The Wire

  • Auburn University’s online programs ranked among the best in the nation


    According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Best Online Program rankings released on Tuesday, Auburn University’s online graduate programs are among the best in the nation.

    The university’s online programs that received high marks include the Harbert College of Business’ MBA program at No. 9 and non-MBA, No. 13; Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, No. 12; and College of Education, No. 22

  • Marsh donates to border wall construction fund


    As a demonstration of his commitment to border security, Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has personally donated to an online campaign to fund the construction of a wall on America’s southern border.

    “It is obvious that we cannot rely on politicians in Washington to do their job,” Marsh said in a statement to Yellowhammer News. “I have always believed that controlling our borders and our national security is of the utmost importance which is why I supported immigration reform in Alabama in 2011 and why today, I am putting my money where my mouth is and personally donating to build the wall.”

  • Brooks urges State of the Union be held in Senate chamber


    On Thursday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) and House colleagues sent a letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposing the president’s annual State of the Union Address be held in the Senate chamber in light of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic move to revoke Trump’s invitation to deliver the address.

    In the letter, Brooks and his House colleagues explained, “Holding the State of the Union in the Senate Chamber is the best way to reveal the veracity of Speaker Pelosi’s alleged once-in-history reason for [canceling] or postponing the State of the Union.”

6 days ago

Good Morning Coffee is an Alabama Maker keen on beans

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Good Morning Coffee (Hayden)

The Maker: Seth Aderhold

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Morning Coffee

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the entire press conference below.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Nancy Goodman is an Alabama Maker creating quilted works of art

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Nancy Goodman Quilted Art (Mobile)

The Maker: Nancy Goodman

This is not your grandma’s quilting.

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

But odds are Mawmaw never did anything like this.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The rest, I just wing it,” she said.

Her larger quilts can take a few months to complete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Goodman Quilted Art

The product: Quilted art pieces suitable for hanging.

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

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

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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


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

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

The Birmingham roundtable included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others seized on that thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hood agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Infinite Soaps, Birmingham

The Maker: Christopher Funderburk

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


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

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

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

The summer education proved to be invaluable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infinite Soaps

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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


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

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

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


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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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


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

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

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

Sherrill said that ended up being a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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

(M. Mercier/UAH)

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

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

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


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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

2 months ago

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

(Mike Tomberlin)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Honda announces new Passport SUV will be built in Alabama


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Lake Martin Innovation Center in Alexander City helps businesses get off the ground

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lake Martin has always been known for recreation, and now the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce is also making it a place for incubation.

In addition to being home to the chamber’s offices, the Lake Martin Innovation Center is a business incubator providing low-cost office space and support to young businesses.

The chamber moved into the former bank data center in February 2017 with big plans for the large space. Chief among them was a dozen suites for startup companies to set up and grow in Alex City. Chamber officials visited other business incubators throughout the state to discover best practices.


“So far, so good,” said Ed Collari, president and CEO of the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce. “Being in a rural community, we faced our challenges. Most of the facilities we toured throughout the state are in the backyards of four-year institutions, so being here in Alex City in rural Alabama we definitely had our issues. But so far, a year and a half in, it’s been a very solid success.”

Collari said the visits to other incubators helped the chamber with its “R&D – ripoff and duplicate” plan. They learned that successful incubators bring in tenants that have expertise in law, information technology and accounting so that they become an in-house resource to other tenant companies.

Lee Williams opened an Alex City office for Birmingham’s Nowlin & Associates Wealth Management in the Innovation Center.

“They’ve done a great job at trying to keep overhead low for new businesses,” he said. “To be able to come into a facility like this and have the resources we have is really, really nice for a company that’s just starting up.”

Williams said the intimate setting at the Lake Martin Innovation Center helps bring tenants together.

“It’s like a small family,” he said. “Even though we don’t necessarily work together, you almost feel like you do.”

Williams said he’s made good friends among the companies and chamber members.

“They’ve got a great group of tenants in here right now,” he said.

Having a business incubator program is uncommon in a town the size of Alex City, Williams noted.

“You could go to a lot of smaller towns and you’re not going to see anything like this. To be able to be a part of it is really special,” he said. “I think it was great timing and I think it’s something that for future new businesses is going to be a great stepping stone and a great platform for them to grow their businesses and get out into the community and be able to make a difference.”

Collari said Lake Martin is a key to the Innovation Center’s success. Not only does it offer the quality-of-life features that young entrepreneurs look for in a community, but it has an important resource that is not so obvious.

“Lake Martin is what we lean on,” Collari said. “We don’t have that four-year college, but what we do have is Lake Martin – not just the financial resources that surround the lake, but the retired executives, the CEOs or the vice presidents who have contacts that we’re able to lean on.”

Collari said a group within the organization includes retired or semi-retired former executives who live on the lake and offer advice on starting, scaling or expanding businesses.

“We utilize those folks with our entrepreneurs to help them grow their business as well,” he said.

Since the Innovation Center opened, seven plus the chamber companies have located within the facility and four spots remain. Those companies range from professional services firms to the local Servpro operator. The businesses have created 50 jobs.

“It’s been a pretty solid success for our community, for new business, for entrepreneurs as well as for our existing chamber members who are also allowed access to this facility,” Collari said. “So, overall, a big win for Alex City.”

In addition to the eight full-time tenants, the Innovation Center has 40 individuals and businesses signed up for co-working space within the facility. Chamber members love using the space for meetings, events and the holiday party this past year.

For a flat monthly fee, tenants get access to the center’s receptionists, the information technology within the facility, utilities other than a telephone land-line, security, cleaning and free coffee.

In addition to Lake Martin, Collari said the small-town atmosphere of Alexander City is paying off for the entrepreneurs in the Innovation Center.

“With the amount of traffic that comes in here from members to business leaders to city officials, they’re able to make relationships, make contacts,” he said. “They know they’re supported.”

Other than the coffee, which can be a big expense for caffeine-fueled entrepreneurs, Collari said he wouldn’t change a thing.

“Overall, it’s probably exceeded our expectations,” Collari said.

Lake Martin Innovation Center tenant companies

Angela J. Hill, Attorney at Law: Attorney focusing on family law, estate planning and criminal defense with a primary focus on children’s advocacy.

Beyond Home Care: In-home, nonmedical caregiving service focused on keeping patients as active as possible in their homes to promote overall health and well-being.

Lee Williams – Nowlin & Associates Wealth Management: Investment, insurance planning and financial planning firm focused on leading clients into the new economy with savings, income, investing and legacy strategies that succeed in unpredictable market environments.

Lowden Street Capital: Private equity firm that focuses on helping rural small business owners find an exit for their business. In only its fifth month of operation, LSC portfolio companies have reached break even and begun generating a small level of profitability.

Servpro of Chilton, Coosa, Tallapoosa and Chambers counties: Water and fire damage restoration, mold remediation, storm damage restoration, cleaning services.

VuePoint Diagnostics: Mobile radiology and diagnostics designed to make patient examinations and treatment faster, easier and more cost-effective.

WisePoint LLC: Document capture, content management systems, portals/intranets and custom programming.

This article originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Southern Research is advancing green chemistry in the heart of Alabama

(Southern Research)

Birmingham’s Southern Research has developed a reputation in cancer treatment and other medical advancement, but an area where it is showing much promise today could end up having its greatest worldwide impact.

Environmental research has emerged as an exciting field for Southern Research, so much so that it has become one of three pillars the institution is focusing on in its Change Campaign fundraising efforts.


The “Earth” pillar focuses on green chemistry and ways to reduce the use of petroleum in consumer goods or find ways of recycling carbon dioxide, among other initiatives. The mind pillar focuses on neuroscience to find treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. The body pillar focuses on cancer treatments.

The fundraising for green chemistry is a vital part of Southern Research’s efforts in the field.

“It is highly competitive,” said Amit Goyal, director of Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis at Southern Research. “A lot of this is high-risk, high-reward, so it is funded by federal funds.”

Most federal funds are directed at universities and national labs, Goyal said.

“A lot of times good ideas also do not get funded,” he said. “It’s not just that they’re not good enough.”

Jonathan Geisen is an attorney with Baker Donelson law firm and is a “Change Agent” working on the Change Campaign for the Earth pillar.

“I think green chemistry, environmental R&D is going to have a harder time sometimes raising funds than health-care research or other medical innovations,” Geisen said. “It’s a long game and I think it’s the sort of thing that we really need to support.”

Geisen said he knew more about the other areas of research than he did green chemistry when he joined the Change Campaign.

“When I got involved with this particular group and met with some of the scientists and met with some of the other people involved with the program, I was just blown away,” he said.

The more he knows about the areas of focus, the more excited he is to support the Earth pillar, Geisen said.

“I think some of the things that Southern Research is doing – alternative fuels, different types of recycling plans – there are so many things going on here that I was unaware of until I got involved,” he said. “It’s the sort of thing that we need to support in this community to continue to improve our life.”

Goyal said there are a couple of areas where Southern Research shows great promise.

“There are two areas that we are really excited about,” he said. “(One is) a chemical that we are trying to make from sugars extracted from plants that are used in fibers in clothing and carbon fibers. It’s a high-growth area, so it might have a lower inertia to become commercialized if we’re successful. The second is to use CO2. There is a lot of CO2 that if it can be consumed rather than just emitted it can lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Philanthropic funds give Southern Research freedom to explore those ideas. The payoff could be huge, Goyal said, as a large amount of petroleum-based products could become plant-based and have rippling benefits on the economy.

“It is not easily to compete with petroleum-derived sources, these things developed over the last century,” he said. “If you think of a commodity chemical, it usually costs about $1 a kilogram, so there is not much room between the feedstock price and the final product, which is a chemical in this case. To develop processes at scale to produce at the same economic value with less greenhouse gas is quite challenging. We’re trying to address that.”

Geisen said Southern Research is a vital part of the three-legged stool that makes up the entrepreneurial and innovation base for Birmingham, along with UAB and Innovation Depot.

“Birmingham needs things like Southern Research,” he said. “We need places that are innovative, that are bringing the best and the brightest to Birmingham.”

The Change Campaign ends October 11 with the “An Evening of Change” event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama’s Southern Research looks to build on cancer drug successes

(Alabama NewsCenter/Vimeo)

Southern Research has had great success in a number of areas, but none more than cancer treatment.

It remains a point of emphasis.

“We have seven FDA-approved drugs, two that will hopefully be approved soon and more in the pipeline,” said Rebecca Boohaker, assistant fellow in drug discovery at Southern Research. “Right now we’re working on a first-in-class therapy for pancreatic cancer and we’re also working towards developing therapies for immune oncology, which uses your immune system to fight the cancer.”


Cancer treatment is the focus of the “body” pillar in Southern Research’s current “Change Campaign” fundraising effort as it seeks to secure dollars for three areas of research that show the most promise.

The institution has classified the three pillars as mind, body and earth. The mind pillar focuses on neuroscience to find treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. The earth pillar focuses on green chemistry.

Boohaker said fundraisers fill a key gap.

“Fundraisers like this are critical because they allow us to do things that are either outside the scope of current funding or allow us to get preliminary data to apply for the bigger research dollars,” she said.

Leading the charge for fundraising are three teams of “change agents” under each pillar.

“The campaign is centered around an amazing group of community leaders who have agreed to advocate and raise funds for Southern Research in those three scientific areas,” said Brynne MacCann, development officer at Southern Research.

“These are three areas that are showing a lot of promise.”

Virginia Markstein, director of business development at Arc Realty, is a change agent for the body pillar.

She is very familiar with Southern Research’s successful history.

“I have so many family members that have actually been involved at Southern Research,” she said. “One of my great-grandfathers was actually the founder of the board at Southern Research.”

She has a great-uncle and an uncle who served on the board and her brother is a current board member.

“We know what great resources Southern Research has and what they’ve done for so many people across the nation,” Markstein said.
Markstein is like most others in that she has family and friends who have been affected by cancer.

“My family has, unfortunately, been impacted by cancer,” she said. “All four of my grandparents were touched by cancer, as well as many cousins and relatives who have had childhood cancer, brain cancer, ovarian cancer. It’s amazing to make a change and make a difference in other people’s lives. Hopefully we can find a drug that can treat and cure cancer.”

Markstein said helping the campaign is a small part she can play in something that could become a legacy.

“I’m so proud of the research they’ve already conducted and the drugs they’ve already founded,” she said. “I’m just excited to be a very small part of what they do on a national and even an international scale.”

The Change Campaign started Sept. 10 and culminates in an event at Southern Research on Oct. 11.

“Our passion at Southern Research is driven by hope: hope for a cure, for a cleaner, greener Earth and for lives to be changed – and ultimately saved,” said Art Tipton, Southern Research president and CEO. “Donations to the Change Campaign will allow us to continue to explore important scientific breakthroughs within high-risk, high-reward endeavors that are many times difficult to fund through traditional government grants.”

To donate to Southern Research’s Change Campaign or for more information or tickets to the culmination event, visit Swell page.

Boohaker said Southern Research takes a wholistic approach to cancer research, studying the underlying biology and other aspects of the disease in addition to testing potential treatments.

“We’re looking at everything; no stone unturned,” she said. “In order to be successful with drug development, the science is really important. Everybody knows somebody or has been affected themselves by cancer and it’s a problem we’re looking to solve.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church competing for $150,000 grant

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is among 20 national finalists competing for a $150,000 Partners in Preservation grant.

American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in collaboration with Main Street America, is focusing the annual Partners in Preservation campaign on sites that celebrate diversity and the fight for equality.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church became a part of civil rights history in 1963 when four little girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bombing.


If the church wins, it would use the $150,000 grant to install protective glass on the outside of all the church’s recently restored stained glass windows as well as make repairs to the cupola and twin bell towers.

“Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is a symbol of hope,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “While it reminds us of a painful past that we must never forget, it also proves how far we’ve come. Through its doors enter people of all colors, classes and backgrounds to experience today’s Birmingham – a place where, despite our differences, we work together. We unite as a city, region and state to support this sacred place.”

Public voting begins today and runs through Oct. 26 to determine the winner of the grant. An individual can vote up to five times daily online at or by texting “MAINSTREET” to 52886.

“The tragic death of four little girls in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church diminished our world in ways that we cannot fathom,” said church pastor the Rev. Arthur Price. “Yet, this terrible act of terror motivated a movement to support the passage of long overdue civil rights changes in our country. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will always be a place of service, a place of significance and a place of social change. Please help us to preserve it by lifting your voice!”

This is the second year in a row that Birmingham has a project in the running for a Partners in Preservation grant. Last year the Alabama Theatre won a $120,000 grantit put toward installing a  lighted sign on 18th Street.

REV Birmingham, a Main Street America organization, nominated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church for this year’s Partners in Preservation competition and is working with the church to run the voting campaign.

“Not only is Sixteenth Baptist Church an important civil rights landmark, it’s also a beautiful, historic church designed in 1911 by African-American architect Wallace Rayfield,” said David Fleming, REV Birmingham CEO. “Preservation of our city’s unique historic assets is essential to the continued success of Birmingham. This Partners in Preservation opportunity allows everyone, no matter the size of your bank account, to invest in saving a piece of our history – by simply voting.”

Today, the church is a central part of the Civil Rights National Monument designated by the National Park Service last year. The monument includes Bethel Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the A.G. Gaston Motel and portions of the Fourth Avenue Business District.

In addition to being an active, vibrant church, Sixteenth Street Baptist is a popular tourist destination because of its role in history.

Michael Farris from Chicago was among a recent group that toured Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“I have two young girls at home, so I think about their experiences and how they love serving in our church and just showing up one day to have that taken away from you,” he said. “That’s what really impacted me.”

For more information and to vote daily for Sixteenth Street Baptist Church through Oct. 26, visit and share via social media using #16thStreetBaptist and #VoteYourMainStreet.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama’s Southern Research focusing on ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s treatments

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

This is the first in a three-part series on Southern Research’s Change Campaign.

When David Powell’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September 2017, she was relieved.

That’s because in January 2017, she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After years of watching her own mother suffer from Alzheimer’s, she welcomed cancer as a preferable way to go.


“My mom told her sister, ‘This is such an answer to prayers, such a blessing that I got cancer.’ And we were all, ‘What?’ And she said it’s because ‘I won’t have to die from Alzheimer’s,’” said Powell, general manager of the service provider unit of LogicMonitor. “When you’re so concerned about one disease that cancer … seems like a blessing” (something needs to be done).

Powell is one of 10 “Change Agents” leading a “Change Campaign” fundraising effort for Southern Research’s “mind” pillar.

Southern Research is seeking to raise funds for three areas of research that show the most promise.

The institution has classified the three pillars as mind, body and earth. The mind pillar focuses on Southern Research’s work in neurosciences seeking to find treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

The body pillar focuses on cancer treatments and earth focuses on green chemistry.

“The campaign is centered around an amazing group of community leaders who have agreed to advocate and raise funds for Southern Research in those three scientific areas,” said Brynne McCann, development officer at Southern Research. “These are three areas that are showing a lot of promise.”

Rita Cowell, chair of the neuroscience program at Southern Research, said one area showing promise is neuroprotective compounds that can prevent cell death.

The challenge, she said, is getting the research to a point where it can attract much larger grant dollars.

“There are a lot of different ways we can receive money for this type of work,” Cowell said. “Any little bit of money helps because then we’re able to leverage the existing resources here at Southern Research and UAB to develop some of these new drugs.”

The Change Campaign started Sept. 10 and culminates in an event at Southern Research on Oct. 11.

“Our passion at Southern Research is driven by hope: hope for a cure, for a cleaner, greener Earth and for lives to be changed – and ultimately saved,” said Art Tipton, Southern Research president and CEO. “Donations to the Change Campaign will allow us to continue to explore important scientific breakthroughs within high-risk, high-reward endeavors that are many times difficult to fund through traditional government grants.”

To donate to Southern Research’s Change Campaign or for more information or tickets to the culmination event, visit Swell page.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Sawyer is an Alabama Maker turning logs into lauds

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Sawyer, Birmingham

The Makers: Cliff and Leigh Spencer

Hundreds of downed Birmingham trees that were bound for area landfills as trash are now living out lives in homes and office buildings as valued treasures.

Alabama Sawyer is the company behind that transformation.


The husband-and-wife team of Cliff and Leigh Spencer brought an approach they started in California back to Cliff’s home of Birmingham and the result has been a business racking up accolades while it makes a difference.

“We came here and I spoke at a design conference in 2014, Design Week Birmingham, and it was there that I met Bruce Lanier, who is the founder of MAKEbhm,” Cliff Spencer said. “He was looking for a woodworking component at that time to start MAKEbhm. He was interested in the urban timber operation and it was just simpatico.”

The more Spencer began looking into setting up shop in Birmingham, the more reasons he found to do so.

“I found that all of the other businesses I needed to work with – other woodworkers, the tree services, architects – just took to the idea,” he said. “Everybody was saying, ‘Yes, let me help you,’ rather than, ‘No, it’s going to cost a fortune. It’s too hard.’ Everyone here in Birmingham and in Alabama was very cooperative. It just took off. It had legs here.”

It didn’t hurt that Birmingham is one of the most forested urban areas in the country.

“The trees in our city I’ve always felt are an integral part of the identity of the place,” Spencer said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for this kind of business to grow.”

Alabama Sawyer works with tree services, homeowners and others to divert logs that might go to landfills or fireplaces and takes time to mill them, dry them, prepare them and turn them into furniture or other products.

Birmingham and other areas are full of many of the woods that Spencer enjoys.

“We’ve identified about seven species that are our favorites to work with and are the most abundant in the area – the most dependable species,” he said.

They include a number of types of red and white oak, walnut, pecan, hickory, elm, sweet gum and hackberry.

The latter two are “trees that everybody considers trash trees,” Spencer said. “Actually, there are some of the most beautiful grain patterns inside of them.”

In fact, it was a hackberry table that earned Alabama Sawyer a “2017 Made In the South” Award from Garden & Gun magazine.

“Not such a trash tree anymore, according to us,” Spencer said.

Alabama Sawyer has developed its own line of furniture and other products and will do commissioned works for companies or individuals.

The most popular item is a countertop compost bin the company has shipped all over the country and to England and Australia.

Alabama Sawyer has worked with Sloss Metal Arts at Sloss Furnaces to produce dining tables and other products.

They recently shipped a set of hackberry sputnik tables to Haint Blue Brewery in Mobile.

In addition to Alabama Sawyer’s website, its products can be found at Design Supply at Pepper Place and popular websites including Food52, Kaufmann Mercantile and Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop.

The company has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times and Garden & Gun. In July, Alabama Sawyer took top honors in its category for branding in the AmericasMart Home and Gift Show’s Icon Honors 2018 awards in Atlanta.

“It’s a good validation of the hard work we’ve put in,” Spencer said.

Spencer hopes he can convince others in the Birmingham area and beyond to see the beauty in trees after they’ve lived out their lives.

“A tree has value currently when it’s standing,” he said. “It provides shade, it provides landscape appeal, helps to stop soil erosion, provides oxygen – a lot of good qualities when it’s standing. When it comes down, it’s a nuisance and considered a waste product, a hazard. It’s got to get out of there super-fast and get it out of sight. That material has a lot of potential for us.”

He said it is a minor tweak that could help his company provide something of lasting value.

“We’re trying to get in there and adjust that process a little bit so that we can save those logs,” he said.

Alabama Sawyer

The product: Original furniture and wood products made from urban timber.

Take home: Noaway Counter Top Compost Bin ($175). and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Birmingham’s Curtiss Motorcycles aims to be market leader in electric motorcycles

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Whether it’s the familiar “potato” sound of a Harley, the “roar” of a Ducati or the “bark” of an Indian, motorcycles have long been identified by their sounds as much as by their brands.

But Birmingham’s Curtiss Motorcycles doesn’t think you have to be loud to make a statement.

The company recently unveiled its “Hot Rod Gods” line of electric motorcycles starting with Zeus, expected to be available to order later this year, and Helena, which is slated for a 2020 rollout.


Don’t hear the words “electric motorcycle” and envision a moped or scooter. Formerly known as Confederate Motors, Curtiss is committed to design and performance even as it turns its attention to battery bikes.

“We’re taking everything we know from 30 years of making motorcycles and applying it to the future technology under the Curtiss brand,” Matt Chambers, CEO of Curtiss, said.

Confederate switched to Curtiss about 200 days ago with a change in name but a continuation in evolution.

“Even though we’re 198 days old, this is all we’ve done in R&D within our company for seven years,” Chambers said. “Every ounce of our energy, our fiber has been dedicated to Curtiss.”

Curtiss has spent the past few days introducing Zeus to the world. The motorcycle was unveiled to the public at The Quail Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, on Aug. 24.

Curtiss then had two of the motorcycles on display at the National Drive Electric Week kickoff event at  Brookwood Village on Sept. 8.

Just as the Confederate motorcycles helped usher in an era of industrial, muscular design of bikes as an alternative to the sleek, street bikes of the time, Chambers believes Zeus and Curtiss’ line of electric motorcycles are out in front of the next trend.

“It’s the new American minimalism; the introduction of a new golden age of motorcycling,” he said. “We feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”

Harley-Davidson is coming out with its own line of electric motorcycles and other established companies are expected to follow suit. Chambers welcomes the competition.

“We think we can take it to them pretty good with better design, better technology, a more interesting brand,” he said.

“It’s perfect for us because we’re a small company,” Chambers continued. “The market is small, but it’s going to grow 50 or more percent a year for the foreseeable future. So it’s an amazing coming together from a purely business sense. You have a small company that can organically scale as the market scales. So, in a sense, we’re best suited to be the leader in the battery electric motorcycle market relative to Harley-Davidson or Indian or any one of the larger companies. It’s an extremely positive opportunity for us.”

One way Curtiss plans to be different is in customization. The company hopes to have its website ready by Black Friday this year to allow buyers to select elements to fit their shape, size and style.

“The big idea is you come in, you choose your architecture, you choose your gestalt, you get some geometric scale opportunities because obviously not everyone is the same size,” Chambers said. “Essentially you tell us what your dream motorcycle is and we will help you make the dream a reality.”

Pricing for the Zeus motorcycles is still being set. If early demand is any indication, Chambers said Zeus could hit like a bolt of lightning.

“It’s just so much fun and it gives a feeling when you’re on it. You know you’re on something really special.”

Follow Curtiss Motorcycles on Facebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Jeff Johnston is an Alabama Maker who gets the point of art

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Jeff Johnston Studios, Mobile

The Maker: Jeff Johnston

Jeff Johnston doesn’t believe art lies in connecting the dots. The art IS the dots.

Johnston was drawn to art as a boy, working with charcoal, pen-and-ink and pencil drawings as young as 10.

But it wasn’t until he was taking a drawing class when he was in his early 20s that he got, uh, pointed in a different direction.


“The instructor was going, ‘I think I know something you might like to do,’ and showed me how to do the stippling with the pen and ink,” Johnston said. “I just took right to it.”

Stippling is used in pointillism, the technique of creating drawings using a series of tiny dots that come together to make an image.

“It’s a long process to finish a piece,” Johnston said. “It takes a long time to draw in just dots. But I find it very relaxing. I get going and I can work on it for hours and the whole world disappears while I’m doing it. Some people, it drives them crazy. I just go within and keep going and it might be hours when I look up.”

His first piece of art using pointillism was a drawing he did of the leaves of his mother’s split-leaf phildendron plant. He felt like he accurately captured the shapes and shadows created by the plant, and that artwork still hangs in his home.

From there, Johnston got into doing other pieces, primarily animals and nature. He loves animals and is involved in animal rescue, so the subjects came naturally to him.

After years of doing black-and-white images, Johnston started adding touches of color with acrylics in his pointillism.

About a year ago, he got into using hot wax in his art, known as encaustic painting.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Johnston said. “It’s interesting working in a media that melts, so it’s been a huge learning curve. I’ve found tools where I can still do pointillism and encaustic, so it’s a lot of fun. You get bright, vibrant colors. Some of my pieces, especially in the encaustics, are just full of color and whimsical.”

Johnston was among the first artists to set up in what is now known as the Central Artist Collective in downtown Mobile. The former school at the Central Presbyterian Church has been converted into a conclave with 14 artists working there today.

Johnston said he does almost all of his work there now.

In addition to selling directly out of his studio, Johnston does many shows and festivals throughout the year. He carries a variety of his works because he never knows what is going to be popular on any given day.

Certain people pick up on certain things, be it the subject matter or the colors.

“It’s just a mixture of what draws people,” he said. “I never know from one show to the next what’s going to be the big seller.”

The majority of his works are small pieces, allowing Johnston time to produce multiple images in as short a time as possible. Large works can easily take him up to 50 hours to complete. He once spent nearly 70 hours on a peacock that was drawn in black and white but then highlighted with acrylic.

Yes, he will do commission works.

“It’s not cheap because of the time it takes,” he said.

Because he spends so much time with a piece, Johnston admits he gets attached to certain ones. An owl he has hanging in his studio remains one of his all-time favorites and a sea turtle he was proud of ended up selling before the show it was in even opened.

“It’s always one of my favorites that sells,” he said.

To take a break from his pointillism, Johnston draws a comic weekly panel on Facebook titled “The Mutt House” featuring a mixed-breed dog named Huddly Hound.

“He gets in a lot of stuff,” Johnston said. “He’s kind of like my sarcastic alter ego.”

Jeff Johnston Studios

The Product: Pointillism art in pen and ink, acrylic and encaustic.

Take Home: A colorful matted print of a seahorse titled “Alamar” ($32) or buy the original encaustic ($295).

1260 Dauphin St., Suite 2A, Mobile, Alabama, 36604 (by appointment)

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama’s Grand Hotel completes $35 million renovation, rebrands as Autograph resort

(Alabama NewsCenter)

The “Queen of Southern Resorts” has added more sparkle to her crown.

The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa in Point Clear has completed a three-year, $35 million transformation that is marked today by a rebranding from Marriott to Autograph Collection Hotels.

“What that means is we will be able to more of what we want to do and what we want to be to be independent as a hotel,” said Scott Tripoli, general manager of the Grand Hotel. “That’s really the moniker of Autograph: ‘Exactly like nothing else,’ and we feel like the Grand Hotel brings that right to the forefront.”


Autograph Collection Hotels are part of Marriott International Inc. but reserved to more than 150 one-of-a-kind hotels that have established their own identities.

An official reflagging of the hotel is scheduled to take place Wednesday morning.

The recent transformation has been among the most extensive since the Grand Hotel first opened in 1847. All of its 405 guest rooms have been renovated, as have its meeting and conference spaces, its spa, golf course, pool, pier grounds and restaurants.

Signature cocktails can be enjoyed at Bucky’s Lounge while everything from burgers to steaks and specialty craft beers can be enjoyed at the Bayside Grill.

The main dining room is home to Southern Roots restaurant, featuring fresh, farm-to-table seasonal Southern cuisine.

While much has changed, Tripoli said he wants longtime fans of the Grand Hotel to know that the important elements of Southern charm and great service are intact.

“We want to make sure that we continue with our Grand traditions – creating some new ones but at the same time holding on to those that are very important to our members and our guests and our generational guests who have been coming to the Grand for years and years,” he said.

For instance, the cannon still fire every afternoon as a salute to the property’s history and in honor of past and present military. The sunsets over Mobile Bay are still beautiful.

The Grand Hotel has hired a historian who will give tours and share the history of the property with guests.

The pool area has added 11 cabanas and a splash pad. The recreation and games area with putting greens and other lawn games has been moved from behind Bucky’s to the pool area.

The Grand Hotel is part of the Resort Collection on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

“With this stunning transformation nearly complete, the historic Grand Hotel enters its next chapter with its Autograph Collection distinction,” said Tony Davis, president of the RTJ Resort Collection. “We are debuting a modern sanctuary of golf, tennis, beach, pools and spa filled with gracious Southern charm and attentiveness.”

The renovation was designed by Goodwyn Mills & Cawood and implemented by JESCO Construction.

“Here, as it has for over 170 years, the Grand life beckons with hospitality and warmth flowing through the resort in cheerful abundance,” Davis said. “With our Historic Hotels of America designation, the affiliation with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and Autograph Collection signature, the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa will appeal even more to group and leisure guests.”

The grounds were restored and landscaped with the signature live oaks remaining as centerpieces.

“We take great pride in the live oaks, protecting them, and everything we do is around those and making sure they’re preserved,” Tripoli said.

Designed as an all-in-one destination, the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa features a full-service spa, two RTJ Golf Trail courses, seven restaurants and lounges, two beaches, multiple pools and 37,000 square feet of renovated meeting space on 550 acres along Mobile Bay near Fairhope.

Though it has taken time, Tripoli believes guests will appreciate the combination of modern amenities with classic charm.

“It’s been a long run, but I think the ‘Queen of Southern Resorts’ is better than ever,” Tripoli said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama, Birmingham preparing for economic impact of Opportunity Zones


A new national tax incentive program that some believe could be the most transformative economic development tool ever has communities in Alabama, led by Birmingham, preparing to cash in on its share of potentially trillions of dollars in new investment.

Opportunity Zones are low-income census tracts with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent and a median family income of less than 80 percent of the statewide or area median income. The program was established as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 in hopes of spurring new investment into these areas.

Alex Flachsbart is an attorney with Balch & Bingham and an expert on Opportunity Zones. He recently presented on the subject to members of the Economic Development Association of Alabama.


“What it does is provides people with capital gains and incentive to put those gains back into low-income communities, to redeploy that capital to places that really need it,” he said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey tasked the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs with choosing the 158 Opportunity Zones that Alabama would designate from the 629 eligible census tracts.

The guidelines for Opportunity Zones are still being written, with the initial regulations expected this month and proposed regulations in place by year’s end.

What is known is that those who have capital gains from the sale of everything from stocks to businesses can reinvest those gains into qualified projects within designated Opportunity Zones and receive tax deferral and reduction benefits over time.

Birmingham and other cities want to be prepared when investors are ready to put capital gains into approved projects like startup businesses and real estate developments.

The city is creating the Birmingham Inclusive Growth (BIG) Fund to attract investments in Opportunity Zones in the city.

Josh Carpenter, director of innovation and economic opportunity, said Birmingham has to be ready now because it will be competing with cities across the country for those dollars.

“We’re excited because Birmingham was able to secure 24 Opportunity Zones and also because we have a lot of investable assets here,” he said.

Carpenter said the city is prepared to lead, direct and maximize investments in Opportunity Zones. He and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin see the city’s role as not only increasing quality of life and economic growth in neighborhoods but in helping investors.

Carpenter said areas like the Innovation District, the Civil Rights District and the Fourth Avenue Business District, as well as the area around the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, all stand to initially benefit from Opportunity Zone investments.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, said he envisions communities in downtown Birmingham but also neighborhoods like Avondale, Woodlawn, East Lake and others benefiting.

“I think the Opportunity Zone incentive that’s been created holds tremendous potential for Birmingham, especially since most of the city was able to be designated an Opportunity Zone,” he said. “That means that this is not just an incentive for downtown, but it’s an incentive that could encourage business investment as well as physical redevelopment in a wide range of the territory of the city.”

Fleming said the best incentives help attract new capital, leverage private sector dollars and can be combined with incentives that a district or community has in place.

“When you talk about the scope of the market for Opportunity Zones, you’re talking about the potential for $6.1 trillion worth of capital gains that could be flowing into communities all over the country,” Flachsbart said.

In Alabama, every county has an Opportunity Zone.

“Across the state, this incentive will be available for investment, not just in urban communities but rural ones, too,” Flachsbart said.

Active businesses, startups and business that have been around that comply with certain tax rules are potential investments. New real estate construction projects, as well as qualified rehabilitation of older buildings, will be among the investments.

Investors get the most benefit by investing in an Opportunity Zone for the long haul, Flachsbart said.

“There are a series of incentives to sort of help them do that, but the basic point is the longer you hold your investment in one of those distressed areas, the more incentive you get as an investor,” he said. “We’re hoping that this program will really catalyze getting investment off the coast and into places like Alabama.”

Investors are anxious to put their capital gains into Opportunity Zones, Flachsbart said.

“Interestingly, you’re already starting to see money flow through this program now,” he said. “That’s what’s amazing about this program is the level of excitement within the investor community around what’s going on.”

Investors are putting money into one-off projects now but as regulations are approved, the expectation is that large, national funds will be created to invest in Opportunity Zones based on the best chance to enhance investment.

“What we have to remember is, here in Alabama, while we’ve got 158 incredible Opportunity Zones, we’re competing with places all over the country,” Flachsbart said. “What we need here in Alabama is a strategy to ensure that we can get our share of that massive $6.1 trillion of potential dollars invested here.”

Birmingham will be ready, Carpenter said.

“We’re already putting things in place,” he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama port looks to add to its $22.4 billion economic impact with expansions

(M. Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Alabama State Port Authority is one of the largest economic engines for the state and wants to build on its $22.4 billion economic impact.

The 4,000 acres that make up the state docks have multiple complexes that handle everything from auto parts to coal and from poultry to pine.

But the port could be doing more, according to Jimmy Lyons, director and CEO of the Port Authority.


“We’ve got a couple of exciting projects going on right now,” Lyons said. “We’re in the midst of doing a second expansion to our container terminal, actually our third phase. We finished phase two last year and realized that’s not enough, so we’re going to phase three right away. We’re on schedule to have that work all completed by the end of ’19.”

The start of 2019 should see construction begin on a new $60 million automobile roll-on, roll-off terminal, a major move to support automotive logistics in a state where automotive manufacturing is a major industry.

Another major event will take place Aug. 14 when Walmart officially opens its $135 million import distribution center in Mobile. In addition to creating 550 full-time jobs, that 2.5 million-square-foot facility will generate something the port desperately needs: empty shipping containers.

Lyons told the Economic Development Association of Alabama at its 2018 Summer Conference this week that the state struggles to find enough shipping containers to meet the demand. With Walmart bringing in 50,000 containers per year when fully operational, that will help provide more empty cargo containers for exporters. That will reduce costs for exporters who pay to bring in empty containers; it will also help Alabama’s port retain business that now goes to other ports when containers aren’t available, Lyons said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comments now on a $388 million plan to enlarge the port’s Mobile Ship Channel. A deeper and wider channel will clear the way for the port to accommodate larger ships that are already starting to come through the expanded Panama Canal, Lyons said. A deeper channel also allows ships to carry more weight, making the port more efficient for importers and exporters, he said.

According to an economic impact study from the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the port is responsible for 134,608 direct and indirect jobs in the state with a direct and indirect tax impact of $486.9 million.

In 2017, the port handled 28.7 million tons of goods and 318,889 shipping containers.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)