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.

3 days ago

Alabama’s Senior Bowl Summit inspires attendees

(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Breaking barriers, building culture and growing business were key themes discussed Thursday during the second annual Senior Bowl Summit at Saenger Theatre in downtown Mobile.

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk was the keynote speaker. He urged the hundreds of people in attendance to overcome fear of judgment, a fear he says discourages 99 percent of people from taking a risk.

“Most of you won’t post on social media because there is insecurity about what you’re going to say,” Vaynerchuk said. “You worry about what people will say about you. The only thing you can do wrong is not be yourself.”

Vaynerchuk encouraged attendees to embrace the internet, posting content seven to 25 times per day on three to seven social media platforms.

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“What are you waiting for?” Vaynerchuk said. “If you are not communicating, you do not exist. Communicate about what you love.”

The event, sponsored by Alabama Power and Regions Bank, was moderated by Jeremy Schaap of ESPN‘s “Outside the Lines.” Schapp moderated four panel discussions related to sports leadership, women in sports, sports agents and head coaches.

Sports business

The first panel discussion centered on the business of sports and included comments from Peter McLoughlin, CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment; John Maitrejean, director of marketing operations and partnerships at The Hershey Company; and Sandra Richards, managing director for Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment. McLoughlin, who is the former president of the Seattle Seahawks, said he’s bullish on the future of the sports industry.

“It’s what stands out in the crowd,” McLoughlin said. “Sports is true reality television. It’s the best way for marketers and companies to connect with the fans.”

Maitrejean said his company does a lot of research to make sure sponsorships fit the product.

“Our job is to make sure we are partnered with the right teams,” Maitrejean said. “Sports still gets a lot of eyeballs because it’s a live event, and a lot of our fans are also big sports fans, but with the fragmentation of media, we have many more choices.”

Richards, who advises athletes and entertainers on managing newfound income, says the business has dramatically changed the past 10 years.

“The athletes are now a business themselves,” Richards said. “Everything is different than it was yesterday.”

Richards said she encourages people planning for their future to start with “why.”

“What’s you’re why?” Richards said. “What’s your goal? Is it going to get you to the retirement place you want to be? The decisions today are going to have a big impact on what happens tomorrow.”

McLoughlin said the key to any successful business is communication.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” McLoughlin said. “Communicate your goals and the culture. Ask the employees to share that with customers and staff. As long as you have good people and are aligned with the goals, you will be successful.”

Maitrejean added, “If you’re a small business owner, make sure you understand the value and differentiation your product offers and continue to differentiate yourself from your competitors. The successful brands are the ones who do this. Having that right branding brings you longevity.”

Women in sports

The second panel discussion focused on the growing role of women in sports. Panelists were Buffy Filippell, president and founder of Teamwork Online; sports agent Nicole Lynn; National Football League (NFL) official LaShell Nelson; and Catherine Raiche, football operations and player personnel coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. All the panelists talked about the challenges they face because of their gender.

“There are certain things I can’t do that my peer agents (men) can do,” Lynn said. “They can take clients to dinner and the bar at night. I can’t do that. I have to do coffee at 4.”

Nelson said she has to work harder than male officials to remove doubts about her ability.

“I have to watch way more film because I don’t ever want anyone to doubt me,” Nelson said. “You have to take it beyond what the normal male would do.”

Raiche said she spends extra time preparing for meetings because the validity of her statements has occasionally been dismissed because of her gender.

“Every time I walk into a meeting I always do the extra work to verify and confirm to be 2,000% ready,” Raiche said. “I do it because it’s my work ethic but also because I’m a woman. My preparation needs to be stronger.”

Filippell, who recruits executives for jobs in sports, said employers in the sports business are making great strides drawing women into the industry.

“Gender equality is growing the businesses,” Filippell said. “Most of the teams want to have gender equality because their audience is diverse, so you need to have those voices in the organization that is diverse.”

The panelists encouraged attendees to find a mentor or sponsor to give them honest encouragement and feedback.

“Get you an advocate that is going to be very honest with you,” Nelson said. “I want that because if they don’t give it to you, they don’t care. Find someone that is the best at their job and will help you.”

“Find a sponsor that doesn’t look like you,” added Lynn. “If I sponsor someone that looks like me, it looks like I’m sponsoring them because of that. Excellence is your greatest currency.”

Added Raiche, “Block the noise. Focus on what your goal is. Put your head down and work. Don’t wait for someone to look like you to do it. Just do it.”

Sports agents

The third panel featured three sports agents: Drew RosenhausRyan Tollner and Ryan Williams. All three discussed the challenges of their careers.

“When I was 22, I was Mr. Miami Vice,” Rosenhaus said. “I would hang with them, go to clubs with them. Now I’m like their dad. It’s less of a friendship, buddy-buddy, and more of a respect type of relationship.”

“It used to be very transactional,” Tollner added. “Now it’s entirely relational. We are on call all of the time. That’s just a very different demand. You have to be really good at prioritizing your time and be there for the player at the critical times.”

Williams said the hyper-competitive nature of the sports industry, especially in this age of social media, has forced agents to also be therapists.

“Athletes either succeed or fail every Sunday,” Williams said. “These guys are human. We end up being therapists. The contract defines the term, but we get in the mud to help our clients.”

All three panelists said recruiting is the most difficult part of their job.

“Every single year I have to to try to get remarried to someone … all while 900 agents are doing the same thing,” Williams said. “We take our losses harder than we celebrate our wins, much like our clients. The rest is fun.”

Rosenhaus said the fact that the player may not be the decision-maker adds additional frustrations.

“You could beat out a hundred people and be No. 2, and get nothing,” Rosenhaus said. “There’s no consolation prize. It is a brutal process where you can work dozens of hours and give up countless trips away from your family, and never have a chance of getting that player. You have to have a lot of poise. You can’t say anything and tell him he’s a jerk.”

Tollner said the unpredictable income and frequent travel are tough on family.

“It’s a very hard job to stabilize an income,” Tollner said. “I travel a lot. It’s extremely demanding on a family.”

Professional coaching

The final panel was a discussion with Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. Schapp asked them about the challenges of coaching players who are constantly distracted by conversations and content on their phones. Taylor said he doesn’t try to stop them but does encourage them to develop relationships.

“We don’t try to cut that off because they are attached to their phones,” Taylor said. “We just want guys to develop relationships and build culture. Find other moments throughout the day where you can connect.”

Patricia added, “I’ll walk down the hall and tell people to put their phone down and talk. It’s amazing what you can do when you actually interact with each other. It’s amazing to see that relationship grow.”

Patricia said the roller coaster of emotions caused by social media posts has forced him and his coaches to mentally assist players.

“Guys get wrapped up in that social media and they don’t know where to go with it,” Patricia said. “We help them in a positive way and educate them on how to get out of a bad situation on social media.”

Taylor said he and his coaches also encourage players to think before they tweet.

“We’re not telling the guys to not tweet,” Taylor said. “We just tell our guys to protect the team.”

Taylor and Patricia and their coaching staffs will lead Saturday’s 71st annual Reese’s Senior Bowl. The game, played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, is the nation’s only college all-star game coached by entire staffs from two NFL clubs. For more information, visit seniorbowl.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Time-lapse video of Birmingham’s new downtown interstate bridges

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

The new Interstate 59/20 bridges through downtown Birmingham are scheduled to open within the next few days, 12 months after they were closed for replacement.

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) announced Jan. 13 the contractor, Johnson Brothers Corp., would have the bridges completed and ready to open no later than Jan. 21. The interstate bridges were closed to traffic Jan. 21, 2019, as part of ALDOT’s phased repair plan for the more than 45-year-old bridges.

Alabama Power recorded the demolition and construction of the western half of the bridges from a 17th-floor window overlooking the junction of the bridges with I-65. The 12-month recording was condensed into a one-minute time-lapse video.

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Time-lapse video of Birmingham bridges replacement from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled for Friday, Jan. 17 at 2:00 p.m. Once the bridges reopen to traffic, ALDOT says crews will spend the rest of 2020 repairing detours and completing work around the bridges. Plans to develop public space underneath the bridges are not yet finalized.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Alabama hunter grants wishes for kids

(Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic/Contributed)

Jeff Carter didn’t have a plan in 2011 when he started Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, an organization that takes sick kids on a weekend hunting trip in northwest Alabama.

“At that time I really didn’t know what it looked like,” Carter said. “The Lord put it on my heart and he called me to do this. We stepped out on faith.”

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Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic grants wishes for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Carter’s faith paid off. The event, now in its ninth year, has grown from a hunting trip for one child into an extended weekend experience for three kids at a time. The kids are selected through the United Special Sportsman Alliance, all recovering from a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a life-altering disorder like autism.

“This is just an opportunity that God has given us to be able to give these kids and their families a chance to get away and get their mind off of a lot of what they’ve been dealing with,” Carter said.

Beau Terry, 18, is one of the young people hunting in this year’s classic. Terry said he was thrilled to get the chance.

“It’s kind of like having a lot of uncles around,” Terry said. “It means a lot.”

In addition to the hunting trip, the kids are given hunting clothes, a DVD video of their weekend and a canvas picture. Carter said their smiles are a blessing to him and his volunteers.

“It’s awesome,” Carter said. “When God calls us to do something, there’s no sense in worry about how much and how, just step out on faith and roll with it because he’s got it figured out already. He will provide.”

For more information about the Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, visit the organization’s Facebook page here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

New ROV competition coming to Alabama

(Dauphin Island Sea Lab/Contributed)

Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) is adding a second remotely operated vehicle (ROV) competition to its list of marine science learning opportunities.

Rachel McDonald, ROV competition coordinator for DISL, said the first-ever Alabama SeaPerch ROV Competition will be held Feb. 8, 2020, at UMS-Wright Preparatory School in Mobile. McDonald said teams from across the Southeast will construct a pre-designed ROV, which they will use to compete in a pool obstacle course and a mission course. The competition will also include a technical design report.

The competition winner qualifies for the National SeaPerch Challenge, which this year is happening in May at the University of Maryland.

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ROV competitions from Dauphin Island Sea Lab inspire students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The SeaPerch competition is one of two regional ROV competitions hosted by DISL. The second is the Northern Gulf Coast regional competition for the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) program. In this April competition, teams of middle and high school students, helped by their teachers or mentors, design, build and pilot their own unique ROV before coming to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to compete against student teams from across the Gulf Coast in a series of science-based missions.

The winner automatically advances to the MATE ROV Competition-World Championship, which will take place June 25-27 at Villanova University.

McDonald said the goal of these competitions, and other ROV programs at DISL, is to inspire students’ interest in robotics, aquatic science and oceanography.

“We want to inspire kids to study the oceans more,” McDonald said. “We hope these kids will be inspired to go and use this knowledge.”

Tina Miller-Way, chair of Discovery Hall Programs at DISL, said the ROV programs and competitions are key parts of the staff’s philosophy of hands-on learning.

“We learn by doing,” Miller-Way said. “When you bring students out of that classroom and put them outside, in the field, or use a different modality of teaching such as hands-on learning, you’re able to reach a different group of students or you’re able to reach students in a different way than what you might in the classroom.”

DISL also offers ROV summer camps for students and teachers. To learn more about these programs, including application deadlines, visit disl.org/dhp/rov-programs, email rovcompetition@disl.edu or contact Rachel McDonald at (251) 861-2141 x5076.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama hunter grants wishes for kids

Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic is a hunting event for kids recovering from life-threatening illnesses or dealing with autism. (contributed)

Jeff Carter didn’t have a plan in 2011 when he started Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, an organization that takes sick kids on a weekend hunting trip in northwest Alabama.

“At that time I really didn’t know what it looked like,” Carter said. “The Lord put it on my heart and he called me to do this. We stepped out on faith.”

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Carter’s faith paid off. The event, now in its ninth year, has grown from a hunting trip for one child into an extended weekend experience for three kids at a time. The kids are selected through Make-A-Wish and the United Special Sportsman Alliance, all recovering from a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a life-altering disorder like autism.

“This is just an opportunity that God has given us to be able to give these kids and their families a chance to get away and get their mind off of a lot of what they’ve been dealing with,” Carter said.

Beau Terry, 18, is one of the young people hunting in this year’s classic. Terry said he was thrilled to get the chance.

“It’s kind of like having a lot of uncles around,” Terry said. “It means a lot.”

In addition to the hunting trip, the kids are given hunting clothes, a DVD video of their weekend and a canvas picture. Carter said their smiles are a blessing to him and his volunteers.

“It’s awesome,” Carter said. “When God calls us to do something, there’s no sense in worry about how much and how, just step out on faith and roll with it because he’s got it figured out already. He will provide.”

For more information about the Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, visit the organization’s Facebook page here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Great Alabama 650 returns in 2020 with changes

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Registration opens Jan. 1 for the second annual Great Alabama 650, a grueling 650-mile non-motorized paddle race across some of the most scenic lakes and rivers in Alabama.

The Alabama Scenic River Trail said registration will open at noon CST on PaddleGuru. The race will be held Sept. 26-Oct. 6, starting at Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama and finishing at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay.

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Great Alabama 650 paddle race showcases state’s beauty, racers’ endurance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizers have made a few changes for 2020. Participants must have competed as a solo or two-person tandem racer in a qualifying race within the past five years. The event will also be capped at 20 boats.

Racers who have not competed in a qualifying race will be given an opportunity to compete in a 65-mile race in June on a section of the Great Alabama 650 course. The winner of that race will get an automatic spot into the 2020 Great Alabama 650.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

New redevelopment strategy for Alabama’s largest city

(Urban Impact, REV Birmingham/Contributed, YHN)

A joint effort to redevelop historic portions of downtown Birmingham has been announced.

Urban Impact and REV Birmingham held a news conference Dec. 17 to announce their new Northwest Downtown Master Development Plan, a strategy for redeveloping the city’s Civil Rights District and Innovation District. Ivan Holloway, executive director for Urban Impact, says the plan includes specific, actionable steps to ensure these neighboring districts are growing together intentionally.

“This master plan represents a unified vision throughout the northwest quadrant of downtown, encompassing both the Civil Rights District and Innovation District,” said Holloway. “It will help create transformative redevelopment and revitalization opportunities that will encourage our citizens to connect, build, invest and grow our community.”

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Urban Impact, REV Birmingham announce strategy to redevelop northwest Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Tuesday’s announcement comes one month after Urban Impact unveiled plans for a new “Freedom Walk” to link the Civil Rights District and the historic 4th Avenue Business District with the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, said this joint effort to connect those areas with the city’s growing Innovation District helps everyone.

“This plan will help people, who feel a sense of ownership over these areas, benefit from the district’s growth while also allowing room for new stakeholders to become part of the area as well,” said Fleming. “Each district’s growth should complement each other.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin released a statement celebrating the partnership after the news conference.

“In Birmingham, inclusion and innovation are two sides of the same coin,” Woodfin said. “This collaboration between Urban Impact and REV Birmingham represents an opportunity to bridge our historic past with our bright future.”

Urban Impact and REV Birmingham are searching for a planning firm to guide this redevelopment process. Businesses wishing to provide consulting services are asked to submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) by Jan. 31, 2020. In addition, citizens are encouraged to share their ideas for future development plans in northwest Birmingham by visiting northwestdowntownbham.com or by sending an email to nwrfp@urbanimpactbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s ‘white gold’ draws worldwide interest

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Ruth Beaumont Cook’s latest book started 10 years ago as a brochure request from Sylacauga‘s B.B. Comer Memorial Library in advance of the city’s first marble festival.

“They asked me to put together a brochure about the history of the marble,” Cook said. “It was overwhelmingly successful, so the next year they asked to me write a book.”

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New book celebrates Sylacauga’s marble legacy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Nearly nine years and dozens of interviews later, Cook celebrates the natural resource that nurtures both the economy and the cultural heritage of Alabama’s “Marble City” in her new book, “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story.”

“Whenever you start working on a book, you have all of this information but you look for a story thread through it,” Cook said. “I had no clue when I started what that was going to be.”

Cook said the clues starting coming together as she started talking to people who grew up mining marble.

“There are so many people who grew up in Gantts Quarry,” Cook said. “Most people have good memories of growing up there and work they are proud of. Telling those stories was the most interesting part of it.”

Commercial marble quarries began in Sylacauga in the late 1800s. Cook said the marble was initially used by sculptors such as Giuseppe Moretti, the Italian who created the Vulcan statue on Red Mountain in Birmingham.

“His Vulcan won gold prize at the 1904 World’s Fair, but what most people don’t know is he also took another piece with him, ‘The Head of Christ,’ which he had carved from Sylacauga marble,” Cook said. “It won a silver medal.”

The notoriety caught the attention of construction managers around the world who were seeking dimension marble for their projects. By the 1930s, Sylacauga’s creamy white marble had been used in hundreds of buildings, including the U.S. Supreme Court building and the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was chosen for the Lincoln Memorial because it can be cut very thin and still be strong,” Cook said. “They cut it thin enough to be translucent and then rubbed it with beeswax and put it in the ceiling.”

Despite the marble’s beauty and strength, Cook said the demand for dimension marble in construction dropped dramatically by the 1950s.

“It became obvious that granite was much easier to withstand pollution than marble,” Cook said. “Marble is still great if it’s thick enough, but if you make a facade of it on a building, it’s probably not going to last because it deteriorates from the pollution.”

Instead of closing the mines and laying off employees, Cook said the Sylacauga marble companies survived and thrived thanks to a growing need for calcium extracted from marble deposits and used in hundreds of products, such as cosmetics, paints and glue.

“They turned to industry and began to grind up the marble into fine powder – called GCC, ground calcium carbonate – which industry had a strong demand for,” Cook said.

Cook said Sylacauga continues to be a rich marble resource more than 70 years later.

“I’ve been told there’s enough marble there for sculpture and industry for at least another 200 years,” Cook said. “The vein of marble is 35 miles long, a mile and a half wide and goes down quite a ways — 300 or 400 feet I believe. It’s a very valuable resource.”

Sylacauga Marble Festival

Since 2009, the city has celebrated its heritage through the Sylacauga Marble Festival, a 10-day event drawing sculptors from around the world to work alongside an Italian master sculptor. Visitors can watch, tour local quarries and purchase sculptures. Cook said the festival brings Sylacauga’s rich heritage full circle.

“It came from art, up through all of these others, and now you have this wonderful balance,” Cook said. “You still have major industry but you also have major art appreciation. It’s a great story.”

The 12th annual Marble Festival will be March 31 to April 11, 2020.

The 2019 Marble Festival, which was one of several events highlighted by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission as part of the state’s 200th birthday celebration, was sponsored by the Alabama Power FoundationAlabama State Council on the ArtsAlabama Tourism DepartmentAmerican Legion Post 45 SylacaugaArchitectural Stone ImportsB.B. Comer Memorial LibraryBlue Bell CreameriesBlue Horizon TravelCity of Sylacauga, Conn Equipment, Coosa Valley Medical CenterCurtis and Son Funeral HomeImerysIsabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts CenterJ. Craig Smith Community CenterMiller Lumber CompanyMorris Custom Marble & GraniteNemakOmya, Inc.Pizza & Pint, Representative Ron Johnson, SouthFirst BankSylacauga Arts CouncilSylacauga Chamber of CommerceSylacauga Housing Authority, Sylacauga Marble Quarry, Towne Inn, 21st Century Signs and Utilities Board of Sylacauga.

To learn more about “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story,” visit newsouthbooks.com/magicinstone.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab teaches more than science

(Dauphin Island Sea Lab/Contributed)

For the staff at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), one mission stands above all: to help others love marine science as much as they do.

“We like to think the impact is life-lasting,” said Tina Miller-Way, chair of Discovery Hall Programs at DISL. “There are many students that don’t realize that we even exist, that the ocean even exists, so the impact stems from opening a student’s eyes. The impact is really seeing that lightbulb going off and having a good time while they’re doing it. That’s worth gold.”

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab makes science fun for all ages from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Miller-Way oversees Kindergarten-12 education efforts at DISL, which last year served hundreds of teachers through training workshops and 22,000 children through field trips, summer camps and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) competitions. DISL’s mobile classroom, BayMobile, also allows her staff to visit underserved schools across Alabama that do not have the opportunity or the means to visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on a field trip.

“Not every student learns in the same way,” Miller-Way said. “When you bring students out of that classroom and put them outside in the field or use a different modality of teaching, such as hands-on learning, you’re able to reach a different group of students or you’re able to reach students in a different way.”

DISL is Alabama’s primary marine education and research center, founded in 1971 by the Alabama Legislature to provide marine science programs for the state’s colleges and universities. Lee Smee, chair of University Programs, said DISL’s summer program for undergraduate students is now the largest of its kind in the country.

“We had 230 or so undergraduates here from all over the state (this past summer),” Smee said. “We have 23 different universities in Alabama that send people down here to work with us. That does a lot of good for the whole state.”

Smee said financial support from donors and businesses is helping his program and other programs at DISL grow. One example of that support is a $25,000 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation to help DISL purchase a new research vessel.

Alabama Power is really generous,” Smee said. “They gave us a $25,000 grant toward the purchase of a new research vessel. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation was able to raise the rest of the money, which they wouldn’t have been able to do without Alabama Power. That’s a huge boost for all of our programs.”

In addition to the two education programs, DISL operates the George F. Crozier Estuarium, a public aquarium specializing in estuarine organisms found throughout the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Miller-Way said every program is successful because the staff rallies around one simple goal: to increase ocean and environmental literacy among everyone they meet.

“The more minds and hands that are involved in designing and implementing these programs, the better the program is going to be,” Miller-Way said. “I love our staff. They are absolutely wonderful at what they do and we work very well together.”

For more information about the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, visit disl.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama businesses unite for environmental progress

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

More than 200 businesses in southwest Alabama are helping each other protect air, water and land quality in their communities.

The businesses are members of Partners for Environmental Progress (PEP), a coalition of business and education leaders in the Mobile area. The goal of the group is to share science-based environmental best practices with each other and the community, giving businesses the information they need to balance business development and job creation, industrial growth and a healthy environment.

Tom Bramlett, president of OEC and a PEP board member, says PEP was founded in 2000 as a way for area businesses to educate the community about their operations.

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“At that time there was a lot of misinformation,” Bramlett said. “We felt like it was important to give the community a resource that would use real science and facts about what is going on in our local air and water quality.”

Partners for Environmental Progress promotes balance between business, environment from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Since then Bramlett said PEP has grown to include more than 220 businesses and educational institutions, representing more than 20,000 people.

“It’s one of the reasons PEP has been recognized as a respected voice on these types of issues,” Bramlett said. “We all want the same thing. We want a great place to live, work, play and raise our families. We just need to come together and make it happen.”

Jennifer Denson, executive director of PEP, says the members work year-round to help each other.

“As part of our membership program, we have monthly meetings to educate our members about best environmental practices and community issues in Mobile, Baldwin and Washington counties,” Denson said. “We also partner with other environmental organizations, particularly the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, to help bring awareness and engagement of business into our environmental stewardship projects.”

Denson said one great partnership example is a project involving Mobile Bay NEP, Alabama PowerGreif Packaging and Soterra LLC to install rain barrels in flood-prone neighborhoods of Prichard.

“We like to bring these partners together, highlight what our member companies are doing and make sure our elected officials and our community leaders know that industry is not a dirty polluter,” Denson said. “Having business engaged in being strong environmental stewards is a critical facet of a good, healthy community.”

Mike Wilson, engineering manager at BASF, said he and his company benefits greatly from being a member of PEP.

“We share best practices,” Wilson said. “I’ve talked to them about what they’re doing good, I’ve shared some of the best practices that we have and there’s a little bit of camaraderie about how to move forward with some things like this.”

Wilson, who was born and raised in Mobile, said the work PEP and its members are doing to protect the environment and promote environmental best practices is important to everyone.

“We’re blessed with a tremendous environment around the Mobile area,” Wilson said. “Whether it be the water, the air or the spacious land we’ve got around here, and there’s only one. If you don’t have good stewards of the environment, it’s not going to be there for our children and grandchildren. It’s important to have a good policy to protect that environment that we live in.”

To learn more about PEP, visit pepmobile.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Study: Hunting, fishing had $3.2 billion impact on Alabama in 2018

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama NewsCenter)

Hunting and fishing in Alabama during 2018 had a $3.2 billion economic impact on the state, according to a new report.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ABBAA) shared that number and others during a news conference Wednesday in Montgomery. Pam Swanner, director of ABBAA, said the report underscores the economic importance hunting and fishing has on Alabama’s economy, especially in rural Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“When we create jobs in this rural area of our state, it releases a tax burden on the rest of the state of Alabama,” Swanner said. “We think we’ve got a great product.”

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Hunting, fishing created $1.1 billion impact on Alabama in 2018 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The report, which Southeast Research compiled for ABBAA, found:

  • Spending by sportsmen and women supports 73,553 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $1.1 billion
  • State and local taxes generated — $185 million
  • Contribution to Alabama Education Trust Fund — $84 million
  • Total number of hunters – 535,000
  • Total number of anglers – 683,000
  • Hunters spent more than 14.3 million days hunting in Alabama
  • Anglers spent close to 10.9 million days fishing in Alabama
  • Alabama residents accounted for almost 91% of the total spending on hunting and fishing in the state.
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $3.2 BILLION

The report also detailed the impact hunting and fishing in the 23 counties of south Alabama known as the Black Belt
had on Alabama’s economy in 2018. More than 40 percent of all those who hunted in Alabama in 2018 were hunting in Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties. Other Black Belt hunting and fishing impacts include:

  • Sportsmen’s spending in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $364 million
  • State and local taxes generated – $62 million
  • Contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund – $28 million
  • Hunters and anglers spent an estimated 6 million days hunting and 2.3 million days fishing in the Black Belt
  • More than 4 of 10 (42%) of the hunting days in Alabama occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident hunters, with about two-thirds (66%) of their hunting days being reported in the Black Belt
  • More than 2 of 10 (21%) of the state’s total fishing days occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident anglers, with close to 3 of 10 (29%) fishing days reported in the Black Belt
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident hunters in the Black Belt is estimated at $540 million, accounting for almost 42% of the total spending on hunting in Alabama
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident anglers in the Black Belt is estimated at $166 million, representing almost 21% of the total spending on fishing in Alabama
  • Total visitors – 363,900
  • Total room nights – 2,890,000
  • Number of nights commercial lodge – 57,200
  • Number of nights in a hotel – 276,900
  • Number of nights in campground – 433,100
  • Total lodging tax collection — $1.4 million
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $1.1 BILLION

ABBAA founder and president Thomas Harris said the report clearly shows ABBAA is a boost to rural Alabama.

“Our mission is to recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region,” Harris said. “It is truly a rural economic development program.”

ABBAA also announced two new TV commercials are now airing on 150 TV stations around the country, thanks in large part to financial support from the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). David Bronner, CEO of the RSA, said nearly 25% of the country’s TV viewers see these TV commercials each day.

“When Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something that was really special,” Bronner said. “For many decades, we’ve tried to do things that impacted the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. Your effort to do something for the Black Belt is so meaningful to the entire state. Thank you.”

ABBAA, a not-for-profit organization, was created in 2009 to market the region to outdoors enthusiasts across the nation. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said more people outside of Alabama talk to him about Black Belt hunting and fishing.

“They know about the Black Belt,” Ainsworth said. “It’s because of a lot of hard work this association has done and the leadership of Dr. Bronner and making sure we had the means to get out this message.”

To celebrate the association’s 10-year anniversary, ABBAA unveiled “Black Belt Bounty,” a new book celebrating the Black Belt’s hunting and fishing heritage. Among the contributors to the deluxe hardcover book are James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris and several wildlife artists, photographers and outdoor writers.

“The book is awesome,” Swanner said. “If you have anyone in your family that enjoys hunting or fishing, this is a must for their Christmas stocking.”

Swanner said the book was made possible through financial support from Alabama Power, Thomas and Cindy Harris, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource Foundation, Alabama Wildlife FederationPowerSouthUniversity of Alabama Center for Economic DevelopmentUniversity of West AlabamaSumter County Nature TrustAlabama Farmers Federation, and John Hall and Company. To order your copy or to find a retail location near you, visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Consul General from Netherlands visits Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Southeastern United States says his country wants to expand job opportunities and investments in Alabama.

Ard van der Vorst visited Montgomery and Birmingham this week, meeting with government and business leaders from across Alabama. Tuesday’s visits included a lunch meeting at Alabama Power‘s Innovation Center in Birmingham to discuss ways the Netherlands and Alabama can help each other.

“The Netherlands has the ambition to expand its job opportunities here and to invest and expand the trade and investment sectors that we are already in,” van der Vorst said. “We are talking and looking at opportunities to invest more in the agriculture and tech sectors or in the mobility and logistics, as well as also the automotive.”

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Consul General from Netherlands visits Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Smart Cities initiative was also discussed. van der Vorst said the Netherlands shares the same challenges cities in Alabama face when it comes to getting agriculture closer to the city, using energy more efficiently, and removing obstacles to healthcare.

“These are things that we are also seeing as a challenge,” van der Vorst said. “By working together we can learn from each other — our companies can learn from each other, as well as the public institutions. We have much more in common than I ever thought.”

van der Vorst was named consul general of the Netherland’s Atlanta Consultate in January 2019. This was his first visit to Alabama, one of five states his consulate serves.

“I’ve been before, prior to this posting, in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, but I don’t know this area so much, like our companies might not know this area so much,” van der Vorst said. “We have about 7,000 jobs related to Dutch-American investments and trades in Alabama, and I think there’s an opportunity to expand that.”

The Netherlands is the 5th largest investor in the United States, supplying about 825,000 jobs related to Dutch-American trade and investments. van der Vorst believes Alabama will be instrumental in growing that number to one million.

“We can only do that when we come down here, see where the opportunities are and invest where we see benefits for each other,” van der Vorst said. “You are all so friendly and I think that’s important because some times you only focus on figures and data, but we also should not underestimate the social concept and the social circumstances. These are important facts about what a welcoming state means, and Alabama does what it does. I think it was very interesting to be here and to continue that conversation with the counterparts here.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A marine scientist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) has figured out how to help oysters grow heavier and stronger shells, a discovery he says will help oysters rebuild their habitats across the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Lee Smee is a senior marine scientist and chair of University Programs at DISL. His team has discovered an oyster builds stronger, heavier shells when it believes predators are nearby.

“For a little ball of snot, they’re pretty smart,” Smee said.

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Smee’s recent findings determined the simple presence of crab urine is enough to trigger an oyster to build a stronger, deeper shell — a shape that increases their chance of survival by up to 15%.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some chemistry and figure out what the actual molecules are going to be that drive the patterns,” Smee said. “We also know they respond if other oysters are being injured or killed. So, if a crab is eating another oyster, or if you just take an oyster and crush it up, they respond to that as well.”

Smee says he is working with oyster farmers to do more testing on the predator cues. Once he determines which molecules trigger the best reaction in the oysters, he hopes a chemical can be mass-produced and deployed in oyster reefs around the Gulf Coast.

“We want to do the chemistry and figure out what the chemicals are and hopefully that will lead to the hatchery being able to say, ‘add this and this’ to the water,” Smee said. “Then, we want to do this on a big scale and see if it really matters for restoration.”

Smee said he hopes his research will help restore and strengthen oyster habitats across the Gulf Coast.

“Oysters are one of the most important species in the Gulf of Mexico,” Smee said. “They are foundation species. They protect shorelines. They build habitat for other species and protect us from storms and coastal erosion. They filter water. A lot of things we like, like blue crabs and different fish species, count on them for habitat. But, the oysters in Alabama have been disappearing. Harvesting of on-bottom oysters has been closed for a couple of years. We’re hoping our research takes some steps forward to rebuild the fishery and recover some of those important aspects that oysters provide.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama teenagers discover new job opportunities at Worlds of Work

Teenagers learn about career opportunities during Worlds of Work at Bevill State Community College in Hamilton. (Melinda Weaver/Alabama Power)

Nearly 1,000 teenagers from northwest Alabama learned about dozens of new and in-demand career opportunities Thursday night and Friday morning at Bevill State Community College in Hamilton.

The North Alabama chapter of AlabamaWorks! presented Worlds of Work, a hands-on career exploration event held at locations around Alabama each year. Stephanie McCulloch, assistant director of North AlabamaWorks!, said this was the first time Worlds of Work had been presented in Marion County.

“We’re really excited about it,” McCulloch said. “It’s really engaged the community and the local businesses. We hope this will become an annual event.”

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Worlds of Work kicked off Thursday night with “Fired Up for the Future,” a two-hour event giving people in the community a chance to visit with some of the businesses and organizations taking part. Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington talked to the crowd about the growing number of job opportunities available to teens and adults in Alabama.

“There are a lot of jobs being recruited into the state of Alabama,” Washington said. “We’ve got to make sure we have a workforce that’s prepared to meet the demand of these new jobs that are coming in.”

Friday morning, more than 30 businesses and organizations set up booths and hands-on demonstrations, giving middle school and high school students from Marion and Winston counties chances to learn about job opportunities in construction, automotive, health care, public safety, energy and agriculture. Washington said events such as Worlds of Work educate students on the growing number of good-paying jobs available to them.

“There are a lot of in-demand, high-wage jobs out there,” Washington said. “Students and job seekers don’t necessarily have to have a four-year degree. If they can get a certification or a two-year degree, they can move right into a job and the company will train them.”

Worlds of Work is one of several events organized by AlabamaWorks! to fulfill the Alabama Workforce Council‘s Success Plus initiative, a plan created in 2018 by a group of high-level business leaders from across the state to address workforce shortages in Alabama. The plan offers suggestions on how Alabama can add as many as 500,000 high-skilled employees to the workforce by 2025.

“North Alabama is responsible for 125,000 of that,” McCullough said. “By reaching out to them in the eighth and ninth grades, we want to make sure they are able to make the best choices moving forward and understand the pathways to those high-wage careers.”

Washington said events like Worlds of Work demonstrate the team effort between business and government leaders to fill the needs of new businesses coming into Alabama.

“Alabama is open for business,” Washington said. “We’ve got a workforce that will satisfy any job description for any company that wants to land here in the state.”

The Worlds of Work event in Hamilton was sponsored by Bevill State Community College, Alabama Public Television, North Alabama Industrial Development Authority, Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance, Go Build Alabama, Cyber Huntsville, Alabama Power, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, University of North Alabama College of Business, Alabama Technology Network, CIS Home Loans and Northwest Medical Center. To learn more about Worlds of Work, visit alabamaworks.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama universities tackling state’s economic growth challenges

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Representatives from several Alabama universities discussed their roles in economic development during a panel discussion Oct. 25 at the Alabama Economic Growth Summit in Hoover.

Anthony Hood, director of civic innovation in the Office of the President at UAB, moderated the discussion. He said Alabama’s universities have several ideas — some already implemented, in helping the state resolve its economic growth challenges.

“We are the workforce development engines in our respective communities,” Hood said. “The number one question we get from the startups is, ‘If we come to Birmingham, where am I going to get the people to work for my company?’ Workforce development is a key engine in business recruitment.”

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Alabama universities actively growing state’s economy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The panelists discussed a number of obstacles stunting Alabama’s economic growth, including:

  • Students and faculty worried a university will claim ownership of their startup idea
  • Need for more software developers in Alabama
  • Faculty not allowed enough personal time to invest in startup growth
  • 4-year college degree requirements on job applications exclude some qualified talent
  • Funding for viable startups

LaKami Baker, interim executive director of the Government and Economic Development Institute and professor at Auburn University, said the first step to solving these issues is better policies and funding.

“We need to have policies in place to help those brilliant minds we are educating,” Baker said. “At Auburn, we have a lot of researchers working on things, but at the end of the day, if they don’t have the funding to stay there, they take that talent and their know-how to other states. By having more programs like that, it’s going to help us.”

Theresa Welbourne, executive director of the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute and professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama, said seed funding, mentoring and access to software developers are the three biggest challenges facing startups in Alabama.

“We can help provide some initial funding, but after that, there’s really a gap,” Welbourne said. “Those companies that have proven themselves, they need from $100,000 to $250,000. That level of capital is really hard for them to come by, and if they don’t get it, they leave. If we start them up and they go, that’s not helping any of us meet our goals.”

Saksham Narang, a licensing associate at UAB, said changing policies to encourage faculty investment in startups and protect a faculty or student’s business idea will encourage more startups to locate and stay in Alabama.

“People think a university is going to take 100% of my company and make me pay all of these milestones and royalties that I just can’t afford to do,” Narang said. “That’s hardly the case. If you are licensing from us, we want a couple of percentage points because we did all of this work — we provided the resources, the validation work, we offered the initial lab space, we filed the patents for you, we just want something for that work.”

Narang also wants universities to give faculty more time to invest in startups, much like faculty are encouraged to do with academic research.

“UAB currently allows for 20 days a year in external activities,” Narang said. “I’ve been advocating that number needs to go up to 52 — one day a week rather than five days a quarter, because in order to keep a company here, they need to be involved, but if they can only be involved for a few hours a week, why should anyone license something and keep it here? There are some policies we need to change, but I will say the university is listening and they are working to implement these changes.”

Hood said businesses should reevaluate their job applications to see if requiring four-year college degrees excludes qualified talent.

“If people can show up on time and do what they are supposed to do, we can train them and build them up, but you may not necessarily need a 4-year degree to do that,” Hood said. “Those are conversations our executive leaders are going to have to have with the HR departments.”

Investing in Alabama

Despite the challenges, the panelists celebrated a growing collaboration among private, public and education officials to grow the state’s economy. Narang pointed to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, where it ranked Alabama 18th among states for its percentage of investment into research and development versus the state’s GDP.

“We’re making progress but we could be doing a whole lot more,” Narang said. “I’m very proud of what we’re doing and the progress so far.”

Del Smith, executive director for economic development at Alabama A&M University, said his university is finding success through developing relationships.

“We have found ways to connect with the local high schools,” Smith said. “We get both our professors as well as our current students in the local high schools to spark the interests of some of the high school students.”

Baker said Auburn University is encouraging startups and graduates to remain in Alabama through training and competitions.

“For the last five years we’ve been running a business idea competition, which has been the inspiration to create that entrepreneurial mindset, not only at Auburn University but also in the surrounding community,” Baker said. “We’re also making sure we put resources in place to keep them there once they take that business to the next level. That’s been one of the challenges is where students go when they graduate.

Welbourne said business mentors are helping by building bonds with students and faculty.

“Tuscaloosa is a really great community,” Welbourne said. “We don’t have a lot of businesses so we rely on our alums and friends of friends.”

Hood said Alabama’s universities are helping Alabama grow, but more needs to be done.

“We are the workforce engines of our communities, but our organizations are looking for talent,” Hood said. “We need to be able to complement our normal activities around business recruitment and expansion. Having incubators, accelerators and funding sources such as angel investors and venture capitalists to bring money in, to accelerate, to have that rocket fuel for our companies is important, as well as our corporate community giving contracts to our startup companies. We want these companies to stay here and grow.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Officials: Rural Alabama important to state’s economic growth

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s ability to grow its economy depends in large part on the ability of rural Alabama to give new businesses what they want and need to succeed.

The state’s growing efforts to drive growth and opportunity in Alabama’s rural communities was the focus of a panel discussion Oct. 25 during the Alabama Economic Growth Summit in Hoover. Mary Johns, director of news services at Alabama Farmers Federation, moderated the discussion and admitted the majority of Alabamians may not understand the importance of rural Alabama in the state’s economic growth success.

“I think there is some convincing that needs to happen for the 81% of the population living in the metro areas,” John said.

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More organizations helping rural Alabama prepare for new business opportunities from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the remaining 19% of Alabama’s population lives among 40 of the state’s 67 counties. Her job, which was created earlier this year, is to help those 40 counties prepare for new business opportunities.

“There’s a big perception that rural Alabama is a wasteland to some degree, and that is completely false,” Tuck said. “Rural Alabama is very strong. I’m very encouraged and excited about what I’ve seen so far.”

Tuck said her biggest challenge is helping rural communities that lack a full-time economic development coordinator.

“A lot of times we have some challenges with a government official or leaders in the community because they are only part-time — they have two or three other jobs they’re having to do that same day at the same time, so they’re juggling,” Tuck said. “The lack of preparation can hurt a rural community. It’s critical that every community know who they are, what they are and what they can be.”

Caleb Goodwyn, economic and community development representative for PowerSouth, said helping communities identify land and resources new businesses want is an important first-step in many rural areas.

“We’ve spent a lot of resources and time over the last year getting into those communities and doing a lot assessments over what property is there and trying to identify new parcels of land that are well-suited to economic development and industrial development,” Goodwyn said. “If we can attract jobs to our rural areas and attract more investment, that creates jobs. That keeps people at home. That keeps people from fleeing these rural areas and keeps them more vibrant than they were.”

Brian Hilson, rural development strategist at the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA), said Alabama’s rural areas can help the state overcome issues surrounding workforce saturation, a situation where employers struggle to find people willing to work.

“It’s important to all of Alabama that rural Alabama be successful,” Hilson said. “Employers are going to go where people want to live and people are going to want to live where they have job opportunities. We’ve got to do all we can to get each and every one of our rural counties in a better position.”

Hilson added a rural community can succeed without landing new business.

“Rural communities can be successful by retaining businesses they already have and retaining and growing a substantial residential base with people who either live there and spend money or commute to and from there,” Hilson said. “We’re a very mobile workforce in Alabama. It’s not uncommon that people are going to live as much as an hour away from where they work. Rural Alabama can continue to play in that and be successful, not only by having more companies locate there, but especially by having people who want to live there.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Economic Growth Summit: More innovation and technology startups moving to Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama has quickly established itself as an attractive home for founders wanting to launch and grow startups.

The state’s momentum in helping technology and innovation startups flourish was the focus of a panel discussion Oct. 25 during the Alabama Economic Growth Summit in Hoover. Britney Summerville, vice president of community involvement at Shipt, moderated the discussion and said deliberate efforts to attract startups are helping the state grow.

“Technology is a huge part of our thriving ecosystem right now, and we are seeing no signs of that slowing down,” Summerville said. “We want to continue to remind our legislators and supporters of business in the state that technology is here and growing and that we’ll do it better and do it more with everybody’s support.”

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Experts discuss innovation and technology economic development in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Summerville praised Rep. Bill Poole, chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, for leading efforts in the Alabama Legislature to pass new legislation that encourages startups, especially those based in technology and innovation, to locate and operate in Alabama. Poole said passage of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act is just the beginning of the state’s strategic elevation plans.

“The results will inform the decision processes from a policy standpoint going forward,” Poole said. “We’re going to have opportunities to build on that success.”

Matt Hottle, founder of the Alabama Futures Fund, applauded strong bonds between government and business leaders across Alabama. Hottle said Alabama’s strong public-private partnerships are extremely attractive to startup founders looking for more than funding.

“We’ve made investments in five companies: one from Alabama and four of them we got to relocate from other places: Atlanta, Virginia and two from San Francisco,” Hottle said. “If you talk to those folks, they will tell you things like, ‘I’ve never had access to public-private partnerships like I have here. I’ve never had access to senior-level executives. I’ve not had access like Alabama Capital Network can provide to very seasoned, experienced people. I haven’t had advocates in our legislature like you have here. And, by the way, this place is pretty awesome.’ When we think about our ability to grow this state through startups, attracting them both from outside and fostering ones that are already here, understand we are way better positioned than most people realize.”

Hottle said Techstars’ decision to launch an energy technology accelerator with Alabama Power in Birmingham is one of the best examples of the state’s leadership in the public-private sector.

“Alabama Power did an unbelievable job,” Hottle said. “It took a lot of time and a lot of smart, ambitious people working on it, and they did that on behalf of the state and on behalf of the startup ecosystems. What an opportunity for us to capitalize on all of the things we have going for us. TechStars is a huge component of how that’s going to happen.”

Miller Girvin, CEO of Alabama Capital Network, said the ability of investors to successfully exit Alabama-based startups such as Shipt is also helping the state recruit more startups and more investors.

“People sit up and listen,” Girvin said. “They take note. They have circulated around the communities that are doing early-stage investing.”

Girvin said the state needs to make sure rural areas of Alabama are also included.

“A lot of us in the bigger cities have access to universities and corporate supporters,” Girvin said. “We need to continue perpetuate that in the rural areas and smaller cities.”

Poole said more emphasis on education will help.

“Investment in education is an investment in solutions,” Poole said. “We’ve got to continue to do better.”

Hottle said Alabama’s attractiveness as a home for startups will grow if Alabama attempts to elevate the region.

“Eighty percent of all venture capital is concentrated on the coasts,” Hottle said. “If we want to be relevant as a state, we have to be relevant as a region. That means we have to go across state borders.”

Summerville said these recruitment efforts also encourage businesses already in Alabama.

“The existing businesses that are here in Birmingham, especially in tech, are excited there is an emphasis on bringing more,” Summerville said. “They love the fact that, by doing so, it will attract more tech talent and retain tech talent that they have. When companies make it over to take a look at our city, they are wowed by what they see — that very natural, collaborative effort between public and private. The fact that it’s incredibly authentic is what gets their attention and what makes them want to stay.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Family repairs shoes for nearly a century in Mobile

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Brand Leege knew well before he graduated high school what he planned to do the rest of his life.

“I used to laugh in high school when the teacher would ask me what I wanted to do when I got out of school. I told them, ‘I got a job. I know what I’m going to do.’”

Leege didn’t need to apply for the job, either — he would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather at Dauphine Shoeteria, the shoe repair business his grandfather started 97 years ago.

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Brand Leege continues family legacy of Dauphine Shoeteria from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“My grandfather opened up in 1922 right down the street,” Leege said. “I started working down here when I was in high school, and then after I got out of the Navy in 1968, I came back to work for my father. We worked together until 1985 when he passed away, then my mother and I ran it until she passed away 12 years ago.”

Leege runs the business now, serving customers with the same smile and friendly help their parents and grandparents received from his father and grandfather before him. Leege says folks drive from all over Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to see him.

“I’m real proud of that reputation,” Leege said. “It’s nice when you go somewhere, walking through the store and somebody says, ‘Hey Mr. Dauphine! How you doing?’”

Leege mainly fixes shoes, purses and luggage, although he says he’ll try to fix anything that you can bring through the front door. The most memorable item he’s been asked to fix?

“A leather G-string,” Leege laughed.

Leege says his customers inspire him to keep working, despite reaching and passing the traditional retirement age.

“I’ve got great customers,” Leege said.

Dauphine Shoeteria is located at 208 Conti Street and is open weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5:15 p.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

NASCAR’s largest race track gives fans what they want

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway celebrated its 50th anniversary this weekend with a $50 million birthday gift to its fans.

The track opened its new Talladega Garage Experience, providing fans unprecedented access to drivers and an experience unlike anything available at any other NASCAR race track.

“We’re just as pumped up as we can be,” said Grant Lynch, chairman of the Talladega Superspeedway. “The folks that we’re talking to as they’re going in and out of it are kind of mesmerized by the magnitude and scope of it. We think we’re delivering on our promise to give the fans something special.”

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Talladega Superspeedway transforms infield fan experience from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The $50 million Transformation project began one year ago when the track started construction of a new, oversized vehicle tunnel in Turn 3. The tunnel was completed in April, followed by construction of the Talladega Garage Experience. Paul Bellas, project director at International Speedway Corp., said completing the project before race weekend was a big challenge.

“We said it was going to be a tough schedule, and it was,” Bellas said. “Every time we try to bring something that’s on that next level, but trying to do that in a project where it’s about a month shorter than any of the other ones we’ve ever done — we knew it would be a big challenge, and it has been, but we’re really thankful for the local community and all the great contractors we’ve had from this state who have participated in this project. These guys were out there working seven days a week, 12-hour days to make this happen.”

The centerpiece of the Talladega Garage Experience is Big Bill’s Social Club, a 35,000-square-foot pavilion for fans to eat and socialize. On both sides of Big Bill’s are 22 garage bays where fans can watch and talk with drivers and their crews. Fans inside the Talladega Garage Experience also have access to free WiFi.

“Seeing it completed and seeing the fans enjoying themselves — there’s nothing like that,” said Bruce Rein, project manager for International Speedway Corp. “It’s very rewarding.”

The fall race is Lynch’s last as chairman. Lynch will retire next month after spending more than 26 years working at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I’m proud to have been here as long as I have,” Lynch said. “I thank the Frances for the opportunity they gave me many years ago to come to work for that company. I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish during my career here.”

Lynch said he doesn’t plan to go far. In fact, his retirement gift from International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy requires him to stay in Talladega.

“Lesa asked me what I wanted for a retirement gift,” Lynch said. “I told her I would think about it for a bit. That was at the spring race and when she came back for the fall race I told her I decided what I want: as long as I live in Talladega, I want to be have the right to hunt on the Speedway property until I don’t live here any longer. She didn’t even hesitate. She said, ‘Done.’ Deer, dove, quail — lots of it. We have 2,700 acres but we only use 1,100.”

Russell Branham, vice president of Consumer Marketing and Communications at Talladega Superspeedway, said Lynch’s retirement during the grand opening of the Talladega Garage Experience made the weekend bittersweet.

“Grant has meant a great deal to a lot of people in the sport of NASCAR,” Branham said. “When you live with a guy 24/7 for basically 365 days a year, he has a huge, positive impact on you and he’s had that on us. He’s been a great leader for all of us. We’re all looking forward to carrying on his legacy.”

Brian Chrichton will take over track operations in November. His promotion to president of Talladega Superspeedway follows nearly 10 years of service as vice president of Marketing and Sales at the track.

As for the race itself, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 was postponed due to inclement weather. It will resume today at 1 p.m. and will air on NBCSN.

The race on Sunday was called after 57 of the scheduled 188-lap event due to rain with William Byron in the lead after winning the race’s first stage, holding off Joey Logano. Pole sitter Chase Elliott wound up 18th after stage one.

Talladega Superspeedway gates will open today at 11 a.m. All parking lots opened at 7 a.m. with Tram Services beginning at 9 a.m. The Talladega Garage Experience opens at 10 a.m.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Rain barrels helping Alabama city combat flooding

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Patsy Stallworth loves her rain barrels.

“I didn’t understand it at first, but after my husband explained it to me, I like it.”

Stallworth has two 55-gallon rain barrels installed at her home in the Mobile suburb of Prichard, catching up to 110 gallons of rainwater for her to use to water her flowers, wash her cars and wash the dirt off the house.

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“I was amazed at how it worked,” Stallworth said. “When it rains it fills up really quickly. This is a new adventure for me.”

Rain barrels helping alleviate flooding issues in Prichard from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The rain barrels were installed at Stallworth’s home, free-of-charge, thanks to a stormwater mitigation program organized by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Christian Miller, Watershed Management Coordinator for the Mobile Bay NEP, said the rain barrels are a big help in reducing flooding in Prichard, which is part of the Three Mile Creek Watershed.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with residential street flooding and some issues with sanitary sewer runovers, so some of the ways to combat this are to put in these rain-catchment devices,” Miller said. “These two 55-gallon drums aren’t going to solve all of our problems, but as we get more of these out it will hopefully help to reduce these localized issues with residential flooding.”

An inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000-square-foot roof yields more than 600 gallons of water which, in urban areas like Prichard, ends up washing down streets and other hard surfaces, picking up and carrying pollutants into waterways. Miller said increased rainwater harvesting will help reduce impacts associated with residential stormwater runoff.

“The residents have been the biggest champions,” Miller said. “Once we get them in and see what utility they have, they go around and tell their neighbors, the neighbors come to see them and we get phone calls at the office. People really like them and want to have them installed at their house.”

Miller said dozens of rain barrels have been installed in Prichard thanks to donations of materials and labor, including 98 barrels at 46 homes installed by volunteers from Alabama Power Service Organization.

“We’ve got a really good partnership with several different entities,” Miller said. “Greif Packaging and Soterra LLC have donated the barrels and Alabama Power has been really helpful providing supplies and labor to help install. With those folks and Mobile Bay NEP, we’ve really had a good combined effort to put all of these rain barrels out around the community.”

To learn more about the rain barrel program, visit mobilebaynep.com or call the Mobile Bay NEP at 251-431-6409.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama’s newest shopping experience mixes fun with innovation

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A parking lot on the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 19th Street in downtown Birmingham has been transformed into Alabama’s newest shopping experience.

Upswing Birmingham is a “demonstration project” designed by REV Birmingham to prove and improve downtown’s market for retail. David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, says Upswing Birmingham is a modern twist on the old pop-up shop concept.

“There have been a lot of places around the country where people have done demonstration projects for retail,” Fleming said. “We’re all about taking those good ideas and applying them to Birmingham.”

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Upswing Birmingham aims to prove and improve downtown’s market for retail from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Fleming said the owner of the parking lot was very willing to work with REV Birmingham on the project. Three former shipping containers — outfitted for retail, have now been installed on the lot, along with some outdoor swings and seating for shoppers to hang out and have fun.

“It’s intended to take a dead parking lot space and turn it into something more vibrant and a place where retail can incubate,” Fleming said. “We’re all about bringing good businesses to downtown.”

Five businesses are sharing space in the three shipping containers:

Each of the businesses operates weekdays and during special events. Fleming says the project will shut down mid-December for the winter, restarting in the spring.

“Our goal is to incubate more retail,” Fleming said. “Downtown is growing to the point where retail — which at one point thrived in this area, can come back in a really unique way.”

For store hours, event calendar and more information on the businesses at Upswing Birmingham, visit upswingbham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama’s largest river cleanup celebrates 20 years

Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs, speaks to volunteers during a special luncheon Tuesday in Montgomery. (Wynter Byrd / Alabama NewsCenter)

Twenty years ago, Gene Phifer approached his supervisor at Alabama Power with a simple idea: clean trash out of the Coosa River near Plant Gadsden.

“He really backed the program in a tremendous way,” Phifer said. “Not only him, but the executives got involved, too. They were staunchly behind it.”

The program was named Renew The Coosa and quickly evolved into Alabama’s largest river cleanup and one of the largest in the country before being renamed Renew Our Rivers. The company honored Phifer and dozens of other volunteers Tuesday for their efforts during a luncheon in Montgomery.

“Thank you for what you do to build a better Alabama,” said Zeke Smith, vice president of External Affairs for Alabama Power. “It’s just fabulous. It makes a difference.”

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During the last two decades, more than 120,000 volunteers have collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast. The program has earned numerous awards including the 2019 Water Conservationist of the Year award from the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

“The waterways are so important to us and to the state of Alabama,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “Your dedication and your effort to see that they stay that way is an investment in all of our futures.”

Lynn Martin has volunteered 19 of the 20 years at cleanups around Alabama. She said her goal is to get more young people involved.

“I’ve got my 21-year-old daughter now involved,” Martin said. “We love it. It’s just an awesome feeling.”

Jim Eason leads cleanup efforts on the Winston County side of Smith Lake. He said the team effort is rewarding.

“I’m proud of the people I work with,” Eason said. “It’s sometimes daunting to see all the trash out there just a year or two after you cleaned it up, but they keep coming back and we keep picking up and cleaning.”

Phifer says he hopes the next 20 years will be even more fruitful.

“I hope it’s continuing on the same pace 20 years from now,” Phifer said. “I hope the educational component grows as fast as the other part does. I think that’s the part that we need to focus on going forward.”

Five more river cleanups are scheduled across Alabama this fall, including the final cleanup on Lake Martin Nov 1-2.

Remaining 2019 Renew Our River cleanups

Oct. 15: Dog River (Mobile County)
Contact: Catie Boss at 251-829-2146 or clboss@southernco.com

Oct. 22-24: R.L. Harris Lake (Tallapoosa River-Lake Wedowee)
Contact: Sheila Smith at 205-396-5093 or Marlin Glover at 770-445-0824

Oct. 26: Lake Mitchell (Coosa River)
Contact: Dale Vann at 205-910-3713

Oct. 28-Nov. 2: Neely Henry Lake (Coosa River)
Contact: Lisa Dover at 256-549-0900

Nov. 1-2: Lake Martin (Tallapoosa River)
Contact: John Thompson 334-399-3289 or lmra@lmra.info

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

NASCAR fans, drivers return to ‘transformed’ Talladega Superspeedway

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

NASCAR driver and Alabama native Grant Enfinger has been coming to Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway since he was just a kid.

“Me and my dad would come up here every year. For me to come out here and go for another checkered flag here is just a dream come true,” he said.

Enfinger says he is just as excited about the renovations to the track since the last NASCAR race in April. He along with Mark Ramsey and Eric “Digger” Manes of the TV show “Moonshiners” took a tram tour Wednesday of the track’s $50 million Transformation project, which is highlighted by the Talladega Garage Experience.

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“It’s pretty unbelievable, especially Big Bill’s (Social Club),” Enfinger said. “One of the most sought after things as a NASCAR fan is a garage pass, a hot pass, and those are very limited supplies, but now you don’t really need one here. You’re right there in the garage. You see your (Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup guys up close and personal. They’re working on the car two feet from where you can stand, so to me that’s pretty incredible.”

Ramsey added, “It’s insane. It’s incredible.”

A tour of the new Talladega Garage Experience from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Enfinger, Ramsey and Manes got their first look Wednesday at Big Bill’s Social Club inside the Talladega Garage Experience. Big Bill’s is a 35,000 square-foot covered open-air pavilion with a 41-foot video board, bar, concessions, fan seating and garage access to NASCAR’S top 22 drivers — a feature Enfinger says puts the Talladega Superspeedway above all other race tracks.

“Daytona has done a lot and ISM has done a lot in Phoenix, but I think this is where it’s at,” Enfinger said. “From where it was in April, it just brings it to the next level. I’m excited. I’m excited for Talladega and I’m excited for the sport.”

The completion of the Talladega Garage Experience wraps up a year-long project for the track, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. A new Finish Line Premium RV area, infield shower trailers and a new oversized two-lane vehicle tunnel were completed in April. A new race control tower, kid zone and victory lane plaza were constructed in the final phase.

To learn more about the project or purchase tickets, visit talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama doctor competes at World Triathlon Championship

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

As a teenager, Donnelly Howard never thought she would grow up to become one of the best triathletes in the world.

“I was a ballerina through college and was a bookworm, so I never really thought of myself as a competitive athlete.”

The Mobile doctor’s love of running, though, is what encouraged her to start competing in races a few years ago, pushing her to become of the country’s best triathletes. She earned a spot on Team USA at the Grand Final World Triathlon Championship held a few weeks ago in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“It was amazing,” Howard said. “The thing I loved the most was the camaraderie among the U.S. athletes. For an amateur athlete, they treat it like the Olympics: you do team-related events the whole weekend, and it starts with the parade of nations with your team. The races are incredibly competitive but so much fun. It’s such an honor to be a part of it.”

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Howard finished 35th at the world championship in her age group, a result she says “leaves room for improvement” but was cushioned by having her husband with her.

“When the race was over, seeing my husband… I just broke into tears,” Howard said. “You put so much time into training that when you cross the finish line; it is just an amazing feeling.”

Balancing act

Howard’s biggest challenge is finding time to train. The mother of four says she refuses to sacrifice family or work, which means lots of 4 a.m. starts and 2-a-day workouts.

“My husband has dedicated himself to letting sport be something we do together,” Howard said. “We go out for three-hour bike rides on the weekends. He hates to get up early, but he will be willing to get up early and do some of this stuff with me.”

Howard says her family is a big source of encouragement.

“When I got to Switzerland, mom had everyone in the family write me letters and put them in a bag so the night before the race I got to open up these sweet, encouraging letters. It’s so sweet to have so much support. It makes me happy.”

You can do it, too

Howard says she keeps running because she wants her kids — and everyone else, for that matter, to know how much fun she feels working out.

“I want them to understand that you can be active and healthy and not use time as an excuse to really make an active lifestyle a part of your life,” Howard said. “It’s great to be an adult and have something to put my energy into and feel accomplished at the end of the day.”

Howard will be sharing that message more often this year. She is one of 24 athletes selected to be an ambassador for the USA Triathlon Organization Foundation, a non-profit group that raises awareness and funding to help athletes turn their dreams into a reality. Howard says she is grateful to have a way to give back to the community while supporting a sport she loves.

“I want them to understand that you can be active and healthy and not use time as an excuse to really make an active lifestyle a part of your life,” Howard said. “You can find ways to make working out fun.”

As for racing, Howard has qualified to once again join Team USA at the World Triathlon Championship, which will be held next year in Edmonton, Canada. She says she also wants to complete all six of the World Marathon Majors.

“I’ve done Boston and New York. I’ve got Chicago next month, and then I hope to be competing in London as part of the World Championship Series,” Howard said. “That would leave Berlin and Tokyo. I would like to do those sometime in my life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)