The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

2 days 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.

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“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)

3 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.

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“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 bronzevalleyaccelerator.com/office-hours. More information about the program is available at bronzevalleyaccelerator.com.

“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 haley@gener8tor.com​ or visit ​bronzevalleyaccelerator.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year 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.” 

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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.

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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)