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.

1 month ago

Conclusion of Community of Lights campaign marks beginning of Junior League of Birmingham’s 100th year

(One Place Metro Alabama Justice Center/Contributed)

How does an organization celebrate a century of community service? If that organization is the Junior League of Birmingham (JLB), it’s done by kicking off that 100th year with the culmination of the Community of Lights Centennial Campaign. When the five-year campaign concludes on May 6, it will have raised more than $1.25 million for the One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center.

As its name suggests, One Place provides coordinated services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. From its offices on Birmingham’s Southside, representatives of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s OfficeYWCA of Central Alabama, the Crisis Center Inc.’s  Rape Response services and the Birmingham Police Department work together to ensure the availability and effectiveness of a comprehensive range of services. Previously housed in the basement of the District Attorney’s office, One Place moved into its own building in 2017, when the JLB committed to making the lead gift to acquire and renovate it.


The Community of Lights Centennial Campaign was created as an innovative means of fulfilling JLB’s commitment to One Place. According to the League’s point person for the campaign, it was structured purposefully to build community awareness and generate broader impacts on “an issue that is pervasive in our community, our state, and throughout the country.”

“It was critical to engage the whole community,” said Lindsey Tanner, chair of the Community of Lights Campaign. “We wanted to meet this need not only by raising money, but by doing it in a way that increases awareness of an issue that affects the whole community.”

To achieve that goal, JLB initially identified 20 “Torchbearers,” each tasked with activating donations from their professional and personal networks – and encouraging those potential donors to learn more about One Place. At the end of the first year, and each succeeding year, torches were “passed” to a new group of 20 Torchbearers (21 for the 2021 campaign), further extending awareness of One Place and its mission.

Since 2017, a total of 101 local Torchbearers have combined to put the Community of Lights campaign on pace to meet and exceed its $1.25 million goal. As impactful as the amount of funding raised, Tanner noted, is that the Torchbearers ultimately activated more than 6,000 individual donors.

“That’s powerful,” Tanner declared. “What our Torchbearers have led the way in accomplishing will continue to have significant impacts on our community’s collective success in dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. The community is more aware and engaged now than it was five years ago.”

Alabama Power is among the local companies that have supported Community of Lights, with five executives serving as Torchbearers. Starting with 2017, they are (current positions): Leigh Davis, vice president of Economic and Community Development; Terry Smiley, vice president, Eastern Division; Amoi Geter, director of Corporate Communication at Nicor GasTequila Smith, vice president of Charitable Giving; and 2021 Torchbearer Staci Brooks, director of Marketing Communication. The Alabama Power Foundation also provided support to the Community of Lights campaign.

“Alabama Power has a long history of supporting efforts that meet needs at the local level,” Brooks said. “Our support of One Place and the Junior League’s Community of Lights multiyear campaign is one way we are helping address critical community issues and hopefully making the road to recovery a little smoother for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Alabama Power parent Southern Company is also supporting the campaign. Tenley Armstrong, the company’s Birmingham-based associate general counsel, is a 2021 Torchbearer.

“At Southern Company, we understand how basic services form the critical foundation of our lives,” said Armstrong. “Only when our core needs are satisfied are we free to make the most of our lives, and One Place contributes to that by making it possible for women and children to have a safe, stable home life, free from abuse.

“When I think about more than 6,000 people working together to fund the Family Justice Center, I am in awe of what can be accomplished when generosity fuels commitment to a long-term goal.”

Culmination of the Community of Lights campaign is the first of numerous events that will mark JLB’s 100th year of service. A volunteer organization with a membership of approximately 2,300 women, JLB promotes and supports activities for developing the potential of women and improving the community through effective action led by trained volunteers. Each year, it provides funding and resources in support of more than 30 community projects, addressing issues that, in addition to domestic violence, include literacy, health education and financial literacy.

“We want to help create solutions to hard issues,” Community of Lights Chair Tanner said. “We’re here to evaluate needs and pull together the resources to address them. That’s been our role for nearly 100 years and will continue to be our role in the future.”

For more information, or to donate to the Community of Lights Centennial Campaign, visit For more information on One Place, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Pastor, county commissioner recall tragedy and recovery in Jefferson County following 2011 tornadoes

(Wynter Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

“Everywhere you looked, there was devastation.”

So recalled Dr. T.L. Lewis, the longtime pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham’s Pratt City community.

“From one end of Pratt City to the other, lives were lost, homes and businesses were destroyed. Our church was leveled to the foundation.”

But in the immediate aftermath of the deadly tornado that struck early on the evening of April 27, 2011, the destruction of his church was secondary to meeting human needs, Lewis said. “Some people lost everything they had, including their clothes. Starting that night, we knew we had to get busy getting people what they needed just to survive.”


By noon the following day, the office of then-Birmingham Mayor William Bell helped Lewis secure use of the former Scott Elementary School in Pratt City, just off U.S. Highway 78. The building was situated ideally for use as a relief and recovery center, and work to prepare it for opening the following morning began immediately, Lewis said.

Those preparations included a call to Alabama Power, which provided generators to supply electricity to the building. By morning on April 29, donations of clothing, shoes, toiletries, children’s toys, nonperishable food, bottled water and other items had been sorted and placed in separate rooms. There was also a room where residents could register for federal aid and other available assistance.

“We worked all night long,” Lewis remembered. “And we never stopped. For a long time, it was Scott School from morning to evening every day except Sunday, when we went to church.”

With its sanctuary and other facilities destroyed, even going to church was a different experience for the congregants of Bethel Baptist. Soon after the tornado, the church settled into an interim home at a former strip mall just up U.S. 78 in Adamsville, with room for its administrative and educational functions as well as Sunday services.

“That was a blessing,” Lewis said. “It gave us a place to be while our church house was rebuilt. But more than that, it helped us understand more fully what it takes to recover from a disaster.”

Lewis is quick to note that Pratt City was far from the only community in the Birmingham area – and across Alabama – to feel the brunt of that day’s severe weather outbreak. The National Weather Service recorded 62 confirmed tornadoes in Alabama, with as many as 252 deaths connected to the day’s storms, according to official sources.

In Jefferson County, the day began with an early-morning EF2 tornado that touched down in Cahaba Heights and caused 20 injuries. The tornado that struck Pratt City was an EF4 monster, generating wind speeds that approached 200 mph as it tracked more than 80 miles through Greene, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties. All told, the storm that carried that one tornado resulted in 65 deaths – 22 of those in Jefferson County – along with more than 1,500 injured.

Alabama April 2011 tornadoes remembered: Pleasant Grove’s day of destruction from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“Concord, Hueytown, Pleasant Grove, McDonald Chapel, Pratt City, Fultondale,” Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight recounted, verbally tracking the tornado’s path. He was in the Jefferson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) early that morning, and Knight said, “it was clear pretty quickly what we might be in for.”

Knight had been in office for less than six months, and it was trial by fire in his first experience as the commissioner with oversight of the EOC. After spending most of the day with his assistant, reaching out to constituents to help ensure preparedness, Knight returned to the EOC and heard the latest on the path of the storm that already had done major damage in Tuscaloosa. He remembers going onto the parking deck above the EOC at Birmingham City Hall and seeing the massive, rain-wrapped cloud approaching the city from the southwest.

“It was eerie,” he said. “We started to feel sand pellets, grit hitting our faces, so we got on back inside. And then all hell broke loose.”

The next day, Knight was back on the road, surveying the damage in some of the hardest-hit areas. He said it was only then that the full scope of what had happened began to sink in.

“You see a thousand pictures. But pictures don’t compare to being there, seeing the devastation surrounding you, listening to people who have lost their homes and seen their communities just horrendously damaged.

“We got updates on confirmed deaths, and every time, you looked around and didn’t know how the number wasn’t higher,” Knight said.

As bad as the damage was, he said he was struck even more by the community spirit that was already asserting itself on that morning after. Beyond the work of organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, an influx of money, services, relief supplies and volunteers came from both public- and private-sector sources, as well as from the faith community and other organizations and individuals. In that sense, he views the days, weeks and months after that April 27 as a point of pride for the entire community.

“Everywhere I went that day I saw people of all races and cultures coming from their communities to respond to the needs of other communities. I saw people helping people, neighbors helping neighbors. It was magnificent,” Knight recalled.

Lewis agrees. He said the storm taught valuable lessons about “togetherness and common purpose.” It also taught some lessons about patience and perseverance: Bethel Baptist operated the Pratt City recovery center for more than two years after the tornado. The church rebuilt on the same spot it stood before, opening its new facility in 2014.

In 2019, officials and community leaders unveiled a visible symbol of Pratt City’s ongoing recovery, with the opening of One Pratt Park, a six-acre city park adjacent to the rebuilt Pratt City branch of the Birmingham Public Library, which had been damaged by the tornado. Funded by disaster recovery funds made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the park includes playgrounds, a walking track, a 200-seat amphitheater and a 4,500-square-foot building with kitchen facilities and meeting space for neighborhood events and other activities.

“You don’t recover overnight,” Lewis said. “Storms can be terrible, but we also see that some good things can come of them.

“They can help bring us closer together. They can inspire us to be better than we were before — as individuals, as neighbors and as a community.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

The Frontier Industrial Innovation Conference set for April 13-14

(The Frontier/Contributed)

The past decade has brought tremendous changes to businesses in industrial and energy sectors. Taking advantage of those changes to uniquely position and empower each sector to shape the future industrial economy is the objective of The Frontier Conference. The two-day event is being held virtually this year from The Frontier‘s home in Birmingham.

The Frontier is the only conference of its kind to focus on emerging technologies for all key industrial subsectors. Its goal is to forge connections and collaboration among industrial innovation stakeholders. The conference will include an exciting mix of innovators, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and up-and-coming leaders of the industrial world to think, talk and hear about ideas and technologies that are shaping the future of industry.

“The Frontier Conference is about solution-seekers who are shaping the future of industrial innovation,” said The Frontier founder Hank Torbert. “Our goal is to contribute to that process and help companies succeed by sharing ideas and innovations across sectors. That also helps us stay focused on emerging development and trends and ensure that we continue to provide all who attend with valuable information, access and opportunities.”


More than 200 people have registered for the conference, representing 130 organizations and 17 major industries from more than 20 states and five foreign countries. Attendees include business leaders seeking capital, partners, customers, new lines of business and innovative solutions for specific functions, such as economic development.

The 2021 conference is the first for The Frontier since its move from New Orleans to Birmingham in 2019. Torbert called Birmingham “the ideal home for The Frontier,” given the city’s industrial history and its emerging status as an epicenter for development of future industries.

“Throughout its history, Birmingham has been a city of pioneers, builders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” Torbert noted. “Today, it is a major epicenter of industrials, as is Alabama as a whole, whether you’re talking about automotive, chemicals, transportation, aerospace or manufacturing in general. That energy fits with our goal of building an industrial innovation community across all sectors that allows for the collaboration and expansion of emerging ideas and technologies.”

Torbert said Birmingham benefits from both private and public leadership that understands the economic evolution underway worldwide and is committed to an approach to economic growth that is diversified, innovative, strategic and collaborative. That’s a key factor in Birmingham’s emergence as a national leader in creating and attracting jobs of the future, he added – an assessment that is endorsed by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“We understand that the industrial world is undergoing rapid transformation,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham’s commitment to innovation is part of our vision for helping our industrial sector remain competitive by transforming the ways they operate, compete and do business. We’re pleased to have The Frontier as a partner and a resource in our efforts.”

The growing energy for innovation in Birmingham extends to the rest of the state. Alabama continues to position itself for sustained success in the economy of the 21st century.

The state ranks third nationally in auto exports and has a strong presence in the chemical industry, where over 200 companies employ a total of more than 10,000 people, with annual exports exceeding $2 billion. Alabama also ranks among the top 10 states in the growth of biotech research funding, led by major research facilities in Birmingham and Huntsville.

In just the past five years, Alabama’s biotech startups have attracted well over $100 million in venture capital. At both the state and local levels, public and private entities are investing in workforce development initiatives to ensure a well-educated labor pool for new and expanding industries.

“Increasingly, Alabama’s innovation community demonstrates its commitment to the idea that we are here to work, learn and grow together,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). “Collaboration is an essential ingredient in our overall success, and we’ve seen that The Frontier is committed to helping those partnerships flourish.”

Along with EDPA and 30 other corporate and organizational partners, Alabama Power is a sponsor of The Frontier Conference. The conference will provide benefits from connections made and information shared, in addition to promoting the benefits of doing business in Alabama.

“We are constantly identifying new initiatives, products and services to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said John Smola, director of Business Transformation and Administration for Alabama Power. “The Frontier conference provides an opportunity for us to learn from, engage with and gain best practices from other industry peers focused on innovation and customer offerings.”

To learn more about The Frontier, or to register for The Frontier Conference, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Bronze Valley Accelerator and Innovate Birmingham launch free tech training program

(Pixabay, YHN)

Bronze Valley Accelerator and Innovate Birmingham announced the launch of gener8tor Upskilling, a free training program to help Alabama residents obtain critical digital skills for in-demand jobs. Funded through a grant from Microsoft, the program will kick off its first, virtual statewide class in June.

“Bronze Valley’s mission is creating an education-to-opportunity-to-outcome pipeline through investment, technical assistance, connections and support for strengthening education,” said Bronze Valley President and CEO Neill Wright. “Our partnership with gener8tor continues to emerge as an integral component of our efforts.

“The Upskilling program will enhance those efforts,” Wright added. “It will bolster Alabama’s technology ecosystem by increasing the pool of diverse talent for both entrepreneurs and established tech companies.”


Upskilling Alabama will be open to all Alabama residents seeking to develop new skills or enhance existing ones in digital marketing, project management or sales. The seven-week, cohort-based program will include:

  • Self-paced virtual curriculum from Microsoft and LinkedIn to learn skills for in-demand digital marketing, project management or sales roles, and to earn certifications and badges.
  • One-on-one concierge support from the gener8tor team on the skills content, plus coaching on interview skills and resume, LinkedIn profile and cover letter writing.
  • Virtual access to a network of peers who can support each other and form a community.
  • Opportunities to interview with companies ready to hire candidates with these skills, in partnership with Innovate Birmingham’s summer boot camp programs.

At the end of the seven-week program, participants will have the ability to leverage the resources of these organizations to access job opportunities in their community or with national companies hiring for virtual jobs.

The Upskilling program is the latest outgrowth of the partnership between Bronze Valley and gener8tor. A nationally ranked startup accelerator, gener8tor provides a turnkey platform for the creative economy, including pre-accelerators, accelerators, corporate programming, conferences and fellowships.

“Gener8tor Is focused on helping communities invest in themselves through projects just like this one,” said Joe Kirgues, co-founder and partner at gener8tor. “We are excited to partner with Bronze Valley, Bronze Valley Accelerator and Innovate Birmingham to help people learn new digital skills and get the experience they need to succeed in jobs with local and national employers.”

Innovate Birmingham meets the talent needs of employers in the region by harnessing the potential of local talent. It provides holistic support and career development for aspiring tech professionals, producing programs that align with local industry standards.

“This is a great initiative for our community,” said Katherine Zachara, executive director of Innovate Birmingham. “We are excited to expand the demand-driven training opportunities available in our community through this partnership with Bronze Valley and gener8tor, made possible with support from Microsoft.”

Microsoft recently announced its global skilling initiative, which seeks to help 25 million people worldwide affected by COVID-19 gain new skills during 2021. gener8tor will leverage its proven accelerator playbook, which provides individualized mentorship and coaching to startups across the country.

Bronze Valley is a nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) – the only one in Alabama focused on venture capital. The impact the organization has achieved the past three years indicates both the level of need – underrepresented founders’ historic lack of access to mentorship, investor networks and professional assistance – and the enormous potential beginning to be recognized and realized.

Bronze Valley Accelerator, which is a partnership between Bronze Valley and gener8tor, supports the growth of startups emerging from Birmingham and the Southeast.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

ABC Trust grant helps provide heating, cooling for Alabama nonprofit’s thrift store

(Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Sharon King said for a nonprofit like Raleigh’s Place, running a thrift store in a drafty, old building was an expensive proposition. But the load has become a little lighter, with the help of Alabama Power and the Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund.

Raleigh’s Place purchased a 2,200-square-foot building in Clanton in 2019 to house a thrift store. Named in memory of King’s daughter, it is a “Christ-centered” ministry that serves foster children and their families in Chilton County.

“We had a small clothes closet because kids would come to our camp without shorts or bathing suits. But we could never get enough different sizes, so I thought God was leading us to open a thrift store,” said King, executive director of Raleigh’s Place. “We bought this old building, but it was in need of repair, and we needed to replace eight old HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units at $8,500 each.”


That’s when King turned to Alabama Power, where she learned about the Alabama Business Charitable (ABC) Trust Fund’s Efficiency Forward program. It provides grants up to $10,000 to health and human services nonprofit agencies to help pay for upgrades to make their facilities more energy efficient. The goal is to help reduce their energy bills, thus allowing them to pour those funds back into the community.

King said Alabama Power first conducted an energy audit of the facility and offered tips on how to make it more energy efficient. She was advised to upgrade the insulation, install LED lighting and new HVAC units, and replace the weatherstripping throughout the building.

After applying for and receiving the Efficiency Forward grant, King said Raleigh’s Place used the funds to help pay for the HVAC units, lighting and other energy-related improvements.

“Our power bill has been cut by more than half,” King said. “The grant has meant we can provide more programs and services to more children and change more lives. You can never know how much that means. We’re very grateful and thankful for the ABC Trust, and that you offer a hand up for children who don’t have that opportunity without you.”

The thrift store, Katie’s Kloset, opened its doors last spring. It sells everything from clothes to toys to furniture to appliances. The proceeds are used to support Raleigh’s Place programs and services.

Raleigh’s Place serves Alabama children in memory of a special girl from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Raleigh’s Place – a little girl’s legacy

Raleigh’s Place grew out of a little girl’s daily battle against epilepsy.

Following a routine shot at 18 months old, Sharon and Tim King’s daughter, Raleigh, had a seizure, which led to a fever. Then, she suffered another seizure and fever several months later, causing the child to stop breathing.

After she was taken off a ventilator, Raleigh was never the same, Sharon said. Raleigh had a hard time learning and the number of daily seizures increased as the years passed. Raleigh, who died at nearly 12 years old, often had up to 100 seizures a day, her mother said.

“When Raleigh died, we asked God what he wanted us to do in place of caring for her,” Sharon said. “He said, “You keep doing it, but in place of caring for her, you care for other children.’”

Sharon said that was the foundation for Raleigh’s Place. Its mission is to care for fatherless children, whether they are in foster care, adopted or in a single-parent home.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama forest products industry has rich, traditional, bright future


The forest products industry has long been important to Alabama, and the evolution of the industry is ensuring it will continue to play a vital role in the state’s economy.

“As an industry, forest products is evolving,” said Gary Faulkner. “It’s an exciting time, with new technologies, products, sustainable resources, geographical market shifts and other factors creating opportunities for all segments of the industry. But, at the end of the day, everything still revolves around resources – and we have the resources and the business climate to ensure that the forest products industry continues to thrive in Alabama.”


Faulkner is the forest economic development specialist for the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), the state agency that manages, protects and educates the public about forest resources. His enthusiastic view of the industry’s future in Alabama is shared by Brian Via, Regions Bank professor and director of the Forest Products Development Center at Auburn University.

“The forest products sector has always been very important to Alabama financially,” Via said. “Now, thanks to the commitment to developing new products and reaching new markets, the industry is in prime position to expand.”

Alabama’s forest products industry is among the state’s top-tier manufacturing sectors, especially in rural communities. It produces $4 billion worth of products annually, including nearly $1.4 billion in exports.

Over the past decade, forest products have added 10,000 new jobs in Alabama, along with $6.7 billion in capital investment. Today, Alabama’s wood-based economy accounts for more than 43,000 jobs – a figure projected to grow by more than 10% by 2025 – and more than $2.4 billion in annual payrolls.

While those projections were pre-COVID-19, the industry appears to be weathering the worst impacts of the pandemic. One example is the increased demand for toilet paper from Georgia-Pacific’s facility in Choctaw County, where the company employs 900 and recently completed a $120 million expansion. Two other manufacturers – in Mobile and Cherokee counties – employ a combined total of more than 1,000 Alabamians in producing toilet paper from recycled paper.

“COVID affected all of us in the forestry sector,” the AFC’s Faulkner said. “But the industry has persevered well as a designated ‘essential industry,’ and the trends continue to look good. As we get to the other side of the pandemic, Alabama’s forest products industry will be the right place, at the right time, with the right products.”

Sustaining Alabama’s success and building for the future of forest products lies in managing and expanding the state’s rich timber resources. While forests cover approximately 30% of land in the lower 48 U.S. states, more than two-thirds of Alabama’s land area is covered by forest timberland. In 2019, the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis reported that Alabama has 42.2 billion cubic feet of standing timber – the largest recorded inventory in the state’s history.

“We do a good job of managing our forests,” said Auburn’s Via, pointing out that for every tree being harvested in Alabama, 1.6 are being planted. “That’s a real asset, and it’s going to continue to be critical for long-term growth.”

At the same time, Via adds, new innovations are emerging to meet the needs of new markets, providing value-added products and jobs from Alabama’s renewable resources while continuing to support a service and supply chain that generates additional jobs and economic activity. Via’s work at Auburn includes research and development of sustainable adhesives, fillers and wood composites. He notes the growing use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) for large-scale projects such as high-rise buildings, which will continue to increase with the update of the International Building Code to allow for greater use of CLT.

For generations, the forest products industry in Alabama has benefited from the combination of soil, water, climate and location that make the state one of the industry’s national leaders. Now, as growing numbers of businesses and individuals are recognizing the competitive advantages of sustainability, Alabama is positioned to build on that prominence.

Helping to accomplish that task is a dedicated network of professionals who understand the needs of the forest products industry and have the knowledge and experience to ensure continued success. That includes numerous state agencies, educational institutions, local economic developers and the state’s utility providers.

“Alabama has a great team,” Faulkner said. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the forest products industry and its future. We can support our industry to be successful, and thanks to the quality of the team we have and the strength of the industry, success is something we expect.”

For more information on Alabama’s Forest Products Industry, visit Amazing Alabama.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

‘Rivals’ Tuscaloosa and Auburn are shaping Alabama’s future

(City of Tuscaloosa/Facebook, Josh Hallett/Flickr)

Tuscaloosa and Auburn have a lot in common.

That assessment might give pause to passionate fans on both sides of what has been called college football’s greatest traditional rivalry. But if the subject is small-but-thriving communities that continue to expand their established industrial base while nurturing new businesses in emerging innovation sectors, the two cities – along with Tuscaloosa and Lee counties – offer a similar range of compelling advantages.

Start with the fact that both are home to major universities – the University of Alabama and Auburn University – with all of the attendant impacts on everything from K-12 education to arts and culture to economic development. Add low costs of living and doing business, numerous locational benefits and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation year-round, and the term “quality of life” becomes apparent in all its facets.


“If you dig deep into quality of life, you’re looking at actual facts,” said Arndt Siepmann, deputy director of economic development for the city of Auburn. “You’re looking at schools, housing, public safety and the ways those things contribute not just to profitability, but to the ability to attract and retain great people. A healthy community and a healthy business climate go hand in hand.”

The same is true in Tuscaloosa, where Danielle Winningham is executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA). What Winningham describes as “a small-town feel with the amenities of a bigger city” is reflected in housing options, the availability of parks and the variety of retail options, in addition to a growing population and a dependable, qualified and skilled available workforce.

“It’s that combination of factors that makes this area so vibrant,” Winningham said.

Both communities are situated in the heart of the Southeast, offering convenient access to larger markets. Located near Alabama’s western border, Tuscaloosa is served by Interstate Highway 20/59, one of the nation’s busiest commercial corridors. It is 50 miles from Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city and home to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Across the state, near its eastern border, Auburn is connected by Interstate Highway 85 to Atlanta and its international airport, just over 100 miles away.

Meeting the coming demand

Looking to the future, Tuscaloosa and Auburn have strategically developed assets and partnerships that position them for long-term growth in areas related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. The universities are playing increasingly active roles in nurturing, supporting and accelerating a variety of sectors with high-growth potential – including software development, defense and cybersecurity, IT, and medical and other advanced manufacturing – as well as finding new ways to build on long-standing strengths in the automotive sector.

What’s more, both communities are recognized as developing labor markets for computer programmers. Currently, Auburn ranks No. 1 and Tuscaloosa No. 3 among all U.S. metro areas for computer programming cost factors, with that field projected to add well over 500,000 new jobs to the state economy by 2026. Alabama and Auburn have strong computer science programs at undergraduate and graduate levels and are highly attuned to meeting the coming demand.

“We’re putting a real emphasis on diversifying around knowledge-based industries,” said Winningham. “We recognize that both our existing industry base and those sectors that are just beginning to emerge have an important part to play in ensuring that our community continues to prosper in the future.”

One of the results of that strategy, Winningham points out, is The Edge, a 26,300-square-foot incubator and accelerator that provides office space, workstations, conference rooms and wet labs to knowledge-based startups and early-stage ventures. A partnership of the University of Alabama, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, The Edge continues to see steady growth in the number of businesses and individuals it serves, from 28 businesses and 50 people in June 2019 to 39 businesses and 90 people a year later.

In addition, the University of Alabama’s technology incubator, Edge Labs, incubated five university spinoff companies in 2019: 525 Solutions, an R&D company developing liquid technologies for the medical, pharmaceutical and materials fields; ThruPore Technologies, which produces innovative specialty materials for industrial uses; JAQ Energy, a developer of new technologies for power electronic and energy systems; and ForeSense Technologies, which is commercializing technology – developed by University of Alabama researchers, working with U.S. Army scientists – that uses electrical signals to quickly detect hazardous airborne chemicals.

“These companies are great examples of our vision for the future,” said Winningham. “It’s about connecting creators, builders and visionaries with the resources they need to be successful.”

In Auburn, a twofold strategy is accelerating the build-out of what already is a robust innovation infrastructure. The 170-acre Auburn Research Park, a partnership of the city of Auburn and Auburn University managed by the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, supports development of knowledge-based jobs in a setting adjacent to the university campus, with its fifth new facility – the 100,000-square-foot Research and Innovation Center – having opened this fall. The city and the university are working with local manufacturing companies to optimize collaboration around innovation.

“Manufacturing innovation is happening here,” Siepmann said. “We’re finding the answers to questions like, ‘Where are the best employees?’ and ‘What is the best training?’ Increased automation means increased demand for engineers and technicians from technology-based value-added manufacturing companies. Supporting that also helps drive innovation in other areas.”

Siepmann reels off three companies that exemplify Auburn’s growing success in leveraging and expanding its innovation infrastructure:

  • GE Aviation recently completed a $50 million expansion of its aerospace additive manufacturing operation to incorporate 3D printing technologies; the project created 60 new jobs.
  • RAPA, the U.S headquarters for German-based Rausch & Pausch. The company produces high-precision automotive parts, using Auburn-based R&D.
  • Sio2, a homegrown company that has for many years manufactured glass vials for medical and scientific uses. In July, the company announced a $163 million expansion after receiving a contract to supply the federal government with glass-lined plastic vials to support efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19; the project will create 220 jobs.

Siepmann also mentioned Auburn’s additive manufacturing accelerator, funded through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Currently, the program is working with 10 existing companies and three startups.

“We are providing steppingstones for companies and founders to learn about the viability of technology in their operations,” said Siepmann. “Auburn is a great example of how economic developers can leverage the assets of a university and state government to accelerate innovation and business development.”

All of which adds up to one more thing that Auburn and Tuscaloosa have in common: A bright future.

(For more information about innovation and opportunities in Alabama, contact Amendi Stephens)

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Bronze Valley Accelerator names director, accepting applications from Alabama startups

(Bronze Valley Accelerator/Contributed)

Bronze Valley Accelerator has hired Haley Medved Kendrick as its director and has announced startups from Birmingham, Alabama and throughout the Southeast can apply for the program.

Kendrick comes to Bronze Valley Accelerator with a background in economic development and building public-private partnerships in Birmingham’s technology sector, most recently as executive director of Innovate Birmingham.

Nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor and Birmingham’s Bronze Valley announced in July they were launching the Bronze Valley Accelerator program, ​a free accelerator program for local startups with local roots.


“We look forward to working with Haley,” said Bronze Valley President and CEO Neill S. Wright. “Her knowledge, background and enthusiasm are a tremendous addition to our efforts. Certainly, the accelerator enhances the ability to provide critical support for the kind of growth Bronze Valley is here to encourage.”

The program provides participants with intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, potential customers, corporate partners and investors. The program is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea and establish metrics that make them competitive applicants for full-time accelerators or seed investment.

Applications are currently open and startups are encouraged to apply. The deadline to apply is Sept. 11 with the inaugural fall 2020 cohort beginning Oct. 1. The program will take place virtually this fall.

Participants will be selected from Birmingham, the state of Alabama and throughout the Southeast, and the program will work with companies across all industries and business models. The program will be geared toward helping underrepresented founders – specifically, people of color and women – as well as students and affiliates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) accelerate their businesses.

“Look at the numbers,” Kendrick said. “Companies with diverse founders tend to outperform their competitors and return more to investors. By investing in the success of underrepresented entrepreneurs, the Bronze Valley Accelerator is also making Birmingham, and the region as a whole, more competitive economically.”

Kendrick is available for free, one-on-one virtual meetings with potential applicants interested in learning more about the Bronze Valley Accelerator. To schedule a virtual meeting, visit More information about the program is available at

“As an entrepreneur, you’re focused on your company’s growth,” Kendrick said. “Our role is to come alongside you and provide the kind of support you need to make that growth happen.”

The accelerator is supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Commerce. The Bronze Valley Accelerator is held three times per year, with five Alabama-based companies accepted per cohort to ensure a high level of individualized attention. The Bronze Valley Accelerator works with companies across all industries and business models. Those interested in learning more can reach out to Bronze Valley Accelerator Director Kendrick at​ or visit ​

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Birmingham’s Bronze Valley wins federal grant to support entrepreneurial development

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Bronze Valley has been awarded a grant by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The $284,500 grant, which will support Bronze Valley’s strategy for making startup funding more accessible to entrepreneurs from underrepresented ethnic, gender and income groups, was announced July 23.

“We are extremely pleased and excited with our success in this competitive grant process,” said Bronze Valley President Neill S. Wright. “Minority and female entrepreneurs are changing the face of business and technology with every success. The EDA grant will further our mission of making more and greater success possible for groups that historically have been underfunded and often underestimated.” 


Bronze Valley is one of 18 entities nationwide — and three in the Southeast — to receive funding through the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Seed Fund Support grant competition for 2019. The grants provide funding for capacity-building programs that assist innovators, entrepreneurs and organizations that support startups with early-stage funding. According to EDA, the competition is part of its commitment to “fostering connected, innovation-centric economic sectors that support the conversion of research into products and services, businesses and ultimately jobs through entrepreneurship.”

Specifically, the grant to Bronze Valley will support the Empower Alabama Fund. Created to recruit and deploy seed-stage capital and otherwise ensure the presence of funding opportunities that will help scale a diverse innovation ecosystem, the fund also focuses on maximizing the impact of federally designated Opportunity Zones on economic growth in Birmingham. Bronze Valley’s goal over the next three years is to invest in 20 startups with an average investment of $50,000, and to educate 150 startups and 300 private investors through its Startup & Investor Education Program. The longer-term goal is to expand the Empower Alabama Fund beyond the Birmingham region.

“We have tremendous opportunities,” Wright said. “Bronze Valley is bringing innovation, ideas and thought together with capital and mentorship to create change. Through those efforts, we can help improve the lives of not only individual entrepreneurs, but of our community, our state, our region and the nation as a whole.

“Winning this grant is part of that process, and another step that we can continue to build on,” he said.

Launched in late 2017, Bronze Valley is working to create an education-to-opportunity-to-outcome pipeline for ethnic minorities and women in technology careers, the entrepreneurial ranks and other fields in which innovators will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future. In addition to providing access to capital, Bronze Valley’s efforts are concentrated on workforce development and providing value-added services to entrepreneurs.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Civic innovation panel considers Birmingham’s future

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

“It’s about building an ecosystem that enables people to thrive,” declared Anthony Hood. “It takes partnerships between universities, the corporate community, nonprofits and elected officials. That means cooperation and, in Birmingham, we’ve never seen the level of cooperation that we’re seeing today.”

Hood is director of civic innovation at UAB, and his comments came in the introduction of a panel on that topic at the 15th annual A.G. Gaston Conference in Birmingham. The conference bears the name of the late entrepreneur and philanthropist who was a grandson of slaves and built a business empire in the segregated Birmingham of the mid-20th century. By the time of his death in 1996, at the age of 103, Gaston had long been hailed as one of Alabama’s greatest citizens.


The 2019 edition of the conference was devoted to the theme “One Vision, One Cause: Elevating African-American Entrepreneurship.” That theme reflects the current attitude in Birmingham, a city that is enjoying what numerous speakers referred to as a “renaissance” as it continues to emerge as a center for technology-related business growth.

Hood’s civic innovation panel picked up on that theme. But the discussion also stressed economic and social gaps that must be addressed to ensure the presence of a workforce to support Birmingham’s continued growth.

“We have to be honest about the context in which we’re working,” said Kellie Clark, director of operations for Innovate Birmingham, a public-private partnership tasked with fostering inclusion and delivering increased economic prosperity. Clark said one aspect of fulfilling the mission of connecting talented people with prospective employers is providing wraparound services that ensure people can take advantage of programs.

“There are gaps in the pathway,” Clark said, mentioning the costs of housing, food and child care as obstacles that can stall or prevent people from developing their talent. “Wraparound services are crucial. If we want to maximize the potential of our workforce, that’s not charity, it’s necessity.”

That attitude is part of a comprehensive approach to business attraction and workforce development that will distinguish Birmingham in coming years, said Rachel Harmon, deputy director of talent development for the city of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. Calling that approach “critical to making sure economic growth is inclusive,” Harmon added that “not a ton of cities have figured out how to do this well.”

“Single-minded approaches to economic development often fail,” Harmon said. “We have to think not just about attracting jobs, but about the quality of jobs we’re targeting. We also have to think about giving people the ability to be entrepreneurs, to create jobs for themselves. We need to make sure that all of those pathways are open.”

Adrienne Starks is founder and CEO of STREAM Innovations, a Birmingham nonprofit that helps students develop and explore their talents in science, technology, reading, engineering, the arts and mathematics. She said that, regardless of the discipline to which they may be inclined, there is a common thread for helping students excel.

“They’re waiting for us,” Starks said. “It’s up to us to create opportunities for them to express themselves.”

Access is a key ingredient to ensuring young people are positioned to take advantage of opportunities. That’s according to Brittney Smith, who recently left her role as manager of workforce development for the Birmingham Business Alliance to take on a similar position for Birmingham-based Protective Life. Smith stresses the value of networking, as companies sometimes overlook talented potential hires who are “right in their own backyard,” most particularly products of historically black colleges and universities. Making sure that doesn’t happen, she said, is key to optimizing Birmingham’s continued economic growth — and ensuring the local workforce is reaching its potential.

“How can we help companies make sure they’re not overlooking great talent?” Smith asked. “How can we challenge them to be a part of developing a pipeline for diversity and inclusion?”

From the corporate side of the economic growth equation, Alabama Power Company’s Ralph Williams echoed moderator Hood’s comments about the fruits of cooperation. He pointed to his company’s partnership with City Hall on “Smart City” initiatives aimed at enhancing public safety, including the recent placement of 21,000 LED lights on poles throughout Birmingham. Beyond such visible improvements, he said, the key is bringing together partners who are “being thoughtful and intentional about the future.”

“This is a wonderful time to live in Birmingham,” said Williams, government and community relations manager for Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division. “We’re only beginning to see the results of what can happen when we’re thoughtful about economic development, about the kinds of jobs we’re bringing to our community, about all of these things that have a positive impact.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)