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’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.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
“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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
“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.
“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.”
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.
Alabama doctor competes at World Triathlon Championship
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab hosts special-needs children
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
“There’s a lot of things Ashford can do,” Kimbro said, “but their experiences and professional expertise will tell us what they think Ashford needs to be, based on what we want and what our experiences say you need to do or can do. That will be important because it will be a master plan that will help us stay focused on what we need to do and what we need to avoid.”
“Basically the mission is to revitalize the downtown Ashford and the surrounding community,” Kimbro said. “Businesses are going to locate where there are good people but also where there’s good business and that’s what our whole objective is.”
“I just see everybody — perhaps for the first time in a long time, working together, on the same page, wanting the same goals, pulling on that same rope and trying to do what we can for the good of all,” Kimbro said. “It’s a great place to be.”
The teamwork is already creating dividends. The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine earlier this year agreed to build a $1.2 million medical clinic in downtown Ashford after the city donated land to ACOM. The clinic will provide basic health care to patients with or without insurance and provide medical students a supervised learning environment.
“The doctors are going to help save lives,” Kimbro said. “That’s what Ashford is doing for this community. Our citizens are going to benefit from that.”
Kimbro said Ashford’s future is bright.
“It’s only 8 miles from the largest city in the Wiregrass, yet it’s here in the rural setting where you’re not suffering for anything,” Kimbro said. “It’s a great place to raise your family, property taxes are low, energy is reliable, and energy costs are low. I’ve lived other places, in big cities in Florida and Alabama, and I wouldn’t trade Ashford for any of them.”
“I’m overwhelmed in happiness,” Wallace said Wednesday during a tour of the construction. “I’ve been coming to Talladega for a long time. I remember how it looked years ago, and man, it’s just big time. It’s just different. I really appreciate Talladega keeping up with the times and NASCAR keeping up with the times and making it really nice for the fans.”
Track officials invited Wallace and media to tour the renovations happening in the infield, which included Wallace inspecting a steel beam and sweeping the floor of the new 35,000-square-foot Open Air Club. Fans who purchase access will be able to stand just a few feet away from NASCAR’s top drivers during the race and surround the winner in a remodeled Victory Lane.
“Everything is just for the fans,” Wallace said. “The new garage areas for the teams? Whoever thought you could get that close — two feet from the front of your favorite driver and take photographs and look at what’s going on? It’s long overdue. I’m real excited at what NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation and Grant (Lynch) and this team here at Talladega have been able to pull off.”
The construction is part of the track’s $50 million “Transformation” as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. The centerpiece is the Talladega Garage Experience, which includes the Open Air Club. The track is also building a new Race Operations tower high above the tri-oval, as well as a new Pit Road Club for guests who want a bird’s-eye view of team pit stops.
“The fan having that closeup experience is so important,” Wallace said. “There’s so many people that are brand new to NASCAR and don’t know anything about the sport. When you can bring them to the track and show them what’s going on, I’ll think they’ll have a whole new respect for NASCAR. You’ll be able to go down there and put eyeballs on it and see it.”
Wallace admits some drivers may feel uneasy about fans being so close to them during the race, but says the access is too important to ignore.
“It’s a transition period,” Wallace said. “NASCAR has done a good job of getting the rules to make the cars more competitive with each other. NASCAR is also working really hard to help our fans get to know our new drivers. To add this new element — a beauty, I think they’ve hit it right over the head.”
Birmingham’s 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival embraces ’80s-inspired films
(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)
If one sentence can sum up the theme of the 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, this one from the festival’s website is it:“Generation X clearly had a massive influence on independent film content this season.”
This year’s festival will feature a number of ’80s-inspired films, including “I Want My MTV,” a documentary by Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop that will be shown Friday night to kick off the weekend. Organizers say many films this year have focused on, or been obviously influenced by, the “Greed decade.”
“I’m really excited about it,” said Chloe Cook, executive director of the Sidewalk Film Festival. “We’ll be screening more than 350 films over the course of the next seven days, with the bulk of those screenings happening this Saturday and Sunday. There’s lots of content — way more than you can possibly see in one weekend, but you are encouraged to map out things you think would appeal to you.”
The films will be screened simultaneously in 12 venues Saturday and Sunday, including some films showing in the festival’s new Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema in the basement of the Pizitz building on Second Avenue North.
“If you don’t like what’s showing at one theater, you are encouraged to get up and go try a different film in a different venue over the course of the weekend,” Cook said. “We’ll be showing the latest and greatest in independent feature films as well as shorts across all genres, including documentaries, episodic content and XR (Extended Realities) content.
Cook said XR programming consists of a mixture of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) content, bringing audiences the newest innovations in immersive digital storytelling.
“This year we’re running those things two-fold where you can do our XR Cinema, which is where you are in the experience you are watching but you’re not able to manipulate that experience in as many ways, and then we have our regular XR programming where you can choose the length of time that you spend in that experience, and it’s a little more individualized,” Cook said. “You’re going to put on the headsets in either scenario and we’ll be showcasing some of the newer technology that’s less accessible to the general public.”
The Sidewalk Film Festival began in 1999 as a way to encourage filmmaking in Alabama and build audiences for independent films. Cook, who has headed the festival since 2009, said festival volunteers continue to amaze her.
“The festival always gives me the feels because we have about 750 volunteers that work with us over the course of the week to make the festival happen, doing everything from picking up filmmakers at the airport to tearing tickets to selling tickets to running venues,” Cook said. “It really is a huge collaborative effort. I just think it’s such a cool thing that happens in the city of Birmingham.”
To learn more about the Sidewalk Film Festival, including where to buy tickets and see a schedule, visit SidewalkFest.com.
The cinema, located in the basement of the Pizitz building on 2nd Avenue North, features two 89-seat theaters and an education room for special events. Outside of the festival week, it will function very much like a typical movie theater, operating seven days a week on a year-round basis, screening the latest independent feature films on one of two screens.
“We’re excited to have something slightly larger than a jewel-box movie theater, but not a huge multiplex-type facility where we can carefully curate the programming for our community,” Cook said. “When I took the job in 2009 I did not imagine this would come to fruition. I really think a lot of redevelopment in the north side of downtown Birmingham has happened around our annual festival and it continued happening to the point that we felt like the timing was right to pursue this project and fill that cultural void.”
Cook said the $4.9 million facility would not have happened without the generous support of a variety of contributors.
“We have been so fortunate to receive generous support from our corporate community, including Alabama Power (Foundation), Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, as well as our foundation community,” Cook said. “We’ve seen support from the Hugh Kaul Foundation, The Stephens Foundation, The Daniel Foundation, but we’ve also seen a lot of individuals who are not people who could start a foundation but they can send in a check for $250 or $25. That’s been really rewarding.”
Census Bureau director, Alabama officials urge everyone to participate in 2020 Census
U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham pictured with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt and Gov. Kay Ivey (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)
The director of the U.S. Census Bureau traveled to Alabama yesterday to urge everyone living in the state to participate in next year’s census.
Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt invited U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to Cullman Wednesday to talk about Alabama Counts, the state’s action plan to accurately count the number of people living in Alabama next year. Gov. Kay Ivey said her goal is to get 80% participation which, if achieved, would be a record high.
Why all of the added emphasis?
“If we turn out at the rate we did in 2000, we will lose two congressional seats,” Ivey said. “If we turn out at the rate we did in 2010, we will lose one.”
Census information also determines the amount of money the state receives from the federal government to pave interstates, support Medicare and fund other programs in the state.
“The results are real important,” Ivey said. “It determines how many congress people we will have representing our voice in Washington and it also represents a high amount of dollars we will lose if we lose representation.”
In other words, getting counted counts.
“So much is dependent on the census,” Aderholt added. “If we want Alabama to grow and prosper economically, we need people to fill out the census.”
The 2020 Census will, for the first time, allow citizens to use the internet to report their household information. Dillingham said the agency is going to great lengths to make sure all the data is safe and anonymous.
“Everyone in America should be willing to give that information and know that it’s secure,” Dillingham said. “It will not — in any way, be shared with others, not with law enforcement or anyone else.”
Dillingham said the agency will be adding “digital noise” to data reports to prevent anyone from being able to link responses to specific people.
“The agency has employed dozens of people to make sure the data cannot be merged with other public data from other federal, state and local agencies to connect people with specific responses,” Dillingham said.
Dillingham said his agency is currently sending out workers to knock on doors and verify mailing addresses. He said the agency is also using technology, such as satellite imagery, to help workers determine if houses are still standing in areas where they were in 2010.
“The rural areas are of special interest to us,” Dillingham said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that we reach everyone. Sometimes it’s a farmer’s market or any kind of location where people gather. You can have someone there with a laptop encouraging people to answer the census.”
By April 2020, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census count, which will officially begin on April 1, 2020, also known as “Census Day.” When completing the census, you will note where you are living on April 1.
“We want people to understand that filling out the census form is easy, simple and safe,” Aderholt said. “Alabama can either gain a lot or lose a lot depending on who answers the census questions.”
To learn more about the 2020 Census, visit 2020Census.gov. To learn more about Alabama’s action plan to count as many people as possible in the census, visit census.alabama.gov.
Career, business opportunities growing in Northwest Alabama
(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)
As the state of Alabama grows its automotive industry, people in Hamilton, Sulligent, Fayette and other towns in Marion, Lamar and Fayette counties believe they are the “Crossroads of the Automotive South,” and they have plenty of facts to back up that claim.
“We’re within 230 miles of 11 automotive manufacturers, we are surrounded by five metros within an hour’s drive of the borders of our region (Tuscaloosa, Tupelo, Memphis, Birmingham and Huntsville), and we are on a new interstate here in Marion County that is wide open for future opportunities,” said David Thornell, President and CEO of C3 of Northwest Alabama. “As suppliers are looking, we feel like we are in the bullseye for those folks to look and take advantage of what we offer.”
Thornell’s group was created in 2010 as a cooperative marketing effort between the cities and counties of Marion, Lamar and Fayette to create and promote an environment wherein businesses will choose to invest and create jobs for area residents.
“It’s always great to have people here to take a look, to learn more, to dig beyond the initial numbers in terms of population that may turn people off, and show them that that’s not really an issue and that the rural environment is probably better in terms of cost and the welcome that they’re going to receive.”
Thornell said the availability of gigabit internet service through Freedom Fiber is very attractive to both businesses and employees.
“We have the very best available in terms of technology,” Thornell said. “You look at the educational advantages — the K-12 and the assignments are given are much easier to carry out when the students have that high-speed connection at home. There are also benefits in the health care industry and just so many things decided today with companies. It’s a must-have. It’s something that we do brag about.”
Thornell said job recruitment and career training programs through AIDT and the Alabama Career Center System are extremely helpful in recruiting businesses and training people for new jobs.
“I don’t know where our state would be without AIDT,” Thornell said. “When we are able to meet with a company and talk about training needs, to get them the capable people they need, trained and ready to go to work when they open up shop, they are taking notice.”
Dan Raburn, an Employment Security Representative with the Hamilton Career Center, said he is seeing a growing number of people asking for career training in a variety of areas.
“There are a lot of options, especially here in the rural area where we are,” Raburn said. “The medical field is very lucrative. People are very interested in training for the automotive industry. We see a lot of that.”
“These are things like nursing, RN, LPN, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, the trades like machine, tool, electrical and heating and air conditioning,” Raburn said. “I’ve also had some very good success with the electrical program and tractor-trailer driving. There are avenues where you can make $50,000 a year.”
Raburn said it’s never too late to make a career change.
“We are on the cusp here of the next generation of workforce development,” Raburn said. “If you’re not happy where you are, if you’re not making enough money where you are, it’s very important to come into the career center now and let’s look at what your options are and what we can do to help you.”
Thornell said cooperation in workforce development is what continues to attract businesses to northwest Alabama.
“That just shows that this area can support manufacturers,” Thornell said. “They continue to come to northwest Alabama because of the environment and the workforce and the convenience in terms of location and connectivity, not only by highway but also by broadband. We feel like our best days are ahead of us.”
Bham BizHub launches to aid Birmingham area entrepreneurs, small businesses
(Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)
Entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Birmingham area have a new place to find resources they need to grow and succeed.
Bham BizHub is an interactive website that allows entrepreneurs and small business owners to find organizations in the region that can help them with funding, product design, incubation, business planning, communications, marketing, talent, space and events.
“In one website, you find easily accessible tools so entrepreneurs know what resources are available, what services they provide and how to connect with them,” said Virginia Sauer, a market analyst for Birmingham Business Alliance. “The idea was that we have one place where we could understand exactly what resources are available in the region for entrepreneurs. We have that organized by types of services and if they work specifically with startups or small businesses.”
Sauer was one of several people who collaborated on the website. They discussed details Wednesday morning with a group of area business leaders and entrepreneurs during a special presentation at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama‘s headquarters in downtown Birmingham.
“It was a huge collaborative project,” said Daisy Homolka, an analyst for Alabama Capital Network. “There were at least 10 organizations that, at certain points, were giving us advice and input about what they know from entrepreneurs, what they would like to see in the Birmingham area and then even just the core working group of people who’ve been making it — we come from three different organizations. It’s been really awesome to work with everyone.”
Sauer said the website is not finished.
“We have our beta resource guides that we’ve created from a knowingly incomplete data set, so we’re working on completing that data set,” Sauer said. “We are working to come up with more long-term solutions, hopefully working in the fall with a local web developer to build out a more permanent site, and work with more entrepreneurs to find out what they really want and need because we don’t want to build a website that doesn’t work the way entrepreneurs need it to.”
To learn more about the project or to use the website, visit bhambizhub.com.
“Just as Vulcan was our ambassador to attendees of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, he will once again serve as our welcoming ambassador to those who are coming to our city and those who will watch from around the world,” said Jason Eppenger, secretary of the board of directors for Vulcan Park and Museum. “He stands for all of Birmingham and has long stood as a symbol of inspiration and pride for our city.”
The World Games 2021 shared the news Wednesday during a news conference at Vulcan Park and Museum. DJ Mackovets, CEO of The World Games 2021, also announced Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama will be the foundation sponsor for “Live Healthy, Play Global,” a new education program tied to the games. Mackovets said the program will be test-launched in Birmingham City Schools during the 2019-2020 academic year and then will be rolled out to include a wide range of schools across the state.
“It takes everybody to make this happen positively,” Mackovets said. “It doesn’t matter what ZIP code you’re in, everybody needs to be involved in this effort to make it successful.”
“Sponsoring The World Games 2021 education program is an ideal partnership since teaching healthy habits at an early age will help lead to a healthier Alabama,” said Tim Vines, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. “We are proud to serve with other foundation partners and we look forward to being a part of this historic event that will be a legacy for our great city of Birmingham and for the state of Alabama.”
The World Games 2021 is scheduled to begin July 15, 2021. Mackovets said the next 721 days will be very busy, with volunteer recruiting scheduled to begin in May 2020 and ticket sales scheduled to begin around July 15, 2020.
“As the IWGA continues to remind us, and rightfully so, time passes very quickly,” Mackovets said. “A lot has been done, but clearly there is a lot of work to be taken care of before we welcome the world two years from now.”
Eppenger said a special representation of Vulcan is being developed to be the mascot. Mackovets said that design should be complete and unveiled to the public this fall.
History of The World Games*
1981 – Santa Clara, California, was the host city for the first World Games. The United States won more medals than any other country.
1985 – The host city for the second World Games was London, Great Britain. Italy led all countries in total medals and gold medals won.
1989 – Karlsruhe, Germany, hosted the next World Games. Once again, Italy led all countries in medals won.
1993 – The Hague, Netherlands, was the next host city. Germany was awarded more medals than any other country.
1997 – Lahti, Finland, hosted the World Games. The United States led in the number of medals won for this World Games.
2001 – Akita, Japan, was the host for the World Games. Russia was awarded more medals than any other country.
2005 – Duisburg, Germany, hosted the World Games. Russia and Germany led all countries in medals won, but Russia won more gold medals.
2009 – Kaohsiung of Chinese Taipei was the next host. Once again, Russia was the leader in medals won.
2013 – The next World Games was hosted in Cali, Colombia. This was the first time the games were held in South America. Russia won the most medals again in these World Games.
2017 – These World Games were hosted in Wroclaw, Poland. More than 3,200 athletes competed in 31 sports, from 111 different countries.
2021 – Birmingham, Alabama will host the 2021 World Games. The Opening Ceremony is July 15 and competition begins the next day.
How do you surprise history teachers who don’t live in Alabama? Bring them to the state for three weeks to discover what their education didn’t teach them about the civil rights movement.
“For me the surprising thing was how many people were involved in the movement that I just didn’t know about,” said Kevin Mears, a 10th grade U.S. history teacher from Brooklyn, New York. “You know Rosa Parks, you know Martin Luther King Jr., you know Malcolm X, you know some of the big names, but to take their stories a little bit farther and go deeper into their stories — like, I didn’t know Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist for human rights and civil rights before and after the bus movement. That was really powerful for me. To be in the places where it happened — going to King’s parsonage and being in the room where SCLC was started was overwhelming.”
Mears was among 71 teachers who came to Alabama this summer as part of the Stony the Road We Trod Institute, a three-week workshop presented in partnership with the Alabama Humanities Foundation exploring Alabama’s civil rights legacy. The teachers visited civil rights landmarks around Alabama, including stops in Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Birmingham. Martha Bouyer, executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation and director of the workshop, said it started years ago as a one-week workshop but expanded to three weeks a few years ago.
“The teachers always said they needed more time, so what I decided to do was to take my one-week project and expand it,” Bouyer said. “Now the program is being offered as a three-week institute, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’ve had international teachers to come from the U.S. State Department. They’ve sent teachers from emerging democracies, and I’ve had people from places like Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Africa and Colombia.”
Bouyer said the goal of the workshop is for these teachers to change how this history is taught.
“I want them to go back and let their students know the power of the individual in history,” Bouyer said. “We generally hear Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but get kids to interview their grandparents or somebody in the community. Go to the nursing home. We’re lifting up names and contributions, however small it may appear to be, but I want them to do that. My goal is for this investment to forever change how we teach this history.”
“I will go back to my classroom changed with a deeper understanding of the truth of this part of history,” Osborne said. “They might not get to come here but if they are able to see my pictures and hear my first-hand account, then I think it humanizes it for them a little.”
William Frazier, a ninth grade world history teacher from Laurel, Mississippi, said his biggest challenge will be convincing his students what he’s seen is true.
“We’re in a trying time now where kids think, ‘if I didn’t see it, then it didn’t happen,’ so I have to make it real to them and relevant to them,” Frazier said. “This is a way to do it. These things really happened. None of this is fake.”
“What I’ve seen in Birmingham has had the most impact on me,” James said. “The whole experience has been awesome.”
James said she’s eager to take what she’s learned back to her students.
“I will take it back and let them know that civil rights did not begin with one person and did not end with one person,” James said. “There are many unsung heroes within the movement. Everyone has a hand in it, even if you’re not at the forefront making the speeches, you can still add your 2 cents and be effective.”
The track brought a white race car to the hospital Friday morning. Patients used paint brushes and markers to decorate the car and sign it.
“This is just something fun for the kids at Children’s of Alabama to be out here and paint the car and just bring a smile to their face,” said Alyson Thompson, Public Relations coordinator for Talladega Superspeedway. “It’s something cool for us to bring a little bit of the race track to Children’s of Alabama.”
“It’s been a great way for them to get out of their rooms,” Caroline Wilson, Community Development coordinator for Children’s of Alabama added. “This is such a fun Friday for them — an unexpected activity they got to do, it just brightens their day a little bit while they are here.”
“Kids get to take the wheel and choose six pre-race activities on Sunday morning,” Thompson said. “Children’s of Alabama has been a great partner with us for our new Kids VIP Experience program. It’s just a joyous time for them to get out and do something fun.”
This football team believes it will improve on its 8-5 record from last year, a season that began with high expectations which fell apart late in the season. Davidson still remembers the last-second loss to LSU.
“I was sick. We have a picture of how close we were to blocking the field goal. That tells me that you have to fight to end of the game.”
Davidson and his teammates are determined to be better this year.
“You’ve got to win the spring, and then you’ve got to win the summer, and then you’ve got to win the fall,” said offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho. “This team is planning to start strong.”
“You can just tell going through practice, he’s more relaxed and himself,” Wanogho said. “He’s going around giving fist bumps.”
Wanogho said the defense is also doing their part in making him and his offensive linemen better.
“We are training against the best and they make you the best.”
Defensive tackle Derrick Brown said the goal is simple: play for a national championship.
“For anyone to sit here and say they don’t want to go to a national championship, they’re lying,” Brown said. “Everyone wants to be in that four-game playoff.”
Brown said achieving that goal requires one step at a time.
“The biggest challenge is for us to go out each week and, as coach always says, ‘be where your feet are,’” Brown said. “Even if they say you are No. 1, you still have to have that blue collar mentality. You got to look at it like you’re at the bottom and progress every week.”