The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

‘God chose to leave me here’: East Alabama tornado victims reflect on 2011 storm

(Michael Clelland/Alabama NewsCenter)

The stunned and mournful gaze of most of Alabama, and indeed much of the nation, was fixed on Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes. But the eastern part of the state was reeling from its own encounter with the deadly twisters that clawed landscape and claimed lives that dreadful day.

A historic superstorm unleashed 62 tornadoes across Alabama over 14 hours, killing as many as 252 people and injuring up to 2,200, according to official sources.

Elmore, St. Clair and Calhoun Counties were among the east Alabama areas hardest hit by the tornadoes that have since been categorized as EF4 and EF5 in strength.

Ten years later, the physical evidence of downed power lines and destroyed homes is mostly gone, but for those who endured those nightmarish moments, the emotional scars remain.

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Elmore County: ‘Complete devastation and a night I’ll never get over’

Throughout the day on April 27, tornadoes created havoc across the state. At 8:12 p.m., as the storm system moved east, the tornado nightmare was just beginning for residents in Elmore County.

The tornado, which began as an EF2, widened and strengthened, ultimately becoming an EF4. The monster storm was on the ground for just over 44 miles and consumed a path almost a half-mile wide.

The devastating superstorm took seven lives, injured more than 30, destroyed property and forever changed communities –  physically and emotionally.

After the storms, stories emerged of catastrophic damage and heartbreaking loss of life, but also of neighbors helping neighbors, strangers becoming friends and communities rebounding.

Nancy Myers, owner of Myers Country Acres, a mobile home community near Eclectic, remembers devastation after the park absorbed a direct hit from the tornado.

“I remember the darkness,” she said. “It was so dark after the tornado struck. There were no lights, no stars. It was total darkness.

“My husband and I had watched the weather and knew a storm was coming. We went into the closet and it was all over so fast. As soon as it passed, we went outside to check on everyone and could see nothing … only heard people screaming for help.”

Her husband immediately began checking on neighbors.

“‘Everything is gone,’” Myers remembered her husband saying when he returned. “At first, I thought it was an overreaction, but it wasn’t. Everything was gone; the tornado had even pulled the grass out of the yards.”

Four people were killed – including members of the Myers family – at the mobile home community. Many others were injured. Twelve mobile homes were destroyed.

“In those first few minutes, we couldn’t see anything, but could hear,” she said. “We followed the voices of people calling for help to find people. It was pure devastation. It didn’t take very long for first responders to arrive and begin searching as well.”

Myers remembers the horrific sight at first light the next morning. People had lost everything. Everyone was just beginning to grasp the loss of what was most valuable, and irreplaceable: their family and friends.

“My husband had to identify his sister and niece,” Myers said. “Something he just never got over.”

Neighbors united over and through their pain.

“From the time the tornado passed, everybody in the park pulled together,” she said. “Everyone was looking for each other’s stuff. Everyone was supporting and comforting. Terrible night, but it brought everyone very close together.”

Help began to pour into her community. Myers remembers a resident standing next to her a couple of days after the tornado. He pointed to the park and moved his finger in a circular motion. “Look out there,” he said. “There’s probably 1,000 people helping and all of those people are doing good.”

The Alabama National Guard, churches, schools, area residents and complete strangers all came to help.

Following the April 27 tornado, the Myers couple began work to help protect residents of their mobile home community from the next storm.

“My husband buried a big, heavy cargo shipping container in an embankment in the park,” Myers said. “It is completely underground with only the door exposed. It is a safe place and open for everyone in our community.”

She said that night changed her.

“I try to handle weather calmly, but when I know there’s bad weather coming, I try to call everyone in the park to make them aware and to encourage them to go to the shelter,” she said. “I know that shelter will save lives.”

She said her memory of that night 10 years ago is as stark as if it happened yesterday.

“Just a devastating night,” she said. “There’s been lots of heartache and hurt that none of us will ever get over.”

St. Clair County: ‘I see a cross’ – Surviving the tornado brings couple closer to God

Don Sanders and his wife, Sis, usually don’t fret too much over tornado warnings and watches. But, thankfully, April 27, 2011, was different.

“Normally, we’d go to bed or watch TV, but we wouldn’t take any precautions,” said Don Sanders, who works at Metro Bank in Pell City and Ashville. “But this particular time, we’d seen how bad the tornadoes were when they came through Tuscaloosa, and there had been some earlier in the day in St. Clair County.”

The last thing the couple heard on TV was meteorologist James Spann saying that a tornado was on the ground along the road where they lived in Shoal Creek Valley. Then the power went out.

“We immediately went to the hallway and took the pictures down off the hallway wall,” he said. “When it hit, it hit hard and destroyed our house.”

The EF4 tornado that made its way across Shoal Creek Road and between the two mountains wreaked havoc on Shoal Creek Valley that day.

The powerful winds physically pushed and pulled Don and Sis Sanders, dragging them down the hallway floor of the home where they’d lived for 27 years.

“Our knees were skinned and burned, just like you’d been on the high school gym floor,” Don Sanders said. “We hit one wall and then the other wall, back and forth, coming down the hall.”

They held on to each other through the ordeal. Sanders had bruises on his back from where his wife had dug in. They ended up in the bathroom.

“The first thing she said was, ‘I see a cross.’ When she said, ‘I see a cross,’ I’m thinking: I don’t know if we’re on our way to heaven or if we’re still here.”

The two walls of the hallway were gone and the ductwork pulled out. Sis Sanders was looking underneath the house. What she saw was two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross.

“That’s where I think He was reminding us that he had his hand over us,” Don Sanders said. “It was reassuring, but we didn’t have any idea of the scope of everything that was happening, how big it was.”

Half the house had been swept clean by the powerful gusts; the other half was rubble. The couple stood taller than anything that was left, Sanders said.

“A lot of people said something to us about losing our stuff. My wife liked antiques and dishes and different things,” he said. “But when we got up, we realized: that was just stuff, and we’re just proud to be here.”

They never found even 10 square feet of the roofing that had been on the house. They never found their clothes dryer. Or their freezer. A 38-foot-tall tree in the backyard was plucked up and deposited more than 50 feet away.

“I was about 75 feet from that, and God chose to leave me here,” he said. “It’s just amazing that we’re here.”

One thing found was a high school sweater from when Don Sanders attended Ashville High School. It was discovered more than 30 miles away in Hokes Bluff, three years after the tornado.

“It just has one arm now, but I was very happy to get that back. Very happy I wasn’t in it,” he said. “It was just so powerful that day. It was a terrible day all over the state of Alabama. It wasn’t just us.”

He acknowledged the emotional toll of surviving the tornado, when others, literally on the same street, didn’t. Two people died in a house just up from the Sanders’ home. Two more died in a house just up from that neighbor.

“In the valley where we live, there could easily have been 30, 40 people killed,” he said.

In all, the storm claimed 12 lives in Shoal Creek Valley, including Sanders’ cousins, Albert and Angie Sanders. Two others – one in Moody and one in Pell City – brought the death toll to 14 in St. Clair County.

“We felt guilty because we survived,” Sanders said. “But there’s a reason: God has something else for us to do. Emotionally, we do fine. But it doesn’t take much to get us. … It’s still a tender place in our hearts. And, yes, we’re closer to God than we were.”

The couple, who’ve been married 43 years, was so affected by the emotional pressure and shock of the ordeal that, for a long time, they had trouble processing their thoughts or completing their sentences. It took a while for them to decide whether to rebuild at the same location.

“We had insurance, we could build back, but all of the land was just totally destroyed there,” he said. “We knew if we built a house back there, we’d always look out and see devastation, and we just did not want to do that.”

The landscape was so desecrated that one of the Sanders’ sons, who came to help begin cleanup the next day, drove past their house because he didn’t recognize the area. The couple’s other son was sitting in traffic in the neighborhood and didn’t know where he was.

In the end, they decided not to leave Shoal Creek Valley. Instead, they built deeper into the Valley near the lake, not too far from their old home.

The storm gave the couple a greater appreciation for their neighbors and for humanity.

Don Sanders commended the St. Clair Sheriff’s Office for doing an amazing job of keeping control and getting volunteers in and out of the area. “And all the people who came and helped and helped and helped. People were sacrificing to help.”

Surviving the April 27, 2011, tornadoes gave the couple a renewed sense of purpose. They attend church more and are a lot more attentive to the needs of other people. And they plan to do more for others when they retire.

“God wanted us to do something else, I don’t know what, but we are closer (to God). We appreciate things more. We don’t sweat the little things anymore. It was traumatic, but he brought us through it, and he’s been with us every step of the way,” Sanders said.

Asked what Sanders would tell others who, even 10 years later, might still be struggling to recover emotionally, he gave a word of encouragement.

“We’re all here one day at a time, and we just got to do the best we can with that one day we have,” he said. “Some of us know, with different health issues, that we have a short time left, but none of us, none of us is promised tomorrow. Just try to live today and know that God’s in control.”

Calhoun County: Don and Sheila Crider – Everyone needs a storm shelter

A decade after the horrifying EF5 tornado ripped through Ohatchee – on its way to the Wellington community before eventually crossing the state line into Georgia – Don Crider’s voice still quivers with emotion. On April 27, 2011, the home that he and wife, Sheila, shared was blown off the concrete slab where it sat since 1988.

The Criders had started the day in Birmingham, where Don underwent knee surgery. They knew severe weather was expected. In fact, the surgeon who performed the surgery had damage to his Birmingham home that morning from an earlier storm.

But this was a time before businesses closed early and children stayed home from school to avoid potentially dangerous storms. So, the Criders went about their business and arrived back home along the shoreline of Neely Henry Lake before the storms trekked into east Alabama.

The powerful tornado that forever changed the Criders’ lives was part of a long-track superstorm that pounded Tuscaloosa and spawned multiple twisters that rampaged their way eastward across the state. The couple had advance warning that the storm was heading through the Shoal Creek Valley area in St. Clair County and would take a direct path toward their home in Ohatchee.

“We got into a closet, which was not our typical saferoom,” Sheila Crider said. “But Don was on crutches, so we huddled together in the closet and held hands – for at least part of the time.”

The storm destroyed everything the couple had. Crider, a general contractor, worked with his son for nearly 10 months to rebuild the home.

At the top of the priority list was constructing a storm shelter, which doubles as Don’s closet. The 10-by-12-foot enclosure features 8-inch-thick concrete walls with double rebar enforcement, a steel door cast in concrete and double deadbolts.

“Everyone needs to consider building a storm shelter in their home,” he said. “A storm of this magnitude literally pulls wood from screws in the foundation.”

The Criders enjoy peace of mind in their new, storm-safe home. Even so, they can’t help but be reminded of that dreadful day each time a new storm tracks its way into the Ohatchee area, which happens more frequently than they’d like.

Indeed, the small northern Calhoun County town was hit last month by a significant tornado, on March 25, when an EF3 took the lives of four people in the community.

Sheila Crider said the support, both after the recent storm and the one in 2011, was amazing. “It’s truly remarkable to see people you don’t even know show up to give help,” she said.

Both of the Criders were injured in the 2011 storm. Don, who was wearing a knee brace following that day’s surgery, received a severe back injury from a falling rock wall. Sheila suffered bumps and cuts from debris.

The more lasting wounds, however, are emotional.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Everything around us was just gone.”

Anthony Cook, Mike Jordan and Jacki Lowry contributed to this report.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

The Frontier conference’s Innovate Alabama panel highlights policies to advance economic growth across the state

(Pixabay, YHN)

Innovate Alabama officials believe the same approach that helped make Alabama a leader in the automotive industry can drive the state to similar success in the innovation economy.

That was one of the takeaways from the Innovate Alabama panel during The Frontier 2021 conference.

In 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey formed the Alabama Innovation Commission – known as Innovate Alabama – to enhance the state’s innovation and economic development efforts for success in a 21st century world.

During The Frontier’s conference, Peggy Sammon, CEO of GeneCapture Inc. and member of Innovate Alabama, moderated a panel that discussed how Alabama is advancing innovation growth through forward-thinking policies.

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The panel included Miller Girvin, executive vice president of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM, and Rick Clementz, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief of staff at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International – all of whom serve on the commission.

“It’s been a fun and stimulating project,” Sammon said of her time on the commission. “A lot of work is happening across the state to spur additional innovation, but there’s a lot of innovation in Alabama already.”

Stokes said one of the key challenges for advancing these efforts is to think in terms of policy.

“A lot of policies and initiatives we recommend center on education programs, financial structures and incentivizing companies of all sizes to participate,” she said.

In a globally competitive world, Alabama has much to offer, particularly in terms of its established and emerging innovation clusters, including in the automotive, health care, information technology and cyber security sectors.

Clementz recalled the landmark decision by Mercedes-Benz to locate a manufacturing plant in Alabama.

“Over 26 years ago, when Mercedes first came to Alabama, they had not produced a single vehicle outside of Germany. It was an incredible risk to try this for the first time,” he said. “They selected Alabama because of the support and culture of state and business that came together to make it possible. That same culture and environment is what you see in the innovation commission now.”

Girvin discussed the dramatic shift over the past five to seven years regarding opportunities in Alabama related to the innovation sector, especially in terms of securing capital.

“Having the support of strong industry clusters makes it easier for those innovative companies to raise money when they have a customer in the state to work with them,” she said. “Outside venture capitalists are taking note of what is happening in Alabama.”

Girvin added that the messaging around innovation is an important component when it comes to access to capital, and that matching programs are incredibly helpful in complementing federal and state programs.

That collaborative energy is helping innovative startups in Alabama in a variety of ways, from attracting capital investment to gaining support and guidance through mentorship.

“There is a desire for success in the state. Many people and many companies are willing to give to make that happen,” Sammon said.

Clementz emphasized that developing, retaining and attracting talent is essential for success. “Getting the right workforce is challenging, but it is one of the best investments we can make as a state.”

For more information about Innovate Alabama and its work in enhancing and expanding entrepreneurship, innovation and technology development across the state, visit InnovateAlabama.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Frontier Leadership panel features Economic Development Partnership of Alabama chief

(The Frontier/Contributed)

Creating a culture that spurs innovation and lays the foundation for success will help leaders survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive landscape, Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), said recently.

Innovation is a must, not an option, in this era of rapid change across industrial sectors, Barker said during a Frontier Conference virtual session facilitated by Whitney Wright, co-chair of Athena Collective. Change is being propelled by transformative technologies, including data analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and smart manufacturing solutions, Barker said. Business leaders are under pressure to adapt and adjust.

Barker was named president of the EDPA in June 2020. He has been involved in economic development for more than 30 years, with 20 of those years serving at Alabama Power.

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Barker is optimistic about 2021 and, based on his conversations with business leaders in Alabama, he’s not the only one with a positive economic outlook. Barker said workers are becoming accustomed to virtual meetings and adapting their workday to the ever-changing environment.

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its quarterly survey results saying manufacturers were more positive in the first quarter of 2021 than they were in any quarter since the beginning of 2019.

Barker pointed to successes in Alabama that bode well for the state. He said the legislation to renew incentives that passed early in the current session of the Alabama Legislature is a big positive.

Also, Gov. Kay Ivey established the Alabama Innovation Commission late last year, with state Rep. Bill Poole serving as chair of Innovate Alabama and Sen. Greg Reed serving as vice chair, overseeing the commission’s 15 members.

“They are coming up with great ideas to innovate and support companies,” said Barker. “These leaders have worked together to develop strategies on how Alabama can see more growth and a better quality of life.”

On the national level, Barker said investment is needed in infrastructure nationwide: roads, water, sewer, fiber and broadband. These investments create job opportunities and provide critical infrastructure that businesses need to be successful. Federal matching money is “incredibly helpful” in developing infrastructure to sustain success on the state level, Barker said.

In addition to the policy and tactical growth that drive and facilitate innovation in businesses, culture and leadership are also important to make sure innovation is part of every business.

“We’ve all heard the saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Barker. “If you don’t have the right kind of culture and mindset, it’s going to be really hard to implement your strategies. Your culture has to perpetuate or you’re not going to be successful.”

Diversity and inclusion are right to do from a human perspective, Barker said, but they are also right to do for a business to be successful.

“It doesn’t stop there. At EDPA, we observe how emerging companies do business with big companies,” Barker said. “In Alabama and all over the nation, we can do a better job of finding these fits. These emerging companies are developing solutions that could be helpful with some of the big issues facing big companies. We’re trying to do a better job of engaging smaller companies with big companies. It has to start at the top and work its way down.”

Sales between big and small companies are two examples of where culture and risk collide, Barker said. There are many successful incubators around Alabama that have proved successful.

“We need great talent to bring new business to Alabama,” Barker said. “We’re making robust investments in fiber infrastructure and broadband, products they need to be gainfully employed. It’s the single most important thing. It’s also about quality of life; there are great restaurants, the outdoors, quick access to sandy beaches, mountains, streams, lakes, and our cost of living is significantly lower.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Scientists identify new home for rare, tiny rush darter

(Dylan Shaw/Alabama Power)

A new search in the Bankhead National Forest for a tiny, rare fish found only in Alabama has discovered it living in a spot where no one had seen it before.

The USDA Forest Service, supported by biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, went looking last month for the federally endangered rush darter in a remote section of the forest in Winston County.

The rush darter was already known to inhabit small streams near Bankhead National Forest. Then, in 2019, biologists found the fish living in Bankhead, in a tributary of Clear Creek. The latest surveys, completed over three days in March, revisited some of the same locations but added a few more.

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The result: Experts found the little fish, which grows to a maximum 2 inches, in a new location in the Clear Creek watershed – expanding the range of confirmed habitat for the species in the national forest.

“It’s always good news when you find more of an endangered species,” said Dylan Shaw, a biologist with Alabama Power.

Bankhead National Forest Wildlife Biologist Allison Cochran credits the ongoing Forest Service-Alabama Power partnership for a number of important accomplishments related to aquatic species surveys and management.

“Our capacity to survey for and conserve rare species exponentially increases when we have strong working partnerships,” Cochran said. “We are learning more every year about the rush darter’s habitat and how we can incorporate it in our management efforts. It has been exciting for all of the partners to finally find rush darter on Bankhead!”

The rush darter is known to survive in only a few locations – all within Alabama. While not much is known about the dun-colored fish, it prefers to live, as its name implies, in grass-like rushes and vegetation found along the edges of small, clear streams.

Spring is the ideal time for surveyors to go darter-detecting – when showers create seasonal pools near creeks where rush darters are suspected of breeding. The darters are believed to travel back and forth, from creek to pool, to spawn.

Shaw said it’s unusual to find more than a few darters during surveys. But the more locations that scientists identify as rush darter habitat, the more they learn about the species. That knowledge also can inform future decisions about where to look for more darters, and how to protect the places where they exist.

Alabama Power has partnered with the Forest Service to perform surveys and help protect several rare and important species in the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. In addition to the rush darter, the company has conducted or participated in surveys supporting the federally endangered Black Warrior waterdogIndiana bat and the federally threatened flattened musk turtle.

Alabama’s national forests encompass about 668,000 acres of public land, divided into four separate forests – Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee. The forests span 17 counties in northwest, northeast, west-central, east-central and southern Alabama that are permanent or transitory homes to about 850 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. Other endangered species that live in Alabama’s national forests include the red-cockaded woodpecker and several freshwater mussels. The national forests in Alabama also contain three Wilderness Areas totaling more than 42,000 acres, where human activities are further restricted to preserve the unique, natural character of the landscape.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s efforts to help sustain Alabama’s unique environment and preserve the state’s rare plants and animals at www.alabamapower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama lineworker training programs graduate spring classes

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

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)

1 month ago

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

(David Campbell/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)

1 month ago

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

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region/Flickr)

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)

1 month ago

Alabama Power lake level conditions improving after heavy rainfall

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Following 15 days of heavy rains across the state in March, conditions at Alabama Power lakes along the Black Warrior and Coosa rivers are improving.

As of Thursday, April 1, Smith Lake is at its peak elevation of 521 feet.

Due to successful water management by Alabama Power and coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Smith Lake is not expected to reach the spillway crest elevation of 522 feet, so the spillway operations plan will not be implemented.

With no rain in the forecast for the next seven days, lake levels at Smith are expected to decrease and could return to summer pool level of 510 feet around the third week of April.

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Drone footage shows high lake levels on Alabama Power’s Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Along the Coosa River, Alabama Power continues to operate spillway gates for Weiss Lake and Logan Martin. Weiss is projected to peak at 568.8 feet Friday, April 2, which is 4.8 feet above summer pool, and return to normal level around April 9. Logan Martin should peak below 462 feet Friday, April 2, which is about 3 feet below summer pool, and return to normal level around April 3.

Lake elevations and projections are subject to change, and individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always stay alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take steps to protect their property.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes and alerts on lake conditions, download the Smart Lakes app for your smartphone or visit www.apcshorelines.com. Individuals can also call 1-800-LAKES 11 (1-800-525-3711) for lake condition updates.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Jones Valley Trail extension nearing groundbreaking in Birmingham

(Freshwater Land Trust/Contributed)

Progress continues toward groundbreaking for the Jones Valley Trail extension, which will connect downtown Birmingham to the Avondale neighborhood’s entertainment district. The new connection, spearheaded by the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, will provide a car-free extension along the popular trail.

“The extension of the Jones Valley Trail is a project we are excited about,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. “We look forward to making progress on the extension, providing a new space and trail that individuals and families can use and spend time together on while supporting our community.”

The planning and development of the Jones Valley Trail extension has received support from public and private partners, including the Alabama Power Foundation.

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Freshwater Land Trust and Alabama Power Foundation partner on Jones Valley Trail extension from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are honored to support the Freshwater Land Trust and their efforts to thoughtfully and intentionally connect downtown Birmingham through beautiful green spaces that can be enjoyed while walking, running or by bike,” said Tequila Smith, Alabama Power vice president of Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “This effort will help unite the area by linking landmarks, such as Railroad Park and Sloss Furnaces, with tree-lined space.”

The goal is to complete the Jones Valley Trail extension by the start of the World Games in July 2022. Learn more about the Freshwater Land Trust at http://freshwaterlandtrust.org. For information about the Alabama Power Foundation, please visit http://powerofgood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Power installs new weather sensor, webcam in downtown Birmingham

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Alabama Power has installed new equipment in Birmingham to help the Baron Critical Weather Institute (BCWI) expand the collection and analysis of real-time weather data in Alabama.

A BCWI weather sensor and webcam was recently installed atop Alabama Power’s corporate headquarters in downtown Birmingham. BCWI says data and video from the equipment will be sent continuously to BCWI for integration into its mesonet, a high-density weather network it uses to improve public safety through advanced data analysis.

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A similar package was installed Jan. 13 at Alabama Power’s facility on Fourth Street in downtown Tuscaloosa as part of a new pilot project between Alabama Power and BCWI to improve weather-related decisions by citizens, first responders and government agencies. To see weather data and video from the BCWI mesonet, visit baroninstitute.com and click on “View Map” or download the free Alabama SAF-T-Net on your smartphone.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Power wins prestigious Edison Electric Institute advocacy award for connectivity initiative

(JJ Ying/Unsplash)

Alabama Power’s strategic initiative to help expand broadband access in Alabama was named by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) as the nation’s best advocacy campaign by a large utility.

The Advocacy Excellence Award annually recognizes an EEI member company’s engagement and activism in public policy advocacy at federal, state and local levels.

Alabama Power won the 2020 award for its coordinated efforts across the company to develop public-private partnerships and to educate customers and public officials on the need for more resources and entities to invest in and build broadband infrastructure.

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Alabama Power wins Edison Electric Institute’s Advocacy Excellence Award from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are honored EEI has recognized our collaborative effort to help bridge the digital divide in Alabama.” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “Our customers are at the center of all we do, and we are constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance their experience while elevating our state.”

The submission detailed the company’s use of available fiber capacity, an electric grid infrastructure solution that can serve as the backbone for telecommunications companies and other broadband providers in delivering high-speed internet. Alabama Power’s strategic fiber deployment – a preplanned project to create a smarter, more reliable and resilient grid – can help broadband providers reach and connect to more customers.

To help support this work, the company partnered with business and community organizations to create the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC) in 2018 with a common goal: to connect Alabamians to each other and the world.

The ARBC is a member-led organization representing more than 50 entities including health care, education, agriculture and economic development groups. ARBC was instrumental in the passage of transformational laws during the Alabama legislative session in 2019.

House Bill 400 (Broadband Using Electric Easement Accessibility Act) paved the way to allow electric providers the ability to use their existing infrastructure and easements to support high-speed internet, while updates to Senate Bill 90 (Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund) expanded access to funding for those seeking to offer broadband solutions to unserved and underserved rural areas.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey signed these acts into law in May 2019, Alabama Power has continued forging partnerships with C Spire and, in recent months, Point Broadband, to support broadband offerings throughout the state. Electric cooperatives also have used the legislation to provide broadband in 26 Alabama counties.

EEI applauded Alabama Power’s successful campaign to expand broadband in Alabama, saying it was a huge win for Alabamians and the electric-utility industry.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide that still exists in many communities across the country,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “EEI commends Alabama Power for working successfully with policymakers and other key stakeholders to identify new ways to fund and build the broadband infrastructure needed to reach underserved and unserved communities within its service territory. Allowing electric companies to provide middle-mile broadband infrastructure, in partnership with telecommunications companies and last-mile internet providers, is a win for customers and communities. We applaud Alabama Power for its leadership.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

BIO Alabama names Rachel Lane executive director

(BIO Alabama/Contributed)

BIO Alabama has named entrepreneur Rachel Lane, Ph.D., R.D., as its new executive director.

Lane founded The Written Science LLC in Huntsville, where she serves as a liaison between business and cutting-edge research teams to translate science into medicine. As executive director for BIO Alabama, she will focus on:

  • Fostering independent and collaborative initiatives that cultivate a fertile, career-centric bioscience community in Alabama.
  • Promoting tech transfer activities by facilitating member access to innovation resources, including funding opportunities and entrepreneurial support services.
  • Creating constructive member engagement, through cross-member programmatic and technology match-making initiatives.
  • Positioning BIO Alabama as the leader in bioscience-related industries statewide.

“Rachel’s background and experience serving as a bridge between the science and business community make her the ideal person to take the reins at BIO Alabama,” said Blair King, chair of BIO Alabama’s board of directors. “We are extremely excited about what Rachel brings to our organization.”

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Lane began her career in clinical dietetics, working hand in hand with clinicians to provide evidence-based nutrition to acute care patients. She earned a doctorate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2017.

Her experience includes founding the Oklahoma Association for Women in Science Affiliate Group, for which she recruited speakers, raised funds and planned events, including the inaugural Women’s History Month Symposium, to promote the professional success of women in STEM.

Lane founded The Written Science to help early-stage biotechs communicate the business value of their technology.

As BIO Alabama’s executive director, Lane will serve as the spokesperson and lead connector of the Alabama bioscience ecosystem, advocating for the state’s bioscience researchers, industry scientists and business leaders.

“Since moving to Alabama in 2017, I’ve been increasingly impressed by our state’s bioscience offerings and potential for continued growth,” Lane said. “BIO Alabama has done a tremendous job connecting our bioscience community and I’m privileged to build on the progress with BIO Alabama’s talented board.”

The association is the leading advocate for Alabama’s bioeconomy, representing the state on a national and international stage, promoting the intellectual and innovative capital that makes Alabama a premier place to invest, start and grow in bioscience.

During 2020, BIO Alabama conducted industry research and published an economic development roadmap that outlined recommendations designed to grow Alabama’s bioscience footprint.

Learn more about BIO Alabama at bioalabama.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator taking applications for 2021 class

(André Natta/Flickr, YHN)

Startups from around the world are encouraged to apply for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator 2021 class.

In its second year, the innovative program, located in Birmingham, seeks early-stage startups focused on emerging energy technologies. Areas of interest include smart cities, electric grid resiliency and sustainability, industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

The class will run for 13 weeks and include 10 companies. Through their participation in Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, startups will receive seed investment, business coaching and mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders.

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At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event on Dec. 9.

“We had a fantastic first year, made successful through the hard work and creativity of our inaugural class, even during a pandemic,” said Nate Schmidt, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s managing director. “If you have an energy tech startup, you simply don’t want to miss out on the amazing opportunities and relationships this accelerator will provide your business.”

Techstars Alabama is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and the University of Alabama. They play a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama and making the area a hub of innovation activity.

The application deadline is May 12. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at Techstars.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Southern Company joins other utilities in plans for electric vehicle charging network that includes Alabama

(Unsplash, Southern Company/Contributed, YHN)

Southern CompanyAlabama Power’s parent company, joined five other energy companies Tuesday in announcing plans to ensure electric vehicle (EV) drivers have access to a seamless network of charging stations connecting major highway systems across significant regions of the country.

The Electric Highway Coalition – made up of Southern Company, American Electric PowerDominion EnergyDuke EnergyEntergy Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority – wants to collaborate on a network of DC fast chargers from the Atlantic Coast through the Midwest and South and into the Gulf Coast and Central Plains regions.

Southern Company and the others are each taking steps to provide EV charging solutions within their system service territories. The announcement represents an unprecedented combined effort to offer EV drivers convenient charging across different utility footprints and allow uninterrupted travel.

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The Edison Electric Institute estimates 18 million EVs will be on U.S. roads by 2030. While many drivers recognize the benefits of driving an EV, such as the ease of low-cost home charging, some have expressed concern with the availability of charging stations during long road trips. With collaborative efforts like the Electric Highway Coalition, energy companies demonstrate to customers that EVs are a smart choice regardless of distance.

The coalition will provide drivers with effective, efficient and convenient charging options to enable long-distance electric travel. Sites along major highways with easy access and amenities for travelers are being considered as coalition members work to determine final charging station locations. DC fast chargers can get drivers back on the road in 20-30 minutes.

“At Southern Company, we are committed to being a leader in building a clean and sustainable energy future for our customers and that includes continuing to increase the reach of electric transportation for more and more drivers,” said Chris Cummiskey, executive vice president, chief commercial officer and customer solutions officer at Southern Company. “By increasing the number of EV fast-charging stations across our footprint, we are providing drivers with additional transportation options that are reliable, efficient and more convenient while helping reduce carbon emissions for the benefit of our communities we serve.”

Being a founding member of the Electric Highway Coalition is another part of Southern Company’s larger focus on electrification of the transportation industry and commitment to sustainability and clean energy. Along with the systemwide goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, last year Southern Company announced an internal fleet electrification goal where the company plans by 2030 to convert to electric 50% of its electric companies’ fleet vehicles in the auto/SUV/minivan, forklift and ATV/cart/miscellaneous equipment segments.

The Electric Highway Coalition welcomes interested utilities to join as it seeks to extend the reach of network. Additionally, its members support and look forward to working with other regional utility transportation corridor electrification initiatives.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Parkside development in Birmingham moves forward

(Orchestra Partners/Contributed)

Birmingham developer Orchestra Partners has broken ground on Urban Supply, a mixed-use redevelopment of historic buildings at the west end of Birmingham’s Parkside district.

The first phase will feature a mix of pop-up tenants, including local retailer Cahaba Cycles and retail concept Garage Sale, plus a calendar of outdoor community events. In a news release, Orchestra Partners said the recent developments are a major step forward in realizing its vision and that of renowned landscape architect Tom Leader as outlined in the Parkside master plan. The goal: to create a vibrant and walkable entertainment destination connecting surrounding neighborhoods.

A key feature in the Urban Supply project is an alleyway called “The Aisle” that will connect to integrated outdoor spaces throughout the development. Orchestra Partners said Urban Supply will offer a safe environment for Birmingham residents to get outside and enjoy the city.

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“We intentionally incorporate outdoor elements throughout every Orchestra experience, and Urban Supply is the best realization of this approach to date,” said Hunter Renfroe, Orchestra Partners co-founder and principal. “Revitalizing this historic district into an outdoor-friendly destination will provide a safe community gathering place for our residents to come together throughout COVID-19 and in the future.”

The Parkside area is named for its relationship to Railroad Park, the urban greenspace in the center of the city that has sparked a surge of redevelopment in surrounding blocks. Leader was a principal designer of Railroad Park, which opened a decade ago.

Orchestra Partners is working with Alabama Power on the redevelopment of the historic Powell Steam Plant, on the east side of Railroad Park, as part of a broader master plan for the fast-evolving Parkside area.

Cahaba Cycles, an independently owned bicycle shop in the Birmingham area since 1982, plans to set up its first ever pop-up location at Urban Supply in April.

“With Railroad Park and the Rotary Trail in close proximity to Urban Supply, it’s refreshing to see downtown become more connected with so many cyclists, runners and pedestrians,” said Cahaba Cycles Owner Faris Malki. “The cycling industry has also experienced a major expansion during the pandemic. Establishing a pop-up in the heart of Parkside will help cater to this increased demand, knowing our community will soon be eager to spend more time outside enjoying the warm spring weather.”

Urban Supply’s other announced pop-up will feature Garage Sale, a throwback retail concept inspired by vintage shopping from the 1960s to the 1990s, Orchestra Partners said. Under the guidance of Good Baby Management, a Denver-based real estate company specializing in placemaking and development, Garage Sale plans to open at Urban Supply in April.

“With vinyl records, vintage clothing, live outdoor performances and a bar where you can enjoy a margarita, Garage Sale will have a little something for everyone looking to take a vintage trip down memory lane,” said Josh Sampson, founder of Good Baby Management. “Our team sees tremendous opportunity in Birmingham, and we look forward to bringing a unique twist to the downtown retail scene this spring.”

The collection of warehouses west of Railroad Park opened in 1931 to supply bulk goods during the depths of the Great Depression looking forward to better economic times – hence the name Urban Supply. Orchestra’s plans call for restoring the historic structures into a mix of restaurants, bars, retail, office and fitness concepts.

“Urban Supply is a preservation effort as much as anything else,” Renfroe said. He cited recent projects in the neighborhood that converted existing structures into residential space, entertainment venues and offices, including the Denham Building and Baker’s Row “that have been successful in paying tribute to the historic fabric of our city.”

To build excitement around The Aisle, Orchestra Partners is joining with local businesses to host a series of coronavirus-safe outdoor events at Urban Supply. The first kicks off this weekend with “Fearless Fest,” a wellness pop-up celebrating self-care and community. It is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Other events this spring include “Magic City Marketplace” March 6, April 3 and May 8; “Grub on the Lot” on March 13, April 10 and May 15; “The Barking Lot” on March 17 and a chicken and beer festival on April 16. To view the full calendar of events and to learn more about Urban Supply, visit www.urbansupplybham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Innovation Depot begins inaugural Voltage idea incubator

(Innovation Depot/Contributed)

Innovation Depot began its Voltage program recently, bringing together 11 entrepreneurs selected for the inaugural cohort in the Depot’s new idea incubator.

Voltage supports entrepreneurs who have an idea for a tech or tech-enabled business as they translate that idea into a prototype. The nine-week program held outside of traditional 9-to-5 working hours enables would-be founders to assess their ideas before leaving a primary job or investing excess funds into a product.

Voltage will help them determine viability to see whether they should forge ahead with the concept, pivot or go back to the drawing board.

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“We are very excited about launching Voltage because we believe it fills a unique gap in Birmingham’s startup ecosystem,” said Kellie Clark, director of Programs at Innovation Depot. “We know a lot of entrepreneurs in the area have great ideas, but they’re not quite sure if their idea is an opportunity. We are providing them with the space to ask questions, gain resources and learn the viability of their ideas before they go all in.”

Participation in Voltage requires no previous tech or entrepreneurship experience. Innovation Depot plans to offer the program multiple times each year.

“2021 is off to a fantastic start for us here at Innovation Depot, and we’re very proud to make this latest announcement,” said Drew Honeycutt, CEO of Innovation Depot. “We will continue to build on the growth and energy taking place in Birmingham’s tech and entrepreneurial community by working hard to pull even more future founders into the fold.”

Here are the members of the inaugural cohort and the problems they are seeking to create solutions for:

(Innovation Depot/Contributed)

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Miles College enters partnership seeking equity in COVID-19 vaccinations, clinical research trials

(Miles College/Contributed)

Miles College has entered a first-of-its-kind partnership with #NOWINCLUDED, powered by Acclinate, for equity in COVID-19 vaccinations and clinical research trials.

Acclinate, a trusted health care solutions provider, integrates culture and technology to educate and engage diverse individuals to make informed decisions about genomic research and clinical trial participation.

“Essential to this partnership is the stark realization that the African American community has been historically omitted from significant consideration for clinical trials and research for cures to the most critical public health threats,” Miles College President Bobbie Knight said. “Partnerships like Acclinate are vital to our institution, and we look forward to educating our students on the role they can play to mitigate the gulf between research and cure within the African American community.”

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The purpose of the partnership is for students and faculty to make informed decisions around their health and act as ambassadors to their communities and families.

“Our partnership with Miles is right on target for what we’d like to see happening with minority students throughout the nation,” said Acclinate Co-founder Tiffany Whitlow. “The sooner we can help them prioritize their health, the better their lives will be beyond college and well into adulthood. This will not only help them but also their future families.”

#NOWINCLUDED will conduct bi-weekly virtual workshops and offer topics such as residential learning in living during COVID-19, building on-line learning communities, and maintaining academic and emotional health during COVID-19. Students, faculty and staff will participate in pre- and post-surveys to better understand their COVID-19 knowledge and current mental health.

“I know first hand how interconnected issues of education and health are. President Knight is to be commended for her innovative thinking and associated action when it comes to bettering not only the education, but the health of her student population,” said Acclinate co-founder and former HBCU business dean Del Smith.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama’s Innovation Portal invests in two Mobile-based startups

(Innovation Portal/Contributed)

Mobile’s Innovation Portal has announced the first investments from its Portal Fund for early stage startups.

“On behalf of the investment council of Innovation Portal, I am excited to announce our initial investments in Deuce Drone and Barkd,” said investment council Chairman Henry O’Connor. “Partnering with dynamic, engaging and local entrepreneurs is in line with Innovation Portal’s mission and will hopefully encourage other entrepreneurs in our area to pursue their goals.”

Deuce Drone received a $50,000 investment. The company is providing a cost-effective, technology-driven solution for same-day delivery that allows local retailers to compete with major e-commerce players. The Deuce Drone process makes it easy for local retailers to provide same-day delivery in a few easy steps with no intermediate human package handling, making the delivery process truly contact-free.

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Barkd received a $25,000 investment. It is a mobile application that helps you find your next puppy. Using its simple matching process, Barkd ensures you and your pup are perfect for each other. You can download Barkd from the App Store or Google Play.

The Portal Fund was created to “ignite the local entrepreneurial ecosystem” by attracting and retaining entrepreneurs in Mobile. Innovation Portal members Deuce Drone and Barkd will have access to Innovation Portal programming, support and workspace all designed to encourage venture growth, job creation, talent retention and further investment in the region.

“We are very excited to have been chosen as a recipient of the Portal Fund,” said Barkd co-founder Stephen Riggs. “The support from Innovation Portal since the inception of Barkd has been invaluable, and we’re looking forward to working closely with the team at Innovation Portal.”

Barkd co-founder Daniel Riggs said being in the Port City is important.

“We’re proud to be based in Mobile and thankful for this opportunity and the support we receive from our community,” he said. “The funds will greatly help expedite our product development as we’re working towards product-market fit.”

The nonprofit Portal Fund is for early-stage ventures in the Mobile area with high-growth potential. The fund had its inaugural round in May 2020, when the online application process opened. More than 100 applications from around the world and 21 from local founders were submitted.

Eleven semifinalists were chosen from the 20 eligible applications from local founders and that was whittled down to five finalists that were invited to make pitch presentations with two selected for investment.

Funding decisions were made by an investment council consisting of area entrepreneurs, philanthropists, investors and a select number of the organization’s staff and board members.

Support from the Alabama Department of CommerceU.S. Economic Development AdministrationBlue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and Alabama Power enabled Innovation Portal to develop Portal Fund and make investments into early-stage startups.

For information on eligibility, the evaluation process and future investment rounds, visit innovation-portal.com/portal-fund.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Ann Berry, Alabama native, named first Black secretary of the Senate

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Senate leadership has named Alabama native Sonceria “Ann” Berry secretary of the U.S. Senate, effective March 1. The announcement was made via a press release on the Senate Democrats newsroom.

Berry, who hails from Birmingham, will be the first Black woman and the eighth woman to hold this office, which ensures the institution’s overall effectiveness. She will replace outgoing Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams, who was named by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2015.

Berry is a graduate of the former Phillips High School in Birmingham and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of North Alabama.

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Most recently, Berry served as Sen. Patrick Leahy’s deputy chief of staff and has worked in the Senate for over four decades, including time with Sen. Tom Carper and former Sens. John Edwards, Pat Moynihan and Howell Heflin.

In 2017, Berry led former Sen. Doug Jones’ transition team after his special election victory over former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. In her new role, Berry will supervise an array of offices and services to expedite the day-to-day operations of the Senate, including legislative, financial and administrative functions.

According to senate.gov, the first secretary of the Senate was chosen in 1789 and was responsible for keeping the minutes and records of the Senate and for purchasing supplies. As the Senate grew to become a major national institution, numerous other duties were assigned to the secretary, including the disbursement of payrolls, the acquisition of stationery supplies, the education of the Senate pages and the maintenance of public records.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

EDAA casts vision for organization, Alabama in 2021

(EDAA/Contributed, YHN)

The Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA) is sharing its goals for 2021 – all with sights toward continuing to recruit new business to every corner of Alabama.

EDAA Executive Director Jim Searcy said the organization will prioritize rural communities for economic development opportunities.

“We must ensure that economic prosperity reaches all regions of the state,” Searcy said.

EDAA has laid the groundwork for this focus through its Rural Economic Development Initiative pilot program, which supports and trains rural communities for business recruitment and readiness. The initiative created a model that uniquely implements a regional strategy to develop rural areas, in addition to the city, county or state approach used by others.

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EDAA will provide members access to dynamic educational training opportunities throughout the year, including labor relations, workforce innovation and assessing local economic efforts to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

“The reality is we are all in the process of wrapping our arms around what economic recovery will be needed in a post-pandemic world,” Searcy said. “Our goal is to jump-start these conversations and begin now assessing the needs of our communities so we can come out not just surviving, but also set to thrive in the future.”

EDAA is adding board members to help implement the 2021 strategy:

These members join the EDAA board among representatives from public and private sectors:

Executive committee

At-large board members

“Historically, EDAA has benefited from strong, visionary and effective leadership,” Searcy added. “The current board of directors continues this tradition and we’re better at serving our state because of their service.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Partnership to inject $130 million into Deep South small businesses hurt by pandemic

(Alabama Retail Association/Facebook, YHN)

Hope Enterprise Corp., with a $130 million commitment from Goldman Sachs, has partnered with seven cities and nine historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the South to launch the Deep South Economic Mobility Collaborative (DSEMC).

Birmingham, Montgomery and their respective HBCUs, Miles College and Alabama State University, are taking part in the collaborative, announced Tuesday, which was formed to stabilize and strengthen businesses and communities devastated by the economic crisis. DSEMC invests in the power of small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Deep South, particularly those from underserved and under-resourced communities.

DSEMC taps the expertise and capabilities of Hope Enterprise Corp., Goldman Sachs, institutions of higher learning and cities to provide access to financing, business education classes and business support services, leveraging the private, public and nonprofit sectors. This comprehensive effort focuses on stabilizing and strengthening small businesses and bolstering employment in a region characterized by entrenched poverty and racial disparities.

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“For centuries, racism and economic inequality has thwarted human and economic potential in the Deep South, but our story doesn’t end there,” said Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Enterprise Corp., Hope Credit Union and Hope Policy Institute. “Equipped with opportunity and the right tools, people of this region can accomplish anything. Fueled by their resilience and harnessing the collective resources of DSEMC, together we will knock down the barriers facing underserved businesses and communities in a way that has never been done before. The collaborative will help build a more inclusive economy that will yield benefits now and for future generations.”

Margaret Anadu, Goldman Sachs partner and head of the Urban Investment Group, said black business ownership is a proven way to advance economic mobility.

“Goldman Sachs has a long history of building up Black and women-owned businesses through 10,000 Small Businesses and by investing in community development financial institutions like Hope. The Deep South Economic Mobility Collaborative reflects our ongoing commitment to invest deeply in strategies to close the racial wealth gap,” she said.

While the DSEMC is open to all small businesses, the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis has disproportionately harmed communities of color. Recent research shows that between February and mid-April 2020, 41% of Black businesses had permanently closed, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses. Also, the value of Black businesses in the Deep South is lower than in any part of the country, underscoring the urgent need for solutions in a region with the highest percentage of Black residents.

“Partnering with the world’s preeminent investment bank will anchor Miles College as the incubator for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in our region,” said Miles College President Bobbie Knight. “This alliance with Goldman Sachs and Hope Credit Union will create a groundbreaking impact and support the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Alabama State President Quinton Ross said the university is excited to join in the launch of the collaborative.

“This partnership acknowledges the impactful work that is already being done in the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Alabama State University,” he said. “The ASU SBDC has helped to launch and support hundreds of small and minority-owned businesses, providing the resources to form a foundation for success even during difficult economic times. Our involvement in DSEMC allows ASU’s SBDC to expand its work and the university to advance its goal of continuing to be a transformative community partner.”

Other cities joining Birmingham and Montgomery in the collaborative are Little Rock, Arkansas; Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee. Other participating HBCUs are Philander Smith College, Dillard University, Southern University and A&M College, Xavier University of Louisiana, Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and LeMoyne-Owen College.

Projections call for the DSEMC to serve 4,000-5,000 businesses and support 30,000 employees and their family members while improving conditions in Deep South communities to further Black economic mobility.

To learn more about the Deep South Economic Mobility Collaborative, visit www.hopecu.org/mobility.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Power parent, Southern Company, named one of Fortune magazine’s 2021 ‘World’s Most Admired Companies’

(Southern Company/Contributed)

Alabama Power’s parent company has been named to Fortune magazine’s list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

The 2021 list ranks Southern Company among the top four electric and gas utilities worldwide, up two spots from last year.

“On behalf of the thousands of people making thousands of good decisions every day at Southern Company, we are pleased to receive this distinction from Fortune as a leader in our industry and one of the World’s Most Admired Companies,” said Southern Company chairman, president & CEO Tom Fanning.

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Alabama Power, which serves more than 1.4 million customers in the state, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company. Alabama Power has been serving customers in the state since 1906. For more than a century, the company has been closely involved in supporting economic development and job creation, and elevating Alabama communities.

In addition to Alabama Power, several other Southern Company affiliates and businesses have a strong presence in the state, including Southern NuclearSouthern PowerSouthern Linc and PowerSecure.

Fortune’s 2021 World’s Most Admired Companies is a ranking of the world’s most respected and reputable companies, based on a survey of almost 3,800 executives, directors and analysts.

In determining the list, Fortune collaborated with Korn Ferry on this survey of corporate reputation. They began with a universe of about 1,500 candidates: the 1,000 largest U.S. companies by revenue, along with non-U.S. companies in Fortune’s Global 500 database that have revenues of $10 billion or more.

To determine the best-regarded companies in 52 industries, Korn Ferry asked executives, directors and analysts to rate enterprises in their own industry on nine criteria, from investment value and quality of management and products to social responsibility and ability to attract talent. A company’s score must rank in the top half of its industry survey to be listed.

It is Southern Company’s 10th year being named to the list.

“At Southern Company, we operate every day knowing how we do our jobs – the behaviors we exhibit with customers and each other – is just as important as what we do,” Fanning said. “Our uncompromising values – Safety First, Unquestionable Trust, Superior Performance and Total Commitment – ensure we put the needs of those we serve at the center of everything we do and govern our business for the benefit of all.”

To learn more about Fortune’s 2021 World’s Most Admired Companies List visit:  https://fortune.com/worlds-most-admired-companies/2021/

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Expanded broadband access is the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition’s mission

(Pixabay, YHN)

It’s a lot easier to stay home when you have internet; that’s how you survive. Without internet access, you can’t do your homework, can’t work and you can’t order from the grocery store online.

Access to fast and reliable internet is something all Alabamians should enjoy, said state Sen. Clay Scofield of Marshall County.

“As this pandemic has made clear, high-speed broadband access in all corners of Alabama is truly a basic personal necessity in today’s society and could bring in an array of benefits related to education, telemedicine, economic development and even agriculture,” Scofield said.

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The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition (ARBC), formed in 2018, continues to work to expand internet service by offering proactive policy solutions to bring more voices to the conversation and resources to the table. ARBC added more than 30 new members in 2020, now involving more than 50 organizations from different industries working together.

In the past three years, public and private partners have made important advances in the coalition efforts.

How the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition is elevating Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

ARBC was instrumental in securing the passage of legislation to establish the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund to provide grants to expand access to high-speed internet. The fund has distributed nearly $20 million, connecting 25,000 Alabama households and community anchors.

Additionally, ARBC worked with legislators and stakeholders on the Alabama Broadband Over Easements Act, which allows carriers to use electric providers’ existing infrastructure for high-speed internet.

Six electric cooperatives are using or plan to use these policy solutions for broadband in 26 counties. Alabama Power is partnering with C Spire and Point Broadband to support their broadband offerings for customers in Jasper, Trussville and Lake Martin.

“From use in our homes or for e-learning or for video conferencing or remote works, to providing critical healthcare services like telemedicine to our rural hospitals and rural clinics, it has never been more apparent that internet for all is critical now and in the future,” said Dr. Lee Carter, general practitioner, Autaugaville.

The ARBC is a member-led group of organizations from across the state focused on rural broadband expansion, ranging from agriculture and business to economic development, education and health care. ARBC was formed with the assistance of the Energy Institute of Alabama. Learn more at alruralbroadband.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Purchase of large Dauphin Island plot offers protection of endangered species

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

The purchase of 838 acres on the west end of Dauphin Island will help protect a diverse coastal habitat frequented by endangered birds and sea turtles, state conservation officials said.

Funds from Alabama’s portion of the $8.8 billion settlement by BP for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf were used to buy the land that was until recently privately owned, the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group announced. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment.

The new public property is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marsh and beaches. Turtles and birds use these habitats for nesting. Neotropical migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations.

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“Public ownership of the west end of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

The piping plover is a federally protected threatened species that is among the species on the west end of the 166-square-mile barrier island southwest of Mobile. Conserving this parcel will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come, Blankenship said.

Along with providing habitat, barrier islands protect natural and human communities against ocean storms. Waves expend their energy as they break on the island beaches. Because they buffer the Gulf’s wave action, barrier islands protect salt marshes and seagrass beds, which are nurseries for valuable marine species.

In partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural ResourcesMobile County and the town of Dauphin Island will develop a bird conservation and management plan to guide future activities on the new public land. Activities to support productive bird populations will likely include improvements to the habitat, temporary protective closures surrounding nests, protections from predators, and education and outreach.

“The acquisition of the west end of Dauphin Island provides much-needed protections for threatened piping plover habitat,” said Erin Plitsch, restoration biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Alabama’s coastal habitat is a favorite for bird watchers and wildlife habitat enthusiasts alike, and this project will add to the continuing effort to restore these vulnerable areas.”

For more information on this and other Alabama projects, visit the Alabama Restoration Area portion of the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)