12 months ago

Ainsworth, Garrett unveil plan to reopen Alabama’s economy — Many businesses would open immediately

Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is recommending that many businesses in the state, including all restaurants and retailers, should be allowed to open immediately if they employ proper safety precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

The recommendations were made as part of a plan put together by the lieutenant governor’s subcommittee on reopening Alabama’s economy during a Friday press conference.

The full report, which comes in at over 150 pages, can be viewed here.

The lieutenant governor believes that Alabama’s retail stores and restaurants should be allowed to open immediately. He stood in front of placards while making the announcement that read, “Smaller stores, smaller risks.”

Bars would not be able to reopen immediately, according to State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), who chaired the subcommittee and spoke alongside Ainsworth at the press conference.

Ainsworth’s group is also recommending that barbershops, nail salons and other close contact businesses be allowed to open immediately if they take strict precautions such as mandating all employees wear masks and customers wait in their cars until the time of their appointment.

The plan has been presented to Governor Kay Ivey, who ultimately controls when Alabama’s economy will reopen.

Katie Boyd Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), is a member of the subcommittee. In a statement, she said, “BCA is proud to be a part of the great work being done by the Alabama Small Business Commission Emergency Task Force.”

“The recommendations made in the Reopen Alabama Responsibly plan are a critical first step in revitalizing Alabama’s economy and getting citizens back to work in a safe and responsible manner,” Britt continued.

UPDATE 1:00 p.m.

“Obviously this virus is deadly, it’s dangerous, but our committee believes there is a way to safely reopen the Alabama economy and get people working responsibly,” Ainsworth said in his remarks.

Among many other safety suggestions, only 50% of a retail business’ fire capacity would be allowed inside at one time.

In restaurants, the topline suggestion is that all tables be placed at least six feet apart and no groups of more than six customers may be seated together.

The subcommittee focused exclusively on the State of Alabama’s business community, so the report does not include suggestions for when to reopen schools or churches.

The report does not apply to every business in the state, but it does include safety precautions for each area of the economy that it recommends reopening. Five precautions apply across all sectors, per the lieutenant governor’s office:

  • Strictly monitoring the health of employees and placing any employee who displays symptoms of COVID-19 on sick leave.
  • Limiting the number of people allowed inside the place of business at one time.
  • Increasing the frequency of all sanitizing and cleaning measures and requiring additional sanitizing measures for certain circumstances.
  • Enforcing social distancing in all areas of the place of business, specifically high-traffic areas where markings will be required to ensure safe spacing at all times.
  • Establishing measures to limit interaction between employees and customers.

“Some businesses may say that they don’t believe they can implement that,” Garrett said of the safety standards his group’s plan would require.

“Then they will not be able to operate,” he advised.

Both Ainsworth and Garrett mentioned at different points that enforcing the safety measures proposed in their plan would take a combination of law enforcement, trade associations, local government, the public and a willingness to compromise by business owners.

Garrett said the subcommittee had spoken with thousands of business owners across the state. His takeaway was that “as bad as they want to open, they want to open safely.”

“They want to protect their employees, they want to protect their families… they certainly don’t want to infect anyone else,” Garrett added.

Ainsworth said he had gone over the report in detail with Ivey earlier on Friday morning. When asked about the reception Ivey had given the report, Ainsworth said she “was very encouraged and thankful to everyone.”

Ivey has said she will take into consideration the information from Ainsworth’s subcommittee, Alabama’s congressional delegation and a separate executive committee that reports directly to her before making a final decision on the economy.

UPDATE 1:15 p.m.

Garrett explained that were two main challenges in reopening the state’s economy.

The first is the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19.

“We understand there is a nationwide shortage of our ability to test,” commented Garrett, who said he and the subcommittee supports all efforts by the Alabama Department of Public Health to increase testing.

The second challenge is Alabama’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.

“It will certainly be a challenge for us,” Garrett admitted, adding that the report includes ideas for how Alabama businesses could contribute to alleviating this shortage.

When Ainsworth took the podium he began by talking about Alabama’s coronavirus numbers. The rate of increase for new COVID-19 patients has fallen in recent days.

“The numbers fell because of the actions the people of Alabama took,” Ainsworth said of slowing the growth.

The lieutenant governor relayed his belief that the leadership of Ivey and State Health Officer Scott Harris has gotten the Yellowhammer State to the point where he can now recommend opening many businesses.

The subcommittee report also recommended that many elective medical and health services should be able to resume on May 1, such as dentists, optometrists and physical therapists. The report detailed extensive safety precautions for those facilities, such as no patients being allowed in waiting rooms.

Ainsworth said members of his committee had talked extensively with the relevant medical associations and received guarantees that it was possible for certain medical providers to safely provide their services.

Next, the subcommittee recommended that childcare services be opened immediately, with the stipulation that only 11 children be allowed in a facility during any one time.

Further, the report recommended that entertainment venues and gaming facilities like racetracks, museums, planetariums, casinos and bingo halls be allowed to open on May 1, as well as exercise venues such as gyms.

Safety guidelines for all of these respective establishments were included in the full report.

The task force also sees a viable path for public beaches and youth athletic activities to return in mid May, as long as extensive safeguards are put in place.

The group provided further safety recommendations for pharmacies, real estate agents, manufactures and farmers, all of whom have been operating in some capacity during the shutdown and would be slightly revised if the guidance of the subcommittee is followed.

Ainsworth and Garett noted that, as of now, they think businesses like movie theatres and concert venues should remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Governor Ivey had noted in her press conference earlier this week that she was planning to sit down with Dr. Harris during the last week of April to formalize the state’s plan for the economy.

To act on Ainsworth’s suggestions, she would have to move up that time table.

“We’re giving her recommendations… we’ll let her make the decision,” said Ainsworth.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Alabama lineworker training programs graduate spring classes

Bishop StateLawson State and Jefferson State community colleges are investing in the future by offering technical training programs to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades.

Through this innovative partnership, students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science knowledge needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready upon graduation.

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This spring, 39 students successfully completed lineworker training programs in Birmingham and Mobile.

As part of its ongoing commitment to workforce development, Alabama Power Company partners with these colleges to offer lineworker training programs.

“We are excited to partner with these outstanding colleges and provide opportunities for Alabamians to train for great, safe careers as lineworkers,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services. “Helping ensure our state’s workforce is well-represented and prepared to succeed today and in the economy of the future is an important way we seek to elevate Alabama.”

Post-graduation response has been favorable from hiring companies.

“Alabama Power and other utility partners have been extremely impressed with the quality of hires from these programs,” said Tom McNeal, Alabama Power Workforce Development Program manager. “I encourage utility companies and contractors seeking quality candidates and students interested in applying for the programs to contact the school in their area.”

Potential students who want to apply or learn more about the program should contact:

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Smiths Station celebrates two decades through new city clock

This June, Smiths Station will mark 20 years of incorporation, and the city is planning to celebrate the past, present and future in the most momentous way. City officials led by Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland unveiled a city clock that will honor history while looking to the future.

Nestled between Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia, Smiths Station is one of the three fastest-growing cities in Alabama, according to state officials. Incorporated in 2001, the Smiths Station community was founded in the early 1700s. It had an estimated population of 5,345 people in 2020.

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Copeland, the second mayor in city history, offered appreciation to the first administration in setting standards for Smiths Station’s successful 20-year history as a city.

“Thanks to the previous administration, former Mayor LaFaye Dellinger and the City Council that laid the groundwork, it was easy for us to build on that foundation, build the roof and with each passing administration, the building will get fancier and fancier,” he said.

Copeland went on to say, “the clock represents time set upon us and what we do in life.”

He said the city and community deserve the landmark and all that it signifies.

Melissa Gauntt, the daughter of Dellinger, expressed her gratitude to the foundation. She said of her mother’s work: “I know the time and commitment that she gave to the city in her 16 years as the mayor and even before becoming mayor in leading the efforts to incorporate the city. “It is truly befitting that this beautiful clock be representative of these deeds and is a striking addition to the front of City Hall.”

The clock is in downtown Smiths Station at 2336 Lee County Road 430. For more information about the city of Smiths Station, visit www.smithsstational.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Hyundai lending cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell SUV to Alabama State University

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) will lend one of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell sport utility vehicles, the Hyundai NEXO, to Alabama State University for an extended evaluation period.

Robert Burns, Hyundai’s vice president of Human Resources and Administration, made the announcement at a news conference April 6 joined by ASU President Quinton Ross in front of the ASU Lockhart Gym.

“This is truly a great time to be a Hornet as we celebrate the continuing partnership between Hyundai and Alabama State University,” Ross said. “Several weeks ago, Hyundai and ASU came together as the university hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the employees of Hyundai, and today we witness ASU partnering with Hyundai again as it loans us its high-technology vehicle, the NEXO, which will allow us to expose our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to this first-of-a-kind vehicle.”

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The Hyundai NEXO is the first hydrogen fuel cell SUV available for commercial sale in the world. It uses hydrogen to produce electricity for the vehicle’s electric power train and its only emission is water vapor. The Hyundai NEXO is available for sale only in California. Although the NEXO is not assembled at the Montgomery plant, HMMA has two Hyundai NEXOs that are part of a ride and drive program.

“The groundbreaking spirit behind the NEXO mirrors our own mission to be an innovative manufacturer of current and future mobility solutions,” Burns said. “The partnership between ASU and Hyundai began a few weeks ago with the COVID-19 vaccine clinic. The system ASU had in place was smooth, efficient and it worked well. Today, we extend that partnership with the evaluation of the Hyundai NEXO by the university. We are excited again to be working with Alabama State University.”

ASU hosted the first of two COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Hyundai employees March 26-27. ASU Health Center personnel will administer the vaccine’s second doses to them April 16-17.

“Our partnership between ASU and Hyundai has been smooth and wonderful,” said Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis, senior director of ASU’s Health Services. “Today’s event and our April COVID-19 vaccine’s second-round injections to Hyundai’s employees is a great example of ASU and Hyundai’s relationship jelling and extending into the future.”

Montgomery County District Judge Tiffany McCord, an ASU trustee, thanked Hyundai for being a team partner with ASU. “This is yet another positive example of President Ross putting his vision of ‘CommUniversity’ into action, which is good for both Hyundai and ASU,” McCord said.

She was joined at the news conference podium by fellow trustee Delbert Madison. “Thanks to the Hyundai family, which is a major contributor to our community,” he said. “When Hyundai shows up, it shows out.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Auburn University’s Department of Animal Sciences partners with Winpak to extend shelf life of food

Auburn University’s College of Agriculture and its Department of Animal Sciences are teaming up with global packaging manufacturer and distributor Winpak to focus on research to extend the shelf life of meat and food products.

The food product packaging research began in October 2020.

“We are grateful and excited for the unique learning opportunities that will come from utilizing a collaborative partnership,” said associate professor Jason Sawyer. “Through this partnership, Winpak and Auburn University will aid their shelf life research through the placement of a VarioVac Rollstock Packaging Machine provided by Winpak.”

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Collaborating with Winpak and working with industry leaders will not only enhance and contribute to diverse research experiences within the graduate program, but will provide undergraduate students with real-world meat and food packaging involvement, Sawyer said.

“We anticipate this project will work as the foundation to a significant relationship with Winpak, as Auburn University works in tandem with company experts to produce cutting-edge protein packaging and shelf-life solutions,” he said.

The Auburn University meat science research team goal is to provide more product value and reduce markdowns and waste at the retail counter.

Research evaluating alternative packaging of protein products can provide greater knowledge about creating safer products for consumers as a result of less microbial growth.

“Winpak is excited to partner with Auburn University on this unique opportunity,” said Tom Bonner, protein market director at Winpak and an Auburn alumnus. “Developing packaging concepts is an area where Winpak feels Auburn’s Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory can add valuable knowledge and insight.”

Leaders in the protein industry are looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to the ever-changing demand for new packaging concepts, Bonner said.

“As Winpak continues to develop sustainable packages for the protein market, we hope this partnership will attract these industry leaders to the Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory to conduct packaging trials and ideation sessions,” he said.

The packaging equipment at Auburn will allow for student interactions with industry leaders. The goal will be to expose students early in their pursuit of career options and facilitate better-informed students entering the workforce. The protein industry will need strong, innovative leaders to develop creative ideas to keep up with the demand for meat proteins.

“Supporting our customers and upcoming food manufacturing leaders is something we take very seriously at Winpak,” Bonner said. “We anticipate that our new collaborative relationship with Auburn University will be the spark to many unique and interesting ideas for the protein industry.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Nearly $100 million targeted for wildlife injured by 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

The Deepwater Horizon Regionwide Trustee Implementation Group, which includes trustee representatives from four federal agencies and the five Gulf Coast states, is seeking public input on the first post-settlement draft restoration plan.

The regional approach exemplifies collaboration and coordination among the trustees by restoring living coastal and marine resources that migrate and live in wide geographic ranges, as well as linking projects across jurisdictions.

The plan proposes $99.6 million for 11 restoration projects across all five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and specific locations in Mexico and on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Comments will be accepted through May 6. The trustees are hosting two public webinars with open houses for questions and answers on April 15.

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The draft restoration plan evaluates projects that would help restore living coastal and marine resources injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through a portfolio of 11 projects:

  • Four projects ($18.6 million) to help restore sea turtles.
  • Three projects ($7.2 million) to help restore marine mammals.
  • One project ($35.8 million) to help restore and increase the resilience of oyster reefs.
  • Two projects ($31 million) to help restore birds.
  • One project ($7 million) to help restore both sea turtles and birds.

The public is encouraged to review and comment on the draft plan through May 6 by submitting comments online, by mail or during the virtual public meetings.

Information on how to submit your comments are at the latest Regionwide Restoration Area update.

During the April 15 virtual meetings, trustees will present the draft plan and take public comments. Register and learn more about the webinars and interactive open houses.

The draft plan and more information about projects, as well as fact sheets, are posted on the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)