The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

3 weeks ago

Bassmaster Classic expected to lure economic boost to Birmingham region

(Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.)

The Bassmaster Classic will return to Alabama next year, marking its milestone 50th annual tournament and bringing with it an economic splash that will ripple from Guntersville to Birmingham.

Officials announced Monday the tournament hailed as the “Super Bowl of bass fishing” will be at Lake Guntersville with daily weigh-ins and the associated Classic Outdoors Expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex May 6-8, 2020.

The tournament is a sort of homecoming. Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) was founded in Montgomery in 1968. It is now headquartered in Birmingham.

“It’s fitting that the golden anniversary classic be held in Alabama, where B.A.S.S. was founded more than 50 years ago,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “Our plans are to make this the most spectacular celebration of bass fishing in history.”

The Bassmaster Classic will be the third held on Lake Guntersville, the 13th in Alabama and the ninth at the BJCC.

Coming off a record-setting classic in Knoxville this year that had more than 153,000 in attendance and an economic impact of more than $32 million, officials are hopeful that the 50th will be the event’s best.

“As a competitor – and I know everybody in this room are real competitors – I think we need to shatter both records next year,” Akin said. “Between Birmingham and Guntersville and the state of Alabama, I’m pretty confident we can. With the record we’ve got against Tennessee in all facets of things, I think we will.”

That’s the kind of talk that David Galbaugh likes to hear.

“The $32 million in the Knoxville area, that’s tremendous and we certainly hope to reach that number or surpass it,” said Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB). “Our community will work tirelessly to make this the best classic ever.”

The event will showcase Lake Guntersville and the surrounding area.

“The Bassmaster Classic is the Super Bowl of bass fishing and we are excited that Lake Guntersville was chosen as the fishing venue for such a prestigious event,” said Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar. “We are so proud of our beautiful lake city and can hardly wait for all of you to come visit next March and experience Southern hospitality at its best.”

As the home of the weigh-ins and expo, Birmingham stands to see a big benefit as well.

“We are so proud to once again host the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “We look forward to the great competition the classic attracts and the dedicated fans who will gather in Birmingham for this incredible event. While in the region, we invite everyone to experience the inspirational history, legendary food and world-class entertainment, which make us the Magic City.”

The classic will be covered live and streamed on Bassmaster.com, ESPN3 and the ESPN app, and five hours of original programming will be aired on ESPN2 and the Pursuit Channel following the event. In addition, the classic annually draws more than 250 credentialed media. The 2019 classic was covered by journalists from 28 states as well as Japan, China, Australia, Italy, Germany and Canada.

The entire state will benefit from the exposure, said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

“Having the classic back in Alabama is huge because it is going to give our state – and Guntersville in particular – a tremendous amount of advertising and media coverage,” he said.

There will be 53 anglers competing for a total purse of $1 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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4 weeks ago

Mercedes-Benz unveils the ‘S-Class of SUVs’ to be built in Alabama

(Mercedes Benz/Contributed)

Mercedes-Benz is turning heads in the Big Apple and among the world’s automotive press today with the unveiling of its new full-size SUV to be built in Alabama.

The automaker unveiled the 2020 GLS at the New York International Auto Show. Calling it “the S-Class of SUVs,” Mercedes is signaling this is the new standard-bearer for luxury SUVs in its product line.

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“The new GLS is the S-Class of premium SUVs,” said Ola Källenius, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for corporate research and Mercedes-Benz Cars development. “It embodies luxury, confidence and intelligence like almost no other vehicle.”

Mercedes will produce the six-cylinder GLS450 and the eight-cylinder GLS 580 at its plant in Tuscaloosa. The latter will come with a hybrid electric and gas V8 engine featuring Mercedes’ EQ Boost technology with a 48-volt onboard electrical system.

Among the other highlights:

  • MBUX infotainment system allows for easy control from the driver’s seat and two 12.3-inch displays provide vehicle control information. An optional Interior Assist function responds to hand gestures and other movements. An artificial intelligence function allows for the Interior Assist to learn and anticipate a driver’s habits.
  • Executive Rear Seat Package has a separate tablet for controlling all the MBUX comfort and entertainment functions from the rear seats.
  • Electrically adjustable seats throughout are standard, as is the Easy-Entry function, which makes it easier to get into and out of the third-row seats.
  • Simple folding-down of all rear seats at the push of a button.
  • Choice of either three-seat rear bench seat or two luxury individual seats with armrests in the second row.
  • Two fully fledged seats in the third row (for people up to 6 feet 4 inches tall).
  • Heated seats and separate USB charging ports for the third row.
  • Five-zone automatic climate control available (standard on GLS 580).
  • A new car wash function that folds in exterior mirrors, closes windows and sunroof, suppresses the rain sensor on the windshield wipers, switches climate control to air-recirculation mode and activates 360-degree camera to assist in entering the carwash.
  • E-Active Body Control suspension works with the newly developed Airmatic air suspension to individually control spring and damping forces at each wheel for a smoother and safer ride.

Driver-assistance safety features such as Distronic to anticipate traffic jams and slow highway speeds automatically and Active Stop-and-Go Assist for driving in heavy traffic.“The GLS combines modern luxury with the character of an off-roader,” said Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Daimler AG. “Powerful highlights of the off-road design idiom combined with an elegance reminiscent of a classic luxury sedan. The interior is a synthesis of modern, luxurious aesthetics, hallmark SUV practicality and digital high-tech. In our view, the new GLS therefore offers the best of all these worlds.”

Mercedes will begin producing the new GLS at its Tuscaloosa County plant later this year and the vehicles will be in dealers’ showrooms by year’s end.

Mercedes-Benz unveils the new GLS to be built in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

$24 million American Life building renovation kicks off Birmingham’s opportunity zone initiatives

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

One of the most prominent vacant buildings in downtown Birmingham is about to get a $24 million transformation into 140 workforce housing apartments thanks to opportunity zone funding and a new initiative by the city of Birmingham.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin used the redevelopment announcement of the Stonewall/American Life building at 2308 Fourth Ave. N. to unveil the Birmingham Inclusive Growth (BIG) Partnership, a two-pronged effort to identify potential opportunity zone projects in one of the city’s two dozen designated opportunity zones, and to work with a separate investment board to find opportunity zone dollars to fund those projects.

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“We believe that this innovative vehicle can help drive investment in Birmingham’s 24 opportunity zones – guided by community voice, bolstered by city resources and elevated by respected leaders in the investment community who believe in Birmingham’s potential,” Woodfin said.

Although the opportunity zone projects announced in Birmingham thus far have been mostly downtown, Woodfin noted that potential exists in almost every part of the city.

“They touch 77 out of 99 neighborhoods,” Woodfin said of the 24 opportunity zones in Birmingham. “That is a major, major opportunity – pun intended – to invest in the entire city, not just the central city.”

Woodfin said the city is working with Opportunity Alabama on an educational program that will see 500 residents trained by June 2020 in identifying and presenting opportunity zone projects.

Alex Flachsbart, founder of Opportunity Alabama, said Birmingham is prepared to be a leader in how opportunity zones are designed to help elevate communities.

“We have been excited for months now about releasing to the public the city of Birmingham’s incredible vision for opportunity zones, which Opportunity Alabama has been an integral part in creating and now bringing to life,” Flachsbart said.

“Where we see the greatest potential is in Birmingham’s 77 neighborhoods that are all in opportunity zones and that all have the ability to surface projects just like this one,” he said. “That’s why over the course of the next two months we’re putting together a first-of-its-kind-nationally educational curriculum designed to help communities understand how this program can benefit them and raise projects up in all the neighborhoods so that we can see opportunity zone capital flowing out to the entire city and not just downtown.”

Woodfin said the American Life building is symbolic.

“If you drive along on any highway that surrounds downtown, you can’t help but notice the 12-story, blighted building that we’re standing in front of right now,” Woodfin said. “At the top of this building, above cracked windows and shuttered doors, are painted words ‘American Life.’ For the last four decades, these words suspended on an eyesore in our city center have hung over Birmingham as a constant reminder that even though we enjoy pockets of prosperity, hardships still persist in Birmingham and all of our Americans’ life. But today we are announcing that the American Life building is once again going to be filled with life.”

Ed Ticheli is the owner and developer of the American Life building.

“We’ve owned the building since 2004 and we’re about to put her into service with 140 units of workforce housing,” Ticheli said.

Ticheli said the apartments will not be low-income housing that requires a separate approval process. Rather, rents are designed to provide affordable apartments for the working class who desire to live closer to their jobs.

Ticheli said rents will run from $700 per month to $1,200 per month and will average 750 square feet. He said the units will be small as 350 square feet and as large as 800 to 1,200 square feet duplexes on the first floor.

Five of the units will be reserved for placements by the Dannon Project, which helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.

Demolition and abatement work will begin in the next 45 days and the project will take about 14 months to complete. PNC Bank is financing.

Ticheli said it was the opportunity zone designation that helped make the project a reality.

“It’s been a godsend, not just for our team, but for the city of Birmingham because now the people who commute and hour and a half each way will have affordable housing here,” he said.

Ticheli said although the building has most recently been known as the Stonewall Building, he is leaning toward using the American Life name.

“I really do like ‘American Life’ because it symbolizes what we’re doing here,” he said.

Ticheli is eyeing an additional project next to the American Life building.

“Hopefully we will get the other 400 units up next door in time to come, with retail and a 600-space parking deck,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer. You’re right by the highway. If we put a nice little grocery story in here, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”

Woodfin was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, both of whom serve on the advisory council of Accelerator for America, which has spearheaded the opportunity zones initiative across the country.

“Our signature work that brings us here to Birmingham is opportunity zones – this moment to say to any community that your ZIP code is not a debit, it is an asset,” Garcetti said. “That it will attract investment, but we will make sure that that investment brings the community with it – listens to, comes from and hand-in-hand, that’s what we see here. That is exactly what is happening in Birmingham.”

Benjamin, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said “Birmingham is very much on the leading edge” when it comes to adopted opportunity zone policies.

“We’re here because opportunity is here in Birmingham,” he said. “We’re here in Birmingham right now because we are learning from Birmingham. The reality is that Birmingham is a leader in this movement.”

That’s music to the ears of Flachsbart, who has been singing the tune of opportunity zones in the state for the past year.

“When you go back to the policy goal of opportunity zones, it wasn’t just to do the big buildings downtown, it was to do the little things in neighborhoods,” he said. “And, more importantly it was to facilitate investment into businesses, into startups that are located in communities across the U.S. Here in Birmingham, we have a comprehensive strategy for building a pipeline, both on the real estate side and on the active business side, to service those opportunities, bring local capital to those opportunities, and help to see a whole new wave of additional growth. While we’re all standing here today talking about this and while we’re all incredibly excited about it, I think the real story is going to come over the next two or three months as this effort starts to roll out on a citywide basis.”

While real estate projects have been the biggest beneficiary of opportunity zone investment so far, Flachsbart said there is some clarification of the opportunity zone regulations underway now that should see more investment flow into startup companies and active businesses.

“We’re very hopeful, based on initial guidance that we’ve gotten publicly from Treasury, that that is going to throw the doors wide open for investment into the exact kinds of startups and operating companies in neighborhoods that this program was supposed to promote in the first place,” he said.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, said Birmingham saw it important to be an early adopter of opportunity zones so the city could capitalize once investors were ready.

“Having an intentional strategy is really important and then having projects like this one announced today in Birmingham as a potential recipient of that shows that it does have an impact,” Fleming said.

The American Life project could be the first of many examples.

“This is a great project,” Fleming said. “We’ve been hopeful for years that the right thing would happen here. Really, the planets lined up between getting the state historic tax credit a few years ago to twin with the federal, and then now the opportunity zones is going to help make this project happen. Hopefully this will be a model that a lot of people will replicate around Birmingham.”

Josh Carpenter, director of Birmingham’s office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said opportunity zones are a great tool the city can use for growth.

“The BIG Partnership is another way that Birmingham is telling the nation that we are open for business.,” he said. “The BIG Partnership could become a model public-private endeavor that harnesses the investment expertise of our investment committee, the convening power and resources of the city and neighborhood-level expertise to drive inclusive growth in our community.”

Garcetti said Birmingham will be held up as an example to others.

“Folks, take it from Accelerator for America. We’re working with 30 cities right now across America in opportunity zones and to all of them and to every city in America we say, ‘Look here at Birmingham,’” he said. “We have been blown away by the partnership, by the success of state and local folks across party lines coming together and do what’s right. Revitalizing an iconic part of this city – this metaphor for an American life and what America’s life can be like in the future – and making sure there is a return for investors while there is a return for community. It can be a win-win and Birmingham is showing us that way.”

The website for the BIG Partnership is  www.birminghamoz.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

$24 million American Life building renovation kicks off Birmingham’s opportunity zone initiatives

The Stonewall/American Life building is about to go from eyesore to workforce housing thanks to opportunity zone investment. (Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

One of the most prominent vacant buildings in downtown Birmingham is about to get a $24 million transformation into 140 workforce housing apartments thanks to opportunity zone funding and a new initiative by the city of Birmingham.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin used the redevelopment announcement of the Stonewall/American Life building at 2308 Fourth Ave. N. to unveil the Birmingham Inclusive Growth (BIG) Partnership, a two-pronged effort to identify potential opportunity zone projects in one of the city’s two dozen designated opportunity zones, and to work with a separate investment board to find opportunity zone dollars to fund those projects.

“We believe that this innovative vehicle can help drive investment in Birmingham’s 24 opportunity zones – guided by community voice, bolstered by city resources and elevated by respected leaders in the investment community who believe in Birmingham’s potential,” Woodfin said.

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Although the opportunity zone projects announced in Birmingham thus far have been mostly downtown, Woodfin noted that potential exists in almost every part of the city.

“They touch 77 out of 99 neighborhoods,” Woodfin said of the 24 opportunity zones in Birmingham. “That is a major, major opportunity – pun intended – to invest in the entire city, not just the central city.”

Woodfin said the city is working with Opportunity Alabama on an educational program that will see 500 residents trained by June 2020 in identifying and presenting opportunity zone projects.

Alex Flachsbart, founder of Opportunity Alabama, said Birmingham is prepared to be a leader in how opportunity zones are designed to help elevate communities.

RELATED: Alabama, Birmingham preparing for economic impact of Opportunity Zones

“We have been excited for months now about releasing to the public the city of Birmingham’s incredible vision for opportunity zones, which Opportunity Alabama has been an integral part in creating and now bringing to life,” Flachsbart said.

“Where we see the greatest potential is in Birmingham’s 77 neighborhoods that are all in opportunity zones and that all have the ability to surface projects just like this one,” he said. “That’s why over the course of the next two months we’re putting together a first-of-its-kind-nationally educational curriculum designed to help communities understand how this program can benefit them and raise projects up in all the neighborhoods so that we can see opportunity zone capital flowing out to the entire city and not just downtown.”

Woodfin said the American Life building is symbolic.

The Stonewall/American Life building has been vacant for 36 years. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)
“If you drive along on any highway that surrounds downtown, you can’t help but notice the 12-story, blighted building that we’re standing in front of right now,” Woodfin said. “At the top of this building, above cracked windows and shuttered doors, are painted words ‘American Life.’ For the last four decades, these words suspended on an eyesore in our city center have hung over Birmingham as a constant reminder that even though we enjoy pockets of prosperity, hardships still persist in Birmingham and all of our Americans’ life. But today we are announcing that the American Life building is once again going to be filled with life.”

Ed Ticheli is the owner and developer of the American Life building.

“We’ve owned the building since 2004 and we’re about to put her into service with 140 units of workforce housing,” Ticheli said.

Ticheli said the apartments will not be low-income housing that requires a separate approval process. Rather, rents are designed to provide affordable apartments for the working class who desire to live closer to their jobs.

Ticheli said rents will run from $700 per month to $1,200 per month and will average 750 square feet. He said the units will be small as 350 square feet and as large as 800 to 1,200 square feet duplexes on the first floor.

Five of the units will be reserved for placements by the Dannon Project, which helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.

Demolition and abatement work will begin in the next 45 days and the project will take about 14 months to complete. PNC Bank is financing.

Ticheli said it was the opportunity zone designation that helped make the project a reality.

“It’s been a godsend, not just for our team, but for the city of Birmingham because now the people who commute and hour and a half each way will have affordable housing here,” he said.

Ticheli said although the building has most recently been known as the Stonewall Building, he is leaning toward using the American Life name.

“I really do like ‘American Life’ because it symbolizes what we’re doing here,” he said.

Ticheli is eyeing an additional project next to the American Life building.

“Hopefully we will get the other 400 units up next door in time to come, with retail and a 600-space parking deck,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer. You’re right by the highway. If we put a nice little grocery story in here, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”

Woodfin was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, both of whom serve on the advisory council of Accelerator for America, which has spearheaded the opportunity zones initiative across the country.

“Our signature work that brings us here to Birmingham is opportunity zones – this moment to say to any community that your ZIP code is not a debit, it is an asset,” Garcetti said. “That it will attract investment, but we will make sure that that investment brings the community with it – listens to, comes from and hand-in-hand, that’s what we see here. That is exactly what is happening in Birmingham.”

Benjamin, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said “Birmingham is very much on the leading edge” when it comes to adopted opportunity zone policies.

“We’re here because opportunity is here in Birmingham,” he said. “We’re here in Birmingham right now because we are learning from Birmingham. The reality is that Birmingham is a leader in this movement.”

That’s music to the ears of Flachsbart, who has been singing the tune of opportunity zones in the state for the past year.

“When you go back to the policy goal of opportunity zones, it wasn’t just to do the big buildings downtown, it was to do the little things in neighborhoods,” he said. “And, more importantly it was to facilitate investment into businesses, into startups that are located in communities across the U.S. Here in Birmingham, we have a comprehensive strategy for building a pipeline, both on the real estate side and on the active business side, to service those opportunities, bring local capital to those opportunities, and help to see a whole new wave of additional growth. While we’re all standing here today talking about this and while we’re all incredibly excited about it, I think the real story is going to come over the next two or three months as this effort starts to roll out on a citywide basis.”

While real estate projects have been the biggest beneficiary of opportunity zone investment so far, Flachsbart said there is some clarification of the opportunity zone regulations underway now that should see more investment flow into startup companies and active businesses.

“We’re very hopeful, based on initial guidance that we’ve gotten publicly from Treasury, that that is going to throw the doors wide open for investment into the exact kinds of startups and operating companies in neighborhoods that this program was supposed to promote in the first place,” he said.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, said Birmingham saw it important to be an early adopter of opportunity zones so the city could capitalize once investors were ready.

“Having an intentional strategy is really important and then having projects like this one announced today in Birmingham as a potential recipient of that shows that it does have an impact,” Fleming said.

The American Life project could be the first of many examples.

“This is a great project,” Fleming said. “We’ve been hopeful for years that the right thing would happen here. Really, the planets lined up between getting the state historic tax credit a few years ago to twin with the federal, and then now the opportunity zones is going to help make this project happen. Hopefully this will be a model that a lot of people will replicate around Birmingham.”

Josh Carpenter, director of Birmingham’s office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said opportunity zones are a great tool the city can use for growth.

“The BIG Partnership is another way that Birmingham is telling the nation that we are open for business.,” he said. “The BIG Partnership could become a model public-private endeavor that harnesses the investment expertise of our investment committee, the convening power and resources of the city and neighborhood-level expertise to drive inclusive growth in our community.”

Garcetti said Birmingham will be held up as an example to others.

“Folks, take it from Accelerator for America. We’re working with 30 cities right now across America in opportunity zones and to all of them and to every city in America we say, ‘Look here at Birmingham,’” he said. “We have been blown away by the partnership, by the success of state and local folks across party lines coming together and do what’s right. Revitalizing an iconic part of this city – this metaphor for an American life and what America’s life can be like in the future – and making sure there is a return for investors while there is a return for community. It can be a win-win and Birmingham is showing us that way.”

The website for the BIG Partnership is www.birminghamoz.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Coffee shop could be link to Alabama town’s past and its future

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Coffee has been known to revive those who can’t function until they get that first sip in the morning. But can it help revive an Alabama town?

One entrepreneur hopes it can.

Joe Posey owns a building that was a coffee shop nearly 100 years ago in downtown Tarrant, a blue-collar town north of Birmingham.

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Posey, whose background is in concert and event promotion, believed the former Tarrant Coffee Shop on Ford Avenue could become a catalyst for growth for Ford Avenue and the rest of downtown Tarrant.

“We were one of those people that owned a building in Tarrant that wasn’t doing anything with it and we felt like really if we weren’t going to do anything, we couldn’t say anything to anyone one else who wasn’t doing anything,” Posey said.

The Tarrant Coffee Shop birthed Walker’s Restaurant, which was a longtime favorite eatery in the area that expanded to a larger location on Pinson Valley Parkway and operated for decades before closing a few years ago. Tarrant Coffee Shop is a registered historic landmark.

Posey envisioned a plan to create a modern coffee house with the space that would not only be a new place for people to gather and to hold events, but would generate revenue for future downtown development projects. Joe’s Coffee House Community Initiative is the nonprofit created as a result.

“One of the things that we really want to do is just be able to help and do projects throughout Tarrant,” Posey said.

Ben Goldman, president of the Tarrant-Pinson Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the coffee shop would give downtown Tarrant a jolt.

“We want to create a welcoming, inviting space here in downtown Tarrant,” Goldman said. “And to have Joe’s Coffee House here, which provides a tie to the past and a spot to launch our future, we’re really excited about it.”

Goldman said Posey also brings an energy and an expertise to the Tarrant Moving Forward effort.

“The nice thing about having Joe’s Coffee House here at the center of what we’re doing is that Joe is a tremendous event promoter,” Goldman said. “So, we can look forward to lots of great concerts and festivals of all sorts in the future to come.”

Posey said he can imagine a day when people will travel to Tarrant because of something taking place downtown.

“The grand vision is really to see maybe an entertainment district in downtown Tarrant, be able to host events here,” he said. “We just hope to grow a long-term plan that revitalizes and kind of creates a nice place for people to come and live and call Tarrant home again.”

Goldman said he would like to see others commit to filling vacant buildings downtown.

“Economic development is certainly important and we’re glad that we’re able to kind of create this space to help launch new initiatives,” he said. “It’s important for the economic vitality of the city and its citizens, but also it’s important for our sense of identity as a community.”

One way to help with the effort is to bring some government services downtown to give people more reasons to get off the bypass and onto the historic streets.

“We’re looking to expand our retail sector here downtown and we’re doing things to help create additional foot traffic downtown,” Goldman said. “In addition to the infrastructure investments through federal grants, we’re also helping to move some our governmental offices right down here downtown to bring people to this space.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Venture for America brings its ‘matchmaking’ event back to Birmingham

(M. Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

For the second time in three years, Birmingham played host to the regional job fair that matches Venture for America (VFA) fellows with startup and innovation companies.

Innovation Depot was the site of the event April 5, which has more in common with speed dating than a job fair.

“We have 30 different Venture for America fellows from our incoming class of 2019 here today,” VFA CEO Amy Nelson said. “They’ve come from all across the country – Stanford, Princeton – but also Tuscaloosa, and they’re interviewing with companies who want to bring them on to help grow their teams.”

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Companies looking to hire VFA fellows had only a few minutes to conduct interviews.

“Today they are ‘speed-dating,’” Nelson said. “We’ve got 20-minute interviews, eight interview slots, so they are going around trying to put their best foot forward.”

VFA fellows have been putting their best feet forward in Birmingham since the program brought its fellowships to the Magic City four years ago. Innovation Depot hosted the job fair in 2017 and has become a favorite spot on the New York-based organization’s rotation.

“We came here to Birmingham about four years ago and since then have more than doubled the size of the classes that we’ve brought to Birmingham,” said Abby Guerin, Birmingham director of VFA.

Although the talented fellows come for the fellowship, many decide to stay and continue to work in cities like Birmingham.

“We’ve brought about 50 fellows to Birmingham since 2015 and we’re really excited that some of those fellows in their very first class are still here building the companies where they started,” Nelson said. “Michael Harrison joined Fleetio – he’s still there. Landon Acriche joined the Innovation Team at Alabama Power – still there. Maggie Belshé is still working at Pack Health but also building her own business on the side that’s going through the Velocity Accelerator.”

Nelson said that’s how the fellowship program was meant to work.

“It’s exactly what we want to see,” she said. “We want to see fellows digging deeper into the cities – building careers here, building lives here, buying houses here, getting married here and then starting businesses and becoming those engines for job creation and growth and economic resiliency that we so deeply need across our country.”

Two of the VFA fellows from last year’s class are digging in to Birmingham’s innovation economy.

Reagan Cline is a product analyst at Fleetio and Daisy Homolka is a business analyst at the Alabama Capital Network. Both are 2018 VFA Fellows.

Cline is a Birmingham native and saw VFA as an opportunity to return to her hometown and get involved in the startup community.

“It was a great opportunity to connect with people who are just excited about what they’re doing,” she said.

Homolka found VFA and Birmingham by Googling cool places for a young person to work. She moved to Birmingham from New York for her VFA fellowship.

“It provided me that opportunity to move to a great city like Birmingham that I maybe wouldn’t have thought of otherwise and the opportunity to connect with some really awesome organizations and startups here,” Homolka said. “I was very sold on Birmingham after just two days here.”

Cline and Homolka said their fellowships with their companies give them a front-row seat to the growing innovation economy in Birmingham.

“I work at Fleetio and it’s been rapidly growing since I started about eight months ago,” Cline said. “We’re just one of the many companies in the city that’s just growing and rapidly expanding now.”

Homolka’s job puts her in direct contact with entrepreneurs.

“We work with startups and helping them with their investments, mentorships, customer acquisition, so I really get to see the whole range of the companies we have available,” she said. “We meet a new startup at least once a week, sometimes two or three a week. You might think, ‘How can there be that many new companies?’ but there are. It’s awesome to really see it growing.”

That energy is what brought Guerin back to Birmingham after being away for several years.

“Fellows are incredibly surprised and excited by the amount of innovation that we have here and the creative folks that we have here,” she said. “The opportunities are impressive.”

Nelson said she has certainly noticed that something special is happening in Birmingham’s innovation economy.

“One of the things that I’m always heartened by in Birmingham is that everyone here is rowing together – whether it’s the corporate, civic and government, nonprofit community and the for-profit business startup, large and small – you see that everyone is super-invested in the same set of priorities,” she said. “They want capital, they want talent, they want innovation and they want it to be home-grown right here in Birmingham because they know that in order to be competitive and resilient in the future, there has to be investment now.”

Guerin noted the buy-in is across the spectrum in Birmingham.

“I think for Birmingham we have so many companies like Alabama Power, Protective LifeRegions that are cornerstones and they have all come to the table and said, ‘We want to help grow this innovation economy here,’” Guerin said.

Charlotte, St. Louis, New Orleans and Birmingham companies were among those participating in the VFA job fair at Innovation Depot. The VFA gets more than 2,500 applications for the 200 fellowships each year.

Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said it’s a feather in Birmingham’s cap to host the VFA event.

“Venture for America is such an important opportunity for Birmingham, for our community to bring in great, young talent – to have them come in and be immersed in our community of startups, work with our startups and some of our best companies,” he said. “It provides a real talent pipeline. I’m thrilled Birmingham can play host and that Innovation Depot can be a part of it.”

To have some of the best and brightest young people experience the best of Birmingham’s business community can open some eyes, Laney said.

“It’s a fantastic image enhancement for the city,” Laney said. “What it does is it really changes a lot of people’s perceptions about the city when they come to Innovation Depot, they come to see all of the young startups, the energy, the vibrancy.”

Like Nelson, Laney said he knows something special is happening in Birmingham and it’s helping lure young talent here.

“What we’ve realized is if we can change that perception to get those young people here, they will stay.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Central AlabamaWorks event links teens with career opportunities

(Michael Jordan / Contributed by Alabama NewsCenter)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question that we often playfully ask an elementary school student, not often expecting an informed or final answer.

But what if the student is in the eighth grade and preparing for high school where apprenticeships, co-op programs and other training opportunities could shape them for those future careers?

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Central AlabamaWorks is not just asking that question but trying to provide answers to more than 2,500 students in the 13 counties it represents with Career Discovery on April 4 and 5 at Trenholm State Community College-Patterson Site in Montgomery.

Central AlabamaWorks hosts Career Discovery for area students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Dozens of companies and organizations across a variety of industries showcased the career opportunities available for those still uncertain about what they want to be when the grow up.

“They will have an opportunity for hands-on career discovery, said Gindi Prutzman, executive director of Central AlabamaWorks. “We really want them to be able to touch it and feel it and live it and see maybe some ideas they haven’t thought about, careers that they’ve not thought about going into.”

Some of those students know a four-year degree will be necessary for what they want to do. Some may not need to attend college at all. Either way, now is the age when they need to think about what is required, Prutzman said.

“Really, we’re all about trying to lay out that path that they need to achieve that career,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be college, it might be community college, might be training, might be an apprenticeship, certification, but we want them to start thinking about that path.”

AlabamaWorks is a statewide program that operates in different regions. It is a collaboration between K-12, community colleges, universities, worker training and, most importantly, business and industry.

What business and industry require of today’s workforce dictates the entire program, Prutzman said.

“We want their input no matter what,” she said. “Without that, we don’t know what to provide. What skills do they need? What is our workforce lacking? Business and industry are driving it. If we don’t have them at the table to tell us those needs, then we can’t meet those needs.”

The Career Discovery expo included industries ranging from health care to military, law enforcement, automotive, construction, utilities, agriculture, forestry, machining and more. Many struggle to fill jobs.

“The takeaway is really to serve our business and industry,” Prutzman said. “They are having a tough time finding that workforce and there is no better way than to grow our own in Alabama.”

AlabamaWorks aligns with the seven Regional Workforce Councils created across the state to address workforce needs. Central AlabamaWorks serves Region 5, which includes Autauga, Bullock, Chambers, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Perry, Russell and Tallapoosa counties.

2 months ago

Medical technology and devices viewed as growth industry for Alabama

(Steris Instrument Management Services/Contributed)

Alabama’s position as a health care hub and its firm footing in advanced manufacturing are among the reasons officials believe medical devices and medical technology are potential growth areas.

Southern Research hosted a MedTech Symposium in Birmingham on Feb. 28 to spur the discussion for growing the industry in the state.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield was a speaker at the symposium and said it is a logical area for growth in Birmingham and other parts of the state.

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“This initiative is really important because it gives us the opportunity to link advanced manufacturing expertise in Alabama to the health care expertise that we have in our state.”

The symposium was the work of Stacey Kelpke, director of Southern Research’s Medical Technology program. She hopes it becomes a recurring event and fits into an overall strategy that includes marrying startups with funding sources and linking research universities and health care companies with manufacturing and engineering experts.

“I think it could be a great boom for Alabama,” Kelpke said. “With our rich manufacturing history and the current medical health care here, it just seems like a perfect fit.”

She said like other facets of healthcare, medtech seeks ”to be able to impact patients, which is really why we are all in this in the first place.”

Medtech fits into the state’s economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama, which has growing the innovation economy and advanced manufacturing as two of its core principles.

“Part of Accelerate Alabama is focused on the broad sector of life sciences,” Canfield said. “Medtech and medical devices I would consider a subsector within that broad sector. It offers a lot of opportunity.”

According to the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), the medtech industry in Alabama accounts for 5,900 total jobs, with 2,300 being direct jobs in the industry. Those jobs have an average salary of $38,016 and the industry contributes $850.3 million to the state economy.

As impressive as those numbers may sound, there is room for growth. In South Carolina, there are 10,500 total jobs in the industry and a total economic impact on the state of $2.6 billion, according to AdvaMed. The numbers are even larger in Georgia (22,500 total jobs and a $3.1 billion economic impact on the state), North Carolina (24,500 and $4.6 billion) and Tennessee (25,600 and $5.1 billion).

Nationally, medical technology is a $380 billion business employing 519,000 people directly and nearly 2 million in direct and indirect jobs, according to AdvaMed. The average medtech worker in the U.S. earns $84,000 per year in salary and benefits.

The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama said there more than 50 medical device and medical equipment companies operating throughout the state.

Orchid Orthopedic Solutions in Arab, Turner Medical in Athens and Baxter Inc. in Opelika are among the companies in the state. Birmingham has the largest concentration, with companies like BioHorizonsEvonik and Steris, which also has operations in Montgomery.

“The state of Alabama is working hard to create an environment that is conducive to economic prosperity for its citizens and businesses. Steris would not have made further investments in our Montgomery and Birmingham operations if we did not agree,” said Stephen Norton, a spokesperson for Steris.

Norton agreed Alabama has set conditions favorable for greater growth.

“Alabama’s overall business climate makes the state an attractive option for a diverse mix of businesses, including medical device manufacturing and repair-related services,” he said. “The workforce is motivated, educated and well-trained, so it is not a surprise to us that major manufacturers are attracted to the region.”

BIO Alabama is an organization of life science companies looking to expand all aspects of the industry in the state. Medtech’s potential is great, according to Blair King, economic developer with Alabama Power and chairman-elect of BIO Alabama.

“BIO Alabama shares Secretary Canfield’s belief that the medical device industry holds great potential for expansion in the state,” King said. “All of the ingredients exist in Alabama for medical technology businesses to grow organically or for companies outside the state to choose to locate here.”

Canfield said taking what Alabama has learned in growing the automotive and aerospace industries in the state and applying a similar approach can boost the life science sector. The growing segment of additive manufacturing, which incorporates technology like 3-D printing, can also play a role, he said.

“Additive manufacturing is going to be involved in all aspects of this as we move forward,” Canfield said. “Alabama is establishing itself in developing experience and expertise in additive manufacturing. We’ve also developed a lot of the companies that are providing the raw materials as well as the technology that help make additive manufacturing what it is today.”

Kelpke said there are issues to address such as regulatory reimbursement and access to venture capital that would go a long way in accelerating the industry’s expansion in Alabama. But, she said, the initial symposium helped foster those discussions and she’s optimistic about where it can go from there.

“Hopefully it’s the first of many,” she said of the symposium.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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

(Hyundai Motor Company/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

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

(Hyundai Motor Company/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

Specifically, the new Sonata will include:

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Sometimes big change comes through small innovations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the i-team, the solutions are innovative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress isn’t always easy in the Port City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archibald also reached another conclusion.

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

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

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

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

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

The symposium had a decidedly Birmingham flavor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama and Auburn more like partners than rivals in economic development

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

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

(Alabama News Center)

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

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

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Conway said there is one inescapable conclusion.

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

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

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

The report has nine key takeaways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

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

(Alabama News Center)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This year’s cohort companies are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

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

(YHN, Pixabay)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

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

(M. Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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Ivey said it is an area that requires attention.

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

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

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

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

Ivey used her keynote address as a call to action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

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

(Alabama NewsCenter/Vimeo)

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

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

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

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Among the 2018 successes Canfield noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other areas that Canfield will emphasize in 2019 include:

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Maker thimbletreestudio stitches a mother-daughter connection

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

thimbletreestudio (Homewood and Brevard, North Carolina)

The Makers: Kyle Wick and Camille Webb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, thimbletreestudio was born.

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

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

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

Joy?

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

Practicality?

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

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

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

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

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

Webb agreed she loves having the link to her mother.

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

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

Branching out into markets has changed things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That original apron still hangs in her studio as inspiration.

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

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

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

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

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

Webb loves where the work has brought them.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Good Morning Coffee is an Alabama Maker keen on beans

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Good Morning Coffee (Hayden)

The Maker: Seth Aderhold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Good Morning Coffee

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the entire press conference below.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Nancy Goodman is an Alabama Maker creating quilted works of art

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Nancy Goodman Quilted Art (Mobile)

The Maker: Nancy Goodman

This is not your grandma’s quilting.

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

But odds are Mawmaw never did anything like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The rest, I just wing it,” she said.

Her larger quilts can take a few months to complete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nancy Goodman Quilted Art

The product: Quilted art pieces suitable for hanging.

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

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

(Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

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

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)