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.

1 week ago

Alabama teachers create thoughtful gift for children stuck at home during COVID-19 isolation

(Kelli McCullough/Alabama Power)

Some school teachers in Alabama have found a creative way to encourage their students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers at Cherokee Bend Elementary School in Mountain Brook are creating and sharing a video of a teacher reading a story. Tuesday’s video featured Ms. Vansant reading “The Wonky Donky.”

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Past and future videos can be viewed at chiefpto.com/news-1, the news section of the school’s PTO website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

NASCAR hopes to run full schedule, including Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

NASCAR hopes to reschedule all races postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, even if that means midweek races and doubleheader weekends.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed questions about safety precautions and scheduling during a teleconference with the sport’s media Tuesday. NASCAR announced Monday that races through at least May 3 will have to be rescheduled, including the GEICO 500 race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, which was scheduled for April 24-26.

“The health and safety of our fans, industry and the communities in which we race is our most important priority,” Phelps said. “We appreciate the patience of our fans and we look forward to returning to the racetrack.”

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Phelps said the plan is to ultimately complete the schedule, even if that means scheduling midweek races, doubleheader weekends and racing during the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“We would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the Playoffs portion [of the schedule] intact,” Phelps said. “With that said, it will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at. We’re in the process of doing that.”

To fill the downtime, several NASCAR drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mobile-native Bubba Wallace, along with crew members and enthusiasts, competed Sunday afternoon in an eSports virtual race. Tens of thousands of viewers tuned in, creating enough interest to encourage NASCAR and iRacing to form the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, an exhibition eSports series featuring many of the sport’s most talented and popular drivers. The simulation-style showcase will include a cross-section of competitors from the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and a group of NASCAR dignitaries.

“Until we have cars back on track, the entire NASCAR community has aligned to provide our passionate fans with a unique, fun and competitive experience on race day,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s vice president of racing development. “Our longtime partners at iRacing offer an incredible product, and we are excited to see how many of our best drivers will stack up in the virtual domain of competitive racing.”

The multiweek series will kick off Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT on the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. Drivers expected to participate include Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. The viewing platforms have not yet been announced, although Phelps said NASCAR is discussing options with its broadcast partners.

“There are discussions we’re having with FOX about what things we can do, discussions with NBC, things that we can put through our own channels that satisfy fans,” Phelps said. “Our fans are obviously thirsty for this content. We want to provide it to them smartly and have interesting content as opposed to just repurposing some of the content that’s already been done. We want to make sure we’re servicing the fans as best we can.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

First class of community college lineworker students nearing graduation in Mobile

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s first class of community college students training to become lineworkers is wrapping up with plans to offer another class soon.

In January, 23 students began a 9-week lineworker training program at Bishop State Community College in Mobile. The class is taught by instructors from Alabama Power.

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“Having Alabama Power to come on our campus was just an opportunity we could not pass up,” said Courtney Steele, communications coordinator for Bishop State Community College. “Anytime we can give our students a chance to not only provide jobs for themselves and their family, but also to put back into the economy where they live in, we have to be a part of it. That’s our mission and our job.”

Bishop State Community College partners with Alabama Power for lineworker training class from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The purpose of the program is to prepare students for rewarding careers as lineworkers. Students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science knowledge needed to work on power lines. Coy Thomas, a training analyst at Alabama Power, said seeing the students progress is rewarding.

“Seeing someone start from square one, not having a clue about how to put on a set of hooks, to the time where they can climb a pole and work aloft, it’s a rewarding job,” Thomas said. “The hope is that at the end of this, all 23 of them are able to go out and get a job out in the career field as a lineman or as an apprentice lineman starting off. It might be with Alabama Power, it might be with a contractor, it could be with anybody, but our job is to go out and them have a lineman job somewhere.”

Understanding the importance of keeping safety first when working with electricity is a focus of the program. Philip Stiell, one of the students in the lineworker training class at Bishop State, said Thomas and the rest of the instructors have been great.

“Extremely knowledgeable and patient,” Stiell said. “It’s hard to understand patience until you see it working in your favor. We’re all learning. We’re all new. Very few of us have climbed. The fact that they’re willing to sit there and answer every question we have and make sure we’re doing everything safely means the world.”

Bishop State’s Steele said the students are eager to graduate March 16 and start a career with Alabama Power or any of the other companies along the Gulf Coast.

“We’re just happy to be able to partner with Alabama Power for this program and offer an opportunity for our students and the community,” Steele said.

The next class of lineworker training at Bishop State will begin in June, but registration closes Wednesday, March 4. Additional lineworker training classes will be offered later this year at Lawson State Community College and Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Power helping girls discover world of engineering

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Amber Gibson did not grow up thinking she would be an engineer, but a field trip in middle school changed her mind.

“I was so adamant against going because I thought engineers drove trains or worked on cars,” Gibson said. “I was a dancer, I loved girly things, I had two sisters — girls ran my world, so engineering wasn’t an option.”

Gibson thought she would follow in the footsteps of her parents, who both worked in the medical profession, until the female engineers from Alabama Power she met during that field trip inspired her to realize the possibilities of a career in engineering.

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“I just loved seeing these beautiful, powerful, brilliant women,” Gibson said. “Those women told me if I got an engineering degree, I could do anything. I liked that idea.”

Alabama Power’s iCan program encourages girls to consider engineering careers from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Gibson stayed in touch with the women as she graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School and went on to college to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Alabama. She now works at Alabama Power as a Protection and Control Field Services test engineer and, just an importantly, has joined her mentors in mentoring other girls through iCan Girls in Engineering, a program Alabama Power created in 2009 as a way to encourage female students to consider engineering as a career.

“I’m incredibly thankful for their devotion and kind hearts,” Gibson said. “It makes me want to do it for other people. It’s such a great cycle to continue.”

Gibson’s story is one of thousands heard across America this week as part of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)‘s annual Engineering Week, or E-Week, which began in 1951. NSPE uses the week to ensure a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers. Gibson said sharing her experience is important.

“The goal is to replicate what happened in me in so many other girls,” Gibson said. “It’s also for them to get to meet each other and to have friends that are like-minded. This is not something that you’re alone in or weird, this is something that’s cool and fun.”

Gibson said she also appreciates her parents encouraging her to consider other career options.

“You can never get them to try too many things,” Gibson said. “I think I tried nine different sports, and I was never good at any of them. It’s OK to not be good at things, but it’s not OK not to try.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Scientist: Fossils reveal Alabama most biodiverse state in the country

(Angela Levins/Dauphin Island Sea Lab)

New research has found that Alabama has more plant and animal species, both living and dead, than any other state in the nation.

Jun Ebersole, an archaeologist and paleontologist at the McWane Science Center, shared his latest findings Feb. 19 at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Ebersole is creating a fossil inventory of the state, concentrating on vertebrates – things with backbones, such as sharks, dinosaurs and bony fish. He’s cataloged more than 300 species in Alabama, easily surpassing South Carolina and Florida, two states historically considered to be the most paleobiodiverse states in the country.

“I’ve tripled what was considered the No. 1 state in the U.S. in terms of paleobiodiversity, and that’s just with sharks and bony fish,” Ebersole said. “We’re just getting started.”

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Ebersole’s research has also helped him and other scientists catalog Alabama’s diversity of living species. A 2002 report by The Nature Conservancy ranked Alabama No. 5 behind California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, but Ebersole said deliberate research in recent years to catalog Alabama’s plant and animal species proves Alabama is the most biodiverse state.

“I moved here because of the unbelievable amount of stuff we have here,” Ebersole said. “That’s why I can stand here with confidence and tell you we are No. 1, and No. 1 by far.”

Paleontologist seeks help finding fossils across Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Ebersole said Alabama’s large amount of freshwater lakes and rivers is the main reason for the state’s biodiversity and paleobiodiversity superiority.

“We have 132,000 miles of inland waterways, which is No. 1 in the country,” Ebersole said. “60% of aquatic biota in North America is in the Tennessee Valley. Anything aquatic, we’re going to rank No. 1 in that in the U.S.”

Ebersole said Alabama’s latitude on the planet and proximity to coastal waters has helped make the state one of the most unique places in North America in terms of surface geology.

“If you want to study the history of life in chronological order, there’s not a better place in North America than Alabama,” Ebersole said. “We have five geologic ecoregions in Alabama, and you can see all five of these regions by just driving I-65. Having five in one state is very unique.”

Besides educating Alabamians, Ebersole is asking the public for help finding more fossils. He showed students, staff and visitors at Dauphin Island Sea Lab how to locate fossils in beach sand, especially in areas backfilled with sand dredged from offshore in 2016.

“Knowing that these things can be found on the beach here at Dauphin Island, I’m using the local community to help me find these things and get a list of what species we have here,” Ebersole said. “So far I’ve found at least 40 different species of sharks and bony fish from the sand on Dauphin Island.”

To learn more about Ebersole’s research, visit the McWane Science Center online at mcwane.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Leaders, educators and students gather for Alabama’s 2nd Annual HBCU Summit

Sen. Doug Jones (left) moderates a panel discussion at the 2nd Annual HBCU Summit. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s 2nd Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Summit celebrated the state’s 14 HBCUs and the value they bring to higher education across our state and country. Saturday’s event, moderated by Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, was held at Miles College in Fairfield.

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The event kicked off with a panel discussion titled “Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar.” The session included comments from:

“Extraordinary panel of women in leadership positions,” Jones said afterwards. “I think they provide unique insights to this. Just an amazing group of women that come from varied backgrounds — they came from academics, but also from business, so it’s a unique perspective that is what is going on with HBCUs but also with higher education in general.”

The panelists touched on a number of topics, including ways to help more high school students and nontraditional students get enrolled, making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to fill out, partnering with businesses to offer degrees and curriculum the businesses need and working together to elevate the communities they serve.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on is that the benefit of being an HBCU is that … you may not have these large classrooms like you have (elsewhere), but you have teachers that know your name, teachers that care,” Archie said. “We’re going to give you that pep talk when you need that pep talk and we’re going to help you achieve.”

It is that level of concern for students that stood out to Jones.

“These female leaders are so dynamic and so passionate about what they do,” Jones said. “They care so much about their students and their communities. They really represent the best of all HBCUs. HBCUs are the fabric of the communities and I think you saw that reflected here today.”

The summit also featured a career fair and an afternoon panel discussion titled “Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses.” The panel, moderated by Jones, featured students from Miles College, Alabama A&M University, Shelton State Community College, Talladega College and Trenholm State Community College.

“Trying to educate and train the workforce of the 21st century is going to be a challenge,” Jones said. “We’re changing technologically, we’re changing demographically, we’re online — everything is moving in a different direction. Education has got to keep up with that, but also so do businesses. They’ve also got to start reaching out and develop those partnerships to not only train, but to mentor. I think you heard that today.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Community development key to elevating Alabama

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Many of Alabama’s rural cities and towns are growing their communities, thanks to valuable assistance from Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) and Main Street Alabama.

Leaders from both organizations shared their benefits Jan. 30 at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s (EDAA) Rural Development Conference in Montgomery. Bevin Tomlin, Economic and Community Development manager for Alabama Power, hosted a panel discussion with Sidney Hoover, executive director of Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE), and Mary Helmer, state coordinator and president of Main Street Alabama, in which the women discussed ways their organizations assist communities.

“We go in and help them with community development — all of those quality-of-life issues, such as education, health care, recreational — why do you want to live here,” Hoover said. “We used an asset-based approach and leverage that.”

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Community development helping rural Alabama grow from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Hoover said ACE takes cities one to three years to complete, whereas Helmer says Main Street Alabama is an ongoing community program designed to create jobs, spark new investment, attract visitors and spur growth.

“It’s really talking about how you build that swell of community involvement and engagement and carry it through to economic development,” Helmer said. “Main Street never leaves a community. It’s a way to manage the changes in a district over time.”

Tomlin said a number of cities across Alabama are growing, thanks to help from ACE and Main Street Alabama.

“You can look at towns like Jasper and Decatur at how far they’ve come in the past five or 10 years with the tools and resources that Main Street Alabama has been able to bring to their programs,” Tomlin said. “You can see breweries popping up, you can see clothing boutiques popping back up, you can see people wanting to come back into downtown, and then with ACE you’re developing your leadership capacity in the communities.”

Hoover said ACE helps communities focus on the unique qualities that make them attractive to both their residents and potential businesses.

“We want them to develop what they want to be,” Hoover said. “Some want industries, some that’s not what they want, and so success is the vision they have for their community and the uniqueness of it.”

Helmer said a unified community is a key to success.

“Everybody wants to be able to recruit businesses in, but you really have to work with the existing businesses first, and then look at the market and be able to recruit additional businesses beyond that,” Helmer said. “If you don’t allow people to be involved in the process on the front end, they don’t play or pay on the back side of it, so it’s extraordinarily important.”

Tomlin said both organizations are helping elevate Alabama’s attractiveness to new businesses.

“When your downtowns are revitalized, when your communities are prepared for growth, like through ACE, you are able to attract the population that wants to live in your communities,” Tomlin said. “So, when an economic development project is looking at the state, you’ve got more communities that are able to raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got what you’re looking for.’”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Diverse businesses ‘critical’ to success of Birmingham

African American entrepreneurs were encouraged to embrace growing business opportunities during the start of the 16th Annual A.G. Gaston Conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Tuesday morning.

A panel of business leaders shared with attendees a variety of opportunities. Bob Dickerson, executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and host of the conference, said Birmingham has plenty of opportunities available.

“There are a lot of opportunities that are happening in our city, created by The World Games, expansion of the airport, transit – we’re about to build a stadium, and that, in addition to all of the regular stuff that goes on, says that there are tremendous opportunities for small, minority and diverse businesses,” Dickerson said. “We just wanted to put that out there and try to do what we can as the A.G. Gaston Company to help people do more business in the city of Birmingham.”

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Business leaders encourage African American entrepreneurs at 2020 A.G. Gaston Conference from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Dickerson said the Birmingham region is about 30 percent black or brown, but black and brown companies and entrepreneurs only generate about 1 percent of the total spend.

“We have to change that,” Dickerson said. “We need to make sure we understand it and our stakeholders, major corporations, big procurers have to understand that it’s in everybody’s best interests that we grow African American businesses.”

Glenda Thomas, Supplier Diversity manager at Alabama Power, said investing in the services of suppliers helps more than the business.

“For every million dollars that a corporation invests and pays you for your services, that creates 14 jobs,” Thomas said. “We’re changing the narrative about supplier diversity, economic inclusion, where we’re making an impact in our communities.”

David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, said small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to thrive.

“In the last decade, we have seen a lot of change in our city,” Fleming said. “Our city center went from having 5,000 people living in it to over 13,000 people and growing. That’s opportunity. Those people need services. They need businesses to serve them. I believe there’s a lot of great days ahead of us in Birmingham and we’re happy to be a part of it with all of these great friends up here to build our city.”

Marcus Lundy, senior vice president and Supplier Diversity manager for Regions Bank, said small businesses can become suppliers to larger businesses, but only with assistance.

“There are three legs to the stool in what we do with supplier diversity: access to opportunities, access to capital, and training and development,” Lundy said. “That’s why we’re here, to share those nuggets with you.”

Melodi Morrissette, Community Relations executive for the East region of BBVA, said educating small business owners is important.

“Our small business curriculum has five modules in there and we’re looking for opportunities to come to you and share one of those modules, such as developing a business plan or how businesses obtain credit,” Morrissette said. “Access to capital has been named one of the biggest needs for small business owners.”

Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said BhamBizHub was created to help small businesses and minority-owned businesses connect with people who need their services.

“The goal of the BhamBizHub is to create a place where we can connect small businesses, minority-owned businesses to resource providers,” McCallum said. “If you’ve got services you can provide to those businesses, we would be interested in talking to you.”

Ronald Mathieu, president and CEO of the Birmingham Airport Authority, said his organization is one of those resource providers that needs a robust supply chain.

“We exist to be an engine for this community,” Mathieu said. “The more successful we are, the more money we are ultimately able to put into this community, and the better and healthier the community is.”

Irvin Henderson, president of Henderson and Company, said his company is in Birmingham on purpose.

“We chose to come here because Birmingham is the next hot thing,” Henderson said. “Not here by mistake. Here on purpose.”

The entire panel discussion can be viewed in the video below.

Watch the Business Corner Opportunity Forum at the 2020 A.G. Gaston Conference from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Finding Birmingham’s next A.G. Gaston

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Creating an environment that develops the next generation of young entrepreneurs and business owners was the focus of a panel discussion Wednesday at the 16th annual A.G. Gaston Conference.

Bob Dickerson, executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and host of the conference, said his team chose this panel topic to talk about how the community can create an incubator to nurture and support the next A.G. Gaston.

“There are people in our midst, folks who are starting businesses, some people who may be working somewhere right now, who have the wherewithal, who have something inside of them that might allow them to become the next A.G. Gaston,” Dickerson said. “I want them to leave here better informed about how to help grow African American business enterprise in our community.”

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Searching for the next A.G. Gaston from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Anthony Hood, director of civic innovation in the Office of the President at UAB, moderated the discussion. He asked participants to talk about Birmingham’s ecosystem and what conditions need to exist for business owners, especially black business owners, to grow, thrive and become the next A.G. Gaston. Elijah Davis, Strategic Growth manager at Urban Impact Inc., said one way is to modernize technical assistance offered to business owners.

“One of the things I continuously complain about is that if we are using 1990s ways of technical assistance, we will fail,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the property owners as we really develop a cohesive vision that really of us really believe that it can still be.”

Tene Dolphin, deputy director for Business Diversity and Opportunity at the City of Birmingham, said the city is ripe for becoming a hub for minority entrepreneurs.

“The reason why I love this work so much is because I believe we create culture,” Dolphin said. “We create the energy that’s in this city. If we don’t connect to the businesses that are in somebody’s house, the retail businesses, the businesses that are in somebody’s head, we’re missing the mark.”

Carmen Mays, founder and CEO of Elevators, said there is a whole class of creative young people in Birmingham who people never see because they don’t present themselves in a way that many people think is acceptable.

“Because of that, we miss out on the beauty of the ecosystem,” Mays said. “That’s where all of the culture is. That’s where all of the swag is. That’s where all of the sauce is. All of that stuff that makes us so colorful and great is really with those people.”

Davis said discussions like this are an opportunity to help people around the country.

“I see this, Birmingham, as just not a particular type of local opportunity to uplift black folks, but this is also a signal to uplift black folks in the entire nation,” Davis said. “Nowhere else is there a historic black Wall Street that’s still owned and occupied by businesses that have been here.”

Dickerson said the discussion also helped participants leave with a better appreciation of who A.G. Gaston was and what he meant to Birmingham.

“What he taught, what he left us — I want them to be fired up,” Dickerson said. “I want them to leave here fired up about going out and either supporting an entrepreneur that happens to be an African American, becoming a better African American business owner, or a corporate person that understands the need and significance of supporting African American entrepreneurship in our community.”

The entire panel discussion can be viewed in the video below.

Watch the Day 2 morning panel discussion from the 2020 A.G. Gaston Conference from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

New weigh-in pavilion at Smith Lake reaches construction milestone

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Construction of a public-use weigh-in pavilion at the Lewis Smith Lake Dam boat ramp in Walker County hit a milestone this week.

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Construction continues on new Smith Lake weigh-in pavilion from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Construction crews began installing steel beams Feb. 3. The beams are the next big step in the project, which began at the first of the year thanks to volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Lee Smith, apprenticeship coordinator for Operating Engineers in Birmingham, said the work is good experience for the workers.

“I’ve had probably 20 separate apprentices up here since the first of December working on this, doing the foundation, getting the grading and it’s really good experience for those guys,” Smith said. “They’re getting real-world experience for something that we can give back to.”

The pavilion will feature fish holding tanks, which reduce stress and increase survival rates, and shade for tournament weigh-ins. Freddy Padilla, Corporate Affairs manager at Alabama Power, said the pavilion is funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power and constructed with the help of many others.

“We’ve brought other people into this project, such as the State of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance,” Padilla said. “That’s what is so cool about this is the private-public partnership. It’s really going to help to invite more tournaments.”

The pavilion is expected to be completed in early spring.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway unveils new kids coloring board

(Talladega Superspeedway/Contributed)

Alabama’s Talladega SuperspeedwayNASCAR‘s largest race track, unveiled Thursday a new coloring board for children to play with inside the track’s Talladega Garage Experience.

“Having a wide range of opportunities for families and kids to enjoy while visiting during race weekend is a top priority here at Talladega Superspeedway,” said Brian Crichton, president of Talladega Superspeedway. “The kids coloring board is a great addition to our Kids Zone in the Garage Experience.”

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Talladega Superspeedway unveils new Kids Zone Coloring Board from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The 4-by-8-foot coloring board is a hand-drawn mural of iconic images from Talladega Superspeedway, such as John Ray’s big rig truck, the Vulcan Trophy and a military flyover. It was created by Sarah Roberts, owner of SarahOMaryDesigns in Jasper.

“We made sure we also incorporated a lot of kid-friendly things that would get them excited, like the flags, the trophies and things like that,” said Roberts. “The camping was a big thing, too, since it’s a big part of Talladega. I looked through many photos and used my memories of watching racing at Talladega when I was a kid, and then we picked out key elements that we wanted to include in the mural.”

The mural is one of several kid-friendly activities inside the Talladega Garage Experience, a 140,000-square-foot infield zone for fans to socialize and interact with drivers.

“It’s all about the guest experience as we move forward,” Crichton said. “Providing experiences like the Talladega Garage Experience, it’s a completely new level.”

NASCAR racing returns to Talladega Superspeedway with the Geico 500 on April 26. Families with access to the Talladega Garage Experience that day will also have the option to go behind the scenes and participate in the Kids VIP Experience presented by Children’s of Alabama. These exclusive “pre-race” options for children 12 and under include:

  • NEW! Fist Bump Alley backstage at Driver Introductions
  • NEW! Gatorade Victory Lane Celebration
  • Fist Bump Alley along the catwalk at Driver Introductions
  • Gatorade Victory Lane photo opportunity
  • Hot Lap around the mammoth track in a Grand Marshal car
  • Guided Garage/Hauler Tour
  • Drivers Meeting Red Carpet Experience
  • Pit Box Tour with a race team.

The youngsters can choose one of the eight experiences on a first-come, first-served basis once at the Kids Station located near the Kids Zone. There is a two-kids-per-one adult limit.

To learn more about Talladega Superspeedway and the Talladega Garage Experience, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Environmental Studies Center teaches more than nature

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contibuted)

For the staff at Alabama’s Environmental Studies Center (ESC), one mission stands above all: to help others love nature as much as they do.

“I have been here for 26 years,” said Susan Clement, a biologist at ESC. “I still love it as much as the first day I started.”

The ESC is a natural sciences education facility owned and operated by the Mobile County Public School System. The center affords teachers, students and the general public an opportunity to experience first-hand natural resources found on more than 400 acres of pine and bay forests, swamps, freshwater streams, a carnivorous plant bog and 20-acre lake. Indoor facilities include an auditorium, library, reptile exhibits, saltwater aquarium and preserved animal specimens native to Alabama.

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“We teach about the plants and animals that are in the environment,” Clement said.

Mobile’s Environmental Studies Center provides unique learning experiences from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The ESC operates a wildlife rehabilitation program, treating more than 600 animals each year.

“Our goal is to release them back into the wild,” Clement said. “On occasion they can’t be released, and a lot of these animals get to stay here and become a part of our educational program.”

Clement said the ESC relies on donations and volunteers to operate.

“We have a very small staff here at the ESC and we have a lot of exhibits, a lot of land, gardens that we can’t always maintain,” Clement said. “About twice a year — sometimes even more, Alabama Power will come out and do a major, outdoor workday where they are raking, trimming, repairing cages, cleaning cages, expansions on exhibits. It’s an amazing amount of work that these people can do in just one day.”

Jack Shaw, a journeyman for Alabama Power and a volunteer with the Alabama Power Service Organization, says he loves volunteering at the ESC.

“I volunteer because I love the fact that Alabama Power gives back,” Shaw said. “There’s a lot of animals and wildlife we don’t really get a chance to see, and to come out here and volunteer really shows that we can give back.”

Alabama Power Instrument and Controls Specialist Webb Bryant agrees.

“We love coming out here and doing the work,” Bryant said. “It’s rewarding for us and with the group that we send out here, we get a lot of work accomplished in a short period of time.”

The ESC is open weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is $3 per person. For more information, visit mcpsesc.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Birmingham’s innovation district expands, rebrands

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter, YHN)

Birmingham’s innovation district has a new name and a bigger footprint.

Tuesday night during the Velocity Accelerator 2020 announcement at Innovation Depot, The Switch was unveiled as the city’s new epicenter of innovation. David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, said The Switch brings partners across 14 Birmingham organizations together in harmony with Birmingham’s new City Center Master Plan.

“The Switch is a collaborative effort between economic development agencies and stakeholders to really cement the innovation economy and ecosystem in Birmingham,” Fleming said. “Innovation happens everywhere around our region, but it is very clear we need to have a place that is focused and branded as the place where innovation happens and where we have the collaborations and the community that leads to greater growth of our tech, innovation and startup ecosystem.”

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The Switch expands Birmingham’s innovation footprint beyond the walls of its growing Innovation Depot to include several city blocks around the startup incubator, connecting the innovation district with Birmingham’s Civil Rights District and Fourth Avenue Business District. University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray L. Watts, who chairs Innovation Depot’s board of directors, said The Switch is the next step in helping entrepreneurs and startups succeed.

“Entrepreneurs and startups are building a new economy in Birmingham,” Watts said. “This city’s educational institutions, corporations, governmental organizations and others in the ecosystem are committed to helping them succeed. The Switch will provide a place for people, ideas and resources to come together and create a destination for innovation in our community.”

Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said The Switch will help Birmingham attract and retain more businesses.

“With its connection to BhamBizHub, we continue to bridge the gap and make it easier to start and grow a business in Birmingham as we compete in an innovation economy,” McCallum said.

To learn more about The Switch, including the resources available, visit theswitchbham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months 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)

2 months 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)

2 months 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)

3 months 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)

3 months 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 months 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)

3 months 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)

4 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)

4 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)

4 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)

4 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)