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.

4 days 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)

3 weeks 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)

3 weeks 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)

3 weeks 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)

4 weeks 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)

1 month 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)

1 month 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)

1 month 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)

1 month 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 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)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab hosts special-needs children

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Lindsay Davis lives 300 miles from Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, but that isn’t deterring her from telling her schoolteacher where their class should go on its next field trip.

“I want to bring my whole school class here so they can all enjoy it. I want to come back.”

Lindsay was one of more than a dozen children who participated in Sea Stars, a three-day buddy camp designed for students with special needs and their guardians. JoAnn Moody, a marine educator at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the camp was designed to give the children and their families a chance to explore Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast in a hands-on and fun atmosphere.

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“We know some of them are not used to being on the water, so hopefully they will expand that comfort zone out in the environment,” Moody said. “We are a marine education facility and that’s certainly what we hope to share with them, and to have a really good time, as well.”

Sea Stars buddy camp helps kids with developmental disabilities from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Moody said the Sea Stars camp was first held in 2011 but a lack of financial support kept the program dormant until this year when organizations such as the Rotary Club of Mobile and Krewe of Kindness donated the money needed to resurrect it.

“We were determined to do it this year,” Moody said. “The counselors have donated their time so that the camp is happening at only a small cost to the participants. That is really great.”

Participants explored Dauphin Island’s marine habitats including Mobile Bay, the salt marsh and the beach by boat, bus and walking. Darrel McKinney said he and his son had a great time.

“You can’t really put a price tag on it,” McKinney said. “You’re watching the wonder in your child’s eyes as they experience nature in our state. He just enjoyed the whole experience and I enjoyed watching him build these memories. I probably had more fun than he did.”

“Taking the kids out to the beach and having them hold ghost crabs in their hands, probably for the first time, and the way they encouraged each other to do things they maybe had not done before, such as touching a fish or holding that ghost crab — it’s just been really amazing to see them encourage each other and have these kind of new experiences,” Moody added. “They are so excited and we are excited for them to have this opportunity.”

To learn more about the Sea Stars camp at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, visit disl.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Thousands pick up trash in Alabama Coastal Cleanup

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Thousands of people volunteered several hours Saturday morning picking up trash along Alabama’s coastal waterways and beaches.

The 32nd annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup was held at more than 30 locations in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Volunteers took “trash out of the splash,” recycling as much of it as possible.

“It’s very important to the communities,” said Amy Hunter, one of the zone captains for the Alabama Coastal Cleanup. “It changes behavior, creating a connection to our waterways. It makes everything looks better.”

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Thousands volunteer for Alabama Coastal Cleanup 2019 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup was coordinated through the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources State Lands Division, Coastal Section, and the Alabama People Against A Littered State (PALS). Organizers say more than 87,000 volunteers have assisted in this event since Alabama joined the International Coastal Cleanup in 1987.

“We have folks from Alabama Power and several other companies throughout the area who volunteer their time, pick up the trash and transport it to the dumpsters,” Hunter said. “This can’t happen without them.”

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup is made possible by the generosity of many businesses, including Alabama Power CompanyPoarch Band of Creek IndiansNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationIke’s Beach ServiceAirbusLogoBrandersBebo’sLuLu’scity of Gulf Shorescity of Orange BeachRiviera UtilitiesUtility Board of Gulf ShoresBaldwin EMCFlora-BamaThe Home DepotMobile Area Water and Sewer SystemEvonikExxonMobilRepublic ServicesVolkert IncCoastal Conservation Association AlabamaCompass MediaCoast 360Alabama Department of TransportationALFA InsuranceCoca-ColaVulcan MaterialsHonda Manufacturing of AlabamaAlabama Farmers CooperativeAssociation of County Commissions of AlabamaWeeks Bay FoundationOsprey Initiative and Thompson Engineering.

For more information about the Alabama Coastal Cleanup, visit AlabamaCoastalCleanup.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama’s newest ‘Smart Neighborhood’ to be finished in 2020

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Holland Homes, builder of the state’s next “Smart Neighborhood,” says construction of the subdivision’s 51 homes will be complete by the end of 2020.

The builder hosted media outlets Monday at the model home in the Northwoods subdivision in Auburn. Owner Daniel Holland says seven of the 51 lots have been sold and plans to have the other 44 complete by the end of next year.

“Things are going good and going quick,” Holland said.

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Holland Homes is partnering with Alabama Power to develop Northwoods as a Smart Neighborhood community. All homes will be designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smart devices and voice activation. Energy-efficiency will be a key part of the neighborhood, and each home will be built with advanced energy products.

“One of the big benefits is the financial factor — the savings each month on your energy bill,” Holland said. “A 65 HERS score rating is going to equate to a huge savings in your pocket every month from a power bill perspective.” HERS stands for “home energy rating system” and is a recognized way to measure a home’s energy efficiency.

Progress visible on Alabama’s next Smart Neighborhood from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jim Goolsby, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power, said the 65 HERS rating in the Northwoods homes puts them far ahead of typical Alabama home as far as energy efficiency.

“The average home is 130 on the HERS score, so these homes are going to be an average of 50 percent more efficient than an average home in Alabama,” Goolsby said. “In order to do that, we have to protect the house thermally with things like spray-foam insulation on the roof deck, advanced air ceiling to eliminate air infiltration of the home and double-pane Low-E windows.”

Goolsby said these materials make it easier to cool your house in the summer and warm your house in the winter.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of materials that thermally protect the house so that we don’t have to run those mechanical systems as often,” Goolsby said. “We’re ahead of the game because we’ve built a better box.”

The Northwoods subdivision is the state’s second Smart Neighborhood and the first to be built under Alabama Power’s new Smart Neighborhood Builder Program. Each smart home in the neighborhood will feature:

  • Google Home smart speakers for voice control of the home.
  • Nest Learning thermostats to help save energy and provide more control over the home’s temperature when the owner is at home or away.
  • Advanced energy-efficient building features, including improved insulation, high-efficiency heat pump and water heater and Energy Star appliances.

In addition to Holland Homes, two additional builders are planning Smart Neighborhood developments this year. Harris Doyle Homes will build another community in Auburn and Curtis White Companies has one planned for Leeds. To learn more about those projects and Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood Builder Program, visit www.apcsmartneighborhood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Thousands of Alabama 8th graders attend mega career fair

A student participates in a technology simulator. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

More than 7,900 eighth graders from across southwest Alabama visited the Mobile Civic Center Wednesday and Thursday for the 10th annual Worlds of Opportunity hands-on career exploration event.

New this year was WOO Varsity, an event where high school students could learn about competitive, high-wage career opportunities and meet with potential employers. Students had the opportunity to talk with industry professionals about high-demand jobs, apprenticeships and enter for a $1,000 technical program scholarship drawing.

“We’ve got to grow our own talent,” Duplantis said. “We hope to create a spark and we could not do it without our sponsors like Alabama Power, BASF and ST Engineering — they’re all doing a wonderful job of giving these kids something that’s very hands-on. Our companies understand the need to start early in pipeline development.”

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Alabama Power sponsors and participates in the program.

Duplantis said this event is just another example of the positive energy surrounding workforce development and economic development efforts in Alabama.

“If we’re going to meet our demands, we’ve got to have an additional 500,000 workers with a degree or credential by 2025,” Duplantis said. “This is part of meeting that goal.”

To learn more about Worlds of Opportunity or career training opportunities in southwest Alabama, visit sawdcalabamaworks.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

Tonya Torrance (left) stands with home builder Danniell Burton outside her new home, one of 14 built through the 2019 Home Builders Blitz organized by the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

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“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama’s Ruffner Mountain focus of new book

Carlee Sanford, left, and Mark Kelly hold "Back to Nature," a book Kelly wrote about the history of Ruffner Mountain. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Ruffner Mountain, a landmark in the history of Birmingham’s industrial rise, is the focus of a new book, ”Back to Nature.”

The book tells the long, tumultuous story of the Mountain — from its geological formation, through the days of Birmingham’s explosive growth as a steel producing and iron ore mining city and ending with four decades of strenuous effort to preserve it. Author Mark Kelly, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power and longtime volunteer with The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition, said it was important to make sure all of that was included.

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“When someone asks when the history of Ruffner Mountain started, you say, ‘about 500 million years ago,’” Kelly said. “You have the geological history of the mountain where you have two of the three ingredients: iron ore and limestone, that made Birmingham ‘Birmingham.’ There is the mining history which ties into the history of Birmingham and some of the personalities and events that were involved with that, which is a pretty fascinating story by itself, and then this place sat dormant for the better part of 40 years until the advent of Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. It started with 28 acres and today it’s over 1,000 acres — one of the largest urban nature preserves in the country. It’s a great story from a lot of angles.”

Kelly said the idea to write the book began more than 10 years ago during a conversation with Bob Farley and Michelle Reynolds.

“Bob and Michelle put in a lot of volunteer time at Ruffner over the years,” Kelly said. “We started talking and come up with the idea that maybe we should do a book about this place.”

Work began, but it wasn’t until Carlee Sanford was hired as executive director of Ruffner Mountain in 2015 that research for the book took on the momentum it needed to be completed.

“When I started at Ruffner, I was told during the first week that we had to finish this book,” Sanford said. “I didn’t know if we would ever finish it because I didn’t know what it was, and now it’s this beautiful piece that Ruffner will have long after me.”

‘It wasn’t pretty’

From schoolchildren to hikers, Ruffner Mountain is visited by more than 30,000 people annually. However, the mountain has not always been a natural attraction; for more than 60 years it was mined, providing millions of tons of iron ore that helped Birmingham establish itself as a national leader in the rising steel industry of the early 20th century. When mining operations at Ruffner Mountain ended in 1953, what was left was not pretty, but Sanford said its appearance led directly to the creation of the nature preserve in 1977.

“Part of the reason it is a nature preserve today is because of what was done to this mountain,” Sanford said. “No one wanted it. It wasn’t pretty. The value of the property was different, so it’s kind of amazing when you see these pictures today of wildlife or lookouts or something that was mined and quarried. It’s so beautiful and it takes time on the longer scale to be able to see the beauty that can come out of what we did to the land with industry.”

Today, the nature preserve is the main attraction. More than 1,040 acres are under the management of The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition, making it one of the largest privately-funded nonprofit nature preserves in the country. Visitors can hike more than 14 miles of trails winding through the former limestone quarry and mine land, observing a diverse array of distinct natural plant communities and wildlife habitats.

“I hope between the work they’re doing every day at the Nature Center and the release of this book contributes to a greater knowledge and awareness of what this place has meant to the history of the city,” Kelly said. “You can hike, you can look at a lot of the artifacts from the mining era or you can just find a place to sit down and meditate. It’s a great experience. It’s a great asset for the community.”

Sanford said she hopes the book will help visitors understand that Ruffner Mountain is operated through private donations.

“Oftentimes when I talk to visitors, they assume this was a state park or it’s a federally-funded place that used to have some mining and the intent was always to be a nature preserve, and that’s so far from the truth,” Sanford said. “When you read the book you see that this took decades and it was the work of hundreds of people to get to the point that we are at today.”

“This is a great place,” Kelly added. “It is something not every city has. People need to appreciate it and come out and enjoy it.”

Kelly’s book will officially launch Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. during a book signing at Alabama Booksmith. A second signing will be held at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center Sept. 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Kelly and photographer Bob Farley will attend both events.

The book also is available at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center and at RuffnerMountain.org., as well as other local bookstores. For more information, visit RuffnerMountain.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Celebrating Alabama’s role in space innovation

(NASA/Contributed, YHN)

Fifty years ago, Alabama made it possible for mankind to make one of its greatest leaps – landing on the Moon, when innovators in the state built the Saturn V rocket. That historic accomplishment, along with some of the people involved, were celebrated during the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama‘s iMerge 2019 event at Iron City in Birmingham.

Five people were presented with a Lifetime Achievement in Innovation award:

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  • Dr. Wernher von Braun.
  • Dr. Joyce Neighbors.
  • Dr. Katherine Johnson.
  • Dorothy Vaughan.
  • Mary Jackson.

Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson were a team of female African American mathematicians who served an integral role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Their story was the subject of the 2016 biographical movie, Hidden Figures.

Robert Pearlman and Stephen Slater spoke about their roles as technical producers for the recently released documentary, Apollo 11.

The night concluded with a keynote address from U.S. Air Force Lt. General Steven Kwast, who shared a vision for space exploration in cybersecurity protection, telecommunications, manufacturing and defense.


Alabama Launchpad also held its 2019 Cycle 3 Pitch Finale. Conserv won $50,000 in the Early Seed startups category and Immediate won $100,000 in the Concept Stage startups category.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Study: Honda had a $12 billion economic impact on Alabama in 2018

Mike Oatridge,Senior Vice President of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, speaks during a news conference Wednesday at Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Honda’s auto plant in Talladega County continues to be an economic engine for Alabama, revving the state’s economy by $12.1 billion in 2018 and creating 45,674 jobs in the state.

The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama released the figures Wednesday from a report it commissioned by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama. That report found Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (HMA) is responsible for 5.4% of the state’s total economic output.

“That’s huge,” said Sam Addy, director of UA’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “When you go to most states, you won’t find a network that has as much of an impact as Honda.”

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In 2018, HMA employed 5,321 at its Lincoln manufacturing facility, up from 4,000 in 2014. When you add the plant’s direct and indirect impact on employment, including those employed at the plant’s 26 Tier-1 suppliers, HMA accounted for 45,674 jobs, up from 43,339 four years ago.

“It’s more than just a factory,” said Mike Oatridge, senior vice president of HMA. “It’s a lot of people, and it’s not just our factory, but several factories around the state. What’s inside them is what’s important. Without the people here in this state, we would not have the success we have today.”

HMA and its Tier-1 suppliers accounted for $867.2 million in earnings in 2018 and generated $202.9 million in income, sales and property taxes for state and local governments.

“It’s been a great partnership between company, local communities where it operates and its supply chain operates, and the state of Alabama,” said Steve Sewell, executive vice president for EDPA. “Honda has always been gracious to acknowledge the support they get and, at the same time, be willing to offer testimonials about their positive experience in the state and promote Alabama as a destination for other great, global companies. We really appreciate their partnership in economic development.”

HMA recently produced its 5 millionth vehicle, more than any other auto manufacturer in the state. The plant assembles four vehicles: the Odyssey, Passport, Pilot and Ridgeline.

“Five million vehicles is a lot of vehicles, and we’re proud of every single one of them,” Oatridge said. “The hands of an Alabama worker were on those, making sure they met the quality expectations of our customers. It’s not really the volume but the quality that matters the most.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)