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1 month ago

A South Alabama ‘Renaissance’ – How Andalusia is getting its groove back

Small towns are scattered throughout South Alabama. To many, they are just blurs or brief stopping points during trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.

They come in different sizes and have funny names like Florala, Elba, Samson, Slocomb, McKenzie, Enterprise, Opp, Hartford and Brewton. They are not unlike any of Alabama’s numerous other small towns. Like many, bypass routes have been built to route traffic around their business districts. Some, like Castleberry, are notorious speed traps and have been for the last several decades.

There is one that seems a little different than the rest – the city of Andalusia.

People in nearby towns describe it as “aristocratic.” And they may be right. At first glance, it seems like a place with a little swagger to it – historic buildings that have been or are in the process of being refurbished, new schools with athletic facilities that outshine its nearby rivals and a lively downtown that doesn’t turn into a ghost town after 5 p.m.

From his office in a city hall, a structure built in 1914, renovated in 2004 and since retrofitted with modern bells and whistles one might expect for a small-to-mid-size company, Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson acknowledged the reputation.

Andalusia City Hall (Jeff Poor/YHN)

“Andalusia has always been seen to be a forward-moving progressive town,” Johnson said in a sit-down interview with Yellowhammer News. “There’s something about the name ‘Andalusia’ that’s sort of sexy, cool.”

It’s a posture that isn’t unwarranted.

Earlier this month, Shaw Industries, Inc., a Dalton, Ga.-based carpet manufacturer announced a $250 million technology investment into its Andalusia facility.

A week earlier, the nearby South Alabama Regional Airport announced the new tenet Dyncorp was “immediately” bringing 45 news jobs to maintain and repair the TH-57 Naval helicopters.

Those announcements suggest a trend is underway in the south-central Alabama city of nearly 9,000 residents.

Andalusia’s ‘Renaissance’

Upon one’s first visit to Andalusia, you can’t help but notice many of the city’s historic structures. Over the years, many of those buildings fell into disrepair and began to show their age.

Rather than tear them down and turn a blind eye to Andalusia’s heritage, Johnson saw the opportunity to preserve some of those structures, and in some cases at a bargain for the local taxpayers.

“This revitalization – I call it Andalusia’s renaissance,” Johnson explained. “We have been working on [it] for 20 years now – Andalusia has been getting in place to see a Renaissance of its old self coming into place, and we’re dead in it right now. We’re on top of it.”

Downtown Andalusia circa 1921 (Kristy Shuford White’s “Andalusia”/Three Notch Museum)

One of the first steps of this “Renaissance” was the city hall, a structure built in 1914 and was formerly the Three Notch School. It was renovated in 2004 by the city for $3.5 million – arguably much cheaper than what it might have been if the city had started from scratch in its quest for a new city hall.

In that same spirit of revitalizing old school properties, Johnson’s administration took what was known as the Church Street School, a building built in 1923, and renovate it to become the Church Street Cultural Arts Center, home to the Andalusia Ballet.

Like many of the small towns throughout the South, the heart of Andalusia is the town square. It is bordered by the Covington County Courthouse to the north and various shops and office buildings on its other three sides.

Covington County Courthouse, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

The city’s most memorable and iconic structure is the First National Bank Building, also referred to as the Timmerman Building, at the southeastern corner of the city’s square.

The six-story high-rise building was built in 1920 and has had a mixed history of occupancy in its nearly 100 years of existence. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The city acquired the building in early 2017 for $260,000 plus $1,500 in closing costs.

First National Bank Building, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Johnson explained how the city acquired the building from its previous owner in California and got half the purchase price donated from a charitable foundation.

“I knew the guy owed some money on it, and I knew the note was coming due at a certain time,” he explained. “I said if we were going to be able to get this, now was going to be the time. I started quietly negotiating about buying the building from him.”

Currently, the building’s ground floor is occupied by Wiregrass-based Milky Moos Homemade Ice Cream, a deal the city inked earlier this year. Johnson said he foresaw the remaining levels to be a mix of commercial and residential.

Another building featured in the city’s downtown portfolio, and one that about which Johnson speaks very enthusiastically is its historic theater. A lawyer by trade, Johnson was able to use his knowledge of the tax code to engineer a deal for the city’s acquisition of the theater through a donation of the property.

Under the previous owner, the theater building was deteriorating. However, once taking ownership of the building, the City of Andalusia put $1.4 million toward renovation, to make way for Clark Theaters and is now equipped with all the modern amenities one might expect for a movie-going experience.

Before and After Andalusia Downtown Theater 2017 Renovation (City of Andalusia/YHN)

Johnson isn’t shy about his city’s role in creating venues for private enterprise. He pledged his support for free enterprise but argued in some cases government has a role in improving the quality of life and opportunity for its constituents.

“I believe in the free market,” Johnson explained. “I believe in capitalism. I believe in the free-market system. But some people worship it. They think it has all the answers to all problems. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t always fix everything. Any manmade system is not perfect, and small rural towns – sometimes it doesn’t work. You’ve got to do something else to make it work. And the things that I’m talking to you and told you about are perfect examples.”

Among the other properties that have undergone rehabilitation were former Andalusia Mayor John G. Sherf’s Springdale Estate, the old AlaTex headquarters, now the home of the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and the former downtown Andala Building, which is adjacent to the First National Bank Building and is the home of Big Mike’s, an upscale steakhouse.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse, Andalusia (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Evolution from agrarian to industrial and overcoming globalization

Like many of the small towns of the region, post-Civil War Andalusia relied mostly on agriculture and timber to fuel its local economy. That would change after the turn of the century.

In South Alabama, cotton was plentiful, and labor was relatively cheaper than the national average and free from any entanglements of labor unions. Disruptions in domestic labor markets and that proximity to cotton enticed textile manufacturers to move their operations to the South.

Eventually, throughout South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, many of the local economies of the 20th century were reliant upon the success of American textiles.

Andalusia was no exception. In 1924, John G. Scherf, a German immigrant with a background in the textile industry assumed control of the local Chamber of Commerce and co-founded Andala Co., and later Alatex. Scherf would later become Andalusia’s mayor.

‘Big Shirt’ tribute to Alatex in front of Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Those two companies manufactured products and distributed them throughout the world, including men’s dress shirts, shorts and underwear. Those products included garments for household brands like Arrow and Van Heusen.

The 1990s brought globalization, a trend that was aided by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With that, a lot of the textile production operations that existed in Alabama for generations moved to Latin America and the Far East.

Andalusia was also no exception to this trend, and in the mid-1990s, it lost its textile industry.

“When Alatex closed its doors, it was a huge negative economic impact to this area,” Johnson said. “And not just Andalusia. Alatex had plants in Luverne, Troy, Crestview (Fla.), Enterprise and Panama City (Fla.). And one time, they had a big warehouse operation up in Montgomery. It was a regional player as far as employment was concerned.”

1935 State of Alabama Highway Map (University of Alabama Map Archives)

“When they finally shut the doors and locked the gate, that was a bad day,” Johnson added.

Throughout the 20th century, many localities in the region were discouraged from recruiting other industries to diversify their economy. The fear was that new industry might create a competitive market for labor and force an increase in wages.

But when textiles left, some municipalities were caught flat-footed and scrambling for answers on how to fill that void.

“Basically, what I saw was people – all they wanted to do was cuss NAFTA,” Johnson said. “’If it wasn’t for NAFTA, if it wasn’t for NAFTA.’ Well you know, we can’t change that.”

From that point forward, Johnson said he saw the need for Andalusia to diversify its economy. At the time, Johnson was practicing law and serving on the board of the local airport authority. The desire to see his hometown expand its economy catapulted him into politics and eventually mayor.

Hometown utilities give workforce, economic advantages

In the 1930s during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Rural Electrification Act (REA) was passed into law. At the time, electricity in Andalusia was sparse, and only a few places had it, which was just enough to power some lights. Under REA, the Alabama Electric Co-op (AEC) came into existence and was headquartered in Andalusia given its proximity to the Conecuh River, which could be dammed to generate hydroelectricity.

AEC generated and sold the electricity to municipal and county electric cooperatives and eventually became PowerSouth and is still headquartered in Andalusia today.

Later came the Southeast Alabama Gas District, also headquartered in Andalusia.

According to Johnson, all those were ingredients in setting the city of Andalusia apart from some of its neighbors.

“Though we were primarily agriculture, timber and textiles, we had these other things going for us that a lot of cities didn’t have,” he explained.

Johnson maintains there are more engineers in his city per capita than anywhere else in the state and that the raw number is tops anywhere outside of Alabama’s major metropolitan areas.

A unique set of problems

As much of rural Alabama struggles with maintaining quality education and health care offerings, this seems to be the least of Andalusia’s challenges.

Mayor Johnson contended his city’s public-school system is the best south of Auburn. He also pointed out there are no private schools in the entire county, which suggests residents are satisfied with the public schools.

While many places in rural Alabama struggle to keep their hospitals open and functioning, his city’s hospital Andalusia Health isn’t facing those struggles.

Instead, Johnson said Andalusia’s areas of concern are retail and housing.

On the retail front, Johnson is seeking suitors to fill the void left behind by the now mostly vacant Covington Mall. With the nearest major shopping centers in Montgomery, Dothan and Destin, Fla., Johnson insists Andalusia is a prime opportunity for a prospective retailer.

Hollowed-out Covington Mall, Andalusia in December 2018 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

“People who are interested in the retail business, I would show them are market studies that show we have 150,000 people in our retail market,” Johnson said. “Then I would take them and introduce them to about four or five retailers we have brought to Andalusia in recent years and ask that person to talk to this prospect and tell them what working with the City of Andalusia is like. And I will guarantee you they will tell you it’s the best experience they ever had working with a government. Andalusia is the best experience they ever had as far as getting things done, business taken care of, and cutting the expense and costs of getting their business in business as quickly as possible.”

“The market we have and the reputation and experience we have understanding their problems and making their job easier,” he added.

Housing in the City of Andalusia is relatively affordable. With a median home price of $125,000, Andalusia is slightly lower than the state’s median price at $129,000. However, there is a lack of apartment housing in the city.

“Our other big challenge is housing, apartments – and we’re working real hard on that,” the Andalusia mayor said.

Johnson said he anticipates that problem to be self-correcting.

“More housing in the way of upper-level apartments and also single-family dwellings,” he said. “All that’s starting to show up now, and that’s coming.”

Geographic location, airport highlight city’s transportation offerings

Given the city’s unique location, an hour and a half drive from Montgomery, Dothan and the Florida coastline and two hours from Mobile, Johnson has a wish list of road and highway projects but knows his city isn’t a priority.

Currently, the city is connected to Interstate 65 by four-laned Alabama Highway 55 headed north and to Dothan by a four-lane U.S. Highway 84 headed east. Ideally, Johnson says he would like to see U.S. Highway 331, which passes through nearby Opp, four-laned to the beach and U.S. Highway 84 four-laned westbound to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

However, the most significant transportation asset for the city may not be its highway connectivity, but instead, it’s an airport.

USAF aircraft sit near the terminal of South Alabama Regional Airport Jeff Poor/YHN)

Johnson, who launched his career in politics from his position on the board of the local airport, touts the South Alabama Regional Airport as one of the many jewels in his city’s crown.

The airport touts a 6,000-foot by 100-foot instrument equipped runway and can support most types of military and general aviation aircraft.

Johnson tells of the airport’s evolution from his early involvement to now — which includes 50 hangars, two of which are large enough to house the military’s C-130s and are now a center of operations contractor Yulista.

South Alabama Regional Airport Hangars Operated by Yulista (Jeff Poor/YHN)

The airport also has a unique capability that allows for hot refueling of military aircraft, including airplanes and helicopters. Aircraft can refuel at Andalusia’s airport without having to shut down, and therefore avoid wear and tear on engines.

Johnson notes the airport’s proximity to Ft. Rucker to the east and Eglin Air Force Base and Pensacola Naval Air Station to the south, which makes it a favorite refueling spot.

The closing argument: Come to Andalusia for quality of life, lower cost of living

After spending more than four hours with Mayor Johnson, I asked him to offer a closing argument to those who might consider Andalusia as a location for a home or a business.

His answer: quality of life for a bargain.

“Our quality of life in Andalusia – I don’t think you can beat it, and here’s the reason why: We have a lot of things in Andalusia you won’t find necessarily in the Birminghams of the world,” he said. “We have schools that are among the top schools in the state. To get that in Montgomery, you’re going to have to pay about $15,000 a year in tuition to somebody per child. Health care, top-notch. No, we don’t have a university hospital here. We don’t have many of the specialists, but you’re still within just a short drive of that.”

Johnson plugged his city’s “active faith community” and its people as another aspect of his closing argument.

“I know people say every you go ‘we got great people,’ but we really do,” he continued. “And as far as looking for something to do, if you want to be involved, you can get involved to the level you want to be involved and make a difference in the community in a town like this.”

All this comes, he adds, at a much lower cost than Alabama’s bigger cities.

“You can live in Andalusia at a level that would cost you probably 30-to-40 percent more in one of the metro areas,” Johnson added.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

7 hours ago

South Alabama attorney’s pageant coaching inspires another TV series

One day, Andalusia’s Bill Alverson was an attorney whose accidental hobby was just something he loved to do.

The next day, a seven-page feature in The New York Times, chronicling his pageant-coaching story of Miss America wins, suddenly crowned Alverson as the “Pageant King.” Before you know it, there’s a front-row seat into his world on TLC’s “Coach Charming” and the CBS network buys the series rights.

Today, it’s a scripted show on Netflix – “Insatiable” – which has been picked up for a second season.

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An accidental hobby

Alverson is a Dothan native and Auburn University graduate who earned his law degree from the University of Alabama. He began practicing in Andalusia in the early 1990s, specializing in family law and criminal defense.

He did not make a practiced entrance into the pageant coaching world. Instead, he discovered the talent when prompted by his church choir director nearly two decades ago to help a local teen. Soon, word spread.

Over the years, Alverson honed his craft, making his way into the Miss Alabama Pageant system. When three of his clients earned back-to-back-to-back Miss Alabama titles, he transitioned to the national stage. Today, his client list includes three Miss America winners and scores of local, regional and national title holders.

“I feel that it’s our job to inspire those in front of us,” Alverson said. “When I look back on things, I can say that it’s been amazingly unbelievable. I never envisioned I’d be on a reality show, that I would have a TV show based on my life. Me? This small-town Alabama guy, who’d have thought it?”

But that’s exactly what happened. In 2014, Alverson’s rise as much-sought-after pageant coach landed him in The New York Times.

“I could not have planned it,” he said. “When I’ve done a lot of things to self-direct myself to create things, it has not been as successful. I do really well guiding others.

“I knew my path to go to law school and to become an attorney,” he said. “As an old-school Southerner, I guess when you have this dream, it takes a lot of faith.

“How I ended up on TV, it was completely out of my spectrum,” he said. “I met one person, who met one person who got an article written – seven pages in The New York Times. Angelina Jolie and Donald Trump haven’t even had that. Who else gets that? Me. Strange, right?”

That “unknown” factor played in Alverson’s favor. When the publication decided to accompany the written piece with a short video, Alverson was contacted by movie producers and directors all asking the same question: How does someone from Alabama wind up as a pageant coach?

Alverson’s quick wit, sharp tongue and all-honesty approach, which can be seen in the clip “Pageant King of Alabama” on YouTube, were all the makings needed for good television.

It just kind of happened

From there, the TLC show “Coach Charming” was born.

“Literally within 60 to 90 days after the article came out, I was signed by an agency and working with a production company for a nonscripted reality show,” Alverson said. “There is no way – and even as much as I like to create things to happen – could I have ever created a situation like that to happen.”

The TLC shows highlighted Alverson’s lawyerly approach to the clients he coaches, working on interview responses and perfecting their overall look and performance. It also gave insight into Alverson’s family life and how, while practicing law with his son, William, he managed to juggle the demands of a second career.

“The fun thing about (‘Coach Charming’) was I got to do it with my family,” Alverson said. “What a lot of people don’t know is that while that show was happening, we were simultaneously working on ‘Insatiable.’ It was crazy.”

Written by Lauren Gussis of “Dexter” and “Once Upon a Time” fame, the Netflix original series features Disney star Debby Ryan and Alyssa Milano, with Dallas Roberts filling the role based on Alverson’s experiences. It is the tale of a bullied teenager who – with the help of an attorney turned pageant coach who soon realizes he’s in over his head – turns to pageants to exact her revenge. The “darkly comedic” 13-episode series debuted Aug. 10 and has been picked up for a second season.

“It’s just fun,” Alverson said of the show and its creation process. “I get to do a cameo in the first episode. I did a few lines, but I think only one made it in. It was very surreal to sit on the set with all these famous people with a chair that said ‘Insatiable’ on the back and know this is my story.”

In its early stages, the show received strong criticism that it “fat-shamed” young women and was detrimental to their self-confidence. One woman led a petition for the show’s cancellation.

It wasn’t a surprise to Alverson.

“The woman is an international spokesperson on this issue and basically saw an opportunity,” he said. “After the show was released, her petition essentially died because it falsely represented the show and, in fact, the show does the exact opposite.

“The show is satire and is off-cuff humor, but it does show the negative effects of many different types of bullying and the results of being a victim of bullying,” he said. “It’s a comedy, but the show’s design is to evoke conversation, which clearly it has.”

His Hollywood moment

Since 2014, Alverson has traversed the strange path to Hollywood. Again, the word “surreal” comes to mind.

“I coach differently,” Alverson said. “I get why people say pageants are shallow and superficial. One of my lines in the (TLC) show was, ‘Life is a pageant.’

“It was true then, and it’s true today. It is. Everywhere you go. If it’s not, why are you dressing your kid cute for picture day? It’s how it affects you and what you do with it.”

Alverson described himself as “very lucky and very fortunate” to have met people who are successful. He credits his journey with those meetings.

“We all have ideas of what we would love for our life to be,” he said. “As a child, I wanted to be an ambassador. I remember watching TV and visualizing myself in it. Little did I know that one day, that would become true.

“When I coach, I tell my clients to be prepared for the unexpected, but also be prepared to move in any circumstances and direction you’re in,” he said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do – be prepared for what comes my way and be thankful for it all.”

So, what’s next on Alverson’s to-do list?

“My grandfather told me he always wanted to learn something new every day,” Alverson said. “If other opportunities present themselves to be on TV, I’m all for it. I want to travel more. I’m always intrigued with people. I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.

“I’m a big Romans 8:28 guy – ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,’” he said. “I’m not a celebrity. I’ve been to Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I’ve seen superstars, people who’ve been famous all my life. It was fun, but I hope – at the end of it all – I want to have made a difference when it counted the most.

“Because you know, the thing is, it could all be gone tomorrow,” Alverson said. “So, don’t get lost in who you really are. I am still the guy who likes to ski on Gantt Lake, who goes to Walmart. But today, I’m planning on going to a premiere for a TV show.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark: The heart of a champion

It’s halftime of the game against the Louisiana Tech University Bulldogs. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Blazers are facing a tough conference opponent on the road.

“We went into halftime. It was close. I can’t remember the score,” said UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark. “One of those feelings coming out in the second half, I felt good. We won it going away in the fourth quarter, which is what you want to see. Finish. [Winning] it going away in the fourth quarter against a good team on the road, I thought, ‘That’s what a championship team looks like.’”

The Blazers were tied with the Bulldogs, 7-7, at the half, then scored 21 unanswered points after halftime to win 28-7 in that October game.

‘A winner’

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Clark knows what a championship team looks like because he has championship mettle, says everyone who knows him.

“Bill Clark is a winner,” said Royal Cup Coffee CEO Emeritus Hatton Smith, a key fundraiser for the team. “He’s won every place he’s been, from Prattville [High School] to Jacksonville [State University]and [at UAB]. With two years of no football, he kept most of his staff together. … He has remained loyal to the UAB program and has become a very valuable commodity. … We are very fortunate we have a winner as our football coach.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said, “Bill Clark represents not just the best of what UAB as a university offers but what [our city] offers. My favorite part is what he does off the field. … He’s intentional about character building. He believes in his students. [It’s not just about] coming here to play football, leaving early, … and attempting to go to the next level. Whether you go to the next level or not, [he tells student-athletes], ‘You need to complete school. You need to do your homework. You need to understand what community service means. You need to understand what giving back means. … The most important thing: You need to know what it means to be a part of the community.’”

Coach of the Year

The UAB football program was terminated after the 2014 season and reinstated in June 2015. After a two-season hiatus, in 2017 the team returned to the gridiron and went on to become one of the greatest college football comeback stories in recent history.

Clark, in addition to winning the prestigious Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award, was also named the 2018 Sporting News Coach of the Year. This season, the UAB Blazers finished 11-3; captured their first Conference USA (C-USA) championship and first division title; made their first back-to-back bowl trips; and won their first bowl game.

“I just give him a great deal of credit for UAB having football and for the team being so fabulous and having such a level of can-do spirit and enthusiasm,” said Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott. “He himself is a game-changer. He set the example by staying. To me, that was big. The guy was out of a job. He didn’t have a team. … He stayed, and he kept beating the drum for the team.”

Brian Hilson, President and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), said, “Had he not stayed, I don’t know that we’d be having this conversation. I don’t know that the football program would be as successful as it’s been, but it’s even better because of him and the way he has handled it.”

Clark, 50, never wavered in his belief that UAB deserved a football team.

“It was really a belief in this city,” he said. “It was our community. UAB is intertwined with the community, and the community is intertwined with UAB, which is intertwined with our fans. All of these were intertwined together. … This is something we deserve.”

That’s a point Clark made to anyone who wanted to bring UAB football back to Birmingham.

“We should have these kinds of expectations — that we can do things great, that we can work together and we can pull together,” he said. “Being an Alabama guy and a guy from around the area [he was born in Anniston], I knew how special this was and how special our people are.”

Community

Reviving a program that would need millions of dollars would take a special person, someone who grew up knowing what a team could mean to a community. That person was Clark.

“My dad was coach in Ohatchee and Piedmont, two small communities,” he said. “My mom played piano at [Oak Bowery Baptist Church in Ohatchee, where I grew up]. It was church and ball and school. That was all part of the community. It all went together. We [in Birmingham] are just on a bigger scale. It’s still a community.”

With that in mind, Clark pursued the return of the UAB football program with the tenacity of a linebacker rushing unabated toward a quarterback.

“I’ve had to be more than a coach,” he said. “To bring this program back, we had to raise money. … I was an [athletic director] when I was at Prattville, [and] I had to raise money all the time there. [Of course], when I was at [the University of] South Alabama, we started that program from nothing. … We had to build the facilities. We had to raise money. We had to create interest. We sold tickets. That’s why I talk about doing things the right way. When you do things the right way, people are going to get involved.”

Clark was adept not only at raising money but also recruiting, and he used his talents to assemble a coalition that would help provide both the funding and the foundation for the team’s return.

“When you’re recruiting, you’re selling. … You’re putting your best foot forward. You’re selling your school. You’re selling your city. You’re selling all these things, … [and] you’ve got other people doing it as well,” he said. “That’s the same thing we’re doing with our program. We’re selling it. What are the benefits of all this? What’s it going to do for the city? What’s it going to do for our community? You need to get involved.

“I think that was the pitch for us. This was about more than just UAB, even though UAB is the economic driver of this city, maybe the state. We are the number-one job producer in the state of Alabama. But it became a Birmingham thing.”

Setting the standard

Clark’s hard work paid off, and he has set the standard for others.

“I think Coach Clark’s commitment to the UAB football program is him saying he’s not afraid to take risks, he’s not afraid to fail, he’s not afraid to dare, [he has] a belief in this program,” Woodfin said. “Having a belief in those students and pushing those players sends a message to this nation and this world that UAB football not only is here to stay but is a winning program that produces a good product.”

Woodfin added that Clark pulled off a rare feat in the Birmingham area.

“When was the last time you saw the Birmingham business community respond the way it has as it relates to UAB football?” said Woodfin. “I think that was bigger than numbers. I think that was bigger than UAB. I think that was bigger than football. I think that was about what Coach Clark stands for and what he means to this community.”

Jack Williams, a longtime UAB supporter and former Alabama state representative, said, “Bill Clark deserves an incredible amount of credit not only for the success, obviously, that this team has had but [also for] the success this community has had in rallying together and building something really positive. They’ve put a great product on the field, and in the past two years Birmingham and Jefferson County have responded by supporting the games in numbers beyond what we had in any years previous.”

Family

Clark is aware of the momentum sweeping the community, but he remains humble. Even today, the coach doesn’t forget his roots — his dad, the coach; his mom, the church pianist; his wife, the nurse turned educator; and the 18- to 22-year-olds he grooms to become men.

“That’s why I always talk about family,” Clark said. “When you think about family you think about these things: ‘I’ve got your back.’ ‘We’re going to work together.’ We’re not always going to agree, but when you know I love you and we’re doing this because we really care about each other, good things are going to happen.’”

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Alabama rocket builder ULA powers critical national security mission

The state of Alabama and one of its manufacturers proved again how vital their work is to the country’s national security when United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully powered a new intelligence satellite into space.

ULA’s Alabama-made Delta IV Heavy rocket launched the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite into space on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Delta IV Heavy is built at the company’s manufacturing plant in Decatur, with the plant being the largest such facility in the western hemisphere.

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“The Delta IV Heavy’s unique capabilities, as the only rocket with the ability to complete many [NRO] missions, have given our military the tools to keep America secure,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno in a statement from the company.

The NRO is a joint Department of Defense-Intelligence Community organization and is tasked with operating the nation’s intelligence satellites used for national security.

ULA has a long history of providing the American intelligence community with launch capabilities.

“For generations ULA and our heritage rockets have launched national security payloads – providing critical communications capabilities to the intelligence community. Today’s launch marks ULA’s 51st successful launch supporting the defense community,” said Bruno.

Saturday’s launch was the eleventh time a Delta IV Heavy has been put to use and the 132nd mission overall for ULA.

ULA’s work has drawn the attention of some of the state’s most prominent elected officials lately.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) paid a visit to ULA’s plant this past week to view the progress of the Vulcan Centaur program.

The Vulcan Centaur is ULA’s newest program and is being manufactured and assembled in Alabama.

Bruno was quick to point out Saturday that the Vulcan Centaur will only enhance the ability of the nation’s military to gather global intelligence.

“ULA looks forward to strengthening our partnership with the Air Force as we develop our next generation rocket, the Vulcan Centaur, which will meet all DoD’s national security needs, delivering even greater capabilities than are available today to meet our Nation’s future challenges,” said Bruno.

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) noted that he had met with Bruno to discuss the company’s activity in the state.


ULA is a large employer within Orr’s state senate district.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

11 hours ago

Wilsonville Elementary boasts first-class playground thanks to help from volunteers

It was good news and bad news for Wilsonville Elementary.

The good: The school was one of 107 in Alabama selected for the First Class Pre-K program in 2018-19.

The bad: The state grant for the program didn’t include $10,000 needed for the required playground equipment suitable for 4-year-olds.

The better: Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville donated $5,000, while its Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) chapter threw in $1,000 and was instrumental in getting Landscapes company to donate $2,000 in mulch.

The result: Combined with a donation from the town of Wilsonville, the playground equipment is up and teeming with children.

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“I can’t tell you the joy our pre-K students have had watching the pieces be delivered and seeing it assembled outside of their classroom,” said Principal Melody Byrne. “This would not have been possible without our friends at Alabama Power. They are like our family.”

Last year, Gaston APSO members:

  • Built a sensory room for special-needs students.
  • Were a book sponsor for the library.
  • Built shading for two playground benches.
  • Sponsored T-shirts for Special Olympics.
  • Sponsored a fishing trip for special education students.
  • Provided and presented awards to students at Awards Day.
  • Sponsored Read Across America Day and volunteered to read to the entire school, with The Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two making appearances.
  • Power-washed sidewalks.
  • Painted the railing leading to the front entrance.

Alabama Power is the epitome of a good neighbor to our school,” Byrne said. “It is impossible to put into words the great impact Alabama Power has had on our school. Specifically (APSO board member and maintenance team leader) Justin Bailey and the APSO team are our heroes. They consistently pour themselves into the lives of our students.”

“We like to be involved with our community and Wilsonville Elementary is our neighbor,” said Rhonda Mann, Plant Gaston team leader in maintenance planning.

APSO feels proud to be part of this endeavor as our community is growing. We as a company can help with that growth and help provide the things needed.”

Getting the pre-K program was a coup for Wilsonville, as First Class Pre-K was named last spring as the nation’s highest-quality program for the 12th year in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The goal is simple: Give students a solid foundation from which to begin academic studies. Studies show students in a high-quality pre-K program score higher on achievement tests; are less likely to repeat a grade, require remedial or special education; and are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and get higher pay in the workforce. Conversely, they are less likely to be imprisoned or on government aid.

Research conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and UAB shows children participating in the pre-K program are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle: Internet sales tax, gas tax revenue could fund road, bridge improvements

In an appearance Thursday on North Alabama radio’s WVNN, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle made a plea to state lawmakers to take on improving Alabama’s Interstate Highway System, explaining they were over-capacity — not just in his city, but throughout the state.

Battle noted the problem areas on Interstates 65 and 565 and suggested the different sources of taxation that could be used to finance improvements.

He also said that with the economic expansion, particularly the Port of Mobile, improvements to roads and bridges would be necessary.

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“I think we all know that we’ve got to do something with our highway system,” Battle said. “Our Interstate Highway System – [Interstate] 565 every morning, folks coming over from Tanner and Decatur basically come to a stop. It’s a parking lot for a little while as they’re headed over in the morning and the evening as they head back into their communities. The roads are over-capacity. We’re having over-capacity problems when you go on [Interstate] 65, and you hit that Calera area.”

“Now you have it when you come down, about mile marker 300 and you go from six lanes down to four lanes,” he continued. “You start having some tremendous back-up. And so, we got to do something with the roads and to do it. We’ve got to have the money to do it. The legislature has got to come up with how they’re going to do it. They have a new revenue of tax coming in, the SSUT, which is the internet sales tax – is coming in and could offer something for it. I’ve heard the talk about road taxes and putting taxes on gasoline.”

Battle acknowledged that he did not have all the answers.

“I don’t know what the absolute answer is,” he said. “I don’t have the numbers like the governor’s office, and the legislature does. But I know it is not just something we want to do. It’s something we have to do.”

The Huntsville mayor also warned that with the dredging of Mobile Bay and improvements to the Port of Mobile that will facilitate increased container capacity, Interstate highways would require improvements to handle the transportation of those containers.

“You think about what’s happening in Mobile right now – they’re going to dredge the bay and take on some bigger and heavier cargo container ships into the state docks down there,” Battle said.

“As they do that, every one of those containers will be on our Interstate Highway System. They’ll be on Interstate 10, or they’ll be on I-65, or they’ll hit 59, 20 or [85] as they come up. It’s just adding capacity to the roads that are already over-capacity.”

“You look at where both Amazon and Walmart both put in their distribution centers down in Mobile,” he continued. “Both of those facilities will be adding more traffic to the roads. What we’re seeing now is just kind of the start of an over-capacity problem that has to be taken care of one way or another.”

@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.