2 years ago

Aerospace, defense industry leaders praise Alabama at Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ event: ‘I wouldn’t be anywhere else’

HUNTSVILLE — Yellowhammer News on Wednesday held the third of its 2019 “News Shapers” events: “Prepare for Launch.”

Hosted at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), key stakeholders from industry, government and academia came together to discuss Alabama’s soaring aerospace and defense industry.

Yellowhammer Editor and Co-owner Tim Howe moderated the panel discussion between Governor Kay Ivey; Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield; Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01); Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05); Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA); John Shannon, vice president and program manager of space launch system for Boeing; Steve Cook, executive vice president of Dynetics; Todd May, vice president space and mission solutions for KBR; Miranda Bouldin, president and CEO of Logicore; Kris McGuire, CEO of Victory Solutions; Dr. Dale Thomas, professor and eminent scholar at UAH; Rey Almodovar, CEO of Intuitive Research and Technology; John Watson, president and CEO of Torch Technologies; and Dr. Peter Weiland, chief technology officer of Radiance Technologies.

“It’s unique to see this many distinguished guests in one room,” Ivey commented.

A major talking point during the hour-long forum was how to continue growing the industry in the Yellowhammer State.

After Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle graciously welcomed the panelists and attendees to the Rocket City, Ivey delivered the opening remarks.

She noted the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 that just passed, giving a nod to the Huntsville-built Saturn V rocket that powered the famous mission. With that landmark achievement in mind, Ivey said that Alabama’s aerospace and defense industry is set to make history once again, playing a leading role in the Artemis Program and working towards new technologies and discoveries once undreamt of.

‘Nurturing the workforce’

Following the governor’s comments, Canfield shared statistics on just how fast the industry is growing in Alabama.

“I don’t believe that anyone would have understood or projected the state of Alabama to be as robust in the growth of aerospace, defense and space as we have been,” he said. “Particularly over the last few years — I’ll put that in perspective. In 2018 alone, the Alabama aerospace and defense industry … added 1,400 new jobs and invested $653 million in new investments in the state of Alabama. If you look at the industry since 2011, it is even more profound.”

“From 2011 through the end of 2018, we saw $3 billion of investment made in the state of Alabama in this critical sector,” Canfield outlined, saying this created over 11,000 new jobs. “If you look at exports, which are a great measure of the health of a state and particularly the health of an industry sector, aerospace and defense in the state of Alabama makes us the 12th largest exporting state in the U.S. for aerospace, defense and space products that are made in Alabama. We exported, in 2018, to over 97 countries across the globe. Our exports valued $2.4 billion, which was a 28% increase over the previous year. And, we saw since 2014, when our exports at that time were $747 million, a three-fold growth in export value in 2018.”

This growth should continue, Canfield projected.

“I don’t think that we are going to see another faster-growing sector in our state in the next ten years than aerospace and defense,” he told the crowd. “That’s why the governor and her department of commerce are committed to creating the type of business environment that are important to providing not only the climate, but also nurturing the workforce that are going to be required.”

Workforce was a major theme from almost all of the panelists throughout the discussion, from Ivey’s opening comments onwards. UAH was specifically applauded by several government and industry leaders for being an international powerhouse in preparing future aerospace professionals.

Canfield called UAH “a leader in the preparation and education and skills development of great engineering students — and not only engineering students, but also students that are graduating with the types of degrees that are in high demand in the aerospace and defense and space industry.”

He later named Auburn University’s impressive additive manufacturing work, the University of South Alabama’s research related to an unmanned biological lab for the lunar Gateway and the University of Alabama’s award-winning astrobotics team as other examples of the state’s higher education institutions helping the industry thrive.

Because of four-year institutions like those, the community college system and the state’s emphasis on workforce development, Alabama has become an ideal location for preeminent members of the aerospace and defense industry.

‘Probably the best I’ve ever seen’

Boeing’s Shannon said the state’s investment in UAH was especially key for the industry in Alabama, calling the university in Huntsville “world-class.”

With several state legislators in the room, Shannon advised that this investment is appreciated — and well worth it. Boeing alone has an annual $2.3 billion economic impact on the Yellowhammer State.

He also took time to thank Ivey for actively supporting the industry, as well as her overall pro-jobs policies. Shannon lauded the governor for spearheading the Rebuild Alabama Act, saying this infrastructure investment is already paying off in enhanced industry outlook, even though the additional gas tax revenues have still not begun phasing in.

“It is extremely important for us to have the infrastructure inside the state to be able to move parts, people and hardware around,” Shannon explained.

He also noted that the state government, the city of Huntsville and Alabama’s congressional delegation work very well with private sector partners, something that is crucial for industry.

In fact, Shannon said this public-private collaboration in Alabama is “probably the best [he’s] ever seen.”

‘We love Alabama so much’

ULA’s Bruno reinforced that the Yellowhammer State truly is a business-friendly destination.

Introducing himself to the crowd, Bruno remarked, “I do build rockets here in Alabama, and I wouldn’t build them anywhere else.”

Saying actions speak louder than words, he noted that ULA just finished modernizing its facilities in Decatur, an additional investment of approximately $100 million, showing that the company wants to continue growing in the state. In fact, Bruno said ULA even convinced a supplier from Europe recently to move a factory from Switzerland to north Alabama, bringing in jobs and money from overseas.

He then outlined “why we love Alabama so much.”

“[T]he reason we want to do business here is simply for two reasons,” Bruno stressed. “Talent and leadership.”

“We have a great workforce here, we get tremendous engineers [from] this university (UAH),” he continued. “We have a wonderful apprentice program for our skilled technicians that build these rockets. I cannot get access to this kind of talent anywhere else. And the leadership that we get from the state, local and congressional delegations is really unmatched.”

Speaking to government officials in the room, Bruno added, “Your commitment to space is incredible.”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he concluded.

‘The pipeline’

This was far from the only eyebrow-raising testimonial to Alabama’s job-friendliness during the panel discussion.

McGuire of Victory Solutions shared her personal story.

“Alabama — I’m not from here. I’ll speak honestly,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here. You know, when you look at the [national] news and you hear all these things — but when I came here, I was like, ‘What are these people talking about?’ This is an amazing place.”

She highlighted workforce strength as the driving factor that has made her company successful in the state since she located here over 12 years ago.

Cook of Dynetics, during his remarks, said that the state must continue growing “the pipeline of great innovators” that fuels the industry.

He advised that higher-education partners like those at UAH, UA, UAB and Auburn have helped Dynetics meet their demand “for some of the best and brightest.”

This pipeline of graduates going immediately into the industry is “critical,” Cook added.

Dr. Dale Thomas, professor and eminent scholar at UAH, discusses evolving workforce needs, saying that the pipeline needs to expand. (Michael Mercier/UAH).

Making closing remarks later on, Ivey assured the industry leaders around the table — and around the state — that workforce development is at the top of her list of priorities.

She concluded by stressing that the aerospace and defense industry’s success in Alabama means success for the entire state.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

VIDEO: Prisons could be built with COVID-19 funds, Shelby endorses Katie Britt for Senate, Brooks battles with Swalwell as a new poll shows big lead and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Alabama really use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons?

— Does Katie Britt’s entering of the U.S. Senate race shake things up, or has U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) already won this race?

— Can U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) keep the more radical members of the Democratic Party at bay?

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Jackson and Musick are joined by former U.S. Attorney Jay Town to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at those who want to use the illegally acquired tax returns of the uber-wealthy to push for higher taxes. He argues the released returns show that we should implement a flat tax and do away with all deductions.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

13 hours ago

Auburn’s David Housel tackles more than sports in ‘From the Backbooth at Chappy’s’

When David Housel retired from Auburn University in 2006, after a legendary career as athletics director for the Tigers, it wasn’t long before his wife urged him to get busy again – and a deli on Glenn Avenue in Auburn was the beneficiary.

“Susan wanted me to do something to get out of the house,” Housel recalls. “I started going to Chappy’s to drink coffee, read the paper. Pretty soon, Kenny Howard would meet me there, and it just kind of grew from there.”

In short order, friends of Housel began to gather, first a few one day a week and then, just prior to the pandemic, 12-16 people nearly every day of the week.

They meet at Chappy’s, where a plaque commemorates Housel’s booth, and they talk – about sports, of course, but about pretty much anything that’s on their minds.

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Housel began to write essays about those mornings, posting them to Facebook. He’s now compiled more than 100 of those pieces into a new book, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s: Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion, and More.” It’s officially released next week at a series of book signings at Chappy’s in the Auburn area from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each day: Tuesday in Auburn, Wednesday in Montgomery and Thursday in Prattville.

“Consider this Housel unleashed,” the author says. “Most of the stuff I’ve written in my life has been about Auburn on an Auburn platform. Even after I retired, I was a representative of Auburn, even though I wasn’t working there. This is not an Auburn book. It’s about football, politics, religion and more.”

“From the Backbooth at Chappy’s,” with a foreword by Auburn graduate and acclaimed journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson, evolved as Housel’s morning gatherings at Chappy’s evolved, though he began writing the essays fairly early in the process.

“When something is in your mind, in your heart, in your head, if you’re a writer, it just has to come out, and it just comes through your fingers,” Housel says. “Turns out people like to read it, so I got the Facebook page. I shared thoughts and essays and that kind of thing. It was not a planned thing.”

When COVID-19 came along, Housel decided to listen to a few folks who told him his musings would make a good book.

“I had been thinking a lot about it, and it was time to do it,” Housel says.

Housel has written six other books. Most have to do with Auburn sports history, but one, “From the Desk of David Housel,” is similar to “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

“That one was primarily sports, but it had some other things in it,” Housel says. “This one is about the other stuff, but it has some sports in it.”

Though the three topics in his book’s title – football, politics and religion  – are often the subjects people are warned not to bring up if they want to keep the peace, Housel and his friends don’t shy away from any of them. Housel especially gravitates toward religious topics.

“I like the ones that I hope make people think,” he says of his essays. “The good Lord gave us a mind, and we’re supposed to use it. Too few people who call themselves Christians do what the Lord said and use their minds. … Faith has got to be built not on challenging God but questioning God. I think God likes that, because it shows we’re engaged and that we care.”

Now that the pandemic is ending, the Backbooth at Chappy’s events are slowly but surely returning to normal. On Mondays, Housel eats two eggs scrambled, lean bacon and a helium biscuit; on Tuesdays maybe a parfait with granola; on Wednesdays, it’s blueberry pancakes, and Fridays a waffle.

What remains constant is the conversation. And the writing.

“I’m still writing the Backbooth, and since the first of the year, I’ve written a couple I think are book-worthy,” Housel says. “I started out doing maybe one a week, but I’m old enough that I don’t have to meet a self-imposed deadline. When the spirit moves me, I write.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

State Rep. Pringle pushes to ban critical race theory in public schools — ‘Woke culture indoctrination,’ ‘Needs to be stopped in its tracks’

Last week, Florida’s Board of Education banned so-called “critical race theory” from its public schools, and it is a move State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) hopes to follow in Alabama.

Critical race theory, a belief that racism is ingrained in some of America’s sacred institutions, is widely panned by critics because it distorts and weaponizes history for political gain.

Friday, Pringle discussed his prefiled bill for the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session to prohibit critical race theory from being taught in Alabama’s public schools.

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“It’s simply a bill that says in public education, you can’t teach or indoctrinate our children with critical race theory,” he said. “People are waking up all around the nation to how bad this stuff is. I mean, this is woke cancel culture gone completely amuck. They want to completely disregard our 14th and 15th Amendment rights, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act. If you don’t agree with them — here’s what’s crazy: They want to send you to a reeducation camp. Think about that, a reeducation camp. Don’t they do that in China, Russia and North Korea?  That’s how bad this stuff is. Either you agree with them or you have to be sent off to a reeducation camp.”

“This is just indoctrination — the woke culture indoctrination of our children,” Pringle continued. “That’s all it is and it needs to be stopped in its tracks. I mean, our children need to learn history and we ought to open a frank discussion about history — the good, the bad. But this is not about good or bad. This is teaching our children that our nation is a bad nation, is an evil nation and is not the great country that we live in. We are the safest, freest people in the world and that’s what our children need to learn.”

“Do we have problems? Yeah,” he added. “Have we done bad things? Yeah. But we’re still the greatest nation in the history of the world.”

According to the Mobile County Republican lawmaker, the response to the effort thus far has been positive and supportive.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

17 hours ago

Why Sylacauga marble is known around the world

If you’ve ever visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and stared up at the translucent marble ceiling, you’ve witnessed a piece of Alabama history. The ceiling is made of white marble mined in Talladega County’s Sylacauga (appropriately known as the Marble City).

In addition to lending its natural treasure to some of the nation’s most notable buildings, Sylacauga also holds the title for having the longest deposit of marble in the world. The bed of stone runs 32 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and more than 600 feet deep. The marble found in this quarry is especially desirable for two key characteristics: its purity and its durability. When paired together, these distinct qualities make Alabama marble some of the most desired in the world for large-scale buildings and monuments, as well as homes and sculptures.

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The History of Alabama Marble

sylacauga marble

The Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Marble is formed when limestone is subjected to extreme pressure and heat. In Sylacauga, the conditions are perfect for the formation of metamorphic marble. Sylacauga’s massive deposit was first discovered by Native Americans, but it wasn’t quarried until 1834, 20 years after army surgeon Dr. Edward Gantt stumbled upon the vein while passing through with General Andrew Jackson’s army.

In the years that followed Gantt’s discovery, Sylacauga’s marble business thrived. More quarries popped up, mining the marble for everything from funerary monuments to building projects to sculptures. By the 1960s, the use of the quarried marble shifted toward the utilitarian. Rather than being mined in huge chunks for building material, the marble was being ground down for use in products like cosmetics, diapers, magazine paper, fertilizer, fiberglass, toothpaste, and chewing gum. In 1969, marble was named Alabama’s state rock.

A Timeless Treasure

Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Today the charge for Alabama marble is being led by the Swindal family, who own Alabama Marble Mineral & Mining Co. (AM3). AM3’s 50-acre quarry in Sylacauga is the world’s only supplier and leading distributor of Alabama marble. Owner Roy Swindal’s goal is to reintroduce the world to Alabama marble, once again marketing it as a prized material for both commercial and consumer construction. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, around 30 million tons of marble have been pulled from the ground in Sylacauga since 1900. The Swindals hope to add to that number by continuing and improving upon the state’s tradition for many years to come.

Marble Mania

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Sculptor Enzo Torcoletti at the Sylacauga Marble Festival (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

It’s only fitting that a town built on marble pay tribute to the stone that brought its success. For the past 13 years, the city has celebrated its marble mining heritage with the 12-day Magic of Marble Festival. The festival, typically held in April, features several activities and events that are all free and fun for the whole family. Festival participants can take a tour of operational quarries and visit the Gantts/IMERYS Observation Point that overlooks the town’s historic first quarry. The creative side of marble is put on display at Blue Bell Park, where 25 sculptors create original pieces made entirely of marble. On the final day of the festival, the finished pieces are displayed and sold at nearby B.B. Comer Library. Other activities include a 5K run and a scavenger hunt.

If you can’t wait for next year’s festival and you want to see Alabama’s famous white marble in action now, there are several locations around the state to see it put to good use. In Birmingham, try the John Hand Building, Wells Fargo headquarters, City Federal building, or the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re in Montgomery, don’t miss the “Head of Christ” sculpture at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. It was created by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who also happens to be the artist behind Birmingham’s Vulcan.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

18 hours ago

The economics of paying ransom

The cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline by the hacker group DarkSide disrupted gasoline supplies across the Southeast. The company caused a stir by paying a 75 Bitcoin ransom to DarkSide. America historically has been opposed to paying evildoers, as reflected in the slogan, “Millions for defense, but not one cent in tribute,” and President Jefferson sending the Navy and Marines to fight the Barbary Pirates.

Ransomware raises many economic issues. A first question is, do hackers ever give the data back if paid? DarkSide provided Colonial Pipeline a key to decrypt their data. According to Proofpoint, this is the norm: 70% of ransom payers got their data back, 20% never got their data back and 10% received a second ransom demand.

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From an economic perspective, this is not surprising. About two dozen groups, identifying themselves by name and known to insurance companies, carry out most of the sophisticated attacks. Insurers would never recommend payment in the future to a group which has reneged. The hackers must deliver as promised to make money.

Some have suggested making payment of ransom for cyberattacks illegal. If no one ever paid ransom, the hackers could not make money. Refusing to pay ransom though faces two significant economic challenges.

The first is time consistency. Kidnapping illustrates this concept. Before an event, the incentive exists to say, “We will never pay ransom.” If the bad guys believe this, they will never invest the time, effort and expense to stage a kidnapping. Once they hold hostages, however, our incentive changes; negotiating just this one time now makes sense. Our policy to never pay ransom is not credible.

Collective action poses the second challenge. Businesses collectively have an interest in not rewarding cybercrime, yet individual businesses suffer these attacks. A business which does not pay ransom benefits other businesses, creating the challenge. Why should Continental Pipeline suffer losses to make other businesses less likely to be attacked?

Why do businesses pay ransom? Reports mention several factors. A business may face a closure of unknown length and cost. Customers’ personal information will be sold if ransom is not paid, leading to fines and bad publicity. And the hackers might sell proprietary information to competitors.

Good economists know better than to second guess business managers’ decisions. Decisions to pay ransom often involve the business’ executives, its insurance carrier and tech security experts. They know the options and likely costs and should make a good decision, despite the pressure of a crisis.

Insurance companies and government regulations reduce organizations’ vulnerability to hackers, which is good. But what about channeling President Jefferson and going after the hackers? Most of the hacker groups operate in Russia, which provides Safe Haven as long as the hackers do not target Russian companies. Some law enforcement options may exist. Federal prosecutors apparently recovered most of the Bitcoins paid to DarkSide.

Crime is a very costly way to transfer wealth. Stolen merchandise typically sells for one-third (or less) of market value. A criminal might have to steal thousands in property to net $1,000. Ransomware appears much more wasteful than traditional theft. Consider just the value of the time Americans spent searching for gas during the disruption. Remember then that the ransom was about $4.4 million.

Cybercrime makes us poorer. The hackers and defenders at tech security companies are highly skilled computer programmers. But instead of making new apps or games, they are hacking or defending existing computer systems. Add to this the service disruption during cyberattacks, the reduced use of technology for fear of being hacked and the time spent on security training. The costs may be $1 trillion annually, or one percent of global GDP.

We must guard here against comparing the real world to an imagined utopia. We cannot costlessly protect our property from thieves or our computers from malware, or make people no longer willing to steal from others. Economics teaches that there are no perfect solutions in life, only tradeoffs. Vigilance, antivirus programs and backup are the tradeoffs we face with cybercrime.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.