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.

3 days ago

Hyundai’s Alabama-built Sonata will launch a new vehicle platform for the automaker

(Hyundai Motor Company/Contributed)

Hyundai Motor Company said the all-new Sonata to be built in Montgomery later this year will introduce a new platform that will reshape not only its signature sedan but other models to be built on the Alabama assembly line.

Hyundai said the “third-generation vehicle platform includes a number of enhancements to the Sonata’s skeleton that will make it safer, sleeker and better to drive.

“Through implementation of the third-generation platform, the new generation Sonata is expected to provide world-class value in overall vehicle performance,” said Fayez Abdul Rahman, vice president of the Architecture Group at Hyundai Motor Company. “Starting with the new Sonata model, Hyundai will gradually expand the use of (the) new platform in order to provide joy of driving and comfort to the customers.”

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The lighter Sonata will have better fuel efficiency while also being more durable, Hyundai said.  A lower center of gravity and other design elements are meant to make it more comfortable and provide better performance when driving.

Hyundai also said the use of a design to absorb impact through multiple paths, hot-stamped parts and super-high tensile steel plate offer better collision protection by absorbing energy and minimizing the impact in the cabin.

Last week, Hyundai unveiled the new look of the revamped Sonata, which is going on sale in Korea later this month. The 2020 model of the Sonata for the U.S. will be built at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery later this year.

Officials didn’t say what, if any, modifications are required from suppliers to the Hyundai plant to produce the new platform.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Hyundai offers first look at next Sonata to be built in Alabama

(Hyundai Motor Company/Contributed)

Hyundai Motor Company unveiled images of the next-generation Sonata in South Korea Tuesday, giving a glimpse of the sedan that will begin rolling off the assembly line in Montgomery this fall.

The 2020 Sonata will be the eighth generation of the vehicle and is another bold move forward in styling from the predecessor model that was released in 2014 and had minor cosmetic changes in the years since.

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In the announcement of the new Sonata, Hyundai is calling its design concept “sensuous sportiness,” described as “the harmony between four fundamental elements in vehicle design: proportion, architecture, styling and technology.”

“Sonata celebrates innovative coupe-like silhouette,” said Sang Yup Lee, senior vice president and head of the Hyundai Design Center. “A short overhang, sloping roofline and low deck lid create a balanced feel, and Hyundai’s signature chrome accent now goes all the way into the hood, making it look even longer. It also has LED lighting built in. These cues bring the sensuous sportiness design to life.”

Specifically, the new Sonata will include:

  • A design that is 1.18 inches higher, nearly an inch wider and 1.77 inches longer and a wheelbase enlarged by 1.38 inches.
  • A view of the front that is more rounded with a cleanly demarcated hood and a “Digital Pulse Cascading Grille” give it a sports car appearance.
  • This is the first Hyundai to have hidden lighting lamps, which are embedded with daytime running lights to produce a technological and a design element. The hidden lights appear chrome-like but are dramatically lit when turned on.
  • From the side, two chromic lines link the windows and daytime running lights, giving it a muscular and a classy profile.
  • From the rear, ultra-wide taillights make the sedan appear wider.
  • An ambient mood lamp illuminates the dashboard and doors while the instrument panel’s winged shape is inspired by Stealth aircraft.
  • Long armrests and a revamped steering wheel are elements that are meant to add design and comfort.

The all-new Sonata takes its inspiration from the award-winning Le Fil Rouge concept, which debuted at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama will add the new Sonata to its 2020 production lines this fall.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Terrance Smith and i-team Mobile are tackling small problems that make a big difference

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Sometimes big change comes through small innovations.

That’s the idea behind the Mobile Innovation Team, or i-team.

Terrance Smith is the i-team director, leading a small, diverse group bringing new ideas to a city that values its history.

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“Our role in the city is to identify inefficiencies within the city government and to bring fresh perspective,” Smith said. “We like to say we look at old problems new ways.”

Like other cities across the state, Mobile is relying on African-Americans in positions of innovation leadership.

For Smith, it was a role he didn’t envision for himself.

He began life after college working with people who had disabilities. That led to work in education designing learning programs and then working with at-risk high school students.

Smith would often run into Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson at community service projects and the two struck up a rapport.

“He said, ‘You need to come move into the city,’ and I laughed about it and said, ‘You guys have way too many problems inside the city,’ and he said, ‘That’s why we need you,’” Smith recalled.

Smith and his wife moved to Mobile and he ran into the mayor at an event the same day the moving trucks were scheduled. Not long afterward, the mayor offered him a job with the i-team, which was funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. That grant expires soon, but the i-team will continue as a city-supported entity.

“I believe in this city. I believe in its people. Which is why I wanted to come back and not live on the outskirts but live in it, be a part of it,” Smith said. “If I’m going to make that commitment to be in it and be a part of it, then I also must make the commitment to be at the center of the problems, at the center of the solutions.”

For the i-team, the solutions are innovative.

“People hear ‘innovation,’ they automatically think of technology, but we’re more about processes and the social aspects of it,” Smith said.

Those solutions include city departments tackling blight using creative tools like Instagram and geotagging that can record, map and create a database – or “blight index” – so problems can be more easily addressed.

Smith said neighborhoods are targeted based on that data to stabilize those in most need and make the city’s efforts more efficient.

Next is streamlining the city’s planning, zoning and permitting processes to make it easier for those looking to make improvements in the city.

Once an area is made more attractive for renovation, there should be no barrier preventing people from wanting to improve it, Smith said.

“Now when we have the inventory of blighted structures and we have this interest of people wanting to purchase properties, now we have the obligation to make sure they can build quickly and efficiently and build more effectively,” he said.

Progress isn’t always easy in the Port City.

“We are an old city and we have done things the way we’ve always done them. Sometimes that can be very hard to release,” Smith said. “It’s incumbent on us to understand ways to have difficult conversations, ways to give and receive feedback.”

For the i-team, those ways are through sticky notes. The i-team solicits ideas, issues and solutions from the public using the same pieces of paper many people use for grocery lists.

“Their voices are all represented on our sticky notes,” Smith said. “We like to code all of the notes that we take in. There is a method to a sticky note.”

There is only so much information one can put on a sticky note. Writing an idea on a note prevents disagreements one might find in more conversational approaches. It also forces people to make their points succinctly.

But one thing Smith finds with the sticky note process is most surprising.

“It’s amazing that we may have a young African-American male over here and an affluent white female over here and they’re saying the same exact thing,” he said. “But when they’re quiet enough and they’re spending their time being thoughtful enough about their responses without having to defend their positions, we realize that we all want the same thing, we’re just saying it different ways.”

The hundreds of sticky notes in the i-team offices across from Mobile City Hall represent hundreds of voices with a stake in Mobile. Some of the writers don’t live in the Port City but depend on it for jobs and entertainment. Smith said their voices matter, too. Solutions must address the real needs people are identifying.

“We’re not creating these solutions in a vacuum,” he said. “We like to say if we make the best hamburgers ever made but the people want pizza, we’ve failed.”

The greater goal of the i-team’s work is to reverse Mobile’s loss of population in recent years. By addressing blight, investments in properties are made more attractive. By increasing investments in properties, neighborhoods improve and more people move in. When more people move in, schools improve. Improved schools bring more people to the community.

Smith said the i-team takes the simple approach of assessing where Mobile is, what problems are in the way and what Mobile in the future will look like with those problems resolved.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” Smith said. “I would not be here if I wasn’t.”

While it’s important to acknowledge shortcomings, Smith said it’s just as important to note the successes.

“We don’t do ourselves enough justice talking about the great things that are happening in this city,” he said. “You can speak highly of what’s happening inside the city but also be realistic about where we are.”

In other words, the old and the new can coexist.

“We’re still an old city and we still like to do things our way,” he said. “But we’re quickly understanding that we can do things our way, adapt new processes and improve the system itself.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Southern Foodways Alliance shares labor and linkage of food with Birmingham symposium

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

John T. Edge hopes participants in the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Winter Symposium in Birmingham on Feb. 9 left the Magic City with “new ideas in our heads and new foods in our bellies.”

As director of SFA, Edge knows the central role food plays in Southern culture.

“We think about food as a narrative. Food is a story we tell about this place, the American South,” he said. “We tell stories about the South, we just happen to use food as a way to do it.”

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From the opening reception at Good People Brewing Company to the symposium at Haven on the Southside, there was plenty of food and drink.

Chef John Hall, owner of Post Office Pies in Avondale, served up bites of food at Good People and Rusty’s Bar-B-Q served a proper Southern lunch the next day. Feizel Vallie of Atomic Lounge served up special cocktails both nights of the symposium. Royal Cup Coffee and Hero Doughnuts ensured Saturday morning got off to a tasty start.

But beyond the food that was shared were ideas around food and the hospitality industry.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Archibald talked about how labor built Birmingham and how food helped sustain that labor – centering on the Birmingham hot dog, which he would put up against the Chicago dog any day of the week.

Archibald noted ambiguity and creativity have benefited Birmingham food in the past and present. But there is one thing he is not ambiguous about.

“Jesus wouldn’t put no sugar in his cornbread,” he declared to thunderous applause.

Archibald also reached another conclusion.

“Food has made Birmingham believe in itself again and that’s a powerful thing,” he said.

One of the reasons for Birmingham’s food-based pride is Highlands Bar & Grill.

“For Highlands to be recognized as the best restaurant in America means that the James Beard Foundation finally caught up with what I’ve known and you’ve known for a long time – it’s the best restaurant in America,” Edge told Alabama NewsCenter.

Other subjects tackled at the symposium ranged from leadership roles for women in restaurants, dealing with crisis in the industry, sharing in the prosperity with restaurant staff, to addressing drug and alcohol abuse in the food industry.

“We’re asking tough questions about the South,” Edge said. “The South is both a tragic and a beautiful place. We have to acknowledge that, that this is a complicated place. Food is one way to get at those complications. It’s a way to examine the problems of this place and to celebrate indeed the beauty that we’ve forged together.”

The symposium had a decidedly Birmingham flavor.

Local photographer Celestia Morgan had an exhibit that focused on the symposium’s theme of “Food is Work” and captured restaurant and food workers in their workplaces. That exhibit has been installed at the Birmingham Public Library.

Alabama School of Fine Arts instructor Ashley M. Jones shared food-based poetry.

Ava Lowrey premiered a film on Mac’s One Stop in downtown Birmingham.

The Birmingham symposium is one of three SFA will hold this year. Its Summer Field Trip is set for Bentonville, Arkansas, June 14-15 and the Fall Symposium is scheduled for Oxford, Mississippi, (where SFA is based) Oct. 24-26.

“They’re a chance for a tribe to gather. For people who are interested in Southern food culture, want to understand it more deeply, this is like a boot camp,” Edge said. “We come together for one day and we disperse, but we disperse with new ideas in our heads, new foods in our bellies and a community that moves forward together.”

Edge said Birmingham is a mainstay on the SFA schedule because SFA was formed at a meeting in the Magic City in 1999. That’s not the only reason.

“It’s a place we just love,” Edge said. “We live in Oxford, Mississippi. My wife and I come to Birmingham at least four times a year just to eat. Whether it’s eating at Little Donkey or whether it’s eating at Johnny’s or whether it’s eating at Niki’s West, we love this place.

“We also believe in this place and for the SFA we want to introduce people to the Birmingham we know and the Birmingham we love,” Edge continued. “I want people to go to Eagle’s and walk through the line and get ox tails and collard greens. I want people to go to Johnny’s in Homewood and I want them to get keftedes and chickpeas and spinach. I want them to see the Birmingham I see, taste the Birmingham I taste, meet the people of Birmingham and realize that this is a great town in which to eat but it’s also a great town in which to make sense of the South.”

Edge said food has great power in all cultures and the South is no different.

“One of the things that we share across color divides, across gender divides, across divides of all sorts … is an appreciation for this food,” Edge said. “This food was made together. This is not black food, this is not white food, this is Southern food.”

Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and explores the diverse food cultures of the South. SFA produces a podcast and a journal both called “Gravy,” collects oral histories and publishes them on its website and produces up to 15 films a year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama and Auburn more like partners than rivals in economic development

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

There is one playing field where Alabama and Auburn are on the same side. Leaders of both institutions shared time recently at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s 2019 Winter Conference.

“We are different universities with different assets and together we can pull our state forward,” said Dr. Steven Leath, president of Auburn University.

Leath said Auburn is not a rival but a collaborator with UA when it comes to boosting the state’s economy.

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It was a sentiment shared by Finis St. John, interim chancellor of the University of Alabama System.

In fact, St. John said the entire education system from pre-K to post-graduate training and other workforce development initiatives needs to be aligned to a greater degree today than ever before.

“We must also work together to have students better prepared from pre-K through high school,” St. John said. “If all are better, the universities are better, and the state is better.”

Why are we seeing this degree of cooperation? Because we must, St. John said.

With state at essentially full employment and population growth flat, St. John said it is crucial the universities do what they can to contribute to the solution.

One thing the University of Alabama System has been doing is recruiting students from out of state with the hope that a good percentage of them will remain in the state after graduation, St. John said. The graduate programs and job opportunities in Alabama after graduation with some of the biggest companies in the world is also an enticement for students, he said.

Leath said Auburn, like Alabama, is working hand-in-hand with companies to put education to use.

“If we do great science and great technology and it sits on a shelf, we haven’t done much,” he said.

For instance, Auburn is working with GE Aviation in the use of additive manufacturing processes with jet engine nozzles. It is also working on an RFID program with Delta Airlines to help improve safety, efficiency and onboard inventory.

Other areas of collaboration range from cyber security, canine protection training, the opioid crisis and agriculture, Leath said.

Leath said new facilities are under construction at Auburn Research ParkAuburn Cooperative Extension Servicecommunity outreach and rural design studios are also key community development touchpoints for locations throughout the state.

St. John noted the use of campus innovation incubators to help foster homegrown businesses, especially in the innovation space.

Places like the well-established Innovation Depot’s collaboration with UAB or the new The EDGE at the University of Alabama, companies can take root and grow, he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

University of Alabama report: State’s logistics infrastructure unprepared for new economy

(Alabama News Center)

Officials have been saying for decades that Alabama needs to better fund improvements to its infrastructure but a report from the University of Alabama adds new urgency to the issue, saying  the state risks losing ground in economic development if it doesn’t address some key areas.

The report, “Logistics Infrastructure: Transformational Opportunities,” from the university’s Culverhouse College of Business, was co-authored by K.C. Conway, director of research and corporate engagement at the Alabama Center for Real Estate (ACRE) and Stuart Norton, research coordinator at ACRE.

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Conway said there is one inescapable conclusion.

“If we invest in our logistics infrastructure, we will really continue to grow this great economy in Alabama,” he said.

If not, the state will lose ground to competing states that are addressing their logistics infrastructure needs.

Alabama’s logistics infrastructure found lacking in new report from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The report has nine key takeaways:

  1. The logistics infrastructure (LI) needs are compelling, with 4.1 million miles of public roads requiring maintenance, 1.2 billion hours of annual delays for the trucking industry, a 17-fold increase in annual spending required to maintain railroads, and e-commerce warehouse demand growing from less than 5 percent of industrial leasing a decade ago to 20 percent today.
  2. A horseless-carriage supply chain from the 1950s cannot support a modern e-commerce supply chain that is growing 25-30 percent per year because the age and state of Alabama’s existing infrastructure is inhibiting future economic and real estate development, forcing existing industry to relocate toward destinations that have modern LI.
  3. “Build the Logistics Infrastructure and development will come” is not a cliché − it is transformational logistics in action. Retail, distribution and manufacturing businesses are at risk of leaving cities and states that don’t invest in LI and update aging infrastructure.
  4. LI is driving the “why” and “where” decisions for commercial real estate development, such as the new Amazon fulfillment center being built in Bessemer or the Walmart regional distribution center at the state port in Mobile.
  5. The ongoing shift toward online retail will result in fewer physical stores, with the tradeoff being will be many new fulfillment centers and warehouses aligned with new LI. Statistics show e-commerce fulfillment centers will displace one-third of America’s 1,100 malls in a few years.
  6. The development metrics by the major commercial real estate brokerages suggest a boom is ahead for new industrial warehouse development due to e-commerce. Demand still exceeds supply resulting in another 800,000 to 1 billion square feet of new development across the U.S. over the next three years.
  7. Margins for online-shop-and-deliver do not beat shop-and-take-home, but retailers will not reverse course, instead doubling down on technology and LI to get the margins right.
  8. Reliance on the federal government to fund LI for port projects, rail, intermodal or needed supply chain components is too lottery-like a strategy to fund our economy’s circulation system. Of the billions of dollars available annually to fund our ports and inland waterways via the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, only 10 percent of yearly balances are distributed to ports.
  9. The time has come to rank our North American ports based on a more dynamic method than the current single variable of 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) container count. A model that calibrates factors like port depth, Class I rail connectivity, number of PPMX Gantry Cranes, usage by shipping alliances, and the like should be used.

ACRE is releasing the report as a resource for officials to consider as they will likely take up an infrastructure funding bill in the Legislature in this year’s session, which begins next month.

The report doesn’t go into funding methods or taxation, but only points out the needs that exists. Unlike past reports that focused on road and bridge construction and maintenance, this report looks at overall logistics infrastructure, bringing into account railways, the Alabama State Port Authority and more.

“When we debate this next year about what do we do with logistics infrastructure, there is something in it for everybody,” Conway said. “It’s not just certain locations and certain communities are going to benefit from a new road or a bridge. Everyone has a stake in it.”

Jim Page, president of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure, also sees infrastructure as a key economic development issue for the state.

“This is such a major topic for Alabama for us to maintain our economic competitiveness, but in the future, we’ve got to be competitive with our sister Southeastern states, many of whom have already addressed this issue,” Page told Alabama NewsCenter in August. “We think it’s imperative in the 2019 legislative session that we finally address this issue for the first time since 1992.”

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield told the state’s economic developers last month that an infrastructure bill will be a focus in the upcoming legislative session.

“We’ve had great success in bringing great companies into the state,” Canfield told Alabama NewsCenter after addressing the Economic Development Association of Alabama. “That, in turn, means that there’s an awful lot of products and goods and supplies and raw materials that have to flow in and out of our state. We’ve got to be able to accommodate that by having the best roads and bridges we can.”

Jim Searcy, EDAA executive director, took it a step further.

“We’ve been very neglectful in the state for decades and it is starting to impact companies’ consideration of Alabama as a location,” Searcy said. “Until we can show a plan and the resources to execute that plan, then I think we are going to be at a disadvantage in the economic development process.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Velocity Accelerator companies start ‘boot camp’ at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot

(Alabama News Center)

Seven high-growth companies are one week into a 13-week intense “boot camp” of development that organizers believe is a key component to the economic development efforts driving Birmingham’s tech-sector forward.

Velocity Accelerator introduced its seven cohort companies to the public this week. This is the third class of cohorts to go through the program at Innovation Depot.

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The companies range from startups to a 14-year-old business. What all of them have in common is that they are already established with a product and revenues. Diversity among sectors is seen as part of the secret sauce that makes Velocity Accelerator work.

“We intentionally don’t focus on one industry sector,” said Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot. “I think it’s part of the strength of the program to have diversity in the industries and the sectors and to be able to attract companies from outside of Alabama to Birmingham and hopefully stay when they get done.”

Meet the 2019 Velocity Accelerator cohorts at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The past two Velocity Accelerator classes taught organizers that having companies at the same stage in their development was also important.

“We wanted companies that were all at a very similar place – companies that all had revenue, they all had products,” Laney said. “They were all at a very similar stage so that the curriculum of the Velocity program would be applicable throughout the program at the same time to all of the teams so that they could move through the program sort of together, really, in a lot of ways, and progress at the same pace throughout the program.”

This year’s cohort companies are:

  • Fanboard was founded in Atlanta by Morgan Drake, Josh Fisher and James Simpson and marries augmented reality with live events like sports and concerts
  • S(w)ervice was formed in Birmingham by Thomas Walker and Warren Wills and offers an on-demand auto maintenance solution with appointment bookings and vehicle valet services.
  • Babypalooza is a Birmingham company founded by Cecilia Pearson that is a parenting platform where live events intersect with technology to make it easy for new, expectant and hopeful parents to access the products, people and parenting information they need most.
  • Uptime Dynamics was founded in Birmingham by Thomas Smillie, Tom Woodruff and Maggie Belshe to redefine what a computerized maintenance management system can do for manufacturers.
  • Need2Say was started in Birmingham by Oscar Garcia with the mission of helping you communicate what you Need2Say in your second language so that you will realize your full potential in school, work and daily life.
  • Milk the Moment was founded in Nashville by Courtney “Coko” Eason and uses the MILK App, which rewards you whenever you refrain from using your phone in places or situations where we all could be a little more present, intimate, focused and safe.
  • Fledging was formed in Birmingham by Weida Tan and Steven Robbins and produces premium electronics like storage products, such as its flagship product, Feather SSD (Solid State Drive) for Mac devices.

Laney said companies from all over the world applied to be part of the new Velocity Accelerator cohort, bolstered by the successes of the previous two classes.

The initial Velocity Accelerator in 2017 had nine companies, three of which had raised additional capital by the end of the program and two more have done so since.

In 2018, there were seven companies, five of which raised follow-on capital and two of them from out of state relocated and stayed in Birmingham.

“We’re looking at this as economic development,” Laney said. “We see this as a pipeline of growth companies that we can help support, attract to Birmingham and retain.”

Laney said the first two Velocity Accelerator cohorts took the $1.5 million invested in them and have leveraged that seed investment to raise more than $8 million and create over 70 jobs in the past two years.

“The return on the investment from the private sector, I think, is phenomenal,” Laney said.

Several of this year’s cohorts were well aware of the past success and cited it as a reason for wanting to participate in the intense Velocity Accelerator program.

“I’m proud of the history,” Laney said. “I’m glad that now we have something to build on and that other entrepreneurs and other startups can see the history and say, ‘Yes, I want to be in Birmingham. Yes, I want to go through Velocity because I understand the potential I have there to grow my business.’”

The 2019 cohort kicked off Jan. 28 and concludes April 30 with Velocity Demo Day at Iron City, where each company will pitch to potential customers, investors and community supporters.

Participants in the program receive $50,000 each from the Velocity Fund, which is supported by Alabama PowerRegions BankBBVA CompassBlue Cross and Blue Shield of AlabamaProtective LifeUAB, the Community Foundation of Greater BirminghamEncompass HealthEBSCOBrasfield & GorrieMcWaneAltec and Hoar Construction.

Laney said the support from the private sector is part of the buy-in that has been critical to the program’s success.

“The program is great. The curriculum is great. We’ve done a good job with all of those things, I think,” Laney said. “The community support and the buy-in from the community is the reason that Velocity is successful.”

Having the corporate community provide dollars and not just lip-service of support is a key to creating a sustainable innovation economy, Laney said.

“It speaks volumes. It’s a difference-maker for us.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Keeping competitive advantage for Alabama, infrastructure key targets for economic developers

(YHN, Pixabay)

Alabama’s economic developers say they will support two legislative measures this year that will address significant issues that affect recruitment and retention of industry in the state.

Most pressing is a bill to prevent site consultants from having to register as lobbyists under the state’s ethics laws. A bill was passed in the final hours of last year’s session offered this exemption for one year, but it is scheduled to sunset April 1.

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Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said ethics are important to everyone in economic development, but site consultants must operate with a degree of confidentiality. Not offering that degree of secrecy early in the process will prevent Alabama from being considered for most major projects, he said.

“Confidentiality, particularly in the earliest stages of economic development and working projects, remains important,” Canfield said. “It’s a competitive world out there. Companies, for a variety of reasons, don’t want the world to know when they’re thinking about investing in a new location. There are lots of reasons for that, but the main thing is they don’t want their competitors to know what they are doing.”

Jim Searcy, executive director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama, said often a site search will not lead to a project coming to fruition. Making the initial search public would not be prudent.

“They don’t want to create undue issues or undue concerns for their existing industries or for their existing workforce,” Searcy said. “They’ve got a responsibility to stockholders that they cannot disclose some things that could impact their stock price.”

The EDAA announced its priorities for the upcoming legislative session at its winter conference in Hoover this week. The 2019 legislative session begins March 5. (Read more from Canfield at the conference hereand from Gov. Kay Ivey at the conference here.)

Canfield said not being able to guarantee confidentiality will put the state at a competitive disadvantage.

“We’ve been very successful in maintaining that degree of confidentiality,” he said. “We’ve won our fair share of projects. We want to win more. But in order to do that, we’ve got to continue to try to protect the privacy and the confidentiality so that we can move forward with new projects in time.”

Even though confidentiality is crucial at the early stages of a project, Searcy said information is eventually made public when a project is announced.

“Once the project progresses, once they announce, all of the incentives, all of the development agreements are public information,” he said. “So, there is nothing you can’t find out about what was the incentive or the development agreement – what that entails for the state’s investment and what the company is going to do.”

Another proposal the economic development community is supporting is an increase in the gas tax to support infrastructure improvements in the state.

“We’ve had great success in bringing great companies into the state,” Canfield said. “That, in turn, means that there’s an awful lot of products and goods and supplies and raw materials that have to flow in and out of our state. We’ve got to be able to accommodate that by having the best roads and bridges we can.”

Searcy said apart from workforce, infrastructure is the greatest concern companies have when considering sites in the state.

“We’ve been very neglectful in the state for decades and it is starting to impact companies’ consideration of Alabama as a location,” Searcy said. “Until we can show a plan and the resources to execute that plan, then I think we are going to be at a disadvantage in the economic development process.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey: Workforce development is ‘very clear need’ that requires attention

(M. Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told economic developers today that the state’s success in growing jobs and capital investment is the result of teamwork and more of it will be required to address the workforce challenges ahead.

“Alabama has hit record low unemployment rates and also we have more people working in Alabama than ever before,” Ivey told those gathered at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s Winter 2019 Conference. “And jobs, y’all, are continuing to pour into our state. So, as we seek out companies to locate and expand in our great state, there remains a very clear need that we’ve got to prepare our men and women for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.”

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Ivey said it is an area that requires attention.

“That’s why enhancing workforce development is vitally important and it’s a priority of mine moving forward,” she said.

“This will be led by Nick Moore and this office will focus solely on aligning our workforce development funding streams with our workforce development programs for Alabamians all across our state,” she said. “This entity within the governor’s office is working to increase our labor force participation to surpass our goal to better equip some 500,000 of our workers with a post-secondary degree, certificate or credential.”

It’s a needed element in a larger strategic plan to enhance workforce development that educators, leaders of business and industry and communities put together, Ivey said.

“I know that together we can get that done,” she said. “Alabama’s workforce efforts will be known worldwide and they will be effective. And, to put it simply, they will be known as the best.”

Ivey used her keynote address as a call to action.

“So today, my friends at EDAA, I charge each of you, each and every one of you, to show the world that Alabama’s workforce is a force to be reckoned with and that Alabama is the place to do business,” she said. “Let’s show companies that the ‘Made in Alabama’ team is one to join because with it, our future will be filled with growth and opportunity for everyone.”

Ivey’s address wasn’t all about the challenges. She did take time to celebrate the successes.

“Throughout my time as governor, we have proven time and time again that success is best found when we work together,” she said.

During her time as governor, Ivey said the state has seen $8 billion in new investment, 16,000 new jobs and several coveted economic development projects announced, along with strides to improve the state’s education system.

“Working together, we are achieving these results,” she said. “But what matters most to Alabamians is what are the next steps. How are we going to build on the success that we’ve had?”

Ivey said she and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield recently met with seven top U.S. site consultants.

“They made it very clear to me that they appreciate the teamwork that they see in our state,” she said. “They further said that they didn’t find that degree of teamwork in many other states.”

That approach has led to a revamping of the state’s incentives program that is paying off, she said. One area seeing a large payoff is the way the state brings economic development to rural areas.

“I’ve often said that we’re only truly successful when we are all successful together,” Ivey said. “That means also striving for economic growth is important for all 67 counties.”

The incentives created by the Jobs Act focus on targeted counties allowing companies to claim more tax breaks for establishing operations in those counties.

“Since I became governor, the targeted counties saw a success rate of over 70 percent by landing 10 economic development projects. This means that nearly $1 billion and some 1,200 new jobs have been created in rural Alabama,” Ivey said.

“The targeted county approach certainly has merit,” she added. “It works, and we need to take advantage of that and continue to be innovative and work hard to be sure that we have economic development of our rural areas as well. Rural economic development is absolutely a top priority of mine. When there is gain in rural Alabama, it’s a gain for the entire state.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama looks to add to manufacturing gains along with tech, biotech growth in 2019

(Alabama NewsCenter/Vimeo)

Alabama added more than 44,000 jobs across all industries in 2018 and ended the year by posting in December the highest average weekly earnings ever recorded in the state’s history.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield shared the state’s 2018 economic development successes with fellow economic developers in Hoover Monday while sharing the Alabama Commerce Department’s plans for the new year ahead. The Economic Development Association of Alabama is holding its winter conference this week.

“It reinforces to me what is the ultimate strength of Alabama as a competitor in the economic development arena and that is we work as a team,” Canfield said, citing state and local economic development entities and government leaders, the private sector and universities.

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Among the 2018 successes Canfield noted:

• The $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota plant under construction in Huntsville is a gamechanger for the state with 4,000 jobs and 300,000 vehicles per year when it reaches full production.
• The state saw $3 billion in new foreign direct investment that accounted for at least 6,000 new or announced jobs last year.
• Shipt’s decision to expand in Birmingham and add 881 new jobs provided a blueprint for how the state can target the tech sector in the innovation  economy.

The Mazda Toyota deal adds to the state’s automotive sector that already includes Mercedes-BenzHondaHyundaiAutocar and dozens of suppliers.
Canfield said the state is on pace to become the second largest auto-producing state in the nation as soon as 2022.

“It’s interesting to note that in every journal, every article that you read today talking about the automotive sector across the United States, you’re going to read that Alabama is the No. 5 state in terms of vehicle production,” Canfield said. “And that’s a great story, isn’t it? Because prior to 1997, we didn’t produce a single vehicle. In 2017 and 2016 – and we don’t have the numbers in for 2018 – but in the two previous years, Alabama hands and Alabama automakers produced over a million vehicles.”

Pointing to a chart using Bloomberg data, Canfield said the state is steadily climbing the rankings compared to Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio and will trail only Michigan in a few years.

“We actually believe that based on the numbers that Alabama is most likely the fourth largest vehicle-producing state, Canfield said. “We expect that by 2022, if the numbers hold and the forecast is true, Alabama will take the position as the No. 2 vehicle-producing state in the U.S. and that’s an amazing feat.”

Job growth in the state is outpacing the experts’ projections, Canfield said.

“We gained 44,300 jobs across all industry sectors in 2018,” he said. “Most economists believed we would be doing good and performing well if we added 30,000 jobs.”

So how does the state economy continue to soar? One way is with Airbus building more airplanes.

The company broke ground on a new assembly line in Mobile on Jan. 16 that will bring 432 new jobs as it produces the A220 line of aircraft, joining the A320 family of aircraft produced at its existing plant.

“Having these two lines combined will ultimately make the state of Alabama the No. 5 production location in the globe for commercial large aircraft production,” Canfield said.

With the Airbus project, the state is getting a 278 percent return on its “investment” over the next 20 years based on the incentives the jet maker received.

Focusing ahead, Canfield said “2019 is going to be an important year. We’re going to have to do some things differently as we look to the future. We’re not going to be bashful about that, either.”

Canfield noted the 2020 Census will be important to the state and its economic development efforts. A failure to count the state’s population accurately could cost the state federal dollars and representation, he said.

“If we are undercounted, we will not get correct allocation,” Canfield said.

Canfield said the state wants to build on the tech-sector recruitment successes of Amazon, Facebook and Google and put a greater emphasis on helping homegrown companies like Shipt stay in Alabama and grow. The strategy and program developed for Shipt is the blueprint to do that, he said.

Broad partnerships, university support to drive STEM jobs, AIDT’s expansion beyond manufacturing training and working with local governments and private sector partners like Alabama Power on recruiting talent were some of the elements that made the Shipt project happen, Canfield said.

Other areas that Canfield will emphasize in 2019 include:

• The biotech and life science sector,
• Workforce development,
• Supplier network for Toyota Mazda,
• Rural Alabama,
• Aerospace and
• Forest products.

By the end of the year, Canfield said the Department of Commerce will take a fresh look at its long-term strategy. The first two versions of Accelerate Alabama helped the state add $28.8 billion in new capital investment and 105,000 new or announced jobs between 2012 and 2017.

“I think it’s time to thing about Accelerate Alabama 3.0,” Canfield said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Maker thimbletreestudio stitches a mother-daughter connection

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

thimbletreestudio (Homewood and Brevard, North Carolina)

The Makers: Kyle Wick and Camille Webb

When Kyle Wick sits at her sewing machine in Homewood she imagines her daughter Camille Webb is doing the same thing hundreds of miles away.

It’s a connection that goes beyond mother-daughter. The two are business partners in thimbletreestudio, producing sewn and knitted goods using everything from repurposed fabrics to leather.

Although they started the dually located business four years ago, the pattern was cut long before that.

“Camille, our oldest daughter, and I have always loved to create. We love the process of creating, of making. We love working with our hands,” Wick said. “For years we would make things and give them to family and friends – year after year until family and friends were kind of saturated. We knew it was time to expand our audience.”

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By this time, Webb was living in Colorado while Wick was in Alabama. They determined collaboration would be easy online through an Etsy shop.

But setting up an Etsy page meant they needed a name for their business.

Because they love working with their hands and sewing, “thimble” made sense as part of the name. Their love for nature brought “tree” into the mix and their artistic expression comes in with “studio.”

Thus, thimbletreestudio was born.

They worked with a UAB art student to design a logo and the business was up and running.

They started selling decorative and special occasion banners they would sew, but it wasn’t long before they wanted to branch out into other things.

Wick and Webb agreed if they were going to take it to another level they needed to set some ground rules. They agreed that thimbletreestudio would be all about joy, practicality and responsibility.

Joy?

“We must always be happy while we’re working,” Wick explained. “That way those positive feelings go into our products and out to our customers. And we continue to enjoy making.”

Practicality?

“We love pretty things, we love attractive things, we love color, we love texture and we love to make,” Wick said. “But we also love things with purpose.”

That’s why thimbletreestudio’s products have a function. They make aprons, totes, potholders, blanket throws, baby blanket scarves, leather clutches, purses, portfolios and more.

Responsibility means they can repurpose fabrics such as old tablecloths, sheets, shirts, ties and the like to make new creations. They also use scraps for potholders, bags for the business and anything else to avoid throwing anything away.

The connection through thimbletree studio has always been about more than business.

“When Camille moved out of state, it was a way for us to communicate in a different way and work together,” Wick said.

Webb agreed she loves having the link to her mother.

“Having thimbletreestudio as a part of my life is a great way to remain creative and work toward a fulfilling goal of making products and constantly growing our brand,” Webb said. “It’s also a wonderful excuse to keep in regular contact with my mom, and to be able to share this love of creating and the drive to succeed and grow.”

Wick said they have business meetings over the phone and get together for markets and shows.

Branching out into markets has changed things.

“We always thought we liked the anonymity of Etsy,” Wick said. “But over time, I realized we were missing out on something. We want feedback. We want other people to touch and tell us and share.”

When they set up and sold at their first farmers market, Wick said it “flipped a switch.”

“To be able to connect with the public, connect with other vendors and makers and farmers and artists has changed everything,” she said. “We both welcome critique, suggestions.”

Spending time together and connecting with the public are among the things Webb loves about markets as well.

“There’s such great energy at markets and festivals,” she said. “We get to talk with people we’ve never met before, and we also get to catch up with fellow artists, friends and regular customers. It’s my favorite when my mom and I can both be at an event because we get to experience this process together and really enjoy the customer aspect of having a business.”

You can find thimbletreestudio at the Market at Pepper PlaceMoss Rock FestivalWest Homewood Farmer’s MarketCahabazaarHandmade Art Show and others. Webb is also working to add other shows outside of Alabama.

“Thimbletreestudio has grown as a business each year since it’s been created,” Webb said. “That’s definitely a trend we want to keep up. We’re adding new events each year, and we’re expanding outside of Alabama for shows. We’re having a lot of fun, so as long as we’re enjoying the creative process, we will continue to grow thimbletreestudio.”

That creative process is something Wick picked up watching her own mother and grandmother sew.

“I come from a background of very talented seamstresses,” she said. “I was not taught by them, but I admired their work. I’ve always loved fabric – touching it, looking at it, pairing it.”

It wasn’t until her daughters gave her a gift several years ago that Wick decided to start sewing.

Although she’s obsessed with aprons today, Wick never wore one until her daughters gave her one as a gift.

“What I realized when I wore it was that I was always smiling,” she said. “It didn’t matter what I was doing, I was happy.”

Wick used that apron to create a pattern and started making aprons to give to family and friends.

“It had to happen because aprons could make others happy, too,” she said.

That original apron still hangs in her studio as inspiration.

While Wick’s work uses bright colors and patterns, her daughter’s work is different.

“Camille has an amazing aesthetic,” Wick said. “(Her work) is very clean and … unfussy.”

One area Webb has grown is working with leather to create clutches, purses, portfolios, computer bags and other items.

“I’ve always been drawn to leatherworks, from the feel, smell and the wide variations in leathers,” she said. “I like that leather is so durable, and with wear and regular use, it evolves beautifully.”

Wick said more and more people bring them personal items such as old sheets, tablecloths or blankets and ask thimbletreestudio to create something new out of them.

Webb loves where the work has brought them.

“Thimbletreestudio allows us to share our passion for creating handmade items with others who we probably wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise,” she said. “It also keeps us in check when we have a new idea about way to create a product, or to create new products altogether; we have to evaluate whether this is a productive way of growing our business and to take into consideration what the reaction will be from our customers.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Good Morning Coffee is an Alabama Maker keen on beans

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Good Morning Coffee (Hayden)

The Maker: Seth Aderhold

When Seth Aderhold graduated from UAB in 2016, he was looking to start a business he felt could survive any economic downturn.

He focused on something he knew he couldn’t live without.

“Coffee has been around for so long, I thought it was recession-proof,” Aderhold said. “I thought I would give it a shot. I didn’t see coffee going anywhere.”

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Aderhold had to learn all about coffee beans, find a provider, learn how to roast raw beans and other nuances particular to the process. There was also packaging, distribution and sales.

He admits he burned his share of beans that had to be thrown out. But now, he almost knows when the beans are ready before he even checks the color and aroma.

When it was time to put a name on his product, Aderhold used a thought he had when he greeted his own cup of joe one morning.

“I was drinking coffee one morning and I thought, ‘Good morning, coffee,’” he said. He was surprised to find the name wasn’t already taken.

Aderhold uses Columbian Supremo beans, which have a sweeter flavor than some other coffee beans. He roasts them and adds nitrogen to keep the coffee fresher longer.

Good Morning Coffee produces more than 100 flavors, some of them seasonal like Southern Pecan in the fall. Other than regular, the most popular flavors are Irish Cream, Jamaican Me Crazy, Hazelnut and Caramel.

One other thing that sets Aderhold apart from other coffee producers in the state is his ability to package his coffee in K-Cups. He invested in a machine early on when he saw how popular single-serve coffee makers were becoming.

“We have our own K-Cup line,” Aderhold said. “I know we’re the only coffee company in Alabama that has this machine.”

He estimates that 60 percent of his sales are K-Cups, churning out 75,000 per week. Those sales are to grocery stores, restaurants and hotels.

Good Morning Coffee is available in hundreds of grocery stores, Aderhold said. In Alabama, the coffee is at some Piggly Wiggly, Foodland, Rouse’s Market, Kroger locations and others. He also sells to stores in neighboring states

Aderhold remembers seeing his product on a grocery shelf for the first time.

“It feels kind of weird at first when you see it,” he said. “But it’s great.”

Good Morning Coffee is a one-man operation. Aderhold handles sales during the day, roasts at night and makes deliveries in the wee hours of the morning.

“I wear many hats,” he said. “It’s definitely working 80- to 90-hour weeks all of the time. It’s hard work, but I enjoy it.”

His hands-on approach means he can control the quality of his product as it reaches customers.

“All of my coffee I deliver to these grocery stores, hotels and restaurants was roasted within 48 to 72 hours,” he said.


Good Morning Coffee

The product: Coffee in a variety of roasts, blends and flavors sold whole bean, ground and in K-Cups.

Take home: A package of original flavored K-Cups (prices vary).

In addition to the retail outlets, Good Morning Coffee sells products through its website.

Good Morning Coffee can be found online, on Facebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Birmingham Iron promises to feed Alabama’s appetite for football into the spring

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

The Birmingham Iron has good news for those already lamenting the end of football season: The Alliance of American Football (AAF) kicks off in Legion Field in 40 days.

Birmingham Iron coach Tim Lewis and General Manager Joe Pendry held a press conference today to let football fans know that pigskin passions can be satiated after the College Football Playoff and the Super Bowl.

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“There are people who want to watch football,” Pendry said. “I was always one of those. I don’t want to turn on one of those other things that happen to be filling a void.”

The preparations begin this weekend for the Iron’s first game against the Memphis Express at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Legion Field. The team whittled down a roster of 85 players to 75 at a minicamp in December and will hold a camp beginning Saturday in San Antonio that will cut the roster down to the final 52 that will take the field next month.

“It may not be the 52 best athletes. It’s going to be the 52 best football players,” Lewis said. “The tools are there. The coaching staff is prepared. Now it’s just a matter of putting the team together under that pressure of training camp and under our watchful eye, we will get this team to know what to do and how to do it.”

Most of the players on the roster had a taste of the NFL and are trying to get back there.

“We sought guys who have potential to go back and play in the NFL,” Pendry said. “For one reason or another, they didn’t make it and they want to continue to play.”

Lewis said the experience level among the current roster varies widely.

At minicamp, when Lewis asked the players with 10 years or more in the NFL to stand up, only kicker Nick Novak was standing. By contrast, 10 players stood up when Lewis asked for those who were experiencing their first professional football camp.

Lewis said the great thing about the players who have been in the NFL before is they are willing to put in the work necessary to get back.

“They understand the urgency of now,” he said. “They understand the urgency of the coach’s voice.”

Pendry said that hunger is what they were after in putting together the current roster.

“If you don’t have a burning desire to play and a burning desire to get better, we don’t want you representing our area or the Birmingham Iron,” he said.

Pendry said the allocation the AAF uses has helped the Birmingham Iron build a quality roster.

In addition to getting access to players from football schools in Alabama, the Iron gets the pick of players from Mississippi State, Maryland, North Carolina State and Missouri. The Iron also gets access to NFL players cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots, Pendry said.

That has helped the Birmingham Iron fill its roster with names that many in Alabama will recognize. Former Crimson Tide players Chris Black (wide receiver), Leon Brown (guard), Xzavier Dickson (linebacker), Brandon Greene (tackle), J.C. Hassenauer (center), Dominick Jackson (tackle), Korren Kirven (tackle), Cole Mazza (long snapper), Trent Richardson (running back), Blake Sims (quarterback) and Bradley Sylve (defensive back) are on the current roster.

Former Auburn players on the roster include Quan Bray (wide receiver), Chris Davis (defensive back), Trovon Reed (defensive back), Robenson Therezie (defensive back) and Ryan White (defensive back).

There are also players from UAB (Chris Schleuger), South Alabama (Braedon Bowman and Wes Saxton), Troy (Jonathan Massaquoi), Jacksonville State (Jonathan Hagler), Miles (Lonnie Outlaw), Tuskegee (DeVozea Felton) and Samford (Shaheed Salmon).

Many of the 11 coaches also have connections to Alabama schools as does Pendry, who came to the University of Alabama in 2007 as the offensive line coach s part of Nick Saban’s original staff.

Lewis said he’s excited by what he has seen from Trent Richardson thus far.

“We have a running back – you guys might know the name ‘Trent Richardson,’ not foreign to anybody in here – the guy is fantastic,” Lewis said. “He’s bought in. He’s all in 100 percent. He’s really excited about the opportunity. I can’t wait to see him go full speed. We’ve been out in shorts and he’s already got the hair on the back of my neck standing up.”

Lewis said the goal coming out of training camp is to have a team ready to contend for the first AAF championship.

“We’ve all come together and put together a package and a plan to get this team, this city, this state a championship,” he said. “You’re going to love the way the Birmingham Iron plays the game. I’m really excited about leading our team to a championship.”

Pendry, who coached in the former USFL, said one of the problems with past spring football leagues was “teams hogging the quarterbacks.” A quarterback draft was intended to address that concern and the Birmingham Iron got its first pick of Luis Perez, a former Texas A&M-Commerce and Los Angeles Rams player and winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division II.

Lewis didn’t want to give away much about the team’s offensive and defensive schemes, but did say the offense will be a balance of run and pass and they will use the pass to set up the run.

“The combination of athletes that we will put on the field offensively … I’m not trying to create any bulletin board material for anybody, but I would say as a former defensive coordinator in the NFL, I wouldn’t like to play against us,” he said.

Defensively, Lewis said they will focus on stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.

Pendry said watching the Iron take shape has him amped for the inaugural season.

“I’ve had the good fortune of being around football for a long time,” he said. “I’m as damned excited as I’ve ever been about this one, too.”

Despite the excitement, oddsmakers aren’t giving the Birmingham Iron much of a chance at winning it all. Lewis said he’s to blame.

“The fact of the matter is I’m the only one with a team who hasn’t been a head coach at any level before,” Lewis said. “But I like our chances. They don’t know our players. Our team will have more to say about that than the oddsmakers.”

Pendry said the job now is to give Birmingham and Alabama a team football fans can get behind.

“If we do our job, if we put a good product on the field … we will attract the fans.”

Watch the entire press conference below.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Nancy Goodman is an Alabama Maker creating quilted works of art

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Nancy Goodman Quilted Art (Mobile)

The Maker: Nancy Goodman

This is not your grandma’s quilting.

When you hear that Nancy Goodman makes quilted art, you’re probably apt to think, “Oh, my grandmother used to do quilts.”

But odds are Mawmaw never did anything like this.

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Goodman used to make traditional quilts, and she knows the difference between making something that looks pretty and is functional versus something worthy of hanging on a wall.

“That’s a joke around the quilting world,” she said. “If you say you make quilts or if you say you make art quilts, the next word out of the person’s mouth is, ‘My grandmother …’ but what we do isn’t really the same thing. It requires a high technical ability and a lot of imagination. Some traditional quilts meet those criteria but most of them don’t. They’re pretty in their own way.”

Goodman started quilting about four decades ago and only made traditional quilts for the first dozen years.

“I took one class when I started,” she said. “I’ve taken other workshops along the way.”

For many years, doing traditional quilts one square at a time held her interest.

“When I first started quilting, every block I made would be a surprise,” she said. “I would do the final ironing and go, ‘Ooh! Wow! That’s pretty.’ But I lost that feeling and I got it back when I started working on art quilts.”

The stitch work and the creativity of art quilting are what keeps it exciting for Goodman.

“It’s the same skills that you use for traditional quilting but traditional quilting uses established patterns and art quilting does not,” Goodman said. “Each one is unique. You won’t see any two that look much the same.”

Goodman said she usually has a vague plan about what she wants to create, and will even scribble the basic concept onto a small piece of paper.

“The rest, I just wing it,” she said.

Her larger quilts can take a few months to complete.

“I like to work big, because big quilts just have more impact than small quilts,” she said. “The small quilts are what sell.”

While people see the colors and the patterns or the subject matter, the real art is in the quilting and the stitching.

“Something people don’t always understand about quilts is the quilting part,” Goodman said. “A quilt by definition is three layers that are stitched in an overall pattern to bond them together.”

Stitching on quilts was originally used to hold cotton in the center in place to keep it from settling after washing. For art quilts, the stitching work is very much a part of the artistic expression.

“That is the lion’s part of the work,” Goodman said. “I estimate I spend 60 to 80 hours quilting on a major quilt. When you get up close, it adds a whole other dimension to the art.”

She creates large quilts that she will sell, but the main reason she makes them is to enter them into national shows. Her life’s ambition is to get a quilt entered into Quilt National, which is held every other year. Only about 10 percent of the quilts submitted make it into the show.

Goodman sells her stuff from her shop in the  Central Arts Collective in Mobile’s Central Presbyterian Church on Dauphin Street. Former school classrooms have been converted into studios with low rent for artists. She also sells through her Etsy shop online.

“I have done many experiments and they’re not all completely successful but they all go on Etsy because you never know what someone is going to like,” Goodman said.

She used to do arts and crafts shows but found they weren’t the best outlets for her art form.

“People mostly came by and said how pretty it was and then they didn’t buy anything,” Goodman said. “So, I quit doing that after a while.”

Goodman keeps up on the latest techniques and hones her craft through workshops. The Azalea City Quilters Guild in Mobile offers workshops.

Goodman was fortunate to participate in a workshop in Ohio with Nancy Crow, a renowned quilting artist.

Though she does still do some work by hand, most of Goodman’s stitching is done using a large machine that takes up one-third of her workshop.

Even as the tools change, Goodman said the goal is to always produce a beautiful piece of art. As with all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“I used to tell my students that the only quilt that was ugly was the one that wasn’t finished,” she said. “But I’ve changed my mind. I think there are some really ugly quilts out there now.”


Nancy Goodman Quilted Art

The product: Quilted art pieces suitable for hanging.

Take home: A piece called “Farm Girl Vintage Quilt,” which is Goodman’s artistic take on a traditional Southern quilt ($500).

Nancy Goodman’s creations can be found at her Etsy shop online or at her shop at the Central Arts Collective at 1260 Dauphin St. in downtown Mobile.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Hundreds turn out to support Wreaths Across America at Alabama National Cemetery

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

There is something both sad and joyous about seeing wreaths leaning against the marble headstones of service members buried at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.

Dec. 15 marked the 10th year that Wreaths Across America was held at the cemetery, which was one of more than 1,400 locations in the U.S., at sea and around the world to participate in the holiday remembrance, including Arlington National Cemetery.

At the Alabama National Cemetery, family members of the more than 6,000 service members interred there were joined by volunteers for a ceremony honoring them. Family members and volunteers then went to the gravesites to place wreaths on all of the markers.

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“To their families, this means the world to them,” said Pam Nichols, chairman of the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery. “I had a couple of gold star mothers tell me when they come out here and all of the crowd is with them and laying wreaths that it makes them feel like they’re still celebrating Christmas with their loved one. So, that makes it very special.”

Janice Rogers of WBRC-Fox 6 was the master of ceremonies and Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Gary Michael Rose delivered the keynote address at the Alabama National Cemetery Wreaths Across America ceremony this year.

The volunteers showed up in abundance this year. Nichols said although there is great turnout for other events throughout the year, Wreaths Across America is the most supported at the cemetery.

“The community actually rallies behind us for this ceremony in greater numbers than anything we do all year,” she said. “The holiday season makes it a special time. Everyone is in a giving mood and wants to pour out their love for the family members in particular that are left behind. We want them to know that they’re special to us and we recognize and appreciate the sacrifice that they’ve made.”

American Legion posts, Civil Air Patrol squadrons, Scout troops, church groups, school organizations, corporate volunteer groups and others were among those participating in the Alabama Wreaths Across America event.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey began a weeklong Wreaths Across America commemoration on Dec. 10 by laying a wreath on the Fallen Heroes Memorial at the state capitol.

The wreaths at the Alabama National Cemetery will remain there through the holiday season and be removed in January.

Wreaths Across America has its roots with a tribute in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, donated its surplus wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. In 2005, a photo of the headstones adorned with wreaths brought national attention and the practice spread to other locations.

“It has spread tremendously over the years,” Nichols said. “There are actually sites in and around Birmingham where there are veterans laid to rest and they have picked up this ceremony as well. It’s a great way to remember and celebrate these heroes and their families in the holiday season.”

At the Alabama National Cemetery, the support committee and the Bessemer Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron are the leading organizers along with the Blue Star Salute Foundation. Individuals, organizations and corporations sponsor the wreaths.

Despite an overcast, chilly day, the support at last Saturday’s event was impressive.

“We’ve had so many volunteers that we were even running out of things for them to do,” Nichols said. “We had youth groups as large as 100 strong that came out to help us today. It was a great day in that regard.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club breaks ground on $7.2 million clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is building a $7.2 million Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex, but if history is any indication, it’s also building future leaders. Leaders like Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who is a self-proclaimed “club kid” having grown up in Boys & Girls Clubs.

“I can personally speak to the power of the Boys & Girls Club,” Woodfin said. “I spent some formative years here as a club kid.”

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Woodfin said it was on the sports practice fields in downtown Birmingham where he learned the value of teamwork.

“The greatest lesson I learned from the club … is the importance of teamwork in this city,” he said. “I learned that no matter how great the individual players were as part of the club or on the team, it’s the unity that ensures victory.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice has made mentoring and youth programs like Boys & Girls Club a pet project nationally. She praised the possibilities the new clubhouse in Birmingham holds.

“This great, new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is just going to be full of possibilities,” she said. “It’s not just programs that they deliver on. They deliver on caring and compassion for our young people.”

Rice co-chaired the campaign to build a new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club along with Altec CEO Lee Styslinger III and Regions Financial Corp.Chairman Grayson Hall.

She said those who contributed to the new clubhouse initiative have demonstrated they make children a priority.

“This is about the possibilities when a community comes together,” Rice said. “It’s absolutely the case that when the corporate community and private citizens like the McWanes and people from across the city come together and say, ‘We’re going to do something special for our kids,’ something magnificent happens.”

Frank Adams, CEO of A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, said the new facility will include a new gym, a music room, a game room, a new café able to serve hot meals and STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math) labs. The two-story facility will have a floor dedicated to teens and will be able to serve twice as many children as the Kirkwood R. Balton facility it is replacing.

Adams said the clubhouse will be a great addition to the CrossPlex campus.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help revitalize this area while serving our kids at a higher level,” he said.

Walter Howlett Jr. was a prominent member of the business community in Birmingham and served as the chairman of the board at A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club for more than 20 years. Adams said it’s a worthy tribute to name the new facility after him.

The CrossPlex campus and the new facility are in Birmingham City Councilman Steven Hoyt’s district. He said the new clubhouse will be a welcomed addition.

“Today is very much about an orchestrated optimism and the future of our young people,” he said. “This new club is a symbol of hope.”

Rice said that hope has been realized again and again through Boys & Girls Clubs.

“The Boys & Girls Clubs talk about building great futures,” she said. “Well, you can only get a great future if you have a great start and that is what this is really all about.

“The best in us believes that every life is worthy, and every life is worthy of greatness,” she added.

Who knows, maybe the next mayor or the next secretary of state will come from there.

“I believe in the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club because I know it’s power,” Woodfin said. “It’s a training ground to guide our young people in the right direction. It’s where they will make lasting friendships, make community connections and acquire life lessons that will serve them well when they become the next leaders of our city.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Digi.City panel: Birmingham could be Smart Cities leader in inclusive economic growth

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham has already figured out a key element in developing a Smart City and it could become an example for others when it comes to inclusive economic growth, a panel of experts said Thursday.

Digi.City Connects Birmingham Roundtable was held at Innovation Depot to allow those who are leading the Smart Cities initiative in Birmingham to discuss best practices from other cities and the way ahead for the Magic City.

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In March, the Smart Cities Council named Birmingham one of five winners of the 2018 Smart Cities Readiness Challenge Grant. The grant is intended to help cities use technology and data to tackle local challenges, and improve services and connectivity.

Digi.City was created to inspire and inform leaders as cities advance in the digital age, particularly those building on a Smart Cities designation. Digi.Cities convenes roundtables like in Birmingham to have discussions across all segments within a community.

The Birmingham roundtable included:

–George Stegall, connectivity manager with Alabama Power;
–Yuval Yoseffy, data management specialist with the city of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic  Opportunity;
–Deon Gordon, CEO of TechBirmingham;
–Dr. Anthony Hood, director of Civic Innovation at UAB; and
–Mashonda Taylor, chief community relations officer for the Woodlawn Foundation.

“What Birmingham is doing that I think is such a brilliant approach is that they’re coming at it from a three-legged stool,” said Chelsea Collier, founder of Digi.City. “So, it’s the city, it’s the University of Alabama at Birmingham and it’s also Alabama Power. From that really strong stance they’re inviting everyone from the community – from community advocates to nonprofits, startups, all of the creator community – and really focusing on, ‘Yes, we can be informed by our past, but who do we want to be going forward? What are our values and how are we going to use connected technology to lift all of our residents?’”

The discussion centered on where technology and people come together and how key components like infrastructure and the internet can help improve lives in the metro area.

That led to talk of ways Birmingham differs from other cities and identifying how Birmingham can stand out as a Smart City.

Hood suggested Birmingham use something that in the past was a source of a negative image for the city into something that shapes it as an innovator in the future.

“We’re trying to come up with a model for inclusive economic growth. What does that look like? Quite frankly, I don’t know that there is any city in the country that actually figured this out,” Hood said. “Birmingham can be that city that figures that out. When we talk about Smart Cities, talk about technology and building the city of the future, we need to make sure none of our citizens are left out.”

Others seized on that thought.

“That is so exciting I would love to see Birmingham be one of the first cities in the United States to really get that right,” Collier said.

Before Birmingham can work toward such objectives, however, the panel said there is much that has to be done in the Smart Cities process.

Stegall said Alabama Power will have a central role to play because the technology has to be powered by the electric grid.

“We’ve got to grow our communities. We’ve got to support them,” Stegall said. “We’ve done it since the beginning of our company and this is the latest frontier. We’ve got to be a solution-provider to those communities. And we can.”

Stegall said that doesn’t mean dictating what is needed, but listening.

“We’re not going to come and tell you exactly what your needs are, you are going to come and tell us,” he said.

Taylor agreed that while data should be used to serve residents and change communities through areas like public safety and transportation, the citizens need to play a role in the onset to have ultimate buy-in and successful implementation.

“We’ve got to take high-level data and share it at a lower level,” she said.

Taylor said we can’t neglect primary or secondary education as part of the process.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t have a strong K-12 system, we’re not going to be feeding students into these new positions,” she said. “If they cannot critically think and do basic reading or math – which is going to be necessary for these new jobs of the future – there’s no way they’re going to be able to compete.”

Hood agreed.

“We have to be very intentional about that. We can’t do this haphazardly,” he said. “We can’t mess this up. If we mess this up, we could set the city back for decades.”

Gordon said TechBirmingham has an initiative focused on K-12 education and sees that as a key component. He used the acronym “MAGIC” to map out his organization’s approach. It consists of marketing and promoting, alignment of assets and approaches, growing the economic base, inclusion of all in the community, and connectivity.

A Smart Cities Readiness Workshop in August helped identify some of the key needs and ways to use technology to tackle big issues in the Birmingham area.

Yossefy said the city is moving on to the next steps.

“We have gone past identifying what the problems are. That is kind of that major first step,” he said. “We know what needs to be done. There are kind of two things happening in parallel over at the city. The first is we are picking specific projects that we can do really interesting analysis on and then basically use those to influence policy in the short term. The second thing is a much more long-term pull.”

Hood said the city isn’t working alone in taking the next steps.

“It’s about collaboration. It’s about developing a shared understanding,” he said. “All of us have to be on the same page if we truly want to have a Smart City.”

The areas of emphasis can come into focus by asking one simple question, Hood said.

“If it doesn’t benefit citizens and residents, then what are we doing it for?”

Collier said from what she has seen visiting other cities, Birmingham is asking the right questions and including the right players.

“It’s how you come together and understand who you are as a community and who you want to be and really focus on what can you do well,” she said.

Which is why Hood thinks the ultimate thing Birmingham can do well is including everyone in its future growth.

“Dr. (Martin Luther) King referred to Birmingham as the most segregated city in America back in the ‘60s,” he said. “We now have an opportunity to be the most inclusive city in America. I think we’re going to do it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Infinite Soaps is an Alabama Maker bringing a grandmother’s work to a new generation

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Infinite Soaps, Birmingham

The Maker: Christopher Funderburk

Christopher Funderburk has his teen acne to thank for the business he started as an adult. Well, that and a grandmother’s love.

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While he was searching for a solution to his acne as a teen, Funderburk’s mother and grandmother steered him toward lye soaps. It worked.

It wasn’t until he came home on summer break from the University of Alabama in 2013 that his grandmother taught him the process of making lye soap.

She had grown up knowing how to make it. Soap-making was less artisan and more necessity for many who grew up in that generation.

The summer education proved to be invaluable.

“It kind of allowed me to not make as many errors,” he said. “There still were plenty of errors made because making soap, it can be really finicky at times.”

But Funderburk studied more about lye soaps and found ways to make them more accessible to today’s generation.

He would make samples and share with friends at college and soon he saw there was enough demand for what he was making that he could sell it. That’s when Infinite Soaps was born.

Funderburk learned to use plant-based oils to make all-natural soaps that are vegan, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced. His packaging is made from recycled materials.

The business has grown beyond those initial bars of soap to include liquid soaps and body washes, Dead Sea mineral salts, beard oils and other products.

Eucalyptus and Tea Tree is the most popular scent, but Funderburk likes to play with other fragrances as well, such as Ginger and Lime or Cinnamon and Mint.

“We try to be a little different and that’s worked really well for us,” Funderburk said.

When he’s not working his day job at Birmingham-based Shipt, Funderburk sells his products at the Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham and he currently has a pop-up shop in Avondale that is open Thursdays through Sundays. Infinite Soaps are also sold through Square One Goods in downtown Birmingham, Elements in Crestwood and The Retreat Day Spa in Crestwood.

Funderburk sells his products online and is pursuing a new way of reaching more customers in the future.

“We are looking to focus more on online sales and we’ve been recently throwing around the idea of a subscription model, so look for that in 2019,” he said.


Infinite Soaps

The product: Artisan lye soaps and other skin and hair products.

Take home: The Birmingham Gift Box, which comes with two bars of soap, a bottle of body wash and a bottle of beard oil ($39.95).

You can visit Infinite Soaps at its Avondale pop-up shop in the shipping container on the corner of 41st Street and Third Avenue South. Infinite Soaps is also online, on Facebook and on Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Tore up at Talladega Superspeedway: Progress comes with destruction at storied track

(Contributed)

If you consider the Talladega Superspeedway sacred ground, you might not want to look at these pictures.

The track now has a huge hole through it at the Alabama Gang Superstretch.

It gives a whole new meaning to “tore up at Talladega.”

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But don’t worry, this is all part of the $50 million Transformation project at the speedway. That hole will become the Turn 3 Oversized Vehicle Tunnel, giving large trucks and recreational vehicles continuous access to the infield – something track officials have said fans have wanted for years.

So, while it can’t be easy seeing the tri-oval broken, it is a comfort knowing that come April the track will be back to normal and access to the infield improved just in time for the 2019 spring race.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama brewery hosts grand opening celebration reflective of its Port City home

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

It took a lot longer than expected for Haint Blue to get its brewery open in Mobile, so they decided to savor and celebrate the moment with proper Port City polish.

On Nov. 9, Haint Blue beers were served at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club before a second line formed to parade to the grand opening of Haint Blue Brewing Co. in the former Crystal Ice House building a couple of blocks away.

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“We dance in the streets.  We have brass bands for no reason other than they’re fun.  Joe Cain is dressing up as an Indian,” said an excited Keith Sherrill, owner and founder of Haint Blue.  “It made me feel closer to this place and reminded me of things that are special.”

Sherrill’s excitement and relief were understandable.  He announced plans to build the brewery nearly two years ago.  The former U.S. Army Ranger and medevac pilot in Afghanistan was looking to launch a post-military business.

Some permitting and zoning challenges and concerns from at least one neighboring property owner delayed Haint Blue’s start.  In the interim, the brewery started contract brewing and bottling its beers at Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, Mississippi.

Sherrill said that ended up being a blessing.

“Although we were in a holding pattern, we also didn’t know what we didn’t know, so in all of that we learned some things that likely helped us get on our feet and not pour a batch down the drain when we started in here,” he said.

Head brewer Matt Wheeler said although he knew all about the brewing process, being around it at another brewery really helped in establishing the processes in Mobile.

“The time over there was invaluable,” he said. “We were able to pull it off here without a hitch.”

With the tap room, the murals on the wall, the décor and the brew tanks, there is no doubt that you’re inside a brewery when you walk into the new Haint Blue.  But there is very much a sense of history with the elements of the old ice house that still come through.

“We kept what we could and we fought for the things that didn’t sound like a good idea initially, but fortunately we had some contractors and architects and those kind of folks who really helped what was in my head actually come to fruition,” Sherrill said.

Out in the courtyard a bottle tree adds to the ambiance.  The Mobile skyline is visible and just over the wall is the grave of Joe Cain, the founder of Mardi Gras as we know it in Mobile.

The legend of Joe Cain lives on with those who carry on his tradition of dressing as characters to lead parades like the second line.  Actor Wayne Dean had that honor for the Haint Blue celebration.

“I’m honored to be the fourth person, counting Joe Cain, to personify Chief Slacabamorinico,” Dean said.

Dean said by reviving the characters that Joe Cain originally brought to life, Mobile is able to connect its past to its present.

That was part of the reason Sherrill wanted to start the parade at Callaghan’s.  The Mobile institution is where Haint Blue debuted its first beer in the city that is now its home.

Sherrill hopes that like Callaghan’s, Haint Blue will become a Mobile institution.

“I really want to be a place that belongs in Mobile,” Sherrill said.

The fact that Sherrill opened the brewery on Veterans Day weekend is not a coincidence, said the Army veteran.

“This is an everyone bar.  A veteran happens to run it,” Sherrill said.  “At the same time, I think veterans happen to be doing a lot of good things and I like the opportunity of getting to be a brand ambassador and share it with other veterans coming in.  Like, ‘Hey, look what we can do.’ That’s what I want people to see.”

By selling its beer in stores and in bars, Haint Blue has already built a following – something that was apparent with the large crowd that showed up for the opening.

“It’s overwhelming right now,” Wheeler said. “I’m just trying to make the beer pour faster.”

For the launch, Haint Blue was pouring three versions of India pale ales, or IPAs.  But Wheeler promised there will be more beer variations and some experimental beers to come.  He wants to do stouts, a porter and some barrel-aged beers in addition to Haint Blue’s popular saffron saison.

“We will be able to get a lot more creative moving forward,” Wheeler said.

Sherrill hopes the crowd is a sign of what’s to come.

“I hope people continue to support us and this just isn’t a one-night thing,” he said.  “We’re going to make good beer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

New video aims to highlight Alabama’s $7.2 billion biotech industry

(M. Mercier/UAH)

The word “biotech” might evoke images of lab coats and petri dishes and, while that is certainly part of the story, BIO Alabama wants to make sure it isn’t the entire story.

A new video with amped-up music and images that cut across a wide swath of the important industry aims to frame biotech differently in the state.

Highlights include the state’s research universities, Southern ResearchHudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Innovation Depot along with many of the biotech and life sciences companies in Alabama. Watch it below.

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In Alabama, the biotech industry is significant. According to a report from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business, the industry has a $7.2 billion economic impact on the state, including:

  • 780 bioscience companies;
  • 48,000 direct and indirect jobs;
  • $68,000 average salary (46 percent above Alabama average);
  • $2.3 billion payroll;
  • $161 million payroll taxes;
  • $101 million in venture capital since 2012;
  • $1.3 billion National Institutes of Health funding; and
  • 9 percent of Alabama’s gross domestic product.

BIO Alabama is the statewide affiliate of the international Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) made up of industry, educational and economic development entities committed to connecting and expanding the industry.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

4 months ago

Scott McQueen is an Alabama Maker turning car tags into folk art

(Mike Tomberlin)

It took awhile, but Scott McQueen finally realized he was producing art that people wanted to own.

“I had some old car tags, and I kind of sliced them up a little bit and made my own personalized tag,” he said. “I made one and hung it up and a friend of mine came by the house and said, ‘Hey, I like that!’ So I gave it to him and made another one. About two weeks later somebody came by again and said, ‘Hey, I like that!’ That was déjà vu. By the time I got to the third one and the third, ‘Hey, I like that!’ I thought maybe I’m on to something here.”

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McQueen decided to pursue folk art in the same vein as fellow Fayette native Jimmy Lee Sudduth and B.F. “Brother Ben” Perkins from nearby Vernon.

One distinctive attribute of McQueen’s art is the way he incorporates previously used materials from barn wood to pieces of tin to license plates to what he calls “tool box junk.”

“I just enjoy country stuff. I enjoy making art out of repurposed material,” he said. “I find a lot of pleasure in you might say breathing new life into something that’s considered discard.”

McQueen said he doesn’t usually look for something with an idea in mind but just goes with the inspiration as it happens.

“Most times, it just kind of hits me,” he said. “I will find something, and it will be the right thing at the right time. I don’t necessarily have a lot of pre-planning going on.”

Whatever the method, people are responding. His work features bright colors and a heavy dose of Southern whimsy.

Whether it’s his piece depicting a Southern translation of the 10 Commandments or a board that allows Crimson Tide fans to easily update their team’s ever-growing list of national championships, McQueen’s style and humor come through in his art.

The response has been so great earlier this year he was able to become a full-time artist. He was working as a full-time chaplain with Hospice of West Alabama while also trying to pursue his art. But when a space became available at Kentuck Art Center, McQueen applied and was accepted to be an artist in residence at the Northport art community.

Scott McQueen’s art can be found at his studio at Kentuck Art Center (503 Main Avenue, Northport, under the big red dog) or on Facebook, Instagram or Etsy.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Honda announces new Passport SUV will be built in Alabama

(Honda)

Honda announced this week that it will build its new Passport sport utility vehicle at its Alabama assembly plant in Lincoln.

The automaker gave a bird’s-eye look at the SUV doing some off-road runs with a teaser video and plans to unveil a closer look on its YouTube channel on Nov. 27 in advance of the Los Angeles Auto Show .

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“The new Passport is a more personal, powerful and off-road-capable SUV that hits the sweet spot between daily driving comfort and weekend off-road, all-weather adventure capability,” said Henio Arcangeli Jr., senior vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and general manager of Honda Division.  “With customer demand for SUVs continuing to grow, the new adventure-ready Passport is going to further solidify our lineup, attracting new buyers and keeping existing customers in the Honda family.”

The new Passport, which goes on sale early next year, will join the Pilot SUV, Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup on the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama assembly line in Lincoln. The Passport falls between the CR-V and the Pilot in Honda’s SUV family.

The 2019 Passport was designed and developed in the U.S. by Honda R&D Americas.  The vehicle will be revealed via livestream on Honda’s YouTube channel starting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Honda brand light-truck sales are on track for a fourth-straight record year, on the way to top 700,000 units for the third year in a row and accounting for more than half of the Honda brand’s U.S. sales so far this year. Light-truck sales are up 5.3 percent from year-ago results.

Honda was named America’s “Best SUV Brand” by U.S. News and World Report in 2018, for the second straight year.  Honda’s Odyssey, Pilot and Ridgeline recently took three of the top 10 spots in Cars.com’s 2018 American-Made Index.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

BJCC shares details of $123M Legacy Arena expansion and renovation

(BJCC)

A new stadium may be the shiny element of the $300 million expansion and renovation of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, but the substantive changes coming to Legacy Arena will position the campus for the next several decades.

Before it was viewed as the “beige bunker” many see it as today, the BJCC’s arena was a state-of-the-art venue rivaled by few in the U.S. when it was built in 1976.

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Some of music’s biggest names played the main arena, from Elvis to Garth Brooks, Bob Dylan to Luciano Pavarotti, Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grateful Dead to Taylor Swift, JAY Z to ZZ Top and Prince to Celine Dion. It has hosted major sporting events, from basketball to hockey to tennis and attractions from tractor pulls to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

A new stadium may be the shiny element of the $300 million expansion and renovation of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, but the substantive changes coming to Legacy Arena will position the campus for the next several decades.

Before it was viewed as the “beige bunker” many see it as today, the BJCC’s arena was a state-of-the-art venue rivaled by few in the U.S. when it was built in 1976.

Some of music’s biggest names played the main arena, from Elvis to Garth Brooks, Bob Dylan to Luciano Pavarotti, Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grateful Dead to Taylor Swift, JAY Z to ZZ Top and Prince to Celine Dion. It has hosted major sporting events, from basketball to hockey to tennis and attractions from tractor pulls to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The $123 million renovation and expansion of the arena will include enhancements to improve the fan experience, circulation to and within the space and modernization aimed at the kind of amenities and interactions today’s fans and customers expect.

Customers aren’t just those who buy tickets to events, but the performers who have come to expect a certain level of comfort.

“The experience the customer has in your building is very important,” said Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the BJCC. “They’re going to tell others about the kind of experience they had there.”

Much has changed in 42 years and while the arena has been renovated and improved in that time, there has been nothing as transformative as the work that is planned.

The changes will be apparent before ever setting foot inside Legacy Arena.

An added glass wall with floor space will allow for natural light within an expanded area perfect for exhibitions, showcases and other programming.

The primary entrance into the arena will be reoriented to Ninth Avenue and 19thStreet North.

Landscaping and contrasting paint colors will make for a more aesthetically pleasing building.

Inside the arena, club-level boxes and VIP suites will be one noticeable difference. Modern seating will be installed, enhancements that build on the use of smartphones and technology will be added. Improved concessions are in the plan as well as an option that could allow for delivery to individual seats.

Other changes are planned for behind the scenes areas that will allow for the larger tour buses, increased number of tractor-trailers and other logistics support that comes with modern concert and entertainment productions. The courtyard that connects the arena to the concert hall and exhibition halls will also get an overhaul and all of the BJCC enhancements will complement the $174 million, 55,000-seat stadium being built nearby.

Snider said plans are to have the stadium completed in time for the 2021 World Games opening ceremony and the new Legacy Arena ready in the winter of 2022.

The BJCC expansion and renovations will be in conjunction with improvements to the interstate system through downtown Birmingham, specifically the enhancements to Interstate 59/20 and the CityWalk BHAM park under the elevated roadway.

Along with the success of venues like the Uptown entertainment district and Topgolf, the BJCC and surrounding area will be ready for the next half -century. The NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans have already announced the arena will be home to its G League team and the stadium will be home to UAB football and the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football.

Snider said the future is bright, but the new arena will include displays that give a nod to the venue’s past.

“New buildings are nice, but you can’t recreate the history,” he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)