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.

7 hours ago

Ed Farm hires Waymond Jackson as CEO of the Apple initiative in Alabama

(Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

Ed Farm has hired Waymond Jackson Jr. as its first CEO.

Short for “education farm,” the tech-focused education and workforce development initiative backed by Apple and the Alabama Power Foundation is already showing its value in the COVID-19 crisis. Jackson told Alabama NewsCenter he is looking at ways Ed Farm can build on its current work and what it looks like after the pandemic.

“Ed Farm, I think the program itself, could not have come at a better time,” he said. “When you think about the mission of that organization or what the program talks about – digital learning skills, equipping teachers with new-age technology for digital, transformative learning. You think about what’s occurring now with school not being in and you’re having to shift to a digital learning environment. A lot of the programming that exists at Ed Farm right now is set up to help in that way.”


Waymond Jackson named CEO of Ed Farm from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Although Ed Farm was announced Feb. 27, one of its key programs, Teacher Fellows, spent more than a year prior to that equipping teachers in the Birmingham City Schools system to provide innovative approaches to the classroom, including distance learning.

As CEO, Jackson will be in charge of managing and developing external partnerships, recruiting funding partners, overseeing Ed Farm program expansion and launching a global education technology accelerator in Birmingham and beyond.

He expects Ed Farm to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a great story to share with the world. In fact, discussions of where Ed Farm goes after COVID-19 are taking place with Apple and others.

“One of the things that’s been talked about with Ed Farm is this idea of having a global education technology accelerator right here in Birmingham that will bring people from all across the world to launch education technology here,” Jackson said. “When you think about the response that needs to come next, this is the perfect time for entrepreneurs and educators and individuals who have a passion for education, who have a passion for increasing education aptitude in not only urban areas, but in rural areas, to come together in an accelerator type of environment to look at those ideas that need to be in place to advance education now and education in the future.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook, an Alabama native, was in Birmingham for Ed Farm’s launch in February.

“The Ed Farm is about clearing a path for anyone – of any age, background or interest – whether or not they’re destined for a career in technology,” Cook said at the launc. “This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, of a strong vision for the future, of the tireless advocacy of educators, students and Birmingham leaders. With the team we’ve built here, with the Birmingham community, and with an abiding faith in education’s power as a ‘great equalizer’ – I’m grateful to walk this path together, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

Apple’s Community Education Initiative has given Ed Farm hardware, software, funding and professional learning support. The program will use Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum, which is being used in more than 5,000 schools around the world.

Adding Jackson as CEO is another key part of Ed Farm’s foundation, officials said.

“Waymond has the leadership skills and industry knowledge necessary for advancing Ed Farm’s mission,” said Anthony Oni, chairman of Ed Farm. “His workforce development experience aligns perfectly with our need to connect learners to the education, technology and support they need to enter the workforce prepared to lead and compete globally.”

Deon Gordon, president and CEO of TechBirmingham, said Jackson steps into the new job with a keen understanding of Ed Farm.

“Waymond has been a part of our efforts to elevate Ed Farm and deepen our region’s relationship with Apple practically since the beginning,” he said. “He is board chairman of TechBirmingham and I’m super excited to see the impact both organizations will continue to make through our partnership and due to his leadership as we grow and scale.”

Before joining Ed Farm, Jackson was senior vice president of Public Policy for the Birmingham Business Alliance, where he earned a national reputation for advancing workforce development initiatives. Most notably, Jackson founded OnBoard Birmingham and the Talent Recruitment Project – the Birmingham Business Alliance’s first early talent retention and recruitment program.

“This is a great leadership opportunity for Waymond and a natural progression for him following the work he has done at the Birmingham Business Alliance in workforce development and public policy,” said Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the BBA. “Because the BBA is currently looking for a new CEO, Waymond’s position won’t immediately be filled. The BBA is fortunate to have in place an experienced team in public policy, talent attraction and community development to ensure a seamless transition for our Investors and community partners.”

Jackson is excited about his new role.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization, to work with the team that’s at the Ed Farm, to work with the great board members that are there and the strong corporate partners that we have right now in Apple and Alabama Power,” Jackson said.

Jackson will help lead Ed Farm as it scales beyond its pilot programs.

“The beauty about Ed Farm and how it is set up now is Birmingham is just the tip of the iceberg for this initiative,” he said. “This is something that has been pitched as being here in Birmingham, but having a global reach, a global impact. So we’re well underway in thinking through what that looks like.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Birmingham World Games 2021 assessing ramifications of 2020 Olympics COVID-19 decision


The International Olympic Committee’s decision today to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games that were to take place in Tokyo this summer could have ramifications for the 2021 World Games slated for Birmingham next summer.

Based on guidance from the World Health Organization, the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee made the decision to push the Olympics to sometime next year before fall.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC president and the prime minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” organizers said in a statement.


In Birmingham, it’s not yet clear what the decision means for the 2021 World Games, which is recognized by the IOC and intentionally held in an off year from the Olympic Games.

“With the announcement of the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games, there has been considerable speculation regarding its impact on The World Games 2021 Birmingham,” said Nick Sellers, CEO of the 2021 World Games Birmingham. “We have been keeping a close eye on the situation and have remained in constant contact with the International World Games Association.”

Sellers said for now preparations will continue to ensure Birmingham is ready to be an impressive host.

“At this time, it would be premature to speculate about potential changes to our event until we receive more information from the IOC on its specific plans,” he said. “However, we remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering a world-class experience in Birmingham and are confident in a positive outcome for our athletes, fans and community.”

The Olympics organizers are also committed to holding a successful event, even if the date is unknown.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the IOC statement said. “Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Ambassador Rick Barton wants to change the dynamics of how the U.S. approaches conflict

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Rick Barton knows what the U.S. can do to resolve conflict in the world, and he believes there is often a better way to do it.

The man who started USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives and was America’s ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in New York, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for refugees in Geneva and the first assistant secretary of state for Conflict and Stabilization Operations certainly has the credentials to express an informed opinion.

Barton has written a book, “Peace Works: America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World.”


“’Peace Works’ is an effort to show that we can be more successful both in preventing war and mitigating wars going on and then getting out of wars, which is really hard to do,” Barton told Alabama NewsCenter. “The United States can be among the creative leaders in the space. I try to do that through telling stories, setting up the history and giving people practical steps that we can take to be more effective.”

Ambassador Rick Barton shares solutions for America’s role in conflicts in his book ‘Peace Works’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Barton worked for 25 years leading conflict management initiatives in 40 places of conflict and developed a sense for what worked and what didn’t.

“In particular, these longer occupations really show that it can be problematic for democracies to remain or even occupy other countries for too long,” he said. “The military wants to get out of them. The civilians want to get out of them. But we have to do that in a thoughtful way and that’s really what I try to present.”

Barton was recently in Alabama, speaking to students at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery and the Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations. It was a natural progression given that Barton started up the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and was deputy high commissioner of the UN’s refugee agency. He has worked in most, if not all, of the hot spots around the world.

“I felt that if the American public really wanted to see improvement, they would have to know how to do it,” he said. “I thought the best way to get their attention was to start with ‘Once upon a time.’ As long as you tell a story, Americans want to hear the end, especially if you suggest that we can live happily ever after.”

Given that Barton spent time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Bosnia, Haiti and Rwanda, he has a keen understanding in what works and what doesn’t. Much of the book shows ways it’s been done effectively using local media and other means without doing everything militarily to achieve goals.

“The United States is in an incredibly advantageous position,” Barton said. “We are the country that a lot of other countries invite into the room. But that doesn’t mean we can abuse that privilege, and we have to perform. A good way to do it is with American creativity, American ingenuity, bringing new ideas to old problems rather than thinking that just the same old way is going to serve this time.”

Barton said he found the Alabama audiences receptive to his ideas.

“I’ve enjoyed the meetings here in Alabama,” he said. “People find the book readable because they’re learning at the same time that they’re solving tough riddles and I think Americans like to be on the solution side of things.”

Barton teaches in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, where he is co-director of Princeton’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative and Ullman Fellowships.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Birmingham World Games 2021 starts 500-day countdown, adds two corporate sponsors

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham will host the 2021 World Games in 500 days and a local firm will produce the all-important opening and closing ceremonies.

Birmingham World Games officials launched the 500-day countdown today with an event at the Birmingham CrossPlex, one of the 20 venues in the greater Birmingham area that will host competitions.

In addition to being a competition venue, Legion Field will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the games. The World Games announced today that LRY Media Group has been awarded the contract to manage those ceremonies. It is the first major contract awarded through the World of Opportunity supplier diversity program.


World Games marks 500 Day mark, adds new corporate sponsors from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“The Opening Ceremony, Closing Ceremony and the World Games Plaza will be our opportunity to establish the entire mood, tone and energy of this amazing experience,” said Rashada LeRoy, president and CEO of LRY. “For me, there is no higher honor than being selected to be the author of those key attributes for the World Games 2021.”

The World Games 2021 Birmingham will take place July 15-25, 2021 and will generate an estimated $256 million in economic impact for the city.

RELATED: Birmingham ramping up preparation for 2021 World Games

Also announced today were two new corporate sponsors.

Atlanta-based ICON Health is a foundation partner and the presenting sponsor of the World Games 2021 Sports Garden, which will feature sports exhibitions, athlete interactions and hands-on educational activities. ICON Health will also develop a Healthy Eating, Active Living (H.E.A.L.) Campaign for the state of Alabama, in conjunction with the World Games 2021 activities. The H.E.A.L. campaign kicks off Monday, May 25, 2020 during the First Annual Alabama 5K Run, Rock and Roll, which combines a 5K walk and run with a music festival to take place in Five Points South.

“ICON Health is thrilled to be a part of the World Games 2021 activities,” said Frank Lawrence III, founder of ICON Health. “As a native of Birmingham, Alabama, I’ve searched for ways to give back to the city of Birmingham in hopes of making an impact on future generations. Alabama is fertile ground for new ventures in health, education, technology and entertainment, and the world is taking note of this. The World Games 2021 represents such an opportunity and it is our pleasure to work alongside the city of Birmingham and the Birmingham Organizing Committee to make this event memorable for years to come.”

Birmingham-based Medical Properties Trust is a premiere partner and presenting sponsor of the Children’s Program of the World Games 2021, focusing on the youth experience, including World Games Plaza’s Kids’ Zone as well as children’s programming throughout the 10-day event. The company will provide free admission to the World Games 2021 for children 12 and under with a ticketed adult and will facilitate daily athlete appearances at Children’s of Alabama.

“We are delighted to be the presenting sponsor of the Children’s Program of the World Games 2021,” Edward K. Aldag Jr., president and CEO of Medical Properties Trust, said in a statement. “Birmingham will be hosting athletes and spectators from around the globe for this unique, multisport event and MPT is excited to support this major opportunity for our city. We are particularly pleased to help the children in our community to experience and fully enjoy the World Games through the various aspects of our sponsorship.”

ICON Health and Medical Properties Trust join corporate sponsors Alabama PowerProtective LifeRegions BankBlue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and Shipt.

“Each one of our partners plays a vital role in helping us achieve the goals we’ve set for the World Games 2021,” said Nick Sellers, CEO of the World Games 2021 Birmingham. “By partnering together, we are ensuring that this once-in-a-lifetime event will be truly unforgettable for our city. The investment these companies have made in both the 2021 Games and the Birmingham community will resonate long after the Closing Ceremony – we look forward to working together to achieve the best athlete, fan and visitor experience possible over the next 500 days.”

Children from Glen Iris Elementary School and Epic Alternative Elementary School helped mark the 500-day countdown by participating in some of the games that will be part of the 2021 World Games.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recruited Glen Iris student Zaniyah Jefferson to read his remarks at the event.

“The World Games 2021 will truly be a milestone for the city of Birmingham,” Woodfin said in a statement. “From the unprecedented economic impact, to the community programs for all of our residents, to the world-class sports – this event will be unforgettable. I am particularly pleased with the momentum being built through the World of Opportunity supplier diversity program. As a city, we look forward to seeing the results of our hard work over the next 500 days.”

The event included the unveiling of a highway sign that will be placed on the state-line signs on all the interstates leading into Alabama, declaring it “Home of the World Games 2021.”

Birmingham anticipates more than 3,600 athletes and 1,500 credentialed media from more than 100 countries. An additional 15,000 to 20,000 international guests and up to 500,000 fans and spectators from Alabama and surrounding states could attend. NBC Sports will broadcast live from Birmingham during the 10 days.

Comedian and filmmaker Roy Wood Jr. recently told Alabama NewsCenter he looks at the World Games as an opportunity for Birmingham to shine.

“I think the next big mile marker for Birmingham in my opinion is the World Games,” he said. “That’s going to be a very important show of just how great of a city this is.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Roy Wood Jr. wants to help grow the television and film industry in Alabama

(Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Comedian Roy Wood Jr. came home to Birmingham to produce a television show but ended up playing the part of Nick Fury in the Avengers movies … sort of.

“Organizing the infrastructure needed to make sure a television show could happen here in terms of finding all of the resources – you knew they were here but you had to find them,” Wood said. “It was like Samuel L. Jackson in the Avengers movies going around from hero to hero to form the Avengers. You had to go to Iron Man, ‘Hey, do you have a camera? Cool.’ You had to go to Captain America, ‘Hey, do you have a truck with stuff in it? Cool.’ Then you’ve got to go over to the Hulk, ‘Hey, Hulk, we’re trying to shoot a TV show. Do you have lights? Do you have a building where we can put the camera and the truck stuff? Cool.’ ‘Hey, Comedy Central, these guys have trucks, lights, cameras and it’s just as affordable as Atlanta. Can I do my show?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Thank you.’”

It took Wood 18 months to assemble the pieces needed to produce a television show pilot in Birmingham and show Comedy Central he could do it at a cost that compared to Atlanta.


“It was worth it because at the end of the day we were able to shoot the pilot for ‘Jefferson County: Probation’ here in the state,” Wood said.

Roy Wood Jr. talks filming Comedy Central pilot in Birmingham, growing film industry in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He did so with a 90-person crew, 60 of them Alabamians and many of them minorities.

“It was a very inclusive crew and staff and that’s something that I’m very, very proud of,” Wood said. “Because, ultimately, where film and television are concerned, if you’re trying to grow an industry, there has to be opportunities to work and so many people look past Alabama. To be from here and have an opportunity to shoot a project and to not fight first for Alabama to be a place, I would be remiss if I didn’t do that.”

The pilot for “Jefferson County: Probation” is still in development at Comedy Central.

“We’re looking at maybe reshooting a scene or two and maybe reworking some of the script,” Wood said. “I still maintain a great relationship with Comedy Central, lots of projects in the hopper. ‘JeffCo’ is just one of those that’s taking a little longer to get done.”

Wood hopes that the show gets picked up and he intends to shoot it and some of his other ideas for shows in Alabama.

Alabama has had some success getting movies to shoot here.

The Alabama Film Office reported 20 film and TV productions qualified for state incentives in 2019 and spent nearly $72 million while in Alabama, up from $63.5 million during the previous year.

“Film productions have a huge economic impact when they come to a community,” Kathy Faulk of the Alabama Film Office said in a recent story. “Many local behind-the-scenes crew, such as carpenters, electricians, painters, technicians, make-up artists and extras are hired. Creating jobs is what this is all about.”.

While such one-off projects are important, Wood said a television show can be even more significant.

“Film is very important to things working in a place, but I honestly believe that TV can help sustain a market,” he said. “You need a television show that shoots regularly, and not just reality shows. I know that there are reality shows that shoot in the state and they are viable and they are important, but if you have a scripted show, that is shooting 10 to 13 episodes on a regular revolving door.”

Wood joked that just like Chicago has a growing list of shows with “Chicago” in their names, he doesn’t see why the same couldn’t happen for Birmingham.

“’Chicago Med,’ ‘Chicago Fire,’ ‘Chicago Pizza,’ ‘Chicago Truck,’ ‘Chicago Hospital,’ ‘Chicago Police,’ like, that’s what I dream for, but in the short term, we just hope that the pilot comes together and that Comedy Central gives us the green light,” Wood said. “In the meantime, we continue to develop the show. And that’s not the only project. The more stuff that I write, the things that I create, I think there are ways to do things around here that are just as on point as anywhere else in the country.”

“Jefferson County: Probation” was inspired by Wood’s own brush with the law as a teenager when he was able to avoid jail and serve time on probation for attempting to use a stolen credit card to buy some blue jeans. The experience taught him how great of a role probation officers play in helping people go straight.

“What I discovered was how much of the system is based on just whether or not someone cares,” he said. “This is a television show about what would happen to recidivism if more people cared and also if the people on probation always did the right thing.”

It’s a different part of the criminal justice system than we’re used to seeing on television, Wood said.

“I think it’s a story about an honest piece of America that’s rarely discussed,” he said. “When you generally discuss law enforcement and entertainment, it’s either catch the crook, court with the crook or the crook in jail. There’s never a conversation about what it looks like to re-enter society as a different person or maybe you didn’t change. Either way it’s about the men and women that work day in, day out to interact with these people to help give them the opportunities to rebuild their lives after making bad mistakes.

“The job of probation (officer) is considered law enforcement, but I think it’s probably 70% social work,” he said.

Expanding an industry

Wood would like to see it easier for other movies and television shows to be produced in the state.

“There were so many problems that I had to solve first, before even making the proposal to Comedy Central,” he said. “When I talk about that, I’m talking about things like just making sure that there’s just the infrastructure of just having the proper grip trucks that you need – the things that you need just in terms of making sure that you have trained crew.”

He wants to be involved in finding the solution.

“I think doing what I can to build film and TV in Alabama is very important,” Wood said. “This isn’t something that’s exclusive to Birmingham. There are great vistas down in Mobile. Mobile has a very strong production crew. Huntsville is making noise. To me, this is about the state of Alabama and if I have an opportunity to bring my projects here that are ‘bona fide’ by the (West) Coast, then it helps to bonify the state. That’s not a bad thing and I think that’s a very fair contribution.”

Wood grew up in Birmingham and he said he learned to appreciate the city and the state after he left it. Wood said he soon learned that building up the image of Alabama was more important than trying to build up the image of Birmingham.

“I think that Alabama stands to gain as a group,” he said. “The reason why building Alabama is important is because when you leave your respective city in Alabama, nobody cares about your city, they just say, ‘You’re from Alabama’ and then they crack jokes or they make assumptions on you based on the state you’re from, not the city. So, whether you like it or not, when you leave Birmingham, when you leave Huntsville, when you leave Tuscaloosa, to the rest of the world, you’re just from Alabama. They ain’t got time to separate us because they think we’re all dumb. So, to me, it’s important to uplift the state and talk about the state as a whole because once those perceptions change, then I think that’s where you can have a lot more growth.”

Not that Wood is interested in taking on everyone who has something negative to say about the state.

“In the meantime, we can’t be worried about what the outside thinks about us, we have to rebuild and repair from within,” he said. “I think that Alabama’s a very resilient place. I think it’s a place that is very focused on growth. There are a lot of people in this state that I believe don’t do things that benefit this state. There are a lot of people in positions, in elected positions in this state that I truly don’t believe are for this state. But in spite of that, we’ve still got to work and pull your bootstraps up because if there’s one thing that’s clear, there’s nobody on the outside gonna help us.”

Wood’s father worked in radio and, after going to Florida for college, Wood would return to Birmingham where he got a job at 95.7 JAMZ in 2001. His comedy skits on the radio and his work on his stand-up comedy career earned him recognition at Comedy Central and a regular spot on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

These days, Wood very much wants to use his standing with the network to help make his home state better. He’s become an ambassador for Birmingham and Alabama to his friends in Hollywood and New York and when he brings them to town he takes them to places like Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-QNiki’s WestGreen AcresMilo’s and Yo’ Mama’s.

“When I’m home, I’m trying to get all of the stuff I can’t get when I’m somewhere else,” Wood said. “If I come home and my friend wants to go to Applebee’s, I’ll curse them out. No disrespect to Applebee’s, but I can get that other places. When I’m home, you can’t get Niki’s West in New York City.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama singer Bailey Coats releases new single, ‘SNACK’

(Bailey Coats/Contributed)

It’s been nearly a year and half since Bailey Coats has fed us new music. But the Birmingham singer/songwriter said she has two dozen songs ready for fans to feast on starting with the release today of “SNACK.”

“I’m looking forward to releasing those this year, but more importantly I’m looking forward to getting the single out this week,” Coats told Alabama NewsCenter.

Coats assembled those songs working with two production teams in Atlanta and Los Angeles the past year.


Alabama singer / songwriter Bailey Coats releases new single ‘SNACK’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The first new release is “SNACK,” out today. It stems from a reference some make toward girls, including one of Coats’ friends.

Coats was hanging out with some friends and one of her guy friends was looking at girls on Instagram and said, “Dang, she looks like a snack.”

“I said, ‘Tyler, I know her. Why are you calling her a snack?’ and he said, ‘It’s just a saying,’” Coats said.

The topic of the word “snack” in that context got Coats thinking about making it into a song. She was getting ready to go into the studio with producer Wirlie Moris to write three new songs.

“I just called him and I said, ‘Wirlie, I have an idea for something,’” Coats remembered. She sang “Looking like a snack, ay” to a particular beat to Morris over the phone.

“He just took the idea and ran with it and had so much fun creating it and then my awesome co-writer, Traci Hale, came in and we just finished all the different lyrics and ended up recording it in my closet and ever since then we have just had the opportunity to see where this thing can go,” she said.

“SNACK” is a bit too quirky and tongue-in-cheek to be a “Me Too” anthem but it also has a message of empowerment that keeps it from being dismissive.

More than anything, it is Coats’ most pop release to date. Whereas her last single, “Deep Within,” found a home on country radio, there is little chance “SNACK” will do the same.

“It definitely is not a country song by any means,” Coats said. “But that’s what’s been so great about music in general is that it’s so subjective to the listener, rather than being something that is so concretely defined. And plus, with the way that barriers are being broken in the music industry today is that anything can cross over, which is so exciting and so fun for all artists.”


Coats said the sound of “SNACK” is true to who she is.

“Pop is pretty much my wheelhouse,” she said. “It’s always been my passion, always been something I’ve been very, very excited to pursue and now I have a single that really and truly gets to reflect me in the most authentic and natural way possible.”

In addition to recording 24 songs over the past several months, Coats graduated from the University of Alabama with a marketing degree. Since finishing college, she’s had more time to devote to her music career.

She plans on building up her fan base by releasing singles. At some point she hopes to be ready to work on constructing a whole album of songs.

The other songs Coats has helped write and record explore other sides of her personality. She said there is quirky, strange, weird, dark, emotional, happy, sad and a bit of everything in the songs.

She really wants to communicate to others through music and she’s approaching her songs with that intent.

So far, the reaction to “SNACK” for those she’s played it to has been what she hoped.

“It’s been such a great, overwhelmingly positive response,” Coats said. “It definitely is nerve-wracking, I feel like, whenever you’re putting new music out. I really and truly had not put anything out for a year and a half or so. This project has been under wraps for the last seven or eight months, and it’s something that’s like my baby. So, for me, getting this very, very positive response and people just enjoying the quirkiness of it and just the way that it really and truly is something so different and so strange, but also so much fun. I’m excited for more people to get to hear it and to see where this thing can go.”

As far as where Coats can go, she still has pop star ambitions.

“I definitely have my goals very, very big and very, very high,” she said. “I definitely want to be one of the biggest artists in the world someday and I 100% believe that the Lord put that on my heart where I can 100% do it. Just keep on fighting, keep on going and, most importantly, making music and getting to be my 100% self.”

You can stream “SNACK” on Spotify or through Bailey Coats’ website. She is also on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

$24 million redevelopment of Birmingham’s American Life building passes halfway mark

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

The $24 million redevelopment of the American Life building has passed the halfway point on its way to opening up later this year as 140 “workforce housing” apartments.

Developer Ed Ticheli took Alabama NewsCenter and officials, including U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, on a tour of the 12-story building to showcase how the former office tower is being transformed into apartments with more affordable rent for those wanting to live downtown closer to where they work.


“We’re at 50% construction completion today,” Ticheli said. “It’s a stellar day for the American Life building.”

The project is being viewed nationally as an example of how to use the new federal opportunity zone program, which gives tax incentives to investors in economically distressed areas deemed opportunity zones in each state. The investments are designed to revitalize properties and spur economic development.

“This is the model for the United States opportunity zone project,” Ticheli said. “I’m very proud of that.”

American Life building comes back to life in Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Framing and drywall of the 140 apartments has started. There will be studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units available with rents ranging from $700 to $1,100 per month with the median price coming in about $900 per month.

“Very shortly, you’re going to see finished units in here,” Ticheli said. “The model will be coming. We’re going to start to lease in the next 30 days, pre-leasing.”

In addition to an $11 million investment from PNC’s OPZONE Community Development Fund and a $4.2 million PNC Bank loan, the redevelopment has received public and private funding and is accessing state and federal historic tax credits. AlabamaSAVES is providing a $2 million loan for the project’s green initiatives. The city of Birmingham approved $400,000 this week in infrastructure improvements tied to the project.

“This has been so many hands on the rope to make this possible for the city of Birmingham,” Ticheli said.

The 84,000-square-foot building on the corner of 18th Street and Third Avenue North has the ability to spur development in northeast downtown Birmingham.

“This will be like a generator for new things to come,” Ticheli predicted.

The apartments will provide great views and have natural light, thanks to about 140 windows on each side of the building.

“This place is like a light box and you’ve got unobstructed views of the city because we don’t have any other buildings next to us,” Ticheli said.

Five of the apartments are being reserved for the Dannon Project to rent to its clients. The Birmingham nonprofit helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.

Ticheli has been seeking to renovate the American Life Building, also known as the Stonewall Building, for decades. The project was announced with great fanfare in April 2019 and construction began in August.

The project is being managed by LMS Real Estate Investment ManagementWyatt Builds is the general contractor and the architect is Hendon and Huckestein Architects.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Secret History Tours offer a special glimpse into Mobile history and culture

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

With a city as old and storied as Mobile, the places and landmarks seem to be begging to tell their tales.

Thankfully, they have Todd Duren to do it for them.

Duren is tour guide and owner of Secret History Tours, a company that offers a variety of walking tours in and around downtown Mobile.

“I guarantee everybody, even old Mobilians, will learn something that they did not know,” Duren said.


Mobile’s ghosts, speakeasies and mystic traditions come alive on Secret History Tours from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This being Mardi Gras season, Duren’s most popular tour is Masks & Moon Pies. You can tell you’re on the right tour if Duren is carrying a rake with cowbells dangling from the business end. As you might expect, the prop has a historic connection to Mardi Gras in Mobile.

“Some people call (Mobile) ‘the birthplace of Mardi Gras.’ I call it the ‘mother of mystics,’” Duren said.

That’s because the first mystic society – those secret organizations that are now built all around Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and beyond – started in Mobile with the Cowbellion de Rakin Society.

As Duren tells it, some revelers on New Year’s Eve in 1835, led by Michael Kraft, broke into a hardware store and used rakes and cowbells to continue their raucous partying into the morning.

“The next day when someone would say, ‘What was the name of that organization that kept us awake all night?’ He said, ‘We are the Cowbellion de Rakin Society,” Duren said.

Some of Secret History Tours’ Mardi Gras tours end with access to balconies for parade watching.

There is also the Prohibition Cocktails tour that visits some of the city’s speakeasy locations and includes handcrafted cocktails. Three Centuries focuses on the rich history of the 315-year-old city. Automotive Alley has connections to industry and civil rights. Dark Secrets is full of ghost stories and spooky tales.

Each tour has its own meet-up spot where the journey begins.

Duren decided to start Secret History Tours after taking similar tours of cities like New Orleans.

“Our city has as much interesting things to talk about and show people as those other places do,” Duren said. “We have such a beautiful, charming, walkable downtown.”

This is Duren’s third year of doing the tours and he is pleased to see them growing in popularity.

“I’m having a good time and I seem to be getting a good audience,” he said.

As one might expect, Duren had to do a lot of research early on to learn all of the interesting history and put it together into a cohesive tour. Now, he can’t just casually walk downtown without stopping to note some interesting fact.

“A walking tour is different from a bus tour,” Duren said. “You have to put everything in a fairly contained, short amount of space and then you have to have interesting stories to tell. It’s more than just facts and dates. I always try to make it interesting and engaging for the audience. And so, I try to turn things into a sort of narrative that’s interesting for the guests.”

Customers can find and book tour dates on the Secret History Tours website. The company is also on Facebook.

“There’s something for everybody in our tours,” Duren said. “We usually offer two different tours at a time.”

Duren said Secret History Tours will in March offer Dark Secrets and Prohibition Cocktails.

He said around 75% of tourgoers are from in and around Mobile. Duren hopes the remaining 25% leave with a lasting, positive impression of Mobile.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Montgomery earns two Smart 50 awards for innovation

(City of Montgomery/Facebook)

Montgomery continues to be validated as an emerging city in technology and innovation.

The latest confirmation comes from the Capital City garnering two 2020 Smart 50 Awards from US Ignite and Smart Cities Connect.

Montgomery will be recognized for awards in the Urban Infrastructure and Digital Transformation categories at a ceremony April 6 in Denver.


The Urban Infrastructure was a collaboration with Alabama Power to upgrade more than 22,000 streetlights to energy-efficient LED systems. Montgomery anticipates saving approximately $600,000 in energy costs over the next five years. Moreover, the LED bulbs burn brighter and illuminate a larger area, resulting in fewer dark spots on the road and helping create safer neighborhoods and roadways.

The Digital Transformation nod was for the Montgomery Police Department’s use of STAR Watch, a new police-community technology initiative built around a real-time crime center using camera feeds across the city. The River Region Strategic Technology and Resource (STAR) Center is a state-of-the-art facility that takes in feeds from cameras of voluntarily enrolled residents and businesses across Montgomery. The cameras become a force-multiplier to increase overall public safety.

“Montgomery’s recognition on the world stage and our success in harnessing technology and innovation provide a solid foundation to work toward our vision of a city ready to lead in the knowledge-based economy,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said. “Our goal is to continue investing in innovative solutions that can cultivate an equitable city and result in quality-of-life transformations touching everything from public safety and thriving neighborhoods to education.”

This is the second consecutive year Montgomery has been recognized by Ignite and Smart Cities Connect. Montgomery received two awards last year for its achievements in Mobility and Urban Operations through partnerships with Rubicon and RoadBotics.

Griffith Waller, public relations specialist with the city of Montgomery, said the recognitions are indicative of where the city is moving through partnerships like it has with Alabama Power.

“We won last year and we won again this year, thanks in large part to what we’re working on with Alabama Power,” Waller said. “Our streetlight LED conversion really got us that nod and brought home the award.”

Montgomery to receive two 2020 Smart 50 Awards from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Waller said the innovations are important because they benefit residents and they position Montgomery to better compete.

“We see this as a win-win,” he said. “We’re winning Smart Cities technology awards. We’re winning the hearts of residents. It’s safer, it has better light, it decreases light pollution and it’s one of those moves that makes us a more efficient city and one of the cities that’s on the cutting edge. We want to win the next economy, the knowledge-based economy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Hyundai’s flagship Alabama car getting a star-studded Super Bowl push

(Hyundai/Innocean USA)

The new Alabama-built Hyundai Sonata is getting a star-studded push with a new 60-second Super Bowl commercial. But don’t look for a Southern accent.

Titled “Smaht Pahk,” the new ad is highlighting the Sonata’s smart park feature using Boston celebrities Chris Evans, John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and Red Sox legend David Ortiz.

The Sonata is Hyundai’s longest-standing and most successful model and one of three vehicles produced at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant in Montgomery. The all-new 2020 version has numerous convenience and safety technologies. The Remote Smart Parking Assist is what “Smaht Pahk” is featuring.


In addition to the Sonata and the stars, the real standout of the commercial is the heavy Boston accent the actors use in marveling over the smart park’s ability to fit the Sonata into a tight spot.

The commercial includes several Boston “Easter eggs” for viewers paying close attention, including the well-known song “Dirty Water” by the Standells that plays toward the end.

“Using the Boston accent as our creative hook was something that quickly became a favorite during the creative development process,” said Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer for Hyundai Motor America. “Remote Smart Parking Assist was difficult to say and remember, but a truncated ‘Smaht Pahk’ caught on when one of our creatives said it in a Boston accent. We thought it was a fun, charming and memorable way to tell people about this incredible new technology using one of America’s most-recognized and beloved regional accents.”

A teaser video earlier this month hinted at the approach and the humor that would be part of the commercial. Dratch is shown trying to help Ortiz, a Dominican American, develop his own Boston accent.

Hyundai has also launched what is believed to be the first automotive brand campaign on TikTok, where Dratch completes the #onedayafterwatching challenge. In this case, the TikTok challenge shows her Boston accent creeping back in more strongly the longer she is back in Boston.

As part of the social media campaign in support of this year’s Super Bowl ad, Hyundai and Innocean USA, Hyundai’s agent of record, have invited two well-known Boston-area comedians to help take on Hyundai’s Twitter duties during the game. Robert Kelly (@RobertKelly) and Tony Viveiros (@TonyVComic) will be responding in real time to fans and viewers, plus adding their own commentary on the game and other commercials.

The pair will host four segments of “The Hyundai Quartertime Show” that will be filmed, edited and published online throughout the game.

Hyundai is taking the campaign directly to the city of Boston with a letter of appreciation running in the Boston Globe, local radio buys voiced by Dratch, billboard advertising and targeted social media activities showing Hyundai’s love for Boston’s quirks.

The Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 2 in Miami and televised on FOX.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Rural Alabama is getting much-needed attention from economic developers

(Hal Yeager/Alabama Governor's Office)

Alabama’s economic development community is bringing special attention to rural counties in an effort to elevate the entire state.

A new Alabama Rural Development Initiative is gaining traction and for the first time ever, a Rural Economic Development Conference is being held in the state Jan. 29-30.

Geographically speaking, rural Alabama makes up the majority of the state with 40 of the 67 counties falling in the category defined by having a population of less than 50,000.


Key organizations say if Alabama is to prosper, it must change the fortunes of those counties, which suffer from dwindling populations, poor workforce participation and a lack of education and necessary skills.

EDAA Rural Development Initiative targets jobs for rural Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA) and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) are leading the effort, joined on the initiative steering committee by Alabama PowerPowerSouthRegions BankALFABlue Cross and Blue Shield of AlabamaNorth Alabama Industrial Development AssociationSpire and Southeast Gas.

That’s a lot of horsepower, boosted further by a chairman who was once the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

“Alabama has a problem and we’re trying to address that problem through this Rural Development Initiative,” said Seth Hammett, chairman of the Alabama Rural Development Initiative. “We’re trying to find ways in each of five chosen regions we can show how Alabama can reverse this trend. I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but shame on us if we don’t at least try.”

A rural economic development panel at the EDAA’s 2020 Winter Conference in Montgomery this week presented many of the dire statistics but also presented an aligned effort to address the needs.

More and more emphasis has been placed on rural economic development in the state in recent years. Special tiered incentives are meant to entice companies to locate in rural counties. The Rebuild Alabama plan will bring much-needed infrastructure improvements to all areas of the state, including rural Alabama. Workforce strategies, education initiatives and prepared sites are among the issues officials aim to address.

Some of the issues have been known for years.

“It’s about time, after all of this talk about doing something, that we finally try and see if we can’t reverse this trend,” Hammett said.

The Rural Development Initiative is finishing its work with the first region where it has drafted a strategic plan.

“We call it a strategic plan, but you can also call it a ‘to do list,’” Hammett said. “We want to say, if you want to reverse this trend in your area, in your region, this is what you need to do.”

Brian Hilson is rural development strategist with the EDAA. The former head of the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce brings a wealth of experience to the rural initiative.

Hilson’s work with EDAA is more strategic than the efforts from the Commerce Department, which is more tactical, boots-on-the-ground in its approach.

Hilson said the challenges of rural Alabama are well-known, but they aren’t the full story.

“There have been a lot of recent successes as well,” he said. “We’ve had fantastic industrial announcements in Sumter County, Marengo County, Henry County as well as some great inroads in infrastructure planning. We’ve had tremendous investments in broadband access.”

Best of all, rural areas are gaining interest nationally, Hilson said.

“States understand the importance of rural communities, both their well-being and their future but also the fact that they are an asset to their states,” he said.

Bevin Tomlin, economic and community development manager with Alabama Power, said the goal is to help rural counties capitalize on existing assets and infrastructure so people “can live in the small towns they want to live as opposed to thinking that they have to move to an urban area to get the quality of life that they want, because it exists in rural Alabama. We just need more jobs to exist in rural Alabama.”

Armed with incentives and a multifaceted team with the desire to address the challenges, Brenda Tuck, rural development manager with the Alabama Department of Commerce, said rural Alabama stands to get the help it needs.

“We have more tools in the basket than ever before,” she said. “You look at where we’ve been and where we’ve come to today, we have that focus. And the end of the day, we have so many opportunities there and we just need to world to know that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

Hundreds of Alabama high school seniors interviewed with dozens of Alabama companies at Interview Day. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.


Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

3 months ago

Alabama Power finds connections at CES 2020

Electric vehicles, Smart Neighborhoods, Techstars and economic development are among the connection points Alabama Power has with CES 2020. (Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power’s work in innovation, technology and economic development is taking it somewhere it’s never been before: CES 2020.

The world’s largest consumer technology event is a logical place for the power company’s economic development and innovation efforts. Not only has CES increasingly included automakers with ties to Alabama showcasing their latest electric vehicles and other innovations, but work in smart home technologies, advanced manufacturing, logistics and more align with Alabama Power initiatives.

“Innovation is a top focus area for Alabama Power as we continue to look at how advanced technology can help improve our customer experience and operations,” said John Smola, director of Business Transformation and Administration. “We are excited to kick off this new year and decade with some of the most cutting-edge companies in the world.”

Alabama Power is part of a larger CES delegation from the state headed by the Alabama Department of Commerce. A number of Alabama-based companies are exhibitors at CES.


This year, as in years past, Alabama’s automakers are key presenters at CES. Monday, Mercedes-Benz kicked off the 2020 event with the unveiling of its VISION AVTR concept vehicle. The all-electric show car was developed in collaboration with the filmmakers of “Avatar,” and not only demonstrates the future of vehicles but what Mercedes said is a look at the connection between human and machine.

“It is my great pleasure to announce the global partnership between Mercedes-Benz and the ‘Avatar’ films,” said Ola Källenius, chairman of the board of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG.  “I would like to present the first result of this partnership: the Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR – which translates to ‘Advanced Vehicle Transformation.’ A visionary car that points far into the future.

Källenius said the car showcases “new ways of moving people through the environment – sideways, like a crab, for instance. It takes sustainability to new levels through a fully recyclable battery, which is based on an organic cell chemistry and doesn’t need materials like nickel or cobalt.”

The electrification of Mercedes’ fleet of vehicles is of particular importance to Alabama officials as the automaker’s plant in Tuscaloosa County prepares to produce electric versions of the models made there. A battery plant for those vehicles is being built in Bibb County.

Just as electric vehicles are part of the automotive industry’s future, they are also part of Alabama’s economic development.

“Technology is a key part of the electric vehicle evolution, as more automakers roll out models with longer-distance batteries, smarter features and autonomous capabilities,” said Cedric Daniels, Electric Transportation manager for Alabama Power. “CES is the perfect opportunity to go see what is next and how we can continue to educate our customers on the benefits of going electric.”

Alabama Power’s support of Techstars and other initiatives designed to grow the innovation economy in the state is part its CES participation. The continued expansion of its Smart Neighborhood developments around the state will benefit from technologies showcased at CES.

“We will be connecting with companies and startups who deliver products and services that align with our innovation strategy, which includes smart cities technology, connectivity and electric vehicles,” Smola said.

These companies and startups will be strong candidates for the recently announced Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator that will host its first cohort later this year. The application process for the first cohort began Jan. 6 and will be open through April.

At the heart of it all is economic development. Statewide economic development organizations have identified innovation and technology as key areas for recruitment and expansion.

So has Alabama Power.

“Alabama has the right tools, resources and ecosystems in place to help tech-based businesses thrive, and our mission at CES is to show these companies why they should call the state home,” said Blair King, Economic Development manager for Alabama Power.

Alabama NewsCenter’s Katie Bolton contributed to this report.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Superior Pecans is an Alabama Maker shelling out Wiregrass goodness

(Brittany Dunn / Alabama NewsCenter)

Different people pronounce the name of the nut differently, but the deliciousness of the pecans at Superior Pecans & Gifts in Eufaula is something all can agree on.

Whether it’s the main ingredient in a holiday pie or a highlight on the frosting of a red velvet cake, pecans truly shine during this time of year. Of course, they make great snacks and candies year-round.

What started as a pecan processing and distribution business in 1934 now includes a booming retail business with a variety of uses for this noble nut.


Jan Shoffit is one of the current co-owners of Superior Pecans & Gifts. She said being able to offer pecans in a variety of flavors and uses along with the other Southern products is “a blessing.”

She knew when her family bought the business more than a decade ago that it was something precious that needed to be treated with love and respect.

“There’s a lot of history in this town with Superior Pecans,” she said.

For Superior Pecans & Gifts, this time of year is particularly special because that’s when the “nut ladies” are in full force. These elderly women work to churn out the robust holiday orders of different pecan products, especially the Pecan Handstacks, a specialty of Superior Pecans.

So, what makes these Alabama pecans, um, superior?

“They’re bigger than you will find anywhere else,” Shoffit said. “And they are just the perfect gift during the holidays to represent the South.”

The product: Pecans in a variety of flavors and goods. The business also produces a number of candies and Southern products along with coffee and ice cream.

Take home: A Christmas tin full of praline pecans ($21.95-$35.75).

Suprior Pecans & Gifts is located on 117 East Broad Street in Eufaula and can be found online and on Facebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

4 months ago

Birmingham Design Review approves $123 million plan for BJCC Legacy Arena renovations


A dramatic $123 million renovation of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena moved one step closer with the Birmingham Design Review Committee’s unanimous approval of the plan.

The committee signed off on the designs, materials, landscaping and lighting. A separate signage plan will be presented to the Design Review Committee next year.


The most dramatic change in the current design is the addition of a glass-walled plaza, allowing natural light into the venue and transforming its current “bunker” appearance. Plans call for adding suite-level and premium club spaces along with new food and beverage options and better crowd flow enhancements.

Sweeping changes are also planned for the plaza areas on the southern entrance and to the eastern side of the arena.

“We are pleased to have approval from the Design Review Committee on the conceptual designs and materials for Legacy Arena’s renovation,” said Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the BJCC Authority. “We are excited to move into the next phase of the project.”

That next phase will be a presentation to the full BJCC board of directors on Dec. 18 for its approval.

Populous is lead architect on the project, which includes Macknally Land Design. The 18-month Legacy Arena renovation is scheduled to begin in spring 2020. Solicitations for a public bid will go out early next year.

Populous is also the architect on the $174 million Protective Stadium project, now underway on the east side of the BJCC campus.

The renovation is the largest revamping of the arena since it was constructed in 1976. The venue has hosted millions of visitors to the Magic City.

You can follow the progress at Legacy Arena on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Birmingham Business Alliance reveals new mission, economic development approach


The Birmingham Business Alliance revealed a new mission and a new approach to economic development as it heads into 2020.

The BBA’s 2019 Chairwoman’s Annual Meeting was at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham Dec. 11. Chairwoman Nancy Goedecke passed the gavel to Jim Gorrie, president and CEO of Brasfield & Gorrie.

Gone is Blueprint Birmingham, which guided the BBA through its first 10 years. In its place is a strategy that keys in life sciences, advanced manufacturing and technology. Those are some of the main industries the Alabama Department of Commerce is expected to emphasize in its revision of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s economic development plan.


“Those are the three areas that we’re going to focus on,” said Fred McCallum, interim CEO of the BBA. “I will tell you that when you look at our state plan, there are a lot of similarities.”

Birmingham Business Alliance announces new direction from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A main component to Blueprint Birmingham was a set of metrics that measured Birmingham’s success against a cluster of peer cities. Doing so often looked too broadly, McCallum said.

“Blueprint was a good plan at the time,” he said. “It was very wide and in some ways it was successful and in other ways it wasn’t so successful. I think what we’ve come to now is a point in time where we’ve got to focus in on jobs and economic growth.”

There will be a new set of metrics created and benchmarked in a new BBA strategic plan, McCallum said.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin did highlight one comparison between Birmingham and other cities.

“Since the great recession around 2008, 60% of all jobs have only gone to 25 cities in America,” Woodfin said. “You need to know that Birmingham is not on that list.”

Woodfin feels Birmingham should measure itself against its own potential instead of comparing itself to others.

“We don’t have to be like Nashville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or Austin,” he said. “We need to be the best version of ourselves. But that is going to require us to shake off the way we’ve always done things.”

Woodfin said the companies and organizations that make up the BBA should be prepared to take greater risks and push boundaries.

“Being risk-averse at this time as we move into 2020 … will not work for us – as an organization or for our city,” he said. “So the question becomes when you walk out of this room, are we prepared to invest in our competitiveness? Do we want to compete? Do we want to set ourselves apart, not be like any other city in America?”

A primary goal for the BBA is to find a new CEO. McCallum has led the organization on an interim basis after former CEO Brian Hilson stepped down at the end of March. Hilson now works on rural economic development initiatives in the state.

Other changes will include aligning the BBA’s internal strategy to execute the new strategic plan, updating its governance structure to be more effective and efficient and aligning the funding model to support the BBA’s new strategic plan.

“I think the organization will be more focused on specific strategies and focused on doing what we do well,” McCallum said.

McCallum believes Birmingham leaders and economic developers can tell the region’s story more forcefully and proactively.

“We’re on a good trajectory. I feel good about where we are as a community,” McCallum said. “Our leadership is strong. Our public leadership is strong. Our private leadership is strong. I feel good about where the BBA is focused.”

This year’s annual meeting was more a call to action than the rah-rah sessions of the past.

“Usually I would get up here and give you all some stats about what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished,” Woodfin said. “I think it is fair to say that 2019 has been a good year for many of your organizations individually and collectively for our Birmingham Business Alliance.”

It was a good 2019 in the Birmingham metro area. Halfway through the year, the region reached and surpassed its pre-recession height of employment. There were 32 projects with 1,180 jobs and $492.2 million in capital investment announced in the region in 2019.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving

(Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Alabama Power Foundation didn’t exist, especially for the dozens of organizations throughout the state that have advanced with its support.

For three decades, the foundation has looked for ways to elevate Alabama and boost communities through charitable giving, giving back more than $230 million to the communities that Alabama Power serves.

“Since our founding 30 years ago, we have prided ourselves in being a catalyst for change and for service to the state of Alabama,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.


Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizations that focus on education, the environment, health and human service, civic and community, arts and culture and other areas have benefited.

“We really enable our partner agencies to do what they do best,” Calhoun said. “So, when we talk about our success, really it’s their success that we’re proud of.”

Success like that the Literacy Council of Central Alabama has enjoyed.

“Ever since (our founding), Alabama Power Foundation has been a really strong supporter,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. “We couldn’t be where we are without the Alabama Power Foundation’s long-standing support.”

Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said the Alabama Power Foundation doesn’t just give money but takes an active role in ensuring programs are successful.

“Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power Company have been a big supporter of ours since day one and over the years provided a lot of funding that really allows us to grow our mission, which is to create great schools for every child,” Dixon said. “We do two programs in schools – the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready – and part of that is expanding great training for teachers and advanced placement programs for students. Alabama Power helped us fund those as a partner from the very beginning.”

Calhoun said the foundation’s mission fits in with the history of Alabama Power, with the ultimate goal of elevating the state.

“We believe and it is our hope that what we do creates a platform that makes economic development and community development and, really, the health and vitality of the state a bit easier,” she said. “And that’s what gets us going every day and that’s what makes us think strategically about the work that we do. And that’s what helps us to empower the agencies who day in and day out are doing the hard work in the communities where we serve.”

Grant recipients talk about the importance of Alabama Power Foundation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Appalachian Regional Commission grant, Leadership Institute addressing needs in Alabama

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is providing a workforce development grant to Alabama and has named two Alabamians to its inaugural Appalachian Leadership Council.

Gov. Kay Ivey has announced a $280,000 ARC grant to help Jefferson State Community College construct a 5,026-square-foot facility at its Shelby-Hoover campus. The facility will allow for the expansion of the school’s welding technology program to meet the demand for welders throughout Alabama, particularly in the state’s growing automobile manufacturing industry.

“Alabama’s robust economy is calling for skilled workers, particularly in the welding profession,” Ivey said. “I am thankful that Jefferson State Community College is helping us meet our workforce demand, and I am particularly grateful to the Appalachian Regional Commission for being a strong partner in helping Alabama to grow and prosper.”


The new facility will house a welding shop, lab and classroom and is expected to train students from Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Chilton counties.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the grant.

“ADECA shares Gov. Ivey’s vision of helping Alabama produce a capable workforce to meet the demands in our state’s growing economy,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Gov. Ivey is also keenly aware that for anything to be successful you need willing partners, and Jefferson State Community College and the Appalachian Regional Commission both meet that criteria.”

The grant comes just a few weeks after ARC announced the formation of the Appalachian Leadership Institute, which aims to create a network of graduates focused on advancing the region.

“Our hope is that the Appalachian Leadership Institute will help develop leadership and problem-solving, bring advancement, and grow greater prosperity in the region,” Tim Thomas, ARC federal co-chairman said at the time. “Leadership is the essential foundation on which all of our collective efforts to enhance Appalachia rest.”

Two Alabamians are among the inaugural class of the Leadership Institute.

Bevin Tomlin, Community Development manager with Alabama Power’s Economic & Community Development organization, and Lisa Bright, founder and CEO of the Will Bright Foundation, which operates Restoration Springs in Fayette, are in the inaugural class.

“By providing grants like this and forming the Appalachian Leadership Institute, the Appalachian Regional Commission continues to show a commitment to addressing the current and future needs of Alabama and its neighbors,” Tomlin said. “I am honored to serve as part of the inaugural class of the Leadership Institute as we continue to identify and address the real needs of the region.”

The Leadership Institute will provide members with an extensive nine-month program of skill-building seminars, best-practice reviews, field visits, mentoring and networking.

ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. Thirty-seven Alabama counties, including Shelby County, are part of the ARC region and eligible for funds.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Birmingham’s Coca-Cola United is rolling out new flavors, packaging for holidays

Coca-Cola Cinnamon and Sprite Winter Spiced Cranberry are new flavors Coca-Cola is releasing for the holiday season. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

The weather was a frightful 99 degrees outside Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United’s Birmingham headquarters Tuesday but inside it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The fourth-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the U.S. is among the first to roll out two new flavors for the Christmas holiday season: Coca-Cola Cinnamon and Sprite Winter Spiced Cranberry. Coca-Cola United marked the occasion with a launch party full of holiday music and featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus and the polar bear that has become a part of Coke Christmas promotions.


“With these new flavors, they kind of scream ‘holidays,’” said Rebecca Garner, media and promotions manager at Coca-Cola United.

Coca-Cola United will bottle the new flavors at its nine production facilities that serve parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. The independent bottler has 10,000 employees, and in addition to the production facilities operates 53 sales and distribution centers.

In addition to the new flavors, the Birmingham company is rolling out new packaging for the holidays that features Santa and the popular bears from past marketing efforts. The Coca-Cola app can be used to unlock some augmented reality when a smartphone is pointed at the new bottles and cans.

The new flavors and packaging won’t launch in other markets for several weeks. Garner said it’s a sign of what Coke and Coca-Cola United have in the works.

“Next year is going to be really great year from us,” Garner said. “We’re going to be introducing a lot of new stuff, so stay tuned.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Saban foundation boosts fortunes of those in Alabama juvenile detention facility

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Nick and Terry Saban are using Nick’s Kids Foundation to provide needed job skills to residents of the Tuscaloosa Juvenile Detention Center in hopes it will change lives for the better and break a cycle of repeat offenders.

Terry Saban joined center officials and others to cut the ribbon on a new facility built with a $100,000 lead gift from Nick’s Kids. The new facility offers classrooms where residents of the facility can earn a GED. There are also training facilities where residents can learn welding, plumbing, carpentry, electrical repair and auto maintenance.


“Happiness is having choices and when these people, these young residents, leave, they don’t have choices,” Terry Saban said. “They’re going back into the same families, the same communities from which they came. But now, they do have choices. They have an education. They have a skill. They have an opportunity to make money to take care of their families and themselves. It’s a huge change.”

Cathy Joiner Wood, executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center, said the programs were needed.

Nick’s Kids helps fund new juvenile detention training facility in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“This is a dream come true for this facility,” she said.

Wood said youths are often released from the detention center to go back to their previous schools to hang out with the same bad influences and end up getting in trouble again. Giving them a GED and a skill changes the trajectory when they are released from detention.

“We have one success story that happened just this last week. Lulu is her name,” Wood said. “She was exposed to our welding department. She loved welding. (The instructors) said she was one of the best welders to come through the program.”

Because Lulu is 17 and earned her GED, officials at Shelton State Community College were able to get her enrolled in college.

Saban said her famous football coaching husband has a track record that aligns with the mission of the new facility.

“Nick is all about giving second chances to people in life, and sometimes he’s criticized for that,” she said. “But it’s not just in football that we want to give people second chances, it’s in life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama electric vehicle owners praise benefits of going electric

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Steve Malcom has gone entire months without buying any gas going to and from work in Fort Payne.

Matt Creasey, a University of Alabama student, passes by pumps on his way to school and plugs in on campus before going into class.

Electric vehicle owners in Alabama had reasons to boast as they showcased their cars at the Market at Pepper Place in downtown Birmingham Saturday. Dozens of curious visitors asked questions of the owners, who provided answers about what it’s like to go electric. The event kicked of 2019 National Drive Electric Week in Alabama.


Malcom has owned multiple electric and hybrid vehicles and said the technology has eliminated most of the reasons people have avoided making the switch.

“It’s all coming on,” he said. “I have yet to hear anybody really put down an electric vehicle.”

He has, however, sensed their hesitancy.

Their main concern is about range, to which he explains the cars now travel hundreds of miles before needing another charge. He drives about 40 miles per day and doesn’t even charge his Chevy Bolt every day.

Malcom’s favorite move is to get them inside and crank it up to show how quiet electric vehicles can be.

“I’ll turn the music on,” he said. “There is no road noise. You can hear the music better.”

UA student Creasey is from Virginia and finds the 800-mile ride home is cheaper and smoother since he got his Chevy Volt hybrid. He also loves the convenience the university has provided.

“The university’s been pretty good about it,” he said. “They’ve put in some chargers at pretty much every parking garage. I plug in when I get to class and then I come back out of class and my car is almost fully charged.”

Mark Bentley, director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, loves hearing the stories from owners like Malcom and Creasey. He has watched EV ownership swell in the state and he knows those numbers are about to rapidly increase.

“It is really starting to escalate in Alabama as well as the rest of the country,” he said. “We anticipate the growth is going to be at around 30% a year, which is phenomenal. A point of comparison would be what microwave ovens did when they were introduced – a smaller ticket but the growth was phenomenal. To this point, electric vehicles are mirroring that type of growth.”

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition is one of the organizations leading efforts to expand public charging infrastructure in the state to keep up with that growing demand.

“Infrastructure is coming,” Bentley said. “We are working diligently across the state to install more infrastructure. Realistically, 80% of all electric cars are charged at home. The rest are either over the road or at a workplace.”

While electric vehicles often cost more than their gasoline counterparts, Bentley said the overall cost of ownership factors out to be less. For instance, he said, electric vehicle owners pay an equivalent of $1.16 “per gallon” compared to the average of $2.35 per gallon of gasoline.

Companies including Alabama Power are making it for cost effective to switch to EVs.

Brandi Hurst, program manager for Electric Vehicle Transportation at Alabama Power, said EV owners can earn a rate rider and save 15% off the standard rate for their whole home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., peak charging times for EVs.

“One of the major conveniences of owning an electric vehicle is being able to charge it at your home,” she said. “So if you think of it kind of how you charge your cellphone at night – you know, you plug it in while you’re sleeping, you wake up, you’re ready to go – it’s kind of the same thing with your car, just on a much bigger scale.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

(Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.


Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Workers at Hyundai’s Alabama plant to use new ‘wearable robot’ exoskeleton

(Hyundai Motor Group/Contributed)

Hyundai’s Alabama plant was instrumental in developing a new wearable robot exoskeleton, and its workers will be among the first in the world to incorporate the technology on the assembly line.

On Tuesday, Hyundai Motor Group unveiled plans for its Hyundai Rotem company to produce the Vest EXoskeleton, or VEX, and Chairless EXoskeleton, or CEX. The technology aims to assist industrial workers working in overhead environments.

VEX is lightweight and mimics the movement of human joints, allowing for added load support and mobility. Its design allows for muscular assistance without requiring a battery.


Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA), the automaker’s Montgomery plant, participated in the prototype trials and provided valuable feedback in the development of both VEX and CEX. The plant anticipates receiving the first production versions of the wearable robots and incorporate them into the plant by the end of the year.

Though there are other exoskeleton products on the market, Hyundai believes its technology is better because it is lighter (5.5 pounds, which is 22-42% less than competitors) comfortable (worn like a backpack), adjustable (up to 7 inches in added length, up to 12.1 pounds in force assistance) and more affordable (expected to sell for 30% less than the typical $5,000 average of similar products).

Hyundai unveils wearable robotic exoskeleton tested at Alabama plant from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“VEX gives workers greater load support, mobility and adaptability when operating in overhead environments,” said DongJin Hyun, head of Robotics team of Hyundai Motor Group. “Workers will also appreciate how light VEX is to wear and work with.”

Hyundai plans to target the VEX at production-line workers whose job is primarily overhead. On an auto assembly line, that could be those bolting the underside of vehicles, fitting brake tubes, and attaching exhausts.

Hyundai said the pilot program testing the technology at HMMA and the Kia plant in Georgia was “widely successful in assisting workers and boosting productivity.”

Hyundai said it is considering worldwide implementation of VEX around the world. Hyundai Rotem is expected begin production of VEX in December and an HMMA spokesman said the Montgomery plant will be among its first customers.

Hyundai Motor Group commercializes Chairless EXoskeleton

Adding to its range of robotics technologies, Hyundai also plans to products CEX, which supports workers to maintain a sitting position without a stool or chair. At 3.5 pounds, it is light and durable and able to withstand weights of up to 330 pounds.

The CEX’s waist, thigh and knee belts can be easily fitted and adjusted to the user’s body size and height. It also features three different angle settings (85 degrees, 70 degrees and 55 degrees). By reducing the user’s back and lower body muscle activity by 40%, it reduces fatigue and improves efficiency.

Hyundai said it has plans for other robotics technology, including a ‘Hotel Service Robot,’ ‘Sales Service Robot,’ ‘Electric Vehicle Charging Manipulator’ and other ‘Robotic Personal Mobility’ solutions in the future.

The future for wearable robotics

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the wearable robotics industry is growing 14% annually. By 2021 approximately 630,000 commercial robots will be sold worldwide, with the greatest demand coming from the automotive sector. In 2017, 126,000 robots were supplied to the auto sector, making-up 33% of all commercial robots.

Recognizing the market trend, Hyundai Motor Group is making active investments and strengthening its presence within the growing robotics industry by securing relevant technologies that also benefit the health and wellbeing of its own workforce.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Mercedes reveals next new model to be built in Alabama

The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe will be built exclusively in Alabama. (Mercedes-Benz)

The next new vehicle Mercedes-AMG will produce exclusively in Alabama is a crossover that may be the sportiest yet in its SUV line.

The German automaker has unveiled the 2021 GLE 53 Coupe last week and officials have confirmed it will be built at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) plant near Tuscaloosa for the worldwide market. It is a revamp of the GLE Coupe currently made at the plant.

A formal announcement is expected later this year at MBUSI and the GLE 53 Coupe is expected to go on sale later in 2020, with pricing likely to be set close to then..

But we don’t have to wait until then to know some particulars.


“The new GLE 53 Coupe adds even more style and elegance to our SUV family, together with hallmark AMG features such as the brand-specific radiator grille,” said Tobias Moers, CEO of Mercedes-AMG GmbH. “The attractive coupe lines envelop sophisticated suspension technology and our powerful, efficient six-cylinder in-line engine with 48-volt technology. Both guarantee a thrilling driving experience in terms of longitudinal and lateral dynamics.”

Let’s break down what that means.

The new GLE Coupe will have six-cylinder, in-line engine provides 429 horsepower and is said to go from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. An “EQ Boost” electric starter-generator adds 21 horsepower and combines the function of a starter and an alternator. EQ Boost works in conjunction with an electric auxiliary compressor and an exhaust gas turbocharger to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

The exterior design includes the radiator grille that marks the GLE Coupe as part of the Mercedes-AMG SUV family. It’s topped by a “powerdome” hood that help give it a more rounded look. Flared wheel arches and 21-inch wheels (22-inch wheels are optional) add to the muscular-meets-sporty look.

The interior design may be the most radical departure from past Mercedes vehicles. Color highlights like bright red contrast stitching and red seat belts make the new GLE 53 Coupe stand out. Ergonomic seats, carbon fiber trim, leather upholstery and other customizable elements allow for a variety of possibilities. There are stainless-steel pedals with rubber studs. The steering wheel is covered in black nappa leather and red stitching with aluminum shift paddles.

EQ Boost also powers a 48-volt, on-board electrical system. There is a widescreen cockpit instrument panel cluster with touchscreen display and functions can be activated simply by saying “Hey, Mercedes.” Other functions can be controlled with swiping finger movements.

Handling is enhanced with the “AMG Active Ride Control” stabilization system and “Airmatic,” an air suspension system with continuously adjustable damping that can be set into “comfort,” “sport” and “sport+” modes. Off-road settings of “trail” and “sand” for traction control are also included.

A nine-speed automatic transmission is responsive and comes with seven drive programs. In addition to comfort, sport, sport+, trail and sand, there are “slippery” and “individual.” The former is optimized for slick road conditions while the latter allows for personal adjustments to the drive system, transmission and more. There are also “AMG Dynamic Select” drive programs of “basic,” “advanced” and “pro” levels that influence the electronic stability program (ESP) or the all-wheel drive to automatically determine the driver’s actions and sensor data to make for more stable or dynamic driving.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)