alabama Power to develop Northwoods as a Smart Neighborhood community. All homes will be designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smart devices and voice activation. Energy-efficiency will be a key part of the neighborhood, and each home will be built with advanced energy products.

“One of the big benefits is the financial factor — the savings each month on your energy bill,” Holland said. “A 65 HERS score rating is going to equate to a huge savings in your pocket every month from a power bill perspective.” HERS stands for “home energy rating system” and is a recognized way to measure a home’s energy efficiency.

Progress visible on Alabama’s next Smart Neighborhood from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jim Goolsby, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power, said the 65 HERS rating in the Northwoods homes puts them far ahead of typical Alabama home as far as energy efficiency.

“The average home is 130 on the HERS score, so these homes are going to be an average of 50 percent more efficient than an average home in Alabama,” Goolsby said. “In order to do that, we have to protect the house thermally with things like spray-foam insulation on the roof deck, advanced air ceiling to eliminate air infiltration of the home and double-pane Low-E windows.”

Goolsby said these materials make it easier to cool your house in the summer and warm your house in the winter.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of materials that thermally protect the house so that we don’t have to run those mechanical systems as often,” Goolsby said. “We’re ahead of the game because we’ve built a better box.”

The Northwoods subdivision is the state’s second Smart Neighborhood and the first to be built under Alabama Power’s new Smart Neighborhood Builder Program. Each smart home in the neighborhood will feature:

  • Google Home smart speakers for voice control of the home.
  • Nest Learning thermostats to help save energy and provide more control over the home’s temperature when the owner is at home or away.
  • Advanced energy-efficient building features, including improved insulation, high-efficiency heat pump and water heater and Energy Star appliances.

In addition to Holland Homes, two additional builders are planning Smart Neighborhood developments this year. Harris Doyle Homes will build another community in Auburn and Curtis White Companies has one planned for Leeds. To learn more about those projects and Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood Builder Program, visit www.apcsmartneighborhood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Discovery of an endangered species in a well-known cave raises questions

You’d think there’d be no way someone could newly discover an endangered species hanging out in Fern Cave in the Paint Rock River valley of Jackson County, so close to Huntsville, home to thousands of spelunkers exploring every cave, nook and cranny.

But Matthew Niemiller and colleagues did.

In a discovery documented in a paper in the journal “Subterranean Biology,” Dr. Niemiller, an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), found a specimen of the Alabama Cave Shrimp Palaemonias alabamae while doing a biological survey of Fern Cave in summer 2018 as part of a team of four.

The endangered shrimp had previously only been discovered in six caves in four cave systems in Madison County.

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“Fern Cave is the longest cave in Alabama, with at least 15 miles of mapped passage and five to seven distinct levels,” Dr. Niemiller says. The cave features a 437-foot deep pit and exploring most of its lower levels is reserved only for the very fittest, since the trip involves an arduous journey including drops to be rappelled.

Dr. Niemiller and team’s route to their discovery was no easy feat, either. The team entered the cave’s bottom level via the Davidson Entrance at the base of Nat Mountain on the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge. The section of Fern Cave is only dry enough for exploration without scuba gear at the height of summer. Otherwise, it takes a dive to explore its flooded passages.

“You go in that entrance, and immediately you are in water up to your chin,” Dr. Niemiller says. From there, the journey twists and turns through tight spots and chambers, and the team sloshed through plenty of water at times.

The biological surveys of Fern Cave are part of a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that has involved over 20 biologists, hydrogeologists, and cavers to date from several organizations, including USFWS, UAH, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., Kentucky Geological Survey, Huntsville Grotto and Birmingham Grotto.

The scientists relied on the knowledge and expertise of Steve Pitts who has mapped much of Fern Cave and is its guardian for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. “He has visited the cave more than any person alive, more than 450 times. Without Steve, this project wouldn’t be possible,” Niemiller says.

“We went there to look for everything,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It’s the biggest cave in Alabama, but really, we didn’t know much about it from a biological perspective.”

The cave houses the largest winter colony of federally endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens), and there are other commonly found cave dwellers, like salamanders and millipedes.

“We were working on documenting any life we could see,” Dr. Niemiller says. “We’re looking at the ceiling, in the water and on the floor to see what we could find. We’re looking under rocks and into crevices, as well – every nook and cranny.”

Team members meticulously documented their findings in notebooks and took photos of specimens. In cases where the species was not readily identifiable, they collected voucher specimens for later study.

“We came up on this passage where we could see there was a muddy bank, a place that maybe at other times of the year you didn’t want to be, an area that was clearly underwater for most of the year,” Dr. Niemiller says.

At this spot there were vestigial pools, left when the water receded in the dry summertime. Dr. Niemiller peered into one.

“We are finding cave crayfish, cavefish and sculpin in this pool. Then I looked down and saw this weird thing, this little white crustacean swimming toward me, and I said, ‘That’s a cave shrimp!’”

The team collected a live sample because at the time it was unsure if the specimen was actually the endangered shrimp or possible a new undescribed species. After leaving the cave, Dr. Niemiller called USFWS and got permission to retain the specimen, which is now housed in the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.

But there’s more. The team found three other cave shrimp on that day in August 2018 and observed another two on a return trip in July of this year. The little animals pose some interesting questions for science.

First of all, there’s the Fern Cave location, in the Paint Rock River watershed, which led Niemiller to wonder if the shrimp was an undescribed species. However, the shrimp found at Fern Cave have been morphologically and genetically linked to those found in Madison County, a different watershed area.

“Fern Cave is in a different county and a different location than the other caves where this species has been found,” Dr. Niemiller says. How did the Alabama Cave Shrimp make it there?

Little is known about the shrimp’s ecology. How does it breed, what is its lifespan, how does it survive and what foods does it eat? And why and when did the shrimp lose its eyesight and live in caves?

“Does this species represent something that went underground a million years ago? Two million? Five million?” Dr. Niemiller asks.

What are its closest relatives? “We need to explore the genetics of the species in more detail to find that out.”

Perhaps the most interesting question is, what is the actual range of the shrimp, since it was newly found in a distinct watershed.

“We have to get a better understanding of the distribution of the shrimp,” Dr. Niemiller said. “We’re hoping to get additional funding to survey other sites in Alabama for the presence of the cave shrimp and other cave species of conservation concern.”

After all, perhaps the Alabama Cave Shrimp is doing better than scientists think, even though a population has disappeared in one cave in Huntsville where it was seen in the early 1970s.

Caves in this region of the country are far more extensive than they are amenable to human exploration, and here the tiny shrimp has had scientific impact. Dr. Niemiller’s team has developed a genetic assay that uses the shrimp’s environmental DNA. Shed in the normal course of living, this DNA could be detected in water samples taken from caves and springs by the assay, allowing science to peer into inaccessible areas in search of Palaemonias alabamae.

In northern Alabama and southern Tennessee, cave systems often are so extensive that anyone could be standing atop a habitat for the Alabama Cave Shrimp and not even know it.

“It could be right under your feet,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It could be in a cavity, a well or a cave system underground.”

Tiny cave passages too small to explore link together with underground gravel deposits flowing with water to offer lots of species habitats and opportunity for dispersal, and most of them science as-yet knows nothing about. In this respect, biological cave exploration is much like exploring the deepest recesses of the oceans.

“That’s what draws me to it,” Dr. Niemiller says. “Every cave is different, and differently populated. We’re making many new discoveries.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

6 hours ago

USA leads $1.3M fight against opioid addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids. This national crisis includes the Gulf Coast, but a new program at the University of South Alabama will help address this problem.

USA’s College of Nursing has received a $1.3 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to recruit and train psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, students, nurse professionals and other professionals. It will focus on opioid and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services in high-need areas in this region.

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“We are in the process of creating the program, which will include three interdisciplinary online courses and stipends to start in January 2020,” said Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor of nursing and project director for the grant. “We have created an interdisciplinary team to support this program, which will help underserved and rural communities.”

Overdose deaths more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 19.7 million people who are age 12 or older had a substance abuse disorder in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“The students and professionals will have a better understanding of opioid and substance use disorders care involving integrated behavioral health settings through this experience,” Williams said. “By positioning psychiatric providers such as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners within these medical facilities working alongside medical providers, it allows direct access to mental health services that may not otherwise be available. The direct service can reduce morbidity and mortality associated with illness through timely referrals, assessments and treatments.”

Dr. Heather Hall, dean of USA’s College of Nursing, said the award provides nursing faculty the opportunity to advance nursing education and practice. “The grant team will serve in key roles to expand the Gulf Coast region’s opioid workforce and substance use disorder workforce serving children/adolescents in areas with high mortality rates and high mental health provider shortage. We are proud to have an interprofessional team of faculty and health care providers collaborating to provide additional education and training to develop opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery specialty courses.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO, the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, which is part of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Project ECHO is considered a collaborative model connecting healthcare professionals to discuss complex conditions and issues via video conferencing.

“Project ECHO encourages connections of interest through building ECHO hubs throughout the country and the world.  Williams said, “According to Project ECHO, this is a lifelong learning and guided practice model with an aim of strengthening local resources to provide evidence-based care for underserved patients within the U.S. and worldwide.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO by creating their own ECHO hub. “We will recruit healthcare professionals from the three targeted areas to join our ECHO hub,” Williams said. “The use of this model will enhance prevention, treatment and recovery for persons with substance abuse disorders and other complex conditions.”

The team members for this grant along with Williams are:

  • Dr. Casey Elkins, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Candice Selwyn, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Kirsten Pancione, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Melanie Baker, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Brandon Browning, department of professional studies, clinical and mental health counseling, College of Education and Professional Studies
  • Dr. Stephen Young, department of social work, College of Arts and Sciences

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

7 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Supporting STEM education

Did you know that four billion people on the planet use a mobile phone? Over the past two years alone, 90 percent of all the world’s data has been generated. NASA plans to put man on Mars within the next 20 years, and self-driving cars are being tested around the world.

Right now, we are living in the “future” we’ve talked about for generations, and our modern world requires a workforce educated in science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly known as STEM.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, STEM-related jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs. But, at the end of 2018, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled, because STEM education is not readily available for many students, especially in rural areas of our country. This is a critical problem, and I will briefly share some numbers to demonstrate just how important it is that we fix it.

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The number of STEM jobs is projected to increase by 13 percent by 2027, compared to nine percent for non-STEM jobs. Opportunities in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing will lead. The average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is $38.85, while the median earning for all other types of jobs in the United States is $19.30. The national average for STEM job annual salaries is $87,570, whereas the national average for non-STEM occupations is $45,700 – roughly half.

The STEM fields provide fantastic career opportunities, but according to the National Math and Science Initiative, only 36 percent of all American high school graduates are ready to take a collegiate science course. According to the Department of Labor, universities in the United States are only expected to produce 29 percent of the number of graduates necessary to fill the 1.4 million vacant computer specialist job openings.

The demand isn’t going to disappear, so it is our responsibility to expose the next generation of workers to STEM education so they will be equipped to fill these important jobs that will lead us further into the future we envision.

I recently participated in a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on STEM engagement, during which I had the opportunity to speak directly with experts from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Since we are experiencing such a severe workforce shortage, I brought up the issue of how we can generate increased interest in STEM-based jobs for the next generation. I also asked for an update about the programs currently in place to target underrepresented, rural areas across our country. I appreciated their time and thoughtful responses to my questions, and I was encouraged by what I learned.

In Congress, I have and will continue to support strong funding for STEM education opportunities. We must do all we can to expose more young people to these increasingly important fields so that today’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s jobs.

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