4 years ago

Is Alabama’s Political Base Shifting Northward?

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the fictional town Maycomb, Alabama, in the state’s southern-most regions. Early in the book, Scout Finch—the daughter of protagonist Atticus Finch—gets a new teacher named Miss Caroline Fisher. Miss Caroline was new to Maycomb, hailing all the way from Winston County. In Chapter Two, the children whisper about their new teacher’s “peculiarities” that are unique to her region in the hills of north Alabama.

While peculiarities are not the topic here, whispers are beginning to take place among the state’s political observers about folks from north Alabama. If early fundraising totals are a measure, a rather dramatic shift in Alabama’s geographic power base may well be underway. Fundraising leaders in the races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General all hail from north Alabama. Compound this with the fact that the current Speaker of the House, Mac McCutcheon, resides in Madison County, and Alabama could be in for a significant change in the way the state does business.

Just a few examples:

•Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle leads all gubernatorial candidates in cash raised with $574,000 in the first two months, not counting transfers

•Attorney General Steve Marshall, from Marshall County, has raised well over $200,000 and his opponent Alice Martin from Florence has raised over $150,000

•Rep. Will Ainsworth, from Guntersville, has raised $515,000 in his candidacy for Lt. Governor

•State School Board Member Mary Scott Hunter lives in Huntsville, and she’s raised $187,000 in her bid for Lt. Governor

Yes, north Alabama is different. It has the beautiful mountains, cooler nights, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. It’s also known for technology and residents from other states and other countries. And north Alabama seems to be making its voice heard.

Even when candidates are elected statewide, there’s a natural inclination to take care of home town folks first, and maybe that’s what is driving these early fundraising totals. North Alabama is far different than it was When Miss Caroline Fisher arrived in “Maycomb” and the new north Alabama wants its voice heard. From the looks of things, it appears its residents are putting their money where their mouth is to make that happen.

With Kay Ivey expected to announce her re-election bid for Governor any day now, and other gubernatorial candidates launching formidable campaigns in other parts of the state, no one knows what will happen in 2018. What we do know, however, is that north Alabama has some highly effective political figures who are forcing all of Alabama to stand up and take notice.

 

2 mins ago

UAH alumna Dr. Kimberly Robinson named U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, an alumna of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, has been named Executive Director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC). The hiring was announced by the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission, which oversees the operation of the center.

Dr. Robinson earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from UAH in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and is a 31-year veteran of NASA. She is also the recipient of numerous NASA performance awards, including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Silver Snoopy.

She began her career at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1989 as a Project Engineer in the Propulsion Laboratory, became an astronaut trainer, served as an Executive Intern to the Center Director, was the Project Integration Manager for the Ares 1-X test flight, served as the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis 1 (the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft) and most recently led Utilization for all Artemis missions for NASA HQs/Advanced Exploration Systems.

1177

Needless to say, the decision to make such a pivotal move at this time in her career is an intriguing one, fraught with change and challenges. “This was a major change to my life plan,” she says, smiling. “I had never planned to leave NASA prior to retirement and wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do while I was still building my NASA career. But now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense to me.”

One only needs to spend a few minutes with Dr. Robinson to feel the energy, enthusiasm and drive she is ready to throw at any obstacle in her way. “I know that I have a lot to learn, and I’m very upfront about that,” she says. “It goes beyond STEM education and space exploration. There are other roles that come along with this position: we run a museum, gift shop, restaurants and a large number of camp programs under Space Camp. Those areas are all new for me, and it’s fun for me to learn.”

Dr. Robinson’s background makes her particularly well-suited for her new role in ways beyond her technical qualifications. The alumna is fully versed in sharing the future of human space exploration with the public through her work in various NASA posts, such as SLS Strategic Communications Manager at MSFC.

“You have to be able to communicate, talk to the public and your team, explain where we are going, and how we will get there,” she says.

It doesn’t take complicated analysis to determine the source of many of the challenges she is facing. “The Center came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic,” notes Pat Ammons, the Senior Director of Communications at USSRC. But Dr. Robinson is walking into this job with her eyes wide open and a finely honed sense of how to help an organization surmount the difficulties it is facing to get back on track.

The most pressing need to be addressed would almost certainly be the financial impact brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would have been easier to step into this role had the Rocket Center been in a better financial situation rather than in a recovery mode after the pandemic,” the new CEO says. “But it wouldn’t have appealed to the part of me that enjoys the challenge. I had a mentor at NASA who said if you want to be valuable to an organization, you go to where they need you. You don’t go where you want to go or go for the best pay or the best title; you go where someone needs you, and do the best job that you can – that’s how you prove your value.”

Officially on the job since February 15, Dr. Robinson has hit the ground running, anxious to put her personal philosophy to work reshaping USSRC operations.

“At NASA I learned important lessons, like how to manage risk and how to make decisions with people’s lives depending on it. Here we are having to adjust and adapt and assess as the situations unfold. For example, we made a decision that we would only operate Space Camp at 50% capacity this summer to safely maintain distance and follow the health guidelines. We had to make that decision early on in order to stabilize our planning. To try to switch on a dime would not provide the quality experience that we want to give our visitors here.”

Dr. Robinson is quick to point out that one of the most important factors in supporting her vision for the Center is the people behind it all. “It’s mostly about team building. That’s what I enjoy, and what I did at NASA – developing a plan, executing the plan, keeping the team safe and secure, motivated and challenged. I believe I can do almost anything with the right motivated team, solve any problem, move any mountain. That’s how we landed on the Moon!”

One important part of leading is helping the team define and share a vision. To this end, Dr. Robinson is working with the Executive Team to develop a Strategic Plan for the Space & Rocket Center to outline the strategic goals of the Center for the next three to five years.

Originally from Birmingham, Dr. Robinson has always been fascinated by the space program. “I loved the space program, airplanes and space ships – but I never knew that was anything I could be a part of. That was for test pilots and German rocket scientists. It wasn’t until I received an award from the Society of Women Engineers presented to me by a female NASA astronaut that I learned it was something I could do too. It felt like the world opened up to me.”

In what has become a kind of lifelong modus operandi for the UAH alumna, it soon became evident, however, that she would have to knock down quite a few barriers to accomplish her goals.

“From that time on, I wanted to work at NASA, wanted to be an engineer and preferably an astronaut. I was a senior in high school, and I started interviewing everywhere for scholarships. I sometimes had people say, ‘You’re a woman, you won’t last as an engineer!’ One interviewer questioned why I deserved a scholarship, when I would probably just get married and leave school after the first year! Well, I stayed with it and now I have a real passion for encouraging women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I want them to know that if it interests you, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong.”

The choice to come to UAH to further her education was an easy one. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Robinson moved to Huntsville to work at NASA while pursuing an advanced degree at night. “I took one class at UAH, loved it, and said this is the place for me! It’s a wonderful university,” she says.

Now that she has had time to settle in, how does she feel about her first six weeks as head of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center?

The alumna grins. “I must look like a drowned rat, because it’s like drinking from a firehose! But just coming in the door, it was love at first sight. The team is wonderful, the mission is solid and appealing, and everything about it has felt right. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, challenging and exhausting, all at the same time.”

Lastly, Dr. Robinson fully understands the importance of helping this cherished Huntsville landmark thrive once more.

“It is a solemn responsibility that I take seriously. It is human nature to explore the unknown and push the boundaries, and space exploration is one way we have done that to a magnificent degree. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center showcases those human achievements that have expanded technologies, opened new frontiers and discovered new worlds. The story itself is the compelling narrative, and we’re here to make sure it shines in a way that connects to each visitor who walks in the door.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 hour ago

Anglers are hooked on Smith Lake’s new weigh-in pavilion

Anglers, tournament staff and community leaders are thrilled with their new shaded place on Lewis Smith Lake in Walker County to host fishing tournament weigh-ins.

Many of them gathered May 8 to share their appreciation for the weigh-in pavilion during a dedication ceremony prior to weigh-in at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open. The pavilion provides shade for fish-holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“It’s particularly important for community events and smaller tournaments to provide better fish care,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’ll come in the pavilion, bring their fish, keep them in the shade, keep in the water until they weigh them. It provides a great way to take better care of the fish to get them back in the water so they can grow up and we can catch them a little bit bigger each time.”

227

New weigh-in pavilion dedicated on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion, constructed in 2020, was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, built with the help of volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It took some funds available, used some donated organized labor, and just came up with a great pavilion,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and to continue to partner with B.A.S.S. and others to bring these tournaments to the communities we serve,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “These partnerships help enhance access points to the beautiful natural resources that our state has to offer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

Bronze Valley Accelerator selects five startups for mentoring program

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Startup accelerator gener8tor announced that five companies have been selected for its Summer 2021 Bronze Valley Accelerator program, giving them access to individualized coaching and a national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners and investors.

The startups, recruited from Alabama and throughout the Southeast, represent a wide variety of industries and verticals, ranging from waste technology to fan fiction content generation.

The group represents the third class for the Bronze Valley Accelerator, which focuses on supporting female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color using the gBETA model from gener8tor.

415

The program is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea, and establish metrics that can make them competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or for seed investment.

More than 150 startups from Alabama and beyond applied to participate in the program.

“In keeping with our commitment to help pave the way to success for people of color and women entrepreneurs, we look forward to working with this group of talented founders to assist in preparing them to attract seed funding and begin to grow and scale their businesses,” Bronze Valley President and CEO Neill Wright said.

NOURISHING THE ECOSYSTEM

Wisconsin-based Gener8tor’s gBETA is a free, seven-week accelerator that works with five startups at a time for no fees and no equity. Each cohort is kept small to ensure meaningful engagement with the gener8tor team, network and other resources.

“Because it provides valuable guidance and mentorship at a pivotal moment in the life cycle of a startup, the Bronze Valley Accelerator represents a key component in our strategic efforts to grow and nourish the innovation ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs across the state,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

The program kicked off on Thursday, May 6, and the startups will work with the gener8tor team over the course of seven weeks to meet mentors, gain customer traction and pitch to investors. Due to COVID-19, the Summer 2021 program will be held virtually.

“In our second year, we continue to see a growing number of entrepreneurs and innovators across Alabama and beyond,” said Haley Medved Kendrick, director of the Bronze Valley Accelerator. “The five teams represent some of the extraordinary talent our community has to offer, and I am thrilled to welcome them to the Bronze Valley and gener8tor communities.”

The program will culminate on June 30 at the Bronze Valley Accelerator Pitch Night, which will highlight each of the five companies. This virtual event will be an opportunity for the public to listen and learn more about the startups and network with the founders and other community members.

The Bronze Valley Accelerator is supported by Bronze Valley, Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Commerce. The Bronze Valley Accelerator is held three times per year, with five companies accepted per cohort to ensure a high level of individualized attention.

In April, Gener8tor announced a partnership with the MidCity Accelerator Foundation in Huntsville to launch a gBETA program in North Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

17 hours ago

State Rep. Clouse says special session will be needed for prisons — ‘We’ve had a gun to our head for at least five years’

When the Alabama Legislature adjourns sine die next week, another year will have come and gone without the body taking time to address the state’s prison problem, which is the focus of legal action taken by the federal government late last year.

Governor Kay Ivey had signed agreements on two lease-build proposals earlier this year. However, as the political environment had changed in recent months, lenders have been reluctant to provide financing for private prison contracts, which has imperiled the Ivey administration proposals.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, indicated he saw no way around a special session to deal with the long-standing prison issue given the challenges presented to the Ivey proposal.

850

“I think we’ll be in a special session to deal with this issue,” he said. “We don’t have a choice anymore. We’ve been talking about this for five years — since Governor Bentley put forth the bond issue proposal in the ’16 session that came close to passing. It passed the Senate pretty overwhelmingly and narrowly passed the House with a little bit different version, then the senate added a different amendment to what we did, and it came down to one of those last night deals again where we couldn’t get it across the goal line by midnight. And I thought we would pass it in ’17 after a lot of the issues had been worked out, and the newness of it had worn off. But then, Governor Bentley had his problems and resigned from office in the middle of the ’17 session. That basically wrapped that up. Then, ’18 was an election year. We didn’t take it up then.”

“I really thought we should have taken it up in a special session in 2019 during the regular session right after we passed the gas tax,” Clouse continued. “But, you know, there was disagreement on doing that at the time to see what this lease-build issue looked like. We thought it was going to get some type of proposal by the end of ’19, and it didn’t happen. And it finally came around, September 2020, and then the legislature wasn’t able to see any of those details, which I wish we had have been because I think the plug should have been pulled as soon as they came out with those proposals 7-8 months ago. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money and could have gone ahead and addressed this bond issue at that time.”

Throughout 2019, lawmakers pointed to 2020 for a possible resolution to prisons, but the COVID pandemic interfered with those plans, according to Clouse.

“Of course, the 2020 [session] — obviously, that session and the whole year was dominated by COVID, and it was difficult for us as a legislative body, and still is — but not as bad as it was — to operate, particularly in the House with everybody spread out all over the place. So, we’ve had a lot of unusual things this whole time over the last five years that have happened and just some bad luck, and maybe not taking the bull by the horn and moving forward with it. But I don’t think we’ve got a choice now — we’ve got to have some new prisons. We’ve got prisons that are dilapidated and falling apart. This is not an answer to all the problems, but you’ve got to have that foundation there. It’s just time we move forward on it.”

According to the Dale County lawmaker, should the legislature pursue prisons in a special session, it would likely mean different plans from the ones proposed by Ivey.

“[W]e’ve already got the land,” Clouse explained. “There’s no need to go out and buy new property. All the proposed sites where we’re buying new property — I mean, the folks who live in those areas, they don’t want it. And so, you know, that’s an issue there for those folks. And I think the main issue, though, is once this bond issue is paid for in 30 years versus a lease program over 30 years is we own the buildings. If they’re built properly, and hopefully they would be in this day and age, they can last 70 to 100 years, you know?”

Clouse acknowledged prisons have long been neglected in Alabama but said that was not out of the norm for any state in the country.

“There’s no question — we’ve had a gun to our head for at least the last five years,” he added. “So, we’ve gone, I would say, the last 40 years, and obviously, I haven’t been in the legislature that long — but I’ve kept up with it that long, underfunding the Department of Corrections, probably $50 million a year. I mean, they’ve got now a $650 million budget. Over 40 years, that’s $2 billion. We’ve always had issues with the general fund budget, always having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul and make sure, particularly with Medicaid, do the minimum amount, so we get that federal match there, which is just billions of dollars, and prisons have always been put at the bottom of the barrel because nobody cares about prisons. They don’t have a constituency. A lot of its the legislature’s fault over the last at least 40 years, probably longer than that. It’s not just Alabama. It’s all over the country. All governments, even local governments — prisons and jails always come up last on funding needs.”

@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.

20 hours ago

Alabama expanding innovation opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses

Entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to start and grow their businesses now have more opportunities and support in Alabama.

That message was the central theme Wednesday during the Alabama Innovation Commission‘s meeting at the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator in downtown Birmingham. The commission met to review its successes and map out goals for the remainder of 2021.

“To be at the midway point and to have the progress that the commission has made is absolutely incredible,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “There’s been meaningful legislation that has been passed, and then to outline what we’re going to do going forward, the way we’re going to try to help Alabama innovate is really been stellar to observe.”

551

Alabama Innovation Commission plans for future from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The commission, also known as Innovate Alabama, was created in July 2020 by Gov. Kay Ivey to give innovators a platform to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation. A focus of the commission during the first nine months was developing policies to increase entrepreneurship, spur innovation and enhance technology accelerators, in addition to addressing the challenges and red tape that startup companies often face. The result of those discussions was plans to establish the Alabama Innovation Corp., an innovation to support statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and provide access to advanced technical skills that will drive the future workforce. The Alabama Legislature approved the plans May 6.

“What I’m excited about with the corporation is that these ideas that are generated in the commission have a place to go,” said Peggy Sammon, CEO at GeneCapture. “I’m hoping that it is a real engine – not a top-down engine but an engine that brings the ideas in the state up and really supports what’s happening in the state because we’re not trying to create something brand new. We’re trying to take advantage of what is working and help support it.”

The legislature also approved allowing the new corporation to make matching grants of up to $250,000 for businesses and organizations that received federal Small Business Innovation Research grants or Technology Transfer Research grants.

“It’s putting additional resources in the hands of the people that are really trying to be innovative,” said Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM. “We look at the small business community and realize that they do need mentors, but they also need those resources that can help to guide them through the process. By having some of the statewide matching funds, it incentivizes those businesses where they can now start to scale and do even more to make some of those dreams come true.”

State Rep. Bill Poole is chairman and State Sen. Greg Reed is vice-chairman of the commission, which now turns its attention to creating a success plan for the corporation and delivering a comprehensive innovation policy report to the governor by Oct. 31.

“I think the key thing is to finish what we started,” Barker said. “When you think about the things that the commission has outlined that we’re going to do, I really do think we’ll be a lot better at securing the right kind of sponsored research for Alabama. I think we’ll do a lot better at commercializing that research and those technologies. I think we’ll do a lot better at supporting existing businesses as they’re looking for ways to innovate, and I think we’ll be a lot better at attracting innovative companies to Alabama.”

“A two-year plan for the corporation would be a very good accomplishment for the commission,” added Sammons.

Stokes said strengthening public-private partnerships is key to the success of the commission’s work.

“It’s very critical,” Stokes said. “It makes a significant impact on our economy but it also has the ability to bridge the gap between some of your urban areas, your rural areas, but then also through different industries. It also gives us the ability to leverage – not just the technology, but also leveraging the business aspects of that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)