The Wire

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


    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


    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


    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.

8 months ago

Visit Mobile honors Univ. of South Alabama hospitality and tourism management department

(Visit Mobile/Facebook)

Visit Mobile, the city’s official point of contact for leisure travelers, convention and meeting planners, bus tour operators and travel agents, has named the department of hospitality and tourism management at the University of South Alabama as recipient of its 2019 Hospitality Partner of the Year award.

Visit Mobile recognized the department, which prepares students for careers in a variety of businesses, including the hotel industry as well as nonprofits and government agencies that promote tourism and travel, for its strategic workforce recruitment development and sustainability plan for the area’s hospitality and tourism industry.


Dr. Robert Thompson, department chair, and Dr. Evelyn Green, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, said the award is affirmation that the department’s business-education partnership model approach is successful in meeting the needs of the industry. Outside the classroom, students regularly interact with local businesses through volunteerism, internships, mentoring, guest lectures and industry networking. Gaining on-the-job experience has helped the department’s graduates achieve a 92 percent industry job placement rate.

“As much as this award recognizes our faculty and staff, the recognition also belongs to all our industry partners,” Green said. “It is this symbiotic relationship that allows the program to strengthen instruction and enrich the education process for the students.”

Thompson noted that for years the area suffered from a workforce shortage, particularly during high visitor periods. However, since USA started the department several years ago, talent recruitment has addressed the gaps in workplace training and development needs with the establishment of the Hospitality & Tourism Workforce Innovation Alliance. The unit of the University’s Office of Research & Economic Development, supported by USA’s College of Education and Professional Studies, is a catalyst for public-private collaboration to ensure workforce growth and sustainability for the hospitality and tourism industry with special emphasis on the Gulf Coast region.

The alliance “creates ‘check us out’ opportunities for high school students through summer work programs, such as Y.E.S. to Hospitality, offered by the city of Mobile and USA for Baldwin County hospitality employers,” Thompson said. “These programs also serve as recruitment opportunities for hospitality and tourism management where students are groomed for future leadership and managerial roles.”

Thompson added, “Once placed in the workplace, USA continues to serve our graduates and help our employers invest in their human capital through customized professional development training offered through Serving Southern Hospitality certification workshops.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

8 months ago

Flight Works Alabama partners with university students to provide tours of Airbus final assembly

Emily Fogt was among nine University of South Alabama hospitality and tourism management students who led tours of the Airbus Final Assembly Line facility for a recent conference. (USA)

Nine University of South Alabama students got on-the-ground training for a career in hospitality and tourism management by acting as tour guides for Flight Works Alabama during a recent visit from participants at the Titanium International Conference held in Mobile.

More than 1,000 business people, including corporate owners and vendors, attended the conference where one of the highlights was a tour of the facility where Airbus builds the A320 family of aircraft.


“Our students just knocked it out of the park,” said Dr. Evelyn Green, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, which prepares students for careers in a variety of businesses, including the hotel industry as well as nonprofits and government agencies that promote tourism and travel.

“Flight Works Alabama had asked for our tourism and hospitality students to show their visitors real Southern hospitality by acting as their tour guides. We had only one day to train these students how to be tour guides and to learn everything there is to learn about the basic assembling of an aircraft. That was a tall order we put on them, but they handled it extremely well,” Green added.

Green, director for USA’s Hospitality and Tourism Workforce Innovation Alliance, designed the customized training, and Robin Fenton, consultant for Flight Works Alabama, wrote scripts for the students. With the help of Barry Bukstein, a volunteer and seasoned tour guide, the Alliance trained the students for their assignments in one day.

Flight Works Alabama is an innovative facility under construction at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. When it opens in June 2020, it will be a gateway for public tours of the Airbus Final Assembly Line as well as offering educational opportunities for the public. Flight Works Alabama has partnered with nine universities, but USA is the only one that will offer hospitality training.

“Each student learned different aspects of the presentation, ranging from the history of Brookley Field, the history of Airbus coming to Mobile and then moving into how Airbus’ A320 planes come together on the assembly line,” Green said. “Each presentation lasted about four minutes, which means each student had to tell their portion of the story in four minutes. We put attendees in groups of 10 to 15 with three to four groups touring at the same time. A tour took about 40 minutes to complete.”

Fenton described the students as “amazing and exceeding all our expectations.”

“They did an excellent job of sharing the Airbus story. They took their scripts and put them into their own words. I received only positive comments from the conference attendees. Dr. Green’s team will continue working with us, and we hope to hire some of these students when Flight Works Alabama opens,” Fenton said.

Dr. Robert Thompson, chair of hospitality and tourism management, said “the students were taken a little out of their comfort zones initially, but it didn’t take long for those essential skills in hospitality to kick in, and they showed these visitors warm and welcoming Southern hospitality.”

Carson Riley Bentley, a junior from Muscle Shoals, came to South because of the reputation of its hospitality and tourism department.

“At first, I was really nervous, but after the first group went through, I realized I had been overthinking it,” Bentley said.

He began his presentation by welcoming the visitors to Airbus, introduced himself, then launched into how there are only four facilities like Airbus Mobile in the world, and the one they were visiting is the only one in the United States.

“Every 28 days, Airbus gets enough new parts to build four new airplanes, and I told them where some of the parts came from because this was an international group,” Bentley added. “It was definitely a learning experience, and I won’t forget it because I have more confidence now because of it.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

12 months ago

University of South Alabama awarded $3.8 million for ionic liquid research


Ionic liquid researchers at the University of South Alabama are reaching for the stars with a NASA grant of $1.1 million, while keeping their focus earthbound with a $2.7 million grant from the Department of Energy. The two grants total almost $4 million, the largest funding awards for ionic liquid research in the University’s history.

The NASA grant is for the use of ionic liquids in development of the next-generation carbon dioxide scrubber for the International Space Station, as well as for future space travel to Mars. The DOE grant focuses on developing more energy efficient technologies for use on earth.


Ionic liquids are salts in a liquid state, and they are frequently referred to as “solvents of the future,” or “designer solvents” because of their potential to replace environmentally unfriendly liquids used to dissolve other substances.

The two grants mark a significant milestone in the recognition of research conducted at South, according to Dr. Matthew Reichert, assistant vice president for research and associate professor of chemistry.

“This means that South is becoming a nexus for ionic research,” Reichert explained. “Our research track record and the talent we have attracted here in the field of ionic liquids has led to these grants.”

Dr. James Davis, professor of chemistry, agreed, saying “We believe that South has the highest concentration of tenure track people working on ionic liquids of any university in this country.” He added that the DOE grant “will have a much broader scope” than the NASA scrubber grant and, hopefully, a positive impact on the planet’s energy use.

“For example, much of the energy we presently use is for separating chemical compounds, such as with refining, which uses enormous energy. We hope that by using ionic liquids we can do it without so much energy expenditure,” Davis said.

Davis and Reichert are researchers on both grants, along with Dr. Kevin West, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Dr. T. Grant Glover, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering will join them on the NASA grant research. Dr. Christy West, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Dr. Brooks Rabideau, assistant professor of chemical and biomechanical engineering, will work with them on the DOE grant research.

Aboard the International Space Station, the existing carbon dioxide scrubber, which is about five-and-one-half feet tall, takes up a great deal of precious space. But, without it, the astronauts would die from the carbon dioxide they exhale. NASA wants a much smaller and more efficient unit that not only scrubs carbon dioxide, but breaks the carbon compounds down more efficiently to be used in other ways, such as feedstock.

Besides the space station, the new scrubber could also have applications in other closed environments, such as submarines.

“We still have a lot of fundamentals to do as well as test evaluations, but I think we are confident in our technology,” said West.

The research project will bring new learning opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Several students in one of Glover’s classes have already developed an early-stage prototype.

“It will be a completely different approach to air revitalization,” Glover said.

(Courtesy the University of South Alabama)

1 year ago

South Alabama’s hurricane experts forecast the 2019 season


The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially began Saturday, June 1 and continues through November 30. Typically, an average Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms (composed of tropical storms, subtropical storms and hurricanes); six hurricanes and three major (i.e., category 3-4-5) hurricanes.

According to Dr. Keith Blackwell and Andrew Murray, hurricane experts with the University of South Alabama meteorology program and USA’s Coastal Weather Research Center, Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity is strongly influenced by several oceanic and atmospheric features. Present and predicted conditions associated with the natural evolution of these features during the summer and fall will largely shape and determine the nature of the hurricane season.


Blackwell and Murray offer four of the main influences on the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season:

1) Ocean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Atlantic. Ocean SSTs have warmed to near normal in the tropical Atlantic. Near-normal SSTs are expected to persist over the tropical Atlantic into the fall and should neither enhance nor suppress Atlantic hurricane activity (neutral influence). SSTs in the tropical Atlantic affect the instability of the atmosphere and the ability of thunderstorms to form. SSTs also modify the overall atmospheric environment to either favor (warmer SSTs) or suppress (colder SSTs) thunderstorms and tropical weather systems.

2) The presence or absence of El Niño or La Niña in the tropical Pacific. A weak El Niño is present in the tropical central and eastern Pacific. This El Niño may persist into the fall, although at the present time there is considerable uncertainty as to exactly how long it may continue (suppressing influence).

The El Niño phenomenon is a dramatic warming of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The appearance of this vast reservoir of warm water shifts the tropical distribution of thunderstorms in the Pacific and has far-reaching effects on the weather over the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Sea. El Niños strengthen upper-level westerly winds over the Caribbean Sea and enhance harmful wind shear affecting tropical waves and tropical cyclones.

3) The strength and position of the Bermuda-Azores subtropical high pressure system over the central and eastern North Atlantic. Sea-level pressure is lower in the eastern North Atlantic associated with a weaker-than-normal Bermuda-Azores high pressure area. This high pressure has weakened recently, and this condition is expected to continue into what is typically the most active part of the Atlantic hurricane season from August into October (enhancing influence).

A weaker Bermuda-Azores high pressure area weakens the trade winds which in turn reduces the cold-water upwelling and helps ease detrimental wind shear over tropical waves and developing tropical cyclones in the tropical Atlantic.

4) The strength and persistence of the West African monsoon in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Persistent rainfall has been occurring with the West African monsoon in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. This region has been wetter than normal, and this enhanced rainfall is expected to persist into fall (enhancing influence).

The two major groups producing seasonal hurricane outlooks for the Atlantic basin are Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center. Both of these organizations are predicting near-normal activity in terms of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes for the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season.

Conclusion: A near-normal Atlantic hurricane season is expected due to the negative effects of a lingering weak El Niño being offset by the positive effects of a weaker Bermuda-Azores high pressure system and wet conditions in sub-Saharan West Africa. These offsetting effects, when combined with the neutral influence of near-normal tropical Atlantic SSTs, suggest a normal hurricane season this year.

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)