The Wire

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

2 weeks ago

Hyundai reveals pricing for Alabama-built Santa Cruz ‘Sport Adventure Vehicle’ pickup


Hyundai’s first pickup, which the automaker is calling a Sport Adventure Vehicle, will go on sale later this month with a starting price of $23,990.

The 2022 Santa Cruz is built by Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery. The Santa Cruz will be sold in eight models with the high-end selling for $39,720.


(contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Hyundai revealed standard equipment that comes on the Santa Cruz, including:

  • 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • LED taillamps and cargo area lighting.
  • integrated rear bumper side steps.
  • rear privacy glass.
  • body-colored side mirrors.
  • wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • molded composite bed (vs. steel bed).
  • lockable underfloor bed storage.
  • power-locking tailgate.
  • remote open tailgate via fob.
  • rear 60:40 flip-up lower cushions (vs. one-piece).
  • rear occupant alert.
  • driver attention warning.
  • lane keeping/lane following assist.
  • intelligent speed limit warning.
  • leading vehicle departure alert.

Hyundai said the Santa Cruz was a response to a market segment that wanted a small SUV but with an open bed capable of carrying gear.

In addition to the Santa Cruz, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama produces the Sonata and Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

$33 million renovation of long-vacant Birmingham building set to begin next month

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

The $33 million revitalization of one of Birmingham’s biggest empty eyesores is set to begin in July, and the project is getting help from a team of students from Tuskegee University.

The transformation of the five-story, 140,000-square-foot former American Red Cross building into 192 apartments, to be known as Market Lofts on Third, will begin with internal demolition work starting in mid-July. The building at 2225 Third Ave. N. has been vacant since 1999.

“We’re talking about the same style units that we have at American Life, the workforce housing units,” developer Ed Ticheli said. “They will be anywhere from 350 square feet to 650 square feet.”


American Red Cross building to become the Market Lofts on Third after $33 million renovation from Alabama Power Foundation on Vimeo.

Ticheli has assembled the same team that worked with him on the $24 million renovation of the 12-story, 84,000-square-foot American Life building into 140 workforce housing apartments. It is located a block away on the corner of 18th Street and Third Avenue North. The team includes Hendon & Huckestein ArchitectsWyatt Builds and LMS Real Estate Investment Management.

New to the team this summer are seven interns from Tuskegee University’s Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science (TSACS). The students were selected from the TSACS mentorship program by Charner Rodgers, associate professor and the school’s senior program coordinator of Industry Relations and Recruitment. They will live in the Lofts at American Life and learn about the entire historic renovation process with hands-on learning in architecture, construction, commercial real estate and development.

Additionally, Opportunity AlabamaREV Birmingham and the mayor’s office have provided support for the Market Lofts on Third project, which, like Lofts at American Life, benefits from Opportunity Zone financing and state and federal historic tax credits.

For the Tuskegee students, working on a project of such significance is a huge opportunity.

Jocelyn Johnson is a Tuskegee student from Indianapolis. She said the internship gives her exposure to a wide range of her pursuits.

“I was selected, I think it was mostly because of my interests,” she said. “I have an interest in property development and I’m an architecture student at Tuskegee. Historic preservation, property development, commercial real estate – I love all of that and I wanted to be a part of this.”

She said she is excited to learn about the process up close.

“In architecture school we see theoretically how it’s done, but not practically,” Johnson said. “I think the process is what I’m really interested in.”

Other students said there are elements of the Market Lofts on Third that fit into their own emphasis of study.

“I’m really interested in residential construction. It’s good for experience and my resume,” said Monet Terrell.  “I’m a really hands-on person, so this for me is great.”

Stephanie Mills is from Cincinnati and likes the affordable housing element of the project.

“I’m interested in affordable housing and I was doing my thesis on it, so this is a very good way to learn about affordable housing – what can and cannot be done with it,” Mills said. “I hope to learn more about the construction process and how architecture ties into it.”

She said it’s meaningful to be playing a small part in adding affordable housing to the market.

“It makes me feel great because they were telling me that Birmingham needs about 900 units of more affordable housing and we’re helping provide that,” she said.

Fernandez Hunter is from Birmingham and was already familiar with the building and loves seeing all of the activity downtown.

“I hope to understand the life of a building and understand from demolition to the ending of it,” Hunter said. “I really want to understand all of the logistics of getting a project restored.

“It’s really going to be important to come home – even if I leave this place – and say, ‘Hey, I was able to see that building when it was abandoned and see it come back to life,’” Hunter said. “It’s really a beautiful thing to see for the city.”

Tyra Murry of Bessemer shares Hunter’s hope of being able to tell others someday about her work on the project, even if she will be putting in some sweat equity along the way.

“I help my dad around the house anyway, so this construction part is actually fun,” she said.

Abraham Jones, from Columbus, Georgia, appreciates the value of the internship.

“What made me want to be a part of this program was to get more knowledge, more experience,” he said. “I’m very hands-on and I like to learn so I can continue my profession.”

The scope of the project appeals to Lawrence Thompson.

“It’s really beautiful to see how this project has gone from ground zero so far to the intro to construction and everything like that,” Thompson said. “I’m looking forward to the process.”

Nick Miele, president of Wyatt Builds, said construction is scheduled to take 16 months.

“Anytime we can be part of anything that helps restore old parts of Birmingham, we want to be a part of it if we can,” Miele said. “We literally just finished one about a block away, 140 apartments, a huge success. We were blessed to be a part of that one and when this opportunity arose we did everything we could to be a part of it.”

Erik Hendon, principal with Hendon & Huckestein, said the building is actually an amalgamation of multiple buildings.

“The challenge here is, it’s an historic building originally built as a one-story marketplace with a second story added,” he said. “In the ‘50s, the Social Security Administration came and added two more stories on top, so the challenge here, while maybe not architecturally visual, is to integrate all of the structural systems, figure out how we’re going to get the 190 units in there.”

Miele said the challenge is part of the fun.

“It’s definitely an exciting, unique project,” he said. “A lot of people have been through this over the years and couldn’t figure out how. The team we’re working with figured out how.”

Hendon said one architectural feature will be a well cut into the middle of the building to bring in natural light. He said the synergy between the Market Lofts on Third and the Lofts at American Life, combined with the restaurants and bars on Second Avenue North, will make the project successful.

“It’s a perfectly placed building,” Hendon said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing it come back to life.”

Brad Aldridge of LMS also believes the apartments will be in high demand, after seeing most of the 140 units in the Lofts at American Life leased in just a few months. Only 23 remain available.

“It has gone unbelievable,” Aldridge said. “We started back on October 18, 2020, and since then we’ve gotten to 80% leased. Everybody who comes in seems to like it. We’ve had great success with the residents enjoying the time that they spend there.”

Projects like Lofts at American Life and the Market Lofts on Third are proving there is a desire to work close to where you live, Aldridge said.

“It’s a better way, for people to be downtown and be able to walk to work,” he said. “It’s closer to work for them where they don’t have to drive in from the suburbs.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama, Hyundai have huge week in Marvel Cinematic Universe


Last week was a big one for Alabama in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The fictional Alabama town of Haven Hills was the setting for a key moment in the MCU’s Disney+ series “Loki” in which the title character played by Tom Hiddleston confronts a female variant of himself. Unfortunately for Haven Hills, a massive hurricane is set to destroy the beach town in the year 2050, in which the time-traveling scene is set.

The outcome for another Alabama tie with the MCU is more optimistic.

A series of commercials featuring MCU characters and the Alabama-built Hyundai Tucson SUV was released last week.


MCU Disney+ characters Loki (Hiddleston), the former Falcon and new Captain America (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) make cameos in commercials reminiscent of scenes from their Disney+ series “Loki,” “The Falcon and Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision,” respectively. Later this summer, Hyundai and Marvel Studios will release an additional collaboration inspired by “What If…?,” Marvel Studios’ first animated series coming to Disney+.

In the released spots, each character asks a rhetorical, thought-provoking question, in keeping with Hyundai’s ongoing “Question Everything” advertising campaign promoting the Tucson.

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe has captivated audiences and it’s an incredible opportunity to utilize their characters and storylines with custom creative for the all-new Tucson,” said Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer for Hyundai Motor America. “This promotional partnership elevates our biggest launch campaign ever, which showcases how we questioned every detail and assumption when developing the 2022 Tucson – resulting in our most innovative and technologically advanced vehicle to date.”

It’s the latest extension of a “creative integration” campaign between Hundai and Disney announced earlier this month in which the 2022 Tucson is being featured in Disney-owned properties like ABC’s “The Bachelorette” and “black-ish” and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in addition to the Disney+ MCU tie-ins.

“We were dedicated to creating custom content calibrated to the precise needs of Hyundai,” said Mindy Hamilton, senior vice president of partnership marketing at the Walt Disney Co. “We scripted, produced and managed creative for all three spots – a point of differentiation in the marketplace. The result is a sophisticated, compelling creative campaign that we’re incredibly proud of and believe will resonate with Marvel fans.”

The Tucson is produced at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) plant in Montgomery.

“The marketing campaign for the all-new Tucson is already creating a lot of buzz on our production floor and team members are beaming with pride because the Tucson and the soon-to-be-released Santa Cruz sport adventure vehicle will make a big impression on their respective car buying-segments,” Robert Burns, vice president of Human Resources and Administration at HMMA, told Alabama NewsCenter earlier this month.

HMMA started production of the Santa Cruz June 22.

In addition to the Tucson and the Santa Cruz, HMMA produces the Sonata and Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe SUV.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

ABC releases trailer for Alabama-set ‘The Wonder Years’


ABC announced its primetime fall television schedule, releasing its first look at the remake of “The Wonder Years” sitcom following the life of a Black family set in Alabama in the 1960s.

The 30-minute episodes will air on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. Debut dates haven’t been announced.


The networks released this synopsis: “Inspired by the beloved award-winning series of the same name, ‘The Wonder Years’ is a coming-of-age story set in the late 1960s that takes a nostalgic look at a Black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, through the point of view of imaginative 12-year-old Dean. With the wisdom of his adult years, Dean’s hopeful and humorous recollections show how his family found their ‘wonder years’ in a turbulent time.”

The original “Wonder Years” sitcom ran from 1988 to 1993 and similarly followed the coming of age of Kevin Arnold (played by actor Fred Savage), the son of a white middle-class family in the suburbs in the 1960s and ‘70s.

This version of “The Wonder Years” will star Don Cheadle as the narrator of the series as adult Dean Williams. The young version of Dean Williams is being played by Elisha “EJ” Williams. Other actors are Dulé Hill as Bill Williams, Saycon Sengbloh as Lillian Williams, Laura Kariuki as Kim Williams, Julian Lerner as Brad Hitman, Amari O’Neil as Cory Long and Milan Ray as Keisa Clemmons.

Saladin Patterson (“Frasier,” “Psych”) is a Montgomery native and serves as writer and executive producer. Lee Daniels and Marc Velez of Lee Daniels Entertainment also executive produce along with original series star Savage. Patterson wrote the pilot, which was directed by Savage.

You can follow “The Wonder Years” (#TheWonderYears) on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

South Alabama Logistics Park seen as transformative project

(Burton Property Group/Contributed)

Mobile is literally building on its economic development success.

The 1,300-acre South Alabama Logistics Park (SALP) will invest $350 million in its first phase to bring 6 million square feet of master-planned warehouse, distribution and manufacturing space near the Port of Mobile and the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley.

Burton Property Group is working with Team Mobile on the project. Team Mobile is Alabama Power Co.Alabama State Port Authoritycity of MobileMobile Airport AuthorityMobile Area Chamber of CommerceMobile CountySpire and University of South Alabama. The entities work together to bring economic development to the Port City.


“With over 6 million square feet planned in phase one, this development would not only be the largest in the state but one of the largest in the Southeast,” said Philip Burton, president of Burton Property Group.

The Alabama State Port Authority, Burton Property Group, the city and the county have been planning the project for three years. SALC will be off Interstate Highway 10 near the Theodore Dawes exit, just south of the Amazon sortation center in south Mobile County.

Burton Property Group is expecting to close on the property this summer and is in the process of investing in needed infrastructure. Plans call for building speculative sites and offering build-to-suit construction projects in the park.

“The logistics park is an exciting venture for Mobile County and for our entire region,” said Patrick Murphy, vice president of Alabama Power’s Mobile Division. “The project will attract new industry to the area.”

Large international companies like Airbus and Austal have continued to expand while improvements at the Port of Mobile and the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley have created ripe conditions to build on that growth, officials said.

“To fully capitalize on the growth from the port and the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, we must have sites ready for large companies to locate with utilities and infrastructure already in place,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said, calling the project “a huge step forward to propel our growing distribution hub.”

Regional projects by WalmartAldiAmazonCoca-Cola UNITED and Ren Seafoods show the desire for more distribution operations near the port. The challenge is having properties ready for companies ready to set up operations in the region.

“This is a huge step in continuing our success in economic development,” said David Rodgers, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of Economic Development. “Product development is a core focus of what we do, and we must have quality sites ready for the final site selection process.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Tuscaloosa County EDA aims to use assets like Mercedes, University of Alabama to attract industry

(Made in Alabama/Contributed, The University of Alabama/Facebook, YHN)

A new name and new logo at the Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority (TCEDA) reflect a new energy that has the organization on better footing to pursue economic growth in today’s economy.

“We needed one very shared goal and brand around this economic development initiative that we’re doing within the county,” said TCEDA Executive Director Danielle Winningham.

“The new brand and logo reflect the organizational mission as the economic development engine of Tuscaloosa County,” said Mark Crews, chairman of the TCEDA board of directors. “We believe that updating the brand aligns with our goal of diversifying our target industry sectors. This rebrand puts us in a better position to recruit more knowledge-based industries, facilitate business retention and expansion and enhance overall quality of life for the citizens of Tuscaloosa County.”

Although the former Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority has taken “industrial” out of its name, that doesn’t mean the home of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International is no longer targeting traditional industry.


Winningham said TCEDA will continue to emphasize advanced manufacturing such as automotive and aerospace as targeted industries. But it will also go after research and development (R&D) operations, innovation companies, information technology and other knowledge-based industries. Existing industry is always a focus, she said.

Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority is the new name of newly energized entity from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

As more of the industrial recruitment process moved online during the pandemic, Crews and Winningham said it was important to update not only the TCEDA name and brand, but its website and how it communicates what makes the county great before a site visit is made.

“A lot of trends have changed in economic development (during COVID-19),” Crews said. “Now, the great news is you can do a lot more virtual stuff, but eventually they’ve got to show up.”

Winningham said a new website will be rolling out soon along with talent retention and other initiatives with the University of Alabama and Stillman College.

“What are businesses doing right now? They’re following the talent,” Winningham said. “So, what we have an opportunity here is to be able to retain the talent that the university and Stillman have so wonderfully brought in, recruited to the area. And now, we are going to be able to use those relationships and bringing in new targeted industry sectors to be able to retain our talent. That’s what we’re really excited about.”

Even the arrow in the new logo points forward.

“For us, building a brand is not simply about a new logo, name or tagline. It’s about discovering Tuscaloosa County’s competitive advantages and building a strategy to attract business investments and talent,” Winningham said.

The name and brand overhaul was a process that involved stakeholders throughout the county.

“During the discovery stage, we hosted multiple virtual meetings with the TCIDA Marketing Advisory Committee and board members, in addition to surveying elected officials, community stakeholders, existing industry leaders and site selection consultants across the United States,” Winningham said.

The still-ongoing process is being developed by Red Sage Communications in collaboration with the TCEDA and TCEDA Marketing Advisory Committee. Social media and information about the county’s assets, data sets, quality of life and more are part of the rebranding effort.

“This contemporary name and look will better position Tuscaloosa County EDA to leverage past success into future opportunities,” said Dave Pass, TCEDA Marketing Advisory Committee chair. “Our Marketing Advisory Committee cannot wait to deploy this new brand across all mediums. Stay tuned.”

In addition to chairing the board, Crews is Western Division vice president at Alabama Power. He said economic development is a part of the company’s history and DNA.

“We’ve been engaged in that to help the community grow and we do it for two reasons: to help the quality of life for our communities and for our teammates, and it’s the only way to grow the state so that we all do well together,” Crews said.

It’s that kind of shared focus and common interest that Winningham said she hopes will shine in the new name and brand as companies explore all that Tuscaloosa County has to offer.

“Then they will be attracted to the area,” she said. “They can come and put the boots on the ground and we will host them here in our community – show them our talent, show them our research assets, show them all of the things that make Tuscaloosa County different and a wonderful place to locate their next business.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama vehicles lift Hyundai to record sales month


Hyundai had its best sales month ever in March, accelerated by its Alabama-built cars and SUVs.

The automaker’s U.S. sales last month totaled 72,740 vehicles, up 153% from March 2020 and beating all previous months for Hyundai sales. The company’s top three and four of its five best-selling vehicles are made at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery (HMMA).

Leading the way was the latest addition to the Montgomery assembly line, the Tucson SUV. That was followed by the Elantra sedan and the Santa Fe SUV as the top three sales leaders for the month. The Sonata sedan, its flagship Alabama vehicle, ranked fifth in sales for the month.


The Kona, which is not built in Alabama, was the fourth-best seller for the month.

“It was a historic U.S. sales performance in March and Q1 for Hyundai,” said Randy Parker, senior vice president, National Sales, Hyundai Motor America. “Strong consumer confidence, stable inventory, a compelling lineup, attention-grabbing advertising and the efforts of our dealer partners all came together to deliver these results. With the all-new Tucson, our highest-volume model, arriving at dealerships, we will build on this momentum and continue to gain market share.”

The automaker’s model lineup will get another big boost from Alabama later this year, when the first Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup truck (Hyundai is calling it a Sport Adventure Vehicle) arrives in showrooms. HMMA will begin producing the Santa Cruz this summer.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

OnBoard Birmingham seeks to sell the Magic City to job seekers, placement pros

(BBA/Pixabay, YHN)

It’s been in the making for the past few years, but make no mistake about it – OnBoard Birmingham is all about the future.

The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) has launched its online talent attraction and recruitment tool, which it has branded OnBoard Birmingham, as a way of reaching talent directly, and through those helping them, find new jobs and advance their careers.

“OnBoard Birmingham is really an evolution of a lot of BBA’s talent recruitment and talent attraction efforts since all the way back in 2014 is when the seeds were planted,” said Karla Khodanian, manager of Talent and Higher Education Partnerships at the BBA. “It’s been really exciting to get it to this point now in 2020.”


Khodanian said OnBoard Birmingham is aimed at talent outside of Birmingham and Alabama because, the truth is, when you’re in the Magic City, you already know how great it is.

“We want them to build their lives and grow their careers here in Birmingham,” she said. “Our city is at a really awesome point where we’ve just got nothing but gold ahead of us. So the more talent we have here, the better our city will become.”

OnBoard Birmingham is global workforce’s gateway to the Magic City from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

BBA CEO Kenny Coleman said the competition for talent is rivaling the competition for companies when it comes to economic development and recruitment.

“We’re marching towards a place where the fight for talent amongst companies is going to start going into the living rooms, much like we’ve seen for football recruitment,” Coleman said. “The more talented folks around our community will choose where they want to live first and work second, so we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

OnBoard Birmingham helps them prepare through a variety of tools that include:

  • A cost-of-living calculator that shows users how far their dollars go in Birmingham compared to where they currently live or where else they may be considering. For example, your $75,000 salary in New York will go 63% further in Birmingham.
  • Neighborhood and community profiles that will help users pick the best place for them to reside.
  • Showcase of quality-of-life places from restaurants to entertainment and more.
  • A jobs board with keyword search capabilities that is sorted by industry and has more than 28,000 jobs.

Regions Bank and Shipt are the initial sponsors of OnBoard Birmingham and are its first featured employers, with company profiles and an opportunity for enhanced job listings. That feature is open to other companies interested in getting in front of talent with an eye on Birmingham.

Plans for the site include a dynamic recruiting toolkit for talent leaders across the region and profiles of local ambassadors who have built a career in Birmingham. Khodanian said there are plans to work with colleges and universities throughout the state to keep talent upon graduation rather than have them return to their home states or leave Alabama.

In addition to the online tools, OnBoard Birmingham plans to hold virtual events with regional colleges to showcase quality-of-life opportunities and host career fairs with TechBirmingham and Innovate Birmingham to showcase the tech ecosystem that appeals to young talent.

Coleman said getting people to experience the magic of the Magic City is often all it takes.

“What we have found over the years is that once we can get people to experience Alabama – and many times that has been physically but now we are working on trying to get virtual experiences for them – but once we get them to experience it, they love it, they appreciate it, it surprises them in many ways,” he said. “And I think at the core of our economic development and talent attraction strategy is to get more people to experience our community.”

Learn more about OnBoard Birmingham from its website or on FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

GuideSafe may be secret weapon against COVID-19 for Alabama to get back to normal

(UAB/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Alabamians have a new weapon against COVID-19 this Labor Day weekend that they didn’t have the past two holiday weekends when cases spiked, and officials are urging that the more who use it, the better.

The launch of the GuideSafe Notification App helps people know if they’ve been in proximity to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 – all through an anonymous and secure “handshake” between smartphones.

Because it relies on smartphones communicating with smartphones, the more people who use the free app, the better.

Dr. Sue Feldman, professor and director of Health Informatics Graduate Programs at UAB, is one of the experts calling for wider adoption of the GuideSafe app. She said if each member of a given family or group would encourage everyone in their family or group to download and use the app, it would give Alabama the kind of coverage it needs to help control the spread of COVID-19.


“The reason why this is important for people in our state to adopt is because if we want to get back to doing the things that we love to do – even outdoor events, indoor events, concerts, football games – this would help us be a lot safer together,” she said.

GuideSafe app anonymous tool in fight against COVID-19 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For instance, Feldman said if 20,000 attendees of a college football game download the app and take it to their separate groups and have them download the app, and so on, the numbers start making a difference.

“You can kind of visualize how that creates an exponential uptick of adoption across the state,” she said. “And then before we know it, we all have it, we’re all protected, we get back to going to the theater, going to sporting events, football, going to concerts and things like that.”

Getting there requires Alabamians to download the app and use it.

“Eventually you’re going to have exponential protection throughout the state,” Feldman said. “That’s how it works. The issue is we have to get it there.”

Supported by federal coronavirus aid bill funding, the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App was built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and integrating Google‘s and Apple‘s Exposure Notification System (ENS).

Even though Alabama is one of the first states in the nation to roll out an exposure notification app using Apple and Android smartphones, people in the state are traditionally private and protective. Feldman said there should be no concerns in using the GuideSafe app because it is private and secure.

“One thing that you notice when you download the GuideSafe app is that you download it and that’s it,” she said. “It doesn’t ask for access to your contact list. It doesn’t ask for access to your calendar. It doesn’t ask for access to your social media.”

In fact, the very first screen after downloading the GuideSafe app and opening it is a privacy screen laying out the online protections.

“The app does not know your location,” Feldman said. “It doesn’t know where you are. It doesn’t know who you are. It doesn’t know your name. In fact, it never asks for your name.”

Then how does it work?

Think of it as an electronic handshake between smartphones with the app using encrypted keys via Bluetooth.

“The app never tracks where you are, just proximity to others that are using the app,” said Brian Rivers, chief technology officer at UAB. “There is no identifying information that is shared in those keys or when you initially establish the app at all.”

Once a positive test result is reported by someone using the app, the information gets distributed to all phones that had been in proximity to the person with that phone in the past 14 days. All of this is based on that key that was exchanged, not on any identifiable information about the actual person or people.

Feldman said when a person reports a positive test in GuideSafe, it asks for their phone number, but only for security purposes so it can verify a real person with a real positive test result. Your phone number is paired with a code that matches to a positive test result at the lab. It’s important to use your cellphone number when you are tested so the two phone numbers will match up.

It’s a security measure that Rivers helped develop and is patent pending. Rivers said the plan is to be able to share it with other states.

After all, wide adoption of GuideSafe is the goal.

For more information and a list of GuideSafe Exposure Notification App-specific FAQ’s, please visit Download the app from the Apple store here and from the Google Play store here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Long-vacant American Red Cross building in Birmingham getting $30M rehab into apartments

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

One of downtown Birmingham’s largest vacant buildings could see new life as 192 workforce housing apartments after a $30 million renovation.

The five-story, 140,000-square-foot former American Red Cross building at 2225 Third Ave. N. has been vacant since the organization moved out in 1999.

The development team behind the $24 million revitalization of the American Life building will tackle the American Red Cross building using a similar blueprint.

“American Life has been so well-received. It’s like a dream for us,” said owner and developer Ed Ticheli. “We’re going to repeat the same program here.”


That program is a combination of private investment through opportunity zone funding and public dollars, such as a Housing and Urban Development loan.

Though final designs aren’t complete, Ticheli expects the apartments will range in size from 300 square feet to 650 square feet. They will have affordable rents and be designed to appeal to young families, young professionals and college students.

As with the American Life building, some units in the American Red Cross building will be devoted to the Dannon Project to rent to clients. The Birmingham nonprofit helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.

Also like the American Life building, pulling off the development requires a team.

“There are a lot of hands on the rope,” Ticheli said.

Working with Ticheli are LMS Real Estate Investment Management, Hendon & Huckestein Architects, Wyatt Builds, Gladstone Equity Partners, Baker Donelson, Bradley, PNC Bank, Citizens Bank and First Avenue Funding.

Additionally, Opportunity Alabama, REV Birmingham and the mayor’s office have provided support for the project.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said removing such a large eyesore as the American Red Cross building is only part of the story.

“I will tell you when you do revitalization to a building like this, you’re not only removing blight, but you’re creating foot traffic in the entire area,” he said. “You’re also bringing jobs and there are so many other things you’re doing around economic development that’s growing our city. So this is an overwhelming positive for our community.”

Before it was the five-story American Red Cross building dating back to 1975, it was the two-story former Social Security Administration building dating back to the 1940s. That creates some interesting challenges, according to Erik Hendon, principal with Hendon & Huckestein Architects.

“It’s got one of the most interesting structural systems that we’ve seen,” Hendon said. “It started off as a one-story building, they added a second story and then years later the American Red Cross came and put another building over the top of it. So, we’ve got a middle floor that used to be a roof.”

Hendon said that presents a challenge to put in residential units with the existing columns and current floor plans.

“But the bones of the building are good,” he said. “We’ve just got to figure out all of the systems.”

Ticheli said he hopes to have the HUD loan in place by the third quarter of next year and then construction will be underway. Work could then take over a year.

“On something this size it can go anywhere from 14 to 16 months,” said Nick Miele, president of Wyatt Builds. “Anytime we get to touch a building downtown, it’s a new adventure.”

Ticheli said residents will begin moving into the 140 apartments at the 12-story American Life building in October of this year. There is pre-planning for a second phase of the American Life building that would add another 350 apartments along with retail and service spaces.

American Life is a block away from the American Red Cross building and Ticheli sees synergy between the two projects.

“You will start to see this whole little neighborhood just explode with energy and young people and seniors and intergenerational living and vets and just everybody I can get in here,” Ticheli said.

David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, said large projects bring about great change.

“The density that this kind of project brings is what makes cities really hum,” Fleming said of the American Red Cross building. “So this project’s density is going to really bring a lot more vibrancy to our downtown.”

It also takes a vacant piece of property and makes it productive again, Fleming said.

“It’s very exciting to see this plan come together to meet a real need for our city, which is additional housing, residential, targeting the workforce and it will bring more vibrancy to this block,” he said.

Whether it’s more money for schools or greater economic development, Woodfin said projects downtown have a positive effect on the whole city.

“It means vitality,” he said. “It means the right investments are being made not only in our central district, but they’re getting spread out across the entire city and 99 neighborhoods.”

Woodfin said the city lobbied to get as many areas designated as opportunity zones as possible. Such a designation allows for the public sector to invest in revitalization projects and receive attractive tax benefits on the returns on their investments.

The American Life building is being held up as a model for opportunity zones projects across the country and the American Red Cross project could have similar potential if it closes on similar investments.

Fleming, whose organization is focused on revitalizing downtown and urban neighborhoods, said opportunity zones are an important tool in the tool bag because they allow for better targeting the needs of a neighborhood.

The double shot of American Life and American Red Cross amplifies that potential.

“I think that this east side of downtown has matured a lot, but it’s got a lot more to do and a lot more to go,” Fleming said. “This project in light of some of the projects around really helps fill some gaps in this part of downtown and it’s really pleasing to see the gaps fill in.”

For Woodfin, it’s another example of progress.

“Let’s keep moving Birmingham,” he said. “Let’s keep making the right necessary economic investments and the returns we see will be the improvement on the quality of life for all that live in and enjoy our city.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 months ago

Alabama Mercedes plant among first in world to use innovative production system

(Mercedes Benz/Contributed)

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) in Tuscaloosa is among the first auto plants in the world to implement elements of Mercedes’ new MO360 digitized production system

Mercedes-Benz Cars Operations 360 (MO360) is being dubbed a “digital ecosystem” that uses a mix of software and hardware in all phases of the auto production process with the goal of improving efficiency and quality.


Mercedes-Benz Alabama plant incorporating new digital production system from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Using technology like sensors on the vehicle bodies to hand-held tablets and smartphones, MO360 is a merging of modern innovations like the internet of things (IOT) and artificial intelligence (AI) with the historic innovation of the assembly line.

“With MO360, Mercedes-Benz is setting milestones in digital production,” Jörg Burzer, member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG responsible for Production and Supply Chain Management. “The key enablers of the new digital ecosystem are smart data usage, maximum transparency and streamlined processes. This makes the seamless networking of previously separate processes possible and increase efficiency.

“Thanks to improved processes, comprehensive data availability in our MO360 data lake and fast decisions based on real-time data, we will be able to increase production efficiency by more than 15 percent by 2022,” Burzer said. “We are ensuring the complete digital support of each member of the production staff.”

Key components of MO360 include:

  • Digital Shopfloor Management (SFMdigital) that allows leaders to see the live status of production at any time, enabling quick reaction to production and control issues.
  • Quality Live is a management system that gives push-button access to the live status of each vehicle. It uses AI to constantly “learn” better ways to improve quality and efficiency in the production process. The stored knowledge is available to all the plants of the Mercedes global production network.
  • Paperless Factory uses digital technology to give each employee individually tailored information to work on the Mercedes-Benz vehicle in front of them. The move will save Mercedes tons of paper previously used in production.
  • Smart Maintenance is an application that allows for predictive maintenance at the plant. It will allow for repairing or replacing equipment more promptly to avoid long and costly downtime.
  • Auto SC will be used in the future to optimize logistical processes both between and within plants.

The Alabama Mercedes plant has incorporated most of the elements of MO360.

“Parts of MO360 – such as digital shop floor management (SFMdigital), Quality Live and Paperless Factory – are already implemented,” said Michael Goebel, president and CEO of MBUSI. “The integration of MO360 is already progressing extremely well. Some features, such as 5G and the API (Application Programming Interface) architecture, are being successively integrated.”

Technologically, MO360 relies on reusable APIs, scalable cloud solutions, and free and open source software (FOSS). The result is ease of use for the new tech-savvy worker that feels comfortable using a smartphone or tablet.

“A key success factor for MO360 lies in the fact that cross-functional teams of production and IT experts develop the ecosystem by agile and iterative collaboration,”said Jan Brecht, CIO of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz. “Organizational boundaries no longer have a role to play. All teams systematically utilize continuous feedback from production to optimize and enhance the digital tools. The teams continuously improve the software in short-cycle sprints with the aim of providing MO360 users with lasting perceptible benefits. In this way we are able to achieve regular software release cycles of just two weeks. For software engineering in the field of production, that is an absolute record.”

Burzer said the MO360 system will be made available to suppliers who want to incorporate it into their processes. He said the company’s $248.2 million Global Logistics Center in Bibb County will incorporate MO360.

It’s another sign of the talented workforce that exists in Alabama.

“MBUSI has been one of Alabama’s great success stories, so it should come as no surprise that they are once again part of the cutting-edge production innovations Mercedes-Benz is implementing on a global scale,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

MO360 is being used in full for the first time at the new Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, Germany. When it opens next month, that plant will serve as a blueprint for all plants throughout the Mercedes-Benz Cars production network.

MBUSI produces the GLS and GLE SUVs and the GLE Coupe.

Mercedes-Benz launches MO360 global digital production system from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 months ago

Two Alabama cooks competing in World Food Championships finals

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The chef and general manager of SAW’s Soul Kitchen in Birmingham and a competitive barbecue cook from Muscle Shoals are two of the 10 finalists competing in the Final Table of the World Food Championships.

Matthew Statham of SAW’s Soul Kitchen and backyard cook Morgan Cheek earned a spot in the WFC finals with wins in their divisions and $10,0000 each at the World Food Championships in Dallas last October.

The Final Table: Indy competition was originally scheduled to take place in May in Indianapolis, but COVID-19 delayed it until Aug. 8-9 with the $100,000 top prize is up for grabs.


Statham’s work at SAW’s Soul Kitchen was already turning heads in the culinary world when he tied for the top spot at the Made South Slider Showdown a couple of years ago. That win came with a Gold Ticket into the WFCs that were then being held in Orange Beach.

Two Alabama cooks compete in World Food Championships from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

But when Statham was ready to cash in his ticket last year, the WFCs moved to Dallas and almost prevented him from competing.

When it was just a drive from Birmingham to Orange Beach, Statham said he could justify going without an expectation to win.

“Even if it crashes and burns, we’ve got a couple of days at the beach, which is never a bad thing,” he rationalized.

A trip to Dallas meant spending money on airline tickets, hotel stays and the like and raised the stakes.

“My wife wouldn’t let me off that easy,” Statham said.

So they did fundraisers like selling pork butts and a raffle where friends, family and fans helped fund the trip to Dallas.

“I was really overwhelmed by the response,” Statham said.

Once in Dallas, Statham was in the Chef category up against 40 of the best chefs in the world. After two dishes in the preliminaries, Statham was sitting in the top spot with 10 finalists cooking for the win.

“We cooked one more dish and we held on by what I believe was the closest margin they’ve ever had in the category but I think it’s just a testament to how strong the category was,” Statham said.

The dish he prepared for the win? Brunch Tart with Parmesan Herb Tuile, which gave Statham a final overall score of 93.02 out of a possible 100, giving him $10,000 and a trip to Final Table: Indy.

Cheek’s path to the final table was different.

He has spent the past few years with his Sweet Cheeks Pit BBQ team competing in backyard barbecue competitions. When he learned about the AFC and the ancillary competitions that could earn him a spot in, he signed up to compete in the burger ancillaries last year. After winning them all, Cheek had his Golden Ticket to Dallas competing in the Burger division at the WFC.

“Our first year competing at WFC was very intimidating being surrounded by so many accomplished chefs and past World Food Champions,” he said. “Kitchen Arena was like nothing we had ever experienced, and it definitely was an adrenaline rush.”

The Burger category’s opening round was presented by Bo Jackson’s Signature Foods. Competitors were tasked with creating a cowboy burger and a second burger of their choice.

For the second burger, Cheek went old-school with a double patty smash burger with caramelized onions, melted American cheese and BSB- Brown Sugar Bourbon bacon on a toasted brioche bun.

“It’s just an old-school smash burger. Just a good ol’ burger with cheese and sautéed onions, maybe a little special bacon jam,” Cheek said. “I knew it was good, but after looking at all of the other turn-ins … there were some incredible turn-ins, I mean they were beautiful burgers. I didn’t know. I was like, ‘Well, we had fun. It was a great experience. We’ll see what happens.’”

What happened was that “good ol’ burger” earned a perfect score of 100 from the judges and propelled Cheek to a huge lead in the finals, where he did a slight modification of the same burger to create “The Hometown Smashburger” for the $10,000 win and a trip to Final Table: Indy.

“That afternoon on the stage, I can’t explain it,” Cheek said. “It was awesome!”

At Final Table: Indy, Statham and Cheek will go up against the winners in the other eight categories from the WFC in Dallas. The first of three rounds for the Final Table will be a Pork and Parisian Gnocchi dish that will cut the field in half. Those final five will have to recreate a complex Duck dish curated by Chef Greg Hardesty of Studio C. The top three from that round will then have to recreate the Indiana-famous Sugar Cream Pie in the final round.

For Cheek, that as a far cry from barbecue and burgers.

“It’s a completely different world for me,” he said. “I’m so barbecue focused, I don’t know how to cook culinary, if that makes any sense. They started spitting off lingo with pots and pans and different things that I don’t even know what they’re talking about – I’ve got to Google all of this stuff. They talk about cutting stuff in different kinds of things. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He’s been practicing cooking duck. Maybe a bit too much practice.

“Oh my gosh, I’m ducked out! My family’s ducked out. My friends are ducked out,” Cheek said. “I don’t want to taste another duck right now.”

Cheek’s strategy going into the Final Table?

“Cook the best product I can without a smoker,” he grinned.

For Statham, he hopes to return to SAW’s Soul Kitchen with a win. One of four locations of the SAW’s collection of barbecue restaurants, the Avondale restaurant has undergone a renovation and Statham said those who have been away due to COVID-19 might not recognize it – though the food is still great.

It was SAW’s Soul Kitchen that brought Sweet Tea Fried Chicken and Pork and Greens to the menu and stood out in a city filled with culinary standouts.

Having two Alabama chefs in the final 10 at the WFC Final Table will add to the reputation coming off Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill being named “Outstanding Restaurant in America” and its pastry chef, Dolester Miles, named “Outstanding Pastry Chef” by the James Beard Foundation two years ago.

“I think the country is maybe taking a little bit of notice to us,” Statham said. “Obviously with (Highlands Executive Chef Frank) Stitt winning James Beard for best restaurant and Dol being the best pastry chef in the country, people are starting to think, ‘Hey, maybe they can cook down there.’ I think this is just kind of another feather in the cap, I guess. Hey, we know what we’re doing down here and we’re trying to show the world that we do. Hopefully we can make some noise up there and make everybody look good.”

Final Table: Indy will take place in Indianapolis at Ivy Tech Community College. It is hosted by Visit Indy and sponsored by Ivy Tech Culinary Center, Maple Leaf Farms, Sysco, Red Gold, The Pork Board, and Culinary Crossroads. The 10 competitors are:

You can follow the competition from the World Food Championships on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Chef Clayton Sherrod finds unity in food, empowerment in cooking

Chef Clayton Sherrod is working with Lawson State Community College and the Birmingham Housing Authority to teach others cooking and food service. (contributed)

Chef Clayton Sherrod knows that what makes a good jambalaya is the harmonious balance of the various ingredients melding together to make something greater than they make by themselves.

Addressing issues like social injustice, political divisions and separations brought on by a global pandemic may not be as simple as following a jambalaya recipe. But Sherrod does see food as having a great power to unify, and those who can cook possess a power that can transcend obstacles.

That’s why Sherrod finds joy in teaching others to cook – both as a consultant at the Lawson State Community College culinary arts program and as an instructor to residents of the Birmingham Housing Authority.


Culinary arts has become a popular program at Lawson State as an elective to those interested in food and as a main track for those looking to work in the industry. Sherrod helps create the curriculum that he hopes teaches students not only how to cook, but prepares them with skills in restaurant management and service that sets them up for success.

But it’s when he talks about his work with the Birmingham Housing Authority that Sherrod gets the biggest grin.

“It’s close to my heart,” he said. “That is helping people that really, really need help.”

It is there where food takes on a transforming power. It elevates nutrition, improves diet and health, teaches how to select and use fresh ingredients and – most of all – how to be self-sufficient.

Some may go on to find work in kitchen, further changing their lives.

It’s work that earned Sherrod a commendation from U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Sherrod was set to add to the program – teaching residents how to be servers, bartenders, receptionists and other jobs in the industry to enhance their job prospects.

Then, COVID-19 happened. But Sherrod plans to pick up where he left off as soon as the pandemic allows.

“We’re going to keep on marketing so once all of this is over, we’re going to land on all fours and just really put this thing on the top as it should be,” he said.

Sherrod is adjusting the Lawson State curriculum for a post-COVID-19 world – one where serve-yourself buffets and other restaurant practices may no longer exist.

“I’m always looking at the bright side that eventually, when this is over, I would like to have our Lawson State students and our Housing Authority Birmingham District students – I would like to have them past the curve,” he said. “I want them to be that much more ready than anyone else.”

Sherrod knows about being ready. As a boy, he caddied at Vestavia Hills Country Club and when they asked for someone to help in the kitchen, he was the only caddy to volunteer. He would move up from busboy to baker to becoming executive chef at the age of 19.

Interstate United hired Sherrod to become chef at U.S. Steel. He got his degree from the Culinary Institute in New Haven, Connecticut, started his own food services company and became corporate chef for Alagasco.

He also founded the Birmingham Chapter of the American Culinary Federation.

It was his work as the U.S. representative of World Chefs Tour Against Hunger that took Sherrod all over the world to feed starving children in South Africa. That led to Sherrod’s involvement in One Net One Life, which sends money to a company in Johannesburg, South Africa that makes and distributes mosquito nets to pregnant women, mothers and children and teaches them how to hook up the net over the bed to cover it and protect them at night from the deadly diseases mosquitoes can carry.

All because of the power of food and what Sherrod has been able to do with it.

Oh, and that jambalaya? Sherrod will be serving it and white chocolate bread pudding to customers at the Market at Pepper Place Saturday, July 18.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Market at Pepper Place bake sale to support Birmingham’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm

(Birmingham Bake Sale/Contributed)

Bake sales for financial fixes have been a Southern go-to for decades, so Alabama’s culinary community is using it as a way of helping a favorite institution.

The Birmingham Bake Sale at the Market at Pepper Place on Saturday is raising money for Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

It’s the brainchild of this week’s featured chef at the market, Kristen Hall, co-owner and executive pastry chef of The Essential and Bandit Patisserie. With that pedigree, you might guess this isn’t going to be your typical bake sale.


“I love the idea of taking something that is such an old-school sort of fundraiser and moving that into our industry,” Hall told Alabama NewsCenter. “We have such an amazing food and beverage industry here in Birmingham.”

That food and beverage industry includes a thriving food media business, which is also lending participants to the bake sale.

For instance, Hunter Lewis, editor-in-chief at Food & Wine magazine, is making salted caramel brownies. Then you have those who are familiar to the Birmingham restaurant scene, like Adeeba Khan of the Shu Shop. But instead of making her well-known ramen, she is making biscuits.

Other participating bakers and chefs include Sayward Estis, Eva Faison, Janét Lee Norman, Victor King, Diego Carvallo, Sarah Ward, Ferrell Carter, Emily Nabors Hall, Cari Gantt, Telia Johnson, Brian Hart Hoffman, Brooke Bell, Neville Baay, James Lewis, Ruth Blackburn, Katie Barreira, Tricia Manzanero. Participating restaurants, bakeries and businesses represented include Automatic Seafood and OystersBottega RestaurantChez FonFonBettolaContinental BakeryBirmingham BreadworksEl Barrio, The Essential, Bandit Pâtisserie, Shu ShopTelia Johnson CakesDreamers Supply CompanyMeredith Food Studios, and Hoffman Media.

“I wondered if I could take this very nostalgic, sort of mom-and-pop, homegrown fundraiser and sort of turn it on its side a little bit and utilize professional pastry chefs, chefs and restaurant owners to raise money for Jones Valley,” Hall said.

Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of the Market at Pepper Place, said items for the bake sale began selling out immediately on the market’s website. It’s the kind of response they’ve seen since they launched the featured chef at the new drive-thru market due to COVID-19.

The featured chef initiative takes the place of the chef demos at the traditional market with the goal to “remind the public of what amazing options they have beyond the market.”

Chef of the week newest feature of The Market at Pepper Place from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The first featured chef a few weeks ago was Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, who sold 1,400 tomato salads. Last weekend, Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ was helping customers get their Memorial Day weekend off to a tasty start.

Hall wanted to use her featured time to promote Jones Valley Teaching Farm, a program that “encourages academic exploration and achievement through food, farming and the culinary arts” by working with schools, after-school programs and field trips.

“Besides being an extraordinary chef who makes beautiful, beautiful food, she also is really committed to giving back to the community,” Sloss-Corra said of Hall. “This weekend is an example of how she’s doing that.”

Hall said she had planned on having a bake sale at the traditional Market at Pepper Place on Mother’s Day weekend, but COVID-19 ended that plan when it led to the current contact-free, drive-thru market.

When she realized that many in her industry are not as busy with curbside service as they typically would be, she decided to see if she could pull off a bake sale anyway.

“I made a few phone calls and started texting people and it was really great we got these great responses,” she said.

The responses were partly because of the universal love of Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the Market at Pepper Place, but also because it gave the bakers and chefs something to focus on other than the effects of COVID-19.

Pre-orders will continue through Friday, May 29 for pickup at the market between 7 a.m. and noon on Saturday, May 30. Although items continue to sell out, more items may be added, so Hall said to continue checking the site. And don’t forget to order from the other farmers and vendors at the market.

Selling out didn’t come as a surprise to Hall.

“People want carbs, they want comfort, they want all of the things that make them feel loved and cherished,” Hall said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Hyundai and Sony ink multi-movie promotional partnership

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The next Alabama movie star may hail from Montgomery, have four wheels and a Smartstream engine.

Hyundai Motor Company and Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a new multi-movie promotional partnership Wednesday that will see Hyundai cars and technology promoted in five upcoming feature films.

The announced movies include “Uncharted,” based on the popular video game of the same name and due out July 2021 starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas. Sequels to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” due in November 2021, and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” due in October 2022, are two other announced titles.


Two other undetermined Sony feature films will also be included in the deal.

Specific Hyundai models to be featured have not been disclosed. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama produces the Sonata and the Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe SUV. Beginning next year, it will add Hyundai’s first pickup, the Santa Cruz crossover, to its lineup.

The pickup launch in 2021 seems ripe for a major movie promotion that year.

A friendly, neighborhood Santa Cruz, anyone?

HMMA’s $388 million engine plant in Montgomery is also one of the first in the world to produce the Smartstream G1.6 T-GDi engine that will feature the world’s first continuously variable valve duration (CVVD) technology.

“It is exciting to see the Hyundai brand involved with upcoming movie productions,” said Robert Burns, vice president of Human Resources & Administration at HMMA. “Even though the release doesn’t specify an Alabama-built vehicle, we can hope a Sonata or Santa Fe will get a cameo.”

Beyond movie appearances of existing and concept vehicles, the partnership presents opportunities to leverage Sony for marketing content and immersive entertainment, to co-create virtual reality and gaming experiences, and to co-produce events.

“This strategic partnership with Sony Pictures will allow customers to understand and experience our  human-centered future mobility vision through innovative vehicles and technologies, illuminating a way forward for transforming how we move, interact, and design our lives for optimal benefits,” said Wonhong Cho, executive vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of Hyundai Motor. “We will offer various ways to inspire our customers and movie fans around the globe.”

Hyundai Motor will also offer substantial marketing support and the companies will collaborate on a wide range of ancillary content-creation.

“This deal embodies the true definition of the word partnership,” said Jeffrey Godsick, executive vice president of Global Partnerships and Brand Management and head of Location Based Entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “The deal has many layers, including substantial marketing support, but its real potential and impact come from groundbreaking content that we will develop together.”

At the consumer technology showcase event CES 2020, Hyundai Motor Company unveiled its innovative vision for urban mobility to help revitalize human-centered future cities. The three-pronged approach to realize the vision includes:

  • Urban Air Mobility (UAM), a new form of mobility utilizing air space to drastically reduce transit time;
  • Purpose Built Vehicle (PBV), an eco-friendly urban mobility device allowing customization for diverse lifestyles; and
  • Hub, a space for mobility transfer and community activities.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Rodney Scott talks barbecue, new Alabama restaurants, overcoming COVID-19

(Angie Mosier/Contributed)

Those who ordered Rodney Scott’s barbecue at the Market at Pepper Place Memorial Day weekend may not have realized it was the James Beard Award-winning chef and Barbecue Hall of Fame semifinalist himself loading their cars with ribs and pulled pork.

Scott would be more recognizable if not for the face mask – though it was well-branded with the Rodney Scott’s BBQ logo.

The logo and, most importantly, the food are becoming more and more recognizable in Alabama thanks to the growth of the restaurants outside of Scott’s original Charleston, South Carolina, location.


Birmingham’s Pihakis Restaurant Group has partnered with Scott to build more restaurants. The first opened in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood more than a year ago and will be joined by one in Trussville later this year and one in Homewood next year. An Atlanta location is also in the works.

The Avondale location got a full year under its belt before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the restaurant industry. Scott said luckily the shift to takeout-only didn’t hurt the barbecue business as much as some others.

“That’s one of the awesome things about barbecue. You can take barbecue and you can reheat it if necessary,” he said. “You can drive it home and it’s not a problem to take it home and enjoy it the same way that you would if it came right off of the fire.”

With the partial reopening of dining rooms and hopefully a slowdown in the spread of coronavirus during the summer, Scott sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“This pandemic, this too shall pass,” he said. “We’re going to be great. Everybody is definitely going to eat again.”

That’s not just a partner in the Pihakis Restaurant Group and the 2018 James Beard Best Chef Southeast talking, it’s also a current semi-finalist for the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor just to be mentioned, honestly,” Scott said. “Just to be connected with some of the greats. That’s huge for me.”

With summer barbecuing season now under way, Scott offered some safety tips for those firing up their grills and smokers at home, which you can watch in the video below. He also shares how he likes to sauce his own meat.

Rodney Scott shares his grilling and marinade tips from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Grilling at home is great, but considering the economic damage wrought by the pandemic Scott encourages people to support restaurants and others in the food industry. Scott was the featured chef Memorial Day Weekend at the Market at Pepper Place, where customers are supporting local farmers and food vendors by ordering items online and picking them up.

Watching customers have their cars loaded with fresh produce, bread, goods and his own barbecue was inspiring, Scott said.

““We will get through this,” he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama high school honors fallen service members every day using social media

(Alabama NewsCenter/Vimeo)

One Alabama high school is using social media to make every day Memorial Day.

The Auburn High School Veterans Project uses its popular Facebook Page to highlight a Vietnam War veteran from Alabama every day – either on that service member’s birthday or on the day of their death.

History teacher and the program’s director Blake Busbin said the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress was the impetus to the class recording the histories of individual veterans in 2014. That grew into the AHS Veterans Project.


“What we wanted to do was to find a way that we could really capture the unique story of the veteran in a way that allowed for an intimate conversation,” Busbin said.

AHS Veterans Project honors Alabama’s fallen from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Busbin said it didn’t take long for them to realize there was something different about the Vietnam veterans they interviewed.

“What really stood out to us that first year was the Vietnam veterans who joined us who, many of them who said, ‘Well no one’s really asked me my story before,’ and that resonated with us,” Busbin said.

In 2015, the students through interviews, documents and photos began to construct the stories of those Alabamians who died in the Vietnam War.

Busbin said Memorial Day weekend drives traffic to the Facebook Page and there is always a surge in the sharing of posts from throughout the years on Memorial Day.

But those who follow AHS Veterans Project on Facebook can get a post on their timeline daily that makes every day Memorial Day.

“I think it’s especially important this Memorial Day as many communities are finding their traditional commemorations of the holiday being postponed or being held virtually that we find a way to be online and allow for those stories to be told,” Busbin said.

Busbin said plans are to branch out to those Alabamians lost in other wars, starting next with the global war on terror.

He said his students today were not born when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 took place, so it’s important for them to know the stories of those who went to war in response.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Bayer Properties plans a redevelopment of another historic downtown Birmingham building

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The company behind The Summit and The Pizitz is looking at redeveloping a historic steel plant along Birmingham’s Rotary Trail into new offices and entertainment space.

Bayer Properties has a contract to purchase the Hardwick Co. building, a 110-year-old steel plant on the eastern end of the Rotary Trail at 23rd Street and First Avenue South.

The building, which has a 30,000-square-foot footprint, is expandable to 50,000 square feet by adding floors. The hope is to be underway with development in 2021.


In an economy paralyzed by COVID-19, Bayer Co-President and Chief Financial Officer Jami Wadkins said the development looks to the future.

“As a real estate developer, even though things are uncertain right now in the country with this unprecedented time we’re dealing with, as a real estate company we’ve always got to be looking for opportunities, so we tried to continue our business pipeline through the COVID-19 event,” she said.

Bayer Properties announces new project in downtown Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Wadkins said the company will apply the same expertise it brought to the successful redevelopment of The Pizitz, which turned a 1920s-era department store into a popular mix of apartments, food hall, co-working, entertainment and retail space.

The Hardwick will have its own character. Wadkins said the company is looking at the potential to incorporate elements that speak to the building’s history, like the massive overhead cranes and machinery that still exist and give the space “some energy and ambiance.”

“We are really excited about the Hardwick project. It is a sort of unique building,” Wadkins said. “The location is terrific, right on the Rotary Trail and with some developments going on on that end of town.”

Wadkins said the plan is set on developing the building into office space, but the rest of the mixed-use elements are still being worked out.

“We do believe that that area is ripe for adding some entertainment or food and beverage,” she said.

Playing off the connectivity that now exists between Railroad Park, Rotary Trail, Sloss FurnacesPepper Place and part of the larger Red Rock Trail System, Wadkins said that part of downtown should continue to enjoy growth.

Bayer Co-president Libby Lassiter agreed.

“The redevelopment of the Hardwick building will bring a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use project to the area, complementing the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.

It also gives Bayer a focus in the city where it is headquartered.

“We did want to do more business in our own city – in Birmingham and the surrounding area,” she said.

The building is under contract and in pre-development now. It qualifies for historic tax credits and opportunity zone incentives, which Wadkins said they plan to pursue. Bayer has selected Birmingham-based Williams Blackstock Architects and Schoel Engineering as part of the initial design team.

Wadkins said talks were already taking place with potential tenants when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and brought business to a halt.

Wadkins said they are seeing businesses suffer in every state where they have properties. She said it’s not just retailers or landlords of shopping centers feeling the pain, but the entire supply chain and even in industries you may not suspect. For instance, movie theaters are struggling now because of social distancing and crowd size restrictions, but that is also affecting the production of new movies, which could affect having movies to premiere when theaters do open back up.

Moreover, retailers that had just purchased spring and summer merchandise when COVID-19 hit are now not only worried about that but how they’re going to be able to order for the following seasons.

Still, as businesses have been allowed to reopen even with COVID-19 restrictions, there is a sense that things are showing a small but incremental improvement.

“At The Summit this past weekend, I would say it was positive — not a normal weekend at The Summit, but it felt better than it has in the last two months or even the last two weeks,” Wadkins said.

Which is why projects like The Hardwick take on more significance – it gives people something to look forward to.

“We can’t just completely stop,” Wadkins said. “We’ve always got to be looking for opportunities to continue to do business, and that’s what we’ve done. We have the Hardwick project, and we actually have one other that we’re working on in the metro area — not quite as far along — but we’ve just got to continue working.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Honda and Toyota reopen their Alabama plants with COVID-19 protection measures

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed, YHN)

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama reopened its auto plant in Lincoln Monday, the same day Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama started back its engine plant in Huntsville.

Both plants had been closed since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are returning to sanitized workspaces and learning new ways to operate with social distancing and additional personal protective equipment.

The reopening of the Honda and Toyota Alabama plants is part of a resuming of all North America operations for the two automakers.

They follow reopenings in Alabama of Mercedes-Benz U.S International, which resumed production in Tuscaloosa last week, and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, which has been running one shift since May 4. Plans are for Hyundai to run one of its three shifts for the first three weeks under its new COVID-19 guidelines with an eye on running three shifts beginning May 26.


Getting the automotive sector of the economy up and running again is important for Alabama, which is home to 40,000 automotive manufacturing jobs, including the automakers and engine plants, as well as more than 150 Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.

Alabama elected officials have joined those from other automaker states in advocating for some sort of relief effort to support the U.S. auto industry after its losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama’s Pepper Place drive-thru farmers market a success, others look to emulate

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

A Saturday morning at the Market at Pepper Place is supposed to be crowded. That’s part of the charm and the allure.

From finding a parking place to finding the right ears of corn, the experience is all about finding your way through crowds, hugging and shaking hands with those you haven’t seen in a while and handling the fruits, vegetables, bread and other goods for sale.


The Market at Pepper Place finds success in drive-through farmers market from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Even the farmers and vendors are packed in tight to allow as many as possible to participate.

COVID-19 and social distancing have eliminated much of what we love about the Market at Pepper Place but what remains is the most important element – the ability for farmers and small businesses to sell their goods to eager customers.

Now, instead of packed together, farmers and vendors are widely spaced within a two-block area.

Instead of crowds strolling through the market, cars follow a pathway, popping their trunks for contact-free delivery of items they prepaid for earlier in the week. The only music, if there is any, comes from the car radio. The live artists that give rhythm to the market have no place in this new form.

The Market at Pepper Place is marking its 20th year this year in what was supposed to be a celebration of two decades of incredible success. Instead, it has turned into an innovative approach to a global pandemic that still speaks to its two decades of incredible success.

“What better way to prove your longevity and your resilience than by adapting and showing your farmers and showing your customers that you have their back, that you’re going to be there no matter what, through thick and thin, and you will do whatever it takes to continue to protect and nurture this wonderful relationship that’s been growing for 20 years,” said Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of the Market at Pepper Place.

Sloss-Corra said it became clear that even as the Pepper Place Market began shifting from its smaller, indoor winter market into its typical outdoor market that concerns over the coronavirus were going to make the traditional model untenable.

“The outdoor market is a place of conviviality and people want to hug each other and talk and catch up,” she said. “Southerners are just naturally warm, gregarious people and it’s really hard for people to just stand around outside in that atmosphere and not want to congregate.”

Sloss-Corra said the focus became how they could save the most important aspects of the market.

“We just realized that if we were going to help our farmers and if we were going to protect our community, the best way we could do it is make it a drive-thru market,” she said.

It helped that Birmingham is a “car city” of commuters. Sloss-Corra said cities that are more pedestrian are having trouble finding workable solutions for their farmers markets.

To verify it would work, the Pepper Place Drive-Thru Farmers Market started small with just five farmers in the main parking lot the first week. Week two, it moved up to eight and then up to 13 last week, causing it to stretch through the parking lot and up the next street. This weekend could see as many as 17 farmers and there is still room to grow.

“This model is working. It’s safe. We envisioned it to be scalable,” Sloss-Corra said. “We foresee that we could have as many as 30 (vendors) on a Saturday if we stretch into the Martin Biscuit parking lot.”

But the real measure of success is not the number of farmers, but how the farmers themselves are doing.

“The beautiful thing is the farmers have said they’re selling twice as much,” Sloss-Corra said.

The farmers lose the kind of interaction with customers that can be a valuable part of the traditional market. But that interaction also eliminates time that could be used to make sales. With the drive-thru market, the sales are complete before the market takes place.

Moreover, customers tend to order more for efficiency reasons and because they are cooking more at home these days with restaurants closed and only able to offer takeout or curbside service.

“On our busiest day in the time that we have been here at Pepper Place, the most customers we have served in a single day was 112; that was our busiest day. This week with the online market place, we have now seen an increase to 2016 orders,” said Matthew Lawrence, co-founder of Marble Creek Farmstead.

The new system offers less anxiety than going into a grocery store, Sloss-Corra said. There is also less concern over the origins and delivery of the food.

“You’re looking right at the guy who is saying, ‘Yeah, I picked that celery or those peas yesterday,’” Sloss-Corra said.

Market at Pepper Place Founder Cathy Sloss Jones said the drive-thru market is making a difference.

“As the Drive-Thru Market at Pepper Place continues to grow, it will help farmers survive financially through this difficult period, and provide the community with accessible locally grown food in a safe environment,” Jones said. “Coming to Pepper Place each Saturday is more important than ever to ensure the Market’s livelihood. We are helping Alabamians access fresh food safely, while protecting and preserving what is best about our culture and community.”

The drive-thru market isn’t just garnering attention among the farmers and customers; it’s getting interest from other farmers markets across the country.

Sloss-Corra was on a conference call with 400 market managers in the Farmers Market Coalition this week. She said there was great interest in what Pepper Place is doing in Birmingham from places as far away as Idaho and New York and as close as New Orleans.

Even with the success and the ability to grow, Sloss-Corra said they are already looking at ways of improving the drive-thru market. For instance, whereas customers now have to go to individual vendors listed on the Market at Pepper Place website, Sloss-Corra said they plan to have a single place to shop from all vendors and pay once with all of the money then distributed to the farmers and vendors. There is talk of adding a second day, maybe in the middle of the week.

“What if we needed to operate like this for the rest of the summer? Can we? I think we can,” Sloss-Corra said. “We can support our farmers. I think that we can continue to provide this essential service. We could do it all summer if we needed to.”

When the traditional Pepper Place Market does return, Sloss-Corra suspects there will be those who like the convenience of the drive-thru market or maybe even the addition of home delivery in the future.

“I think that the silver lining is that in times of stress you have this motivation and impetus to try new things,” she said. “I think this is going to be a really great enhancement for our farmers and for our community. I’m proud that we’re pulling it off and, so far, everybody’s pretty happy.”

Just having the market return in any form has been a relief to many.

“It’s heartening,” Sloss-Corra said. “A lot of people said it gives you hope that things will come back to normal and, in the meantime, there are good things in this world where things are a little stressful now. The Market is like hope in a box.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

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

(Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson is excited about his new role.

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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


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

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

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

RELATED: Birmingham ramping up preparation for 2021 World Games

Also announced today were two new corporate sponsors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)