The Wire

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


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 years ago

Lemonds makes lemonade by giving back, helping others in Alabama

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Tabetha Lemonds started volunteering while a student at Childersburg High School and through her local church. She witnessed at an early age the impact giving back could make in the lives of others.

“Giving back was just a part of what we did. It’s something that sticks with you, and something you have a heart for and grow up doing,” Lemonds said.


Lemonds is a senior research associate at the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville. Center employees work on advancing the development of innovative carbon capture technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas and coal-based power plants.

Lemonds supports several different groups within Southern Company Services, including operations, maintenance and engineering, but always finds a way to help her community.

Her latest volunteer program, a youth leadership conference, helps high school students with skills they’ll need when applying for jobs and colleges. The program provides tips for interviewing and assists students with resume writing. More than 100 juniors and seniors attended the first workshop in Wilsonville.

“You always need a resume, and you always need it to be top-of-the-line. So, it was nice for us to have professional people to help them with those skills,” Lemonds said.

Lemonds saw the need for this program when her daughter began applying to colleges. Lemonds earned a business administration degree at Faulkner University and worked in business, healthcare and the court system before joining Southern Company.

“(Resume writing) was something that she had to work toward … I helped her with that, but she didn’t have anyone outside of the family who helped her, so that had been on my mind,” Lemonds said.

At the sessions, students get a flash drive to save their professionally reviewed resumes and, so far, the students’ feedback has been positive.

“We’ve been told students use that to apply for college scholarships and jobs, so it’s nice for us to know we were able to help,” Lemonds said.

Lemonds has various plaques, medals and awards in recognition of her commitment to volunteering, and her office is a mosaic of colorful family pictures – of memories reminding her what’s important. As for serving the community, her advice is simple.

“As long as you have the ability to give back to somebody, do it,” Lemonds said.

The National Carbon Capture Center is managed and operated by Southern Company and is part of a U.S. Department of Energy initiative. Center employees have completed more than 100,000 test hours since its founding in 2009 and have worked to reduce the projected cost of carbon capture by one-third.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama music maker Tyler Findlater pursues his muse after life-changing health scare

(Joe Allen/Alabama NewsCenter)

As Tyler Findlater sat in the Shelby Center for Engineering Technology at Auburn University, he felt the classroom enclose him before blacking out. When he came to his senses moments later, something felt off – the left side of his body wasn’t working.

Findlater didn’t know then, but doctors told the 19-year-old hours later he had suffered a stroke.

Today, Findlater is a rising country musician from Phenix City. Never musically inclined, he discovered his calling after his stroke on Jan. 28, 2016.


Before the songwriting and guitar strumming, Findlater found himself hobbling downstairs from the Auburn classroom seeking help.

“I had a constant ringing in my ear, and it felt like I had low blood sugar from running a marathon,” Findlater said.

He also couldn’t see from his left eye, and he remained in this state for almost an hour and a half.

At the local hospital, doctors confirmed the stroke and put him on a helicopter to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.

The helicopter took off at sunset, and for the first time in his life, his entire sight was a pure, unobstructed sky, set aflame with orange and red hues.

“It was actually a really enjoyable helicopter ride for what was going on. I was snapchatting and everything,” Findlater said.

For two days, Findlater lay on his back to prevent blood clotting. After being discharged, he tried returning to class, but fluorescent lighting dizzied him, and his left side was barely functional. He took medical discharge for the semester and began rehab.

“It took me about three months to get back to normal,” Findlater said. “But afterward, I finally picked up the guitar.”

It would be neat, he thought, to spend some hours on YouTube learning chords during his recovery. In three weeks, Findlater learned his first song: “I Can’t Complain” by Todd Snider.

Friends and family heard him and loved his playing, but Findlater wasn’t so sure.

“I really didn’t believe them,” Findlater said. “It took me going to places where I didn’t know anybody to see what they thought.”

An opportunity came at an open mic. He admits he was a shy kid. Now the spotlight shined down, and he graced the stage.

To ease nerves, Findlater brought a chair from home. The crowd quieted as he adjusted himself; then, he did what he’d done since the stroke – he played his tunes.

“Luckily, it went well, I think. The crowd clapped me on – I had a good time,” Findlater said.

Soon, he started writing songs with hopes of being as good as the Texas country musicians he admires. Their storytelling, their thoughtful lyrics, it all served as his muse and has led him around the South doing shows.

His latest song is a meditation on depression. Ever since the stroke, Findlater has grappled with depression, and according to the National Stroke Association, it’s a common experience for survivors. Writing the song was his way to bring comfort to others.

“I think it’s something that would be good for people like myself,” Findlater said.

He plans to record the song soon and donate all the proceeds to the National Stroke Association. Findlater plans to graduate from Auburn with a degree in communications. Since regaining mobility, Findlater plays, writes and sings every chance he gets.

“When you hear stroke, you think of an old man or old woman, but it happens a lot with young people,” Findlater said. “I have to do my part and tell my story.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama apps: App2Talk helps nonverbal children communicate

(R. Miller/YouTube)

As children grow they learn to communicate at first through sound and body movements before advancing to words and language.

But for children with nonverbal autism, communicating needs or wants can be more difficult.

A nonprofit in Alabama is working to help these children by developing a mobile app to assist with communication. Based in Mobile, Autism2Ability aims to develop programs for families with special-needs children.

Autism2Ability founder Ray Miller saw how these families needed tools to enable clearer communication, so the nonprofit partnered with an Apple developer and began building the new technology.


After years of development, App2Talk launched on the app market in November 2014 for a one-time cost of $99.99.

Miller said the hard work was well worth it given that 25 percent of children with autism don’t speak.

“I felt there was a call for me to do something – it was providential,” Miller said.

The app has many customizable pictures allowing words to be communicated visually when the child needs something.

For example, if a child wants popcorn, he or she presses the popcorn image on a smartphone or tablet and a voice says the image pressed, meaning parents and educators can hear the request.

Since its official launch, the app has evolved with each update.

Miller works with experts in various fields while developing updates for the app, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and special-education teachers.

He said each update makes the app more robust and ensures the autistic community will get maximum usefulness while using App2Talk.

“These children are very smart people. A lot of them just need an outlet to show that off, so we try to make sure we give them the best one,” Miller said.

The three levels of learning on App2Talk – elementary, intermediate and advanced – give children an opportunity to grow and progress when communicating. The app also automatically tracks their progress, giving parents and educators an avenue to analyze what the child has mastered and what’s still difficult.

Educators like Jennifer Williams see positive feedback when using the app.

Williams is the behavior specialist manager at the Mobile County Public School System and uses the device when she’s working with kids. Because many behavioral problems are rooted in a lack of communication, she has used App2Talk to help bridge gaps with children undergoing struggles they can’t necessarily voice.

Williams said a child has also used the app to communicate while in pain.

“Throughout his childhood, the pain was indescribable. It was beyond words,” Williams said. “The child couldn’t tell anyone where he was hurting or how much the pain stung, and the frustration would lead to self-inflicted damage. App2Talk changed that.”

Using the app, the child selected pictures of the body parts in pain, and the parents were finally able to help the child.

“We know the need is there,” Miller said. “We just have to keep pushing, and keep helping out the kids because they’re our future.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Public contributes ideas for new Birmingham downtown linear park

(M. Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Dozens of individuals, plus representatives from local businesses, public agencies and nonprofits expressed themselves Tuesday about what should be in the mix of amenities and activities at a proposed linear park in downtown Birmingham.
Officials with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and the City of Birmingham kicked off the first of multiple public sessions aimed at crafting a unique, 31-acre, 10-block-long public space that will live underneath a rebuilt elevated section of Interstate 59/20.

“We want to do something special,” Brandon Johnson, the city’s director of Community Engagement, told the crowd at Boutwell Municipal Auditorium.


“We want your input. We value your ideas,” said DeJarvis Leonard, ALDOT region engineer.

Dubbed CityWalk BHAM, the public space, running from 15th Street to 25th Street North, near the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, is scheduled to be completed in time for The World Games coming to Birmingham in summer 2021.

“The World Games is a magnificent opportunity for the city, and we think this project can be a welcomed attraction for visitors and natives of Birmingham alike, come 2021,” Leonard said.

Ben Donsky, vice president of  Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, told the audience at the start of the first public session that the project is an opportunity to create a unique public space that offers an enormous variety of activities and programming, serving different audiences at different times of the day. One of the project consultants, Biederman has helped design or redevelop numerous public spaces around the country, including Bryant Park in New York City, Salesforce Park in San Francisco and Canalside in Buffalo, New York.

“We want to build something that is sustainable, that will be treasured for generations,” Donsky said.

Participants in the first session moved among six viewing stations, where they could examine conceptual images of different activities and elements that could be incorporated into CityWalk. They ranged from skateboarding to walking paths and playgrounds, a dog park, a farmers’ market, cafés and music stages.

Donsky said programming at CityWalk also could range broadly, from exercise classes for seniors, to art and music events for adults and children, to food stalls for downtown workers on their lunch hour. “We want to have lots of variety,” he said.

“We think this could be an economic generator for the city and a regional attraction … from every demographic and every age level,” Donsky added.

Participants could mark their preferences among the many images spread on the tables – or suggest their own ideas.

Donsky said few cities have created public spaces of this proposed magnitude underneath a rebuilt highway. “It’s really groundbreaking.”

A comprehensive price tag for the project hasn’t been finalized, but an estimated $15 million to $20 million is expected to be available from state and federal transportation coffers for construction. Officials hope to add to that amount with local support, along with corporate and philanthropic dollars that could help to provide resources for ongoing events and programming.

In addition to the three public sessions held Tuesday at Boutwell, a second round is set for July 24 at the Birmingham Crossplex. Additional public meetings also could be scheduled. More information is available at a new website,, and a new Facebook page, where additional details are expected to be shared from the public sessions.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama apps: Wyndy helps pair parents with babysitters


Alabama NewsCenter is highlighting apps developed in the state. This is the first story in a series.

Tommy and Ginger Mayfield needed a babysitter, but the Birmingham couple’s schedule was irregular and hectic with 3- and 1-year-old daughters.

“Life was crazy those years. When we looked through babysitters, we were using the same technology parents had been using for the last 10 to 15 years, which was basically no technology,” Mayfield said. “The hurdles of texting each potential sitter, stopping by the ATM – I just thought, “‘Why isn’t there an app to make this process easier?’”


A native of Mountain Brook, Mayfield was working unpredictable hours at a law firm and his wife was taking night classes for a master’s degree, making the need for a trusted babysitter dire, and their time for searching short.

In his pursuit of solving their babysitting problem, however, came the genesis for Wyndy.

How great would it be, Mayfield thought, to have an app for parents in need of a babysitter and for babysitters in need of work? The idea came in May 2016, and by spring 2017, his idea manifested on the app store and Wyndy launched with no charge. The name derives from the character Wendy in Peter Pan.

“It’s hard for people to believe Jones Valley can produce the same technology as Silicon Valley, but I think we’re increasingly seeing that happen,” Mayfield said.

Wyndy works by allowing parents to post jobs on the app, and babysitters can then pick postings fitting their schedule.

The babysitters are all full-time college students. Anyone wishing to be a babysitter for the app must pass a background check and go through an application process, according to the company.

An in-app timer tracks how long the babysitter works and the parents then pay through the app. In addition to Wyndy connecting parents with background-checked college babysitters, the app also helps parents save time.

“It used to be if I wanted to take my wife out, we had to start thinking about a babysitter days in advance, but now I can come home Friday afternoon and get a babysitter instantly,” Mayfield said.

According to the company, it takes an average of two minutes for a parent to find a babysitter. The process can be quicker with parents having the option to save babysitters from previous jobs, curating a list of favorite Wyndy babysitters.

While many people might think of steel or automotive manufacturing driving Alabama’s economy, the city of Birmingham and other parts of the state have become a hotbed for startups and app developers.

According to an April 2018 “State of the App Economy” study by the App Association, 39,000 Alabamians currently work in computing jobs. Those jobs come with an average salary of $85,466.

The future of the industry looks bright too – with a projected job growth of 12.5 percent in Alabama by 2024.

Nationwide, the “app economy” contributes $950.6 billion to the U.S. economy and employs 4.7 million people.

You can follow Wyndy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)