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.

3 months ago

YellaWood company has vacant building buzzing again with $40M sawmill in Alabama’s Wiregrass

Great Southern Wood CEO Jimmy Rane, left, led the effort to bring the former Westpoint Stevens property in Abbeville back to life as a $40 million modern sawmill. (Sydney A. Foaster/Governor’s Office)

After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the former WestPoint Stevens building in Abbeville is now buzzing with new life and 115 jobs after a $40 million transformation by Great Southern Wood.

It was standing room only at Tuesday’s grand opening celebration for Abbeville Fiber. The new sawmill, at the intersection of U.S. 431 and Alabama Highway 27, represents an investment of $40 million, the largest in Henry County’s history, and fills a building that sat empty since 2007.  Now, the building houses a state-of-the-art sawmill, equipped with the latest technology.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey joined Great Southern Wood CEO Jimmy Rane in cutting the ribbon.


“Abbeville Fiber is proof that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Alabama,” Ivey said. “Our state is enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in our history, and without businesses like Great Southern Wood and Abbeville Fiber, this would not be possible.”

Rane, best known for his commercials as the “Yella Fella” promoting Great Southern Wood’s YellaWood brand, shared the history of the site, which began in 1917 when the state’s first peanut oil mill was located there. Community leaders in the 1940s convinced WestPoint Stevens to locate a new textile plant in Abbeville. It opened in 1952 and operated until 2007.

After closing the Abbeville plant, WestPoint Stevens spent several years seeking new uses for the site. When that failed, a decision was made to sell the property to a salvager.

Just like in the commercials, the Yella Fella stepped in to save the day.

“I got them on the phone and told them they had no idea what that building means to my town – that they couldn’t let it go for salvage,” Rane said. “They told me if I would pay them what the salvage company was going to pay, they’d sell it to me.”

After purchasing the property in 2013, Rane continued the search for a suitable industry to fill the void, when he finally asked the right person the right question: “Do you think we could ever put a sawmill in this building?”

Michael Lancaster, general manager of Abbeville Fiber, was then working at Ashton Lewis Lumber, a holding of Great Southern Wood in North Carolina. Lancaster’s answer was “yes.” He took Rane’s vision and made it a reality.

“Michael designed, engineered and oversaw construction of what you see before you today,” Rane said. “He understood what a tragedy it would have been for our area if we had lost this facility. My only contribution was asking that question. Michael made it happen. For that reason, this mill will be known as the Lancaster Mill of Abbeville Fiber.”

Lancaster was honored by the tribute.

“We’re very excited about the opening of this new facility,” said Lancaster. “Not only will it bring jobs to the area, it’s great for Great Southern, too. All the production from the sawmill will be going to Great Southern treating plants, enabling us to improve efficiency, consistency and quality for our products.”

Lancaster said a sawmill is a key link in a chain of jobs in the industry.

“Abbeville Fiber will also create logging jobs and value for landowners through our log purchases,” he said. “According to a study from the Alabama Forestry Association, there is a one-to-one ratio on jobs when a sawmill open. That means that the job creation at the sawmill will lead to another 115 jobs being created in the logging and timber operations.”

Matt Parker of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce pointed to the Abbeville Fiber project as an example of regional economic development.

“Employees will come from Henry, Houston, Barbour, Dale, Geneva and border Georgia counties to supply its labor needs,” he said. “In addition, regional trucking and pine will be supplied throughout the multi-county area. Growing our area’s gross domestic product is the end game and all of us win with a regional approach.”

Henry County Probate Judge David Money echoed Parker’s sentiment.

“In some places they talk regionalism. In Houston County, they live it,” Money said. He commended the many Houston County leaders who helped make the new sawmill a reality.

According to county officials, the impact of the project can already be seen in tax revenues for the city of Abbeville, which increased nearly 27% in the second quarter of 2019 versus the same period last year. The sawmill received its first load of logs on July 8 and now employs 65 workers as it ramps up to full employment.

The caliber of jobs is also notable. The estimated average hourly rate will be $21.62, well above the current average wage in Henry County.

“With the opening of the sawmill, we will be continuing to invest in our most valuable resource – the people in our hometown and throughout the entire Wiregrass,” Rane said. “This state-of-the-art facility is not just about producing the highest quality wood products, it is about empowering people to provide a better life for their families and building a stronger, more prosperous community for all of us.”

(Courtesy of AlabamaNewsCenter)

4 months ago

There’s no debate: Slocomb has some of Alabama’s and the world’s best tomatoes

(Linda Brannon/Alabama NewsCenter)

There’s an ongoing debate about the Slocomb tomato. Is it something in the soil or is it when they are picked that makes tomatoes grown in this little patch of southeast Alabama the “world’s best”? Like the Vidalia onion, the reputation of the Slocomb tomato has been developed and protected by the dozen or so farmers committed to maintaining the quality that is associated with the name.

And make no mistake, Slocomb tomatoes might just be the world’s best. Tomato connoisseurs eagerly await the season each year: Many attend the annual Slocomb Tomato Festival, the community’s tribute to the crop that has put it on the map.

Held in the town’s Centennial Park each June, the festival has grown over its 31 years to a two-day event that features music, vendors, a children’s play area, good food and, of course, the Slocomb tomato.


Slocomb High School’s Band Boosters have cornered the market on what is perhaps the two festival favorites – fried green tomatoes and an old-fashioned tomato sandwich. Janet Hovey, one of the festival coordinators, approached the band group a few years ago when she realized none of the other food vendors would be offering these delicacies.

“You can’t have a tomato festival without fried green tomatoes,” she said. “I talked to the band boosters and they agreed to have a booth. It is the most popular booth in the festival now.”

Band Boosters president Stephen Smith said not only is it their largest fundraiser, it is their only fundraiser. “Of course, we use only Slocomb tomatoes and we only have the two menu items, so we’ve gotten really good at making both,” he said with a laugh. “We do a great business.”

What makes the best tomato sandwich? “You use only the freshest, softest white bread, just the right amount of mayo, only ripe Slocomb tomatoes and, if desired, a dusting of salt and pepper,” Hovey said. “Makes my mouth water just talking about it.”

Festivalgoers in June were treated to a music lineup that included performances by Chad Street, the Goat Hill String Band, Restless Heart and the Lacs.

Local businesses do their part each year by donating money to bring in top performers and keep the festival growing. Volunteers from the Alabama Power Foundation manned the ticket booths and a donation from the Foundation allowed the Kids Zone to be free of charge.

If you missed out on this year’s summer crop of Slocomb tomatoes, don’t despair. The farmers are busy planting their fall crop – which is just as tasty as summer’s. And if you missed the festival this year, plans are already being made for next year’s event.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama Power prepared for hurricane season


Hurricane season began Saturday and runs through Nov. 30. Lately, the season has been kicking off early.

Last month, short-lived subtropical storm Andrea became the first named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. It is the fifth year in a row that the first storm of the season formed prior to June 1.

Whenever storms come, Alabama Power employees are prepared to respond.

“We prepare year-round for storms,” said Bobby Hawthorne, Alabama Power Distribution Engineering Service manager. “Due to our location, we are subject to tornadoes, hurricanes, straight-line wind events and ice and snow. We’ve had all these types of weather events occur in our service territory, so we remain prepared to respond.”


“Established emergency response plans have been in place for many years,” Hawthorne continued. “These plans are reviewed and updated on a regular basis to reflect lessons we’ve learned, and lessons learned at other utilities. These updates are based on post-storm critiques and information we’ve learned while assisting other utilities during major storms.”

This year, hurricane forecasters are predicting “near-normal” conditions for 2019, with a 70% chance of nine to 15 named storms with winds of 39 miles per hour or higher. Of those, four to eight could become hurricanes, including two to four “major” hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.

Many utilities, including Alabama Power, have agreements for mutual assistance in the event of natural disasters and storms. This is often why convoys of utility vehicles are seen headed to the location of the latest large storm or disaster. The mutual assistance network is a cornerstone of electric utility operations during large storms with widespread outages.

Improvements in technology also are helping improve storm planning and response. “Our integrated distribution management system is becoming smarter and smarter,” Hawthorne said, referring to the core technologies the company uses to gather data on the condition of the grid, during fair weather and foul, including information about outages.

“The system allows operators to know more precisely where the damage has occurred so that crews can be deployed quicker to reduce outage times. It also automatically reroutes sources of power to impacted areas, minimizing the number of customers affected by the severe weather,” Hawthorne said.

Alabama Power’s smart meters also can assist in times of disaster. Smart meters quickly provide outage information to the company. Using this data, Alabama Power can identify which customers are without power and can verify customers who have had service restored. This information improves the overall efficiency of a restoration effort.

Drone use is another new normal at Alabama Power. Drones can help provide images from hard-to-reach locations for storm evaluation.

While Alabama Power is prepared for hurricane season, this is a good time for customers to review their personal plans for weather emergencies. Here are some tips to help prepare:

Preparing for a hurricane:

  • Know the hurricane evacuation routes from your home.
  • Determine where your family will meet, should you become separated.
  • Make sure you have a way to contact loved ones outside of the affected zone.
  • When a storm is predicted, keep cellphones and electronic devices charged.
  • Stay informed with a battery-operated weather radio.
  • Stock an emergency kit with
    • Flashlights.
    • Batteries.
    • First-aid supplies.
    • Prescriptions.
    • Cash.
    • Copies of critical information.
  • Keep a three-day supply of water – 1 gallon per person per day – and nonperishable food.
  • If you live in coastal areas, cover windows and reinforce garage doors. Storm shutters are ideal, but windows can be safeguarded with plywood.
  • Trim shrubs and trees close to your home to reduce the chances your house will be damaged.
  • Turn down the thermostat in your home. It can help keep your home cool for up to 48 hours during a power outage.
  • Bring in outdoor items, such as patio furniture, decorations and garbage cans.

During a hurricane:

  • Seek shelter in a sturdy building, away from windows and doors.
  • Monitor your weather radio for updates and reports.

After a hurricane:

  • Stay off flooded roads.
  • If there is a power outage or a downed line, call Alabama Power’s automated reporting system at 1-800-888-APCO (2726). Stay away from downed lines and keep pets away.
  • Stay clear of damaged and fallen trees where a downed line may be hidden.
  • Check for property damage. Take photos for insurance purposes.
  • Check perishable foods and tap water for contamination.

Find more information about storm safety at or visit the National Weather Service Hurricane Preparedness website at

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)