The Wire

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

3 weeks ago

Alabama Power celebrates National Lineman Appreciation Day

(Dan Anderson/Alabama NewsCenter)

Every year, utilities across the country celebrate National Lineman Appreciation Day in April to express gratitude for lineworkers and field representatives. Alabama Power recognizes these employees’ hard work and dedication to the company and the communities they serve.

Lineworker contributions are even more noteworthy this year as their commitment to safely providing Alabama reliable energy has not wavered even through the pandemic and a record-setting storm season in 2020.

“Our linemen have performed in the face of unprecedented challenges this past year, and I’m proud of their expertise and dedication to their craft,” said Scott Moore, Alabama Power senior vice president of Power Delivery. “National Lineman Appreciation Day is an opportunity to thank them for the superior work they do every day.”


IBEW System Council U-19 Business Manager Casey Shelton said, “It’s an honor for our trade to be recognized and the essential services lineworkers provide. In times of uncertainty, keeping the lights on is one constant that creates normalcy for our customers.”

The pandemic has prompted another layer of safety precautions on top of standard protections for line crews. Alabama Power asked the public to maintain social distancing of 6 feet from working crews to allow employees to safely serve customers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Working with the public was one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic,” said James Webb, a lead lineman in Hueytown who celebrated his 30th year with the company in March. “We want to answer their questions and explain what we’re doing as best we can while making sure we’re keeping ourselves and the public safe.”

While the work has not changed in the past year, scheduling was sometimes a challenge because employees or their family members had to quarantine after exposure to the virus.

“The day-to-day schedule can change, and if someone is sick or in quarantine, it can mean more work with a smaller crew,” said Hueytown Lineman Wade Boyd, who has been with the company for nearly eight years. “But we run trouble as we always have – keep social distancing and adapt.”

Linemen faced an unprecedented year of storms in 2020. Alabama Power employees replaced 3,847 poles, 17,761 spans of wire and 31 transmission structures across Alabama with support from more than 10,000 personnel from 25 states and Canada.

Alabama Power crews also lent their support to other states after major hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters. Crews traveled to New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Louisiana.

Webb and Boyd were part of a team that spent time in Texas and Louisiana.

“Working in another state is different from working at home – from sleeping arrangements to getting the materials our crews need,” Webb said. “But we’re there for a purpose. Getting the lights on quickly and safely is always our main objective.”

Boyd added, “One of our biggest jobs was restoring power to a whole neighborhood in just a few days. Everyone was extremely happy with our performance and grateful for our support.”

National Lineman Appreciation Day, observed annually on April 18, was established by Congress in 2013 to “recognize linemen, the profession of linemen, and contributions of these brave men and women who protect public safety.” The bill acknowledged that linemen are often first responders during storms and other catastrophic events; their work continues 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to ensure reliable electricity; and they often work under challenging conditions, at times away from their families, to construct and maintain the country’s energy infrastructure.

Alabama also honors lineworkers statewide in June.

This year’s National Lineman Appreciation Day falls near the 10th anniversary of the historic wave of storms and tornadoes unleashed in Alabama on April 27, 2011. In the aftermath of those storms, crews replaced more than 7,600 poles, 3,000 transformers and 890 miles of power lines.

“Every day is unexpected,” said Boyd. “You may miss some holidays or birthdays, but this is what we do and what we signed up for. We do what has to be done to keep the lights on, quickly and safely.”

“It’s always rewarding when you flip that switch and turn the lights on,” said Webb. “You know you just put a smile on someone’s face.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Mobile-area Apprenticeship Readiness Program accepting applications for March 2021 class

(Pixabay, YHN)

A well-trained workforce is essential to the future of Alabama’s economic growth. An Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ARP) kicks off in Mobile on March 1, 2021, to develop building trade skills in the area.

The eight-week program, hosted by Bishop State Community College, will expose participants to union crafts and the construction industry before they select a specific career trade to focus on with the goal of gaining employment in the building trades.

Sponsored by the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), ARPs give hands-on training and educational services that introduce union crafts and the construction industry. More than 150 of these programs nationwide develop plumbers, electricians, ironworkers and other skilled professionals, supporting economic growth and providing contract workers for companies across the country.


Recruitment for ARPs is focused on reaching historically underrepresented communities, including people of color, women and transitioning veterans. In recent years, these training programs have increased in the Southeast.

Founded in 1908, NABTU has the largest and most comprehensive registered apprenticeship programs and the largest apprenticeship readiness program in the U.S. construction industry.

“Skilled labor is critical to continued industry growth in the Southeast,” said Brandon Bishop, NABTU Southern representative. “We are excited to partner with Bishop State Community College to offer our first apprenticeship program in the Mobile area.”

Class space is limited and students interested in the course should apply at this link. The deadline to apply is Jan. 28.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

APSO, United Way of Central Alabama campaign hold book drive for Better Basics

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

As part of this year’s campaign supporting the United Way of Central Alabama, the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) hosted a book drive benefiting United Way partner agency Better Basics. Employees donated 178 books by ordering from a preapproved Amazon wish list.

“We’re so grateful to APSO for including this book drive as part of the United Way campaign this year,” said Alisa Boone, director of development and communications for Better Basics. “These books will be so valuable for our programs this year to help students grow and develop reading-comprehension skills. We always need a supply of new books as we continue to work with students across central Alabama.”

“I was excited to participate in this book drive and provide new books for children during this difficult time,” said Susan McKinney, an accounting services manager and APSO member. “I’m so glad APSO has been able to continue to support our communities through virtual volunteer projects this year.”


Founded 27 years ago, Better Basics provides literacy intervention and enrichment programs for students in 35 schools. The pandemic has had a significant impact on Better Basics. Most of its academic services involve in-person meetings with students in Birmingham City SchoolsFairfield City SchoolsTalladega County Schools and others. Better Basics has had to adapt to virtual lessons for the reading and mathematics programs and train its teachers in these new methods of instruction.

For an organization that served nearly 22,000 students last year and worked with more than 900 volunteers, 2020 has been a challenge, but has provided opportunities to work with community partners more than ever.

“It truly does take a village to help further our mission of advancing academic achievement,” said Kristi Bradford, executive director of Better Basics. “The generosity of Alabama Power employees allows Better Basics to reach even more children in our community.”

“We worked closely with United Way at the beginning of the pandemic to raise funds to buy 9,500 new books,” Boone said. “Through their partnership, we were able to connect with other organizations like food pantries already in the communities where our students live that could pass out books along with food and supplies.”

Most of Better Basics’ academic programming is focused on elementary students, but it supports students through 12th grade through programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides children birth through 5 with a free, age-appropriate book in the mail each month. ACT prep courses are provided for high school students through the Hope 21st Century Community Learning Center in Fairfield.

Bradford said Better Basics is grateful for volunteer support from groups like APSO and financial support from organizations like United Way and the Alabama Power Foundation. This year, especially, every bit helps continue the work to advance reading and mathematical literacy across central Alabama

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Stay safe during July 4th holiday


Across the country, people enjoy lighting fireworks to celebrate our nation’s birthday each Fourth of July. While gathering in large groups to watch fireworks shows may not occur this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families and socially distant groups can still safely enjoy the holiday.

Follow these tips to stay safe while using fireworks:


  • Check to make sure using fireworks is legal in your area.
  • Only buy legal fireworks labeled with the manufacturer’s name.
  • Make sure children use sparklers only outdoors and keep them away from their faces, hair and clothing. Sparklers can burn up to 2,000 degrees.
  • Wear eye protection.
  • Always use fireworks outdoors and have a bucket of water or water hose nearby and stay away from people in case of accidents from backfiring or shooting in an unintended direction.
  • When using fireworks, always point them away from houses, trees, cars, shrubbery and, especially, other people.
  • Do not hold fireworks while lighting them. Place them in an open container before lighting the fuse.
  • Light one firework at a time and never relight a “dud.”
  • Never allow children to pick up fireworks from the ground. Unexploded fireworks may still ignite.
  • Soak used or unignited fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them away.

Many families may spend Independence Day weekend at a lake or beach. Be aware of these additional precautions when you’re near the water.

Boating safety

  • Make sure your boat is in good working order before taking it out for the first time and that all required equipment is on the boat.
  • Make sure all life jackets are in good working order. Life jackets must be worn by children younger than 8 years old and by anyone on a personal watercraft or being towed on skis or a tube.
  • Be aware of what other boaters are doing around you.
  • Storms can come up quickly, especially in the summer, so keep an eye to the sky. If caught in a storm, try to get to the nearest shelter.

 Pool and water safety

  • Anywhere there is water, there is a danger of drowning. Never swim alone.
  • An adult must always watch children closely. This means no reading, talking on the phone or texting.
  • An adult should be within arm’s reach of infants, toddlers and weaker swimmers.
  • Enter shallow water feet first. It is never OK to dive into water less than 9 feet deep.

 Heat safety

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Limit the amount of time spent outside during these hours.
  • At least 20 minutes before going outside, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama Power honors military service members

(Alabama NewsCenter)

It’s an honor to serve, and every year the men and women who answer that call are honored for their service to their country.

The Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) recently recognized military veterans who have made an impact both in their military careers as well as their business careers. These Veterans of Influence include CEOs, attorneys and professionals who have a strong record of innovation and outstanding performance in their work and are actively involved in the community.

Alabama Power Accounting Services Manager Charlie Cook was one of the 24 Veterans of Influence this year. Cook joined the U.S. Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also served in the Alabama National Guard while working for Alabama Power.

Cook said the most impactful lesson he learned in the military that has translated to his career at Alabama Power was the idea that “anyone is capable of achieving anything, provided they are given the appropriate training, motivation, encouragement, feedback and recognition for their dedication, hard work and accomplishments.”


“The leadership training I received and opportunities that were afforded to me formed the foundation of my leadership traits,” he added.

Alabama Power, Balch & Bingham LLP, Changing Spaces Moving Inc., Lightfoot, Franklin & White, StateServ/Hospicelink and Teksouth were named Veteran Friendly Employers by the BBJ.

Alabama Power honored its own military veterans, reservists, active duty service members and military spouses at a luncheon Nov. 4 in Birmingham, while other events were held at locations across the company.

Senior Vice President of Employee Services and Labor Relations Jeff Peoples hosted a panel discussion of employees who have served in the military. The panel discussed lessons learned from their time of service and how their experiences apply to their work at Alabama Power.

Tyea Pettway, chemical technician at E.C. Gaston Steam Plant and U.S. Army National Guard member, and other panelists highlighted the adaptability and flexibility taught in the military as well as the emphasis on diversity.

“The military builds you up to be leaders,” added Scott Wilson, a mechanic at E.C. Gaston Steam Plant and U.S. Marine Corpsveteran. “You learn to do what needs to be done with who’s around you, regardless of race or gender. You’re all focused on one goal.”

When asked what Veterans Day meant to them, the panelists agreed it gave them an opportunity to show their gratitude.

“It gives us an opportunity to thank everyone for all the support, prayers and letters reminding us that someone has our back,” said Brandon Sinquefield, lead lineman and veteran of the U.S. Marines. “Veterans Day is just as much an appreciation for the families of veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made too.”

Birmingham’s annual National Veterans Day Parade takes place at 1:30 p.m. Monday, starting downtown at Richard Arrington Boulevard and First Avenue South.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Birmingham is the backdrop in ‘Line of Duty’ movie trailer

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Downtown Birmingham serves as the backdrop for the latest action thriller. Familiar sites around the city can be seen in the first trailer for “Line of Duty.”

The film stars Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) as officer Frank Penny, who goes on a rogue mission to find the chief of police’s abducted daughter. After killing the police’s only lead on the case, Penny is followed by reporter Ava (Courtney Eaton), who is live streaming his entire mission. Dean Keller (Ben McKenzie), the brother of the man he killed, is also after Penny.


Directed by Steven C. Miller, “Line of Duty” also stars Jessica LuDina Meyer and Giancarlo Esposito. The film will be released in select theaters and will also be available digitally and on demand on Nov. 15, according to ET Online.

Eckhart and the cast filmed in Birmingham in May and June of 2018. A number of familiar downtown locations can be seen in the first trailer that was released Oct. 22.

“Line of Duty” is produced by Hassik Films, the Solution Entertainment Group and Sprockefeller Pictures, and distributed by Saban Films, which also distributed 2016’s “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” which filmed in Orange Beach and Mobile.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama sheriff’s office to appear on cable series ‘Live PD’


The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is the latest can’t-miss television star.

A&E’s most-watched series, “Live PD,” will begin this week airing episodes on Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight featuring Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Filming started Monday.


“Live PD,” which airs on cable and reaches over 7 million viewers, gives a transparent view of law enforcement on duty. The series aims to show how law enforcement is reducing crime and improving the quality of life across America. A&E works with communities to feature a cross-section of law enforcement and related agencies.

“The people of Jefferson County want to know that we are working hard for them every day,” said Sheriff Mark Pettway. “By showing our citizens on live TV what we do, what we endure and how we care about and serve the people, is the best way for us to continue to build viable relationships in the county.”

A&E says the show has been useful in improving community relations by raising awareness of the day-to-day work of law enforcement officers. The live segments will be supplemented with pre-taped video from the Sheriff’s Office during the week that will chronicle further deputy interactions. The show also airs “Missing” and “Wanted” segments.

The series uses dashcam, handheld and fixed cameras in patrol cars to show what happens on a typical Friday and Saturday night patrol. The show takes a fly-on-the-wall, documentary approach by following deputies in real moments. The show does not use a script or include music, interviews, narration or dramatizations. Instead, “Live PD” offers a raw and complete view of what it takes to police a community.

“Our goals with ‘Live PD’ are to identify any gaps that may exist between our office and the community and to increase recruitment of new deputies,” Pettway said. “Along with those goals, we see the show as an additional tool to help us locate fugitives and any missing children.”

“Live PD” is hosted by Dan Abrams and includes analysis from Tom Morris Jr., who provides insight on what viewers see during the three-hour show. Law enforcement officials may also appear as in-studio guests to provide commentary. Interaction with “Live PD” social media platforms is among the highest of any show on television. Viewers can follow along on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Tallassee City School Water Festival held at the Alabama Nature Center

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Water is one of the world’s greatest natural resources and students from the Tallassee school system recently received hands-on experience to appreciate its value and importance.

The Tallassee City School Water Festival hosted more than 125 sixth grade students from Southside Middle School at the Alabama Nature Center in Millbrook on Sept. 20. Students learned how they can take responsibility in protecting the state’s water resources, the importance of clean water, and activities that highlighted the water cycle and aquatic life.

The students participated in a hike along Still Creek to discuss the health of state waterways, including effects on water quality, erosion and pollution. They learned about water treatment and filtering processes and ground stages of the water cycle.


Aquatic life was another major topic, with the students interacting with snakes, turtles, salamanders and frogs, learning how they each adapt to water habitats and the relationship between their survival and water quality.

The water festival is sponsored by the Alabama Power Foundation and the Neptune Technology Group. The foundation supports programs like the water festival that encourage conserving resources, inform citizens, deliver unique solutions to difficult challenges and share the beauty of Alabama’s natural resources. Neptune Technology is committed to protecting water quality and sharing the value of water.

The Alabama Nature Center is a hands-on outdoor education facility in Millbrook. It is a joint project of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and benefactors Isabel and Wiley Hill. The Lanark Road property includes 350 acres of forests, fields, streams and the NaturePlex, a 23,000-square-foot structural facility that serves as the welcome and education center.

The Alabama Nature Center partners with the Alabama Power Foundation, city of Millbrook, Hyundai, International Paper, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, the Hobbs Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, Vulcan Materials Company Foundation and Walmart.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Vending machines, toilets, prosthetic leg: Renew Our Rivers volunteers recall stuff pulled from Alabama waterways

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

As Renew Our Rivers celebrates its 20th year, longtime volunteers are remembering the early days of the campaign and how it has changed Alabama’s waterways for the better.

Many of the earliest Renew Our Rivers volunteers got plugged into the program through civic groups and home owner and boat owner associations (HOBOs). The organizations provide a solid base of volunteers who care about Alabama lakes and want to keep them beautiful.

Barbara Dreyer has lived on Lake Jordan since 1973 and has been active in her local HOBO for decades.


Judy Jones began working with Renew Our Rivers on Lay Lake even before she moved to the lake full time. In the program’s first year, she helped organize a picnic to celebrate the end of a cleanup. The picnic was such a success it has become an annual tradition to thank volunteers for their hard work.

When John Kulbitskas moved to Smith Lake in 2005, he joined the Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), which has partnered with Renew Our Rivers since the program’s inception.

They say each lake has its own unique needs and goals that Renew Our Rivers helps accomplish.

A strange haul

For the Kulbitskases on Smith Lake, a significant amount of time focuses on picking up pieces of Styrofoam that break off from boat docks. The team uses pontoon boats with special winches to pick up heavy, waterlogged pieces.

In the early years of Renew Our Rivers, pieces of white Styrofoam were commonly found across the lake; now Styrofoam is mostly encased in coverings. The covered style prevents smaller pieces from breaking off and becoming a danger to fish and other wildlife.

“We find less Styrofoam now after moving to the covered style, but even today when the water is low we’ll still find old pieces of uncovered white Styrofoam,” Kulbitskas said. “The Alabama Power team has been a big help in making sure big pieces of Styrofoam and other trash are removed. They have the equipment we need to maximize coverage of the lake and get debris onto the boats that would otherwise be difficult to collect.”

Over the years, volunteers on Lake Jordan have discovered some unusual items, including a refrigerator, Coca-Cola machine and toilets. Once, Dreyer said, they found a prosthetic leg, which was so realistic the team wondered if it had stumbled across a crime scene. One brave volunteer was able to pick up the limb in a net to determine it was in fact a prosthesis.

Once, a team of volunteers on Lay Lake found more than a leg. They came back claiming to have discovered a skeleton.

“They said they hadn’t called the police, so I asked if they moved it,” Jones said. “I was starting to realize they weren’t being serious, so I played along. Eventually, they told me that it wasn’t a real skeleton but just a Halloween decoration that had washed up on the shore.”

In its 20 years, Renew Our Rivers volunteers have collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from across the Southeast, including more than 1 million at Smith Lake, 500,000 at Lay Lake and 140,000 at Lake Jordan.

Legacy of service

One of the greatest legacies of Renew Our Rivers is how it has created connections among volunteers, marinas, businesses and other organizations across the state. The lake residents say partnerships between Renew Our Rivers and local groups allow lake cleanups to become more effective and cover more ground.

Both Dreyer and Jones said Scout troops, school groups and business teams are reliable sources of volunteers. Each year brings new volunteers. Dreyer said participation has grown in the past two decades.

“We probably had 30 or 35 people at our very first cleanup, but now we have around 300 to 400,” Dreyer said. “There’s also a lot of young people joining now, which is great for the lake and the program.”

Jones is grateful for Renew Our Rivers, not only for its dedication to keeping Alabama’s waterways clean, but the relationships it fosters. The cleanups have helped her meet many people, and she looks forward to new faces every year.

“I love seeing all the volunteers coming to participate,” Jones said. “Doing these cleanups has helped me meet so many wonderful people over the years, and our partners, like Alabama Power, the county and local marinas, are such a big help.”

As Renew Our Rivers enters another decade, Jones, Dreyer and Kulbitskas hope to see the program continue to grow stronger and showcase the beauty of rivers and lakes across Alabama.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama-made Honda, Mercedes vehicles earn Car and Driver honors

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two Alabama-built vehicles earned top spots in their categories in Car and Driver magazine’s list of the best trucks.

The Alabama-build Honda Ridgeline was named the best mid-size pickup truck while the Mercedes-Benz GLS450 was named the best large SUV in Car and Driver “10 Best Trucks and SUVs for 2019.”

Car and Driver tested each vehicle’s unique attributes, including ride and handling, safety features, technology, comfort, practicality and fuel efficiency.


This is the third straight year the Ridgeline has made the list.

“The Honda Ridgeline proves that different can be better,” the magazine wrote. “A unibody pickup based on the same platform that underpins Honda’s Odyssey and Pilot, the Ridgeline is an anomaly.”

It went on to praise “its unique features: a lockable in-bed weatherproof trunk, a dual-hinged tailgate, and a composite bed that can double as a big speaker. The Ridgeline’s outside-the-mainstream design imbues it with real versatility, and make it something more than merely a shrunken version of a full-size pickup. Furthermore, it boasts a roomy and comfortable cabin, and its superior ride and handling are befitting a sedan. The Honda also boasts excellent fuel economy and robust acceleration.”

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama produces the Ridgeline along with the Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV at its plant in Lincoln.

Also for the third year in a row, the Alabama-built Mercedes-Benz GLS450 was named Car and Driver’s best large SUV due to its hauling capabilities and being a comparative bargain.

“Even within Mercedes’ dizzying range of products, this $71,145 S-class of SUVs starts $20,000 lower than an actual S-class. You get a lot when you buy a GLS,” Car and Driver wrote.

“The GLS’s unibody structure feels aptly Teutonic. It steers more like a sedan than a truck, and its air springs deliver a pillowy ride. It is smartly sized and packaged such that all three rows provide enough room to be comfortable, and yet the GLS can still fit handily in the average garage,” the magazine went on to say. “The GLS simply rides better, drives smaller, and offers a higher level of fit and finish than you can get in any other large SUV, and that’s as true of the base vehicle as it is the six-figure examples.”

The GLS is produced in Mercedes-Benz U.S. International’s Tuscaloosa County plant along with the C-Class sedan, the GLE SUV and the GLE Coupe.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 years ago

Likely Trump VP Mike Pence in Alabama: We must return power to the states

(Video above: Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims interviews Indiana Gov. Mike Pence)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — News began to leak Thursday morning that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will likely be announced as Donald J. Trump’s running mate during a Friday morning press conference.

With over a decade of experience in Congress and a full term as Governor of Indiana under his belt, Pence is expected to bring decades of conservative street cred — particularly on social issues — to the Trump ticket.

In 2014, Pence visited Alabama for a Republican Party event and sat down with Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims for a one-on-one interview prior to the event.

At the time Pence was being floated as a possible presidential contender, and Sims pressed him on whether he was going to run for re-election or make a national run.

“People who know me well know that I’m not a longterm planner,” Pence said. “I tend to think stay focused on the job that’s in front of you, stay focused on the people on Indiana and my future will take care of itself.”

Pence ultimately opted against a presidential run himself, but told Sims his time in Congress and as a state’s chief executive would uniquely prepare him for what now may be a role in a Trump administration. He also laid out a vision for Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., that would focus on returning power to the states.

“I was privileged to represent our state in our nation’s capital, and I will always cherish those years,” he explained. “Being a member of the Congress and being the chief executive of the great state of Indiana are two different types of leadership. I’ve learned so much and felt very privileged to be governor of my state at such a time as this.

“There are some people who say the next president ought to be a governor, and I’m certainly sympathetic to that view,” he laughed. “Let me say, all joking aside, I really do believe my experience in Washington and now my experience leading the state of Indiana tells me that the cure for what ails this country is going to come more from our state capitols than it ever will from our nation’s capitol… States are particularly well suited to craft the kind of policies that will encourage investment, create economic growth, create educational attainment and improve the quality of life of our citizens. I really do believe that renewed Republican majorities in Washington, D.C., and a new administration should make it their aim not merely to cut government spending in Washington, but we must demand that any new Republican leadership in Washington permanently reduce the size and scope of the federal government by restoring to the states the resources and the flexibility that is rightfully theirs under the Constitution.”

Trump has not been very specific about what he is looking for in a running mate, but did suggest to MSNBC’s Morning Joe team that someone with inside-the-Beltway experience could be helpful. Pence served in Congress for six terms.

“I think I’ll probably go the political route,” said Trump. “Somebody that can help me with legislation and somebody that can help me get things passed and somebody that’s been friends with the senators and the congressmen and all.”

Trump’s vice presidential announcement is set to take place Friday morning in New York City. For more segments from Yellowhammer’s sit-down with Gov. Pence, check out the links below.

Pence in Alabama discussing opting out of Common Core (Video)
Pence backs Gary Palmer for Alabama’s 6th Congressional District seat
Pence defends Medicaid expansion during stop in Alabama

5 years ago

New Alabama GE Aviation facility will be ‘unique in the world’

GE Avation's facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)

GE Avation's facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)
GE Avation’s facility in Auburn (Photo: Made in Alabama)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – General Electric Aviation broke ground on two new facilities in Alabama this week that will work together in a partnership that is not found anywhere else in the world.

The $200 million project will mass-produce silicon carbide (SiC) materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composite components (CMCs) for jet engines and land-based gas turbines. One facility will create the raw SiC material and the other will turn it into tape for CMC components. The Huntsville location marks the first time these two processes will be in the same location.

“It will be unique in the world,” said Sanjay Correa, vice president of the CMC Program at GE Aviation. “This is the one and only place in the world where it will all be in one place.”

The Huntsville location is the only SiC facility in the United States so far. The only other two SiC plants in the world are located in Japan and France. The Huntsville-made tape will be used by GE Aviation at its CMC manufacturing facility in Asheville, N.C.

The new facilities will be located near the Polaris factory and the site of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new mega site. Once the GE plants are completed, the company will employ up to 300 workers.

“There is a host of jobs, everything from engineering talent down to technicians and operators of chemical equipment all the way through the basic facility staff, from maintenance and shipping and all the things you would need to support a main manufacturing facility,” said GE Aviation CMC Industrialization Leader Matt O’Connell.

To bring these facilities to Huntsville, the state incentivized GE with a job-creation credit of $3.5M and an investment credit of $12.4M each to be paid over 10 years. The U.S. Air Force Research Lab Title III Office will fund the ceramic fiber plant with $21.9 million, and GE will be responsible for financing the CMC tape operation. The City of Huntsville will contribute $1 million to the project and the Huntsville Industrial Development Board will provide an additional $1.5 million. Madison and Limestone counties will also make contributions.

This is GE’s second investment in Alabama. In 2010, the company built a partnership in Auburn to create a $100 million, 300,000-square-foot factory to build jet engine components.

5 years ago

Alabama has one of the summer’s top travel destinations – but it’s not the beach

Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline

Looking for a fun place to visit for the summer? Well look no further than Sweet Home Alabama. The Yellowhammer State is home to one of Forbes’ 20 best summer destinations, but it’s not where you might think. While Alabama’s beaches are some of the best in the world, Forbes listed Birmingham among the 20 best cities for summer travel in North America.

Forbes partnered with travel site Lonely Planet to create a list of 20 cities throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Here’s what they had to say about Birmingham:

Lonely Planet called Birmingham one of the most unexpectedly exciting places to see in the U.S. in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. History buffs can tour the Civil Rights District; music-lovers can explore the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and foodies have a plethora of great dining spots like barbecue at Saw’s. Looking for drinks? There’s a 24-hour bar filled with comic book art and Star Wars memorabilia.

Forbes and Lonely Planet based their list on factors that included cost of accommodations (and whether Airbnb or home-sharing was available), accessibility of the destination, and the price of entertainment and cultural attractions. Forbes specifically wanted to find destinations that would appeal to younger travelers.

Other U.S. cities included on the list were Austin, TX; Boulder, CO, Jacksonville, FL; Las Vegas, NV; Oakland, CA; Palm Springs, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; St. Louis, MO; and Washington, D.C.

Birmingham’s stock continues to rise. The Magic City has seen a revival of sorts in the past decade. According to the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Magic City has been included on 117 positive ranking national lists since 2011, including 26 already in 2016. Birmingham has been called one of the most misunderstood cities, one of the happiest cities for workers, the best city for millennial entrepreneurs, one of the best cities for first time home buyers, one of the best cities for employee engagement, along with many more accolades.

5 years ago

The emotional story behind an Alabama family’s viral photo

The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)
The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)
The viral photo of Kolbie Gregware and his grandfather Allan Halstead (Photo: Sunshine Moody Photography)

PHENIX CITY, Ala. – An emotional image of a grandfather and his infant grandson that is taking the internet by storm was photographed right here in Alabama.

Allan Halstead and his grandson Kolbie Gregware share a special bond. Though one of them is 67 and the other is less than a year old, they’ve both had open-heart surgeries. Kolbie was born with Down syndrome and had issues with his heart, lungs, and kidneys. He spent the first few months of his life in and out of the NICU before having his first open-heart surgery at 4 months old.

Halstead, a Vietnam veteran, has had two open-heart surgeries as well as a whole host of heart-related complications. Right now his heart is operating at 10 percent and has to take medication to help it maintain that level. Brandy Gregware, Halstead’s daughter and Kolbie’s mother, knows her father is on “borrowed time.”

Once Kolbie was healthy enough to leave the hospital, Gregware knew that she needed to get photos of her sons with her father before time ran out. Luckily, Phenix City-based photographer Sunshine Moody heard about Kolbie’s story and offered to take the photos for free. Kolbie was in the same NICU unit as Moody’s daughter had been, so she already empathized with the Gregwares.

The photos Moody took highlight the bond that Kolbie and his grandfather share.

“Kolbie is very bonded with me, but my dad, he just sits there and stares at him for hours like he’s God,” Gregware said.

The scars Kolbie and Halstead share from their surgeries – their “matching zippers” – are the focus of one of Moody’s photos that has gone viral. Of all the photos she took, this one jumped out to Moody as she started to edit the pictures. “I pulled out my computer and scrolled through and it immediately caught my eye. It was the first one I edited. And I spent over an hour on it alone,” she said.

“I’ll admit I was scared to be trusted with such a powerful photo.”

The photo has been shared all over the internet, including AOL, ABC News, Inside Edition, Women’s Day Magazine, and even British-based sites like The Daily Mail and Mirror. Ashton Kutcher even shared the photo on his Facebook page. The image has captured the hearts of people worldwide, which is pretty mind-blowing for Moody.

“I’m a really, really small town photographer… I do this as more of a hobby than a career,” she said.

For Gregware, the response to the photo has been an inspiration.

“I have received tons of messages from people saying it has given them hope,” she said. “They can proudly wear their scars. God gave you an obstacle so show it, and show it proud.”

Kolbie, who will turn one year old this summer, has been stable and home from the hospital for 30 days. Halstead has “good and bad days,” but remains in high spirits. Gregware knows that their remaining time together is short, but Moody’s photos will allow their bond to continue to inspire people all over the world.

“They’re both walking miracles. They just have a bond that is unbelievable and I wanted to share that for people so they could see that miracles happen — they happen every day and I wanted to make sure people know they can happen.”

5 years ago

Alabama and Auburn are two of the richest football programs in the SEC

aubie big al

Saturdays in the fall are practically religious holidays in Alabama. Thousands of fans make weekly journeys to Tuscaloosa or Auburn to cheer on their favorite team. Many fans will even follow their teams around the country as they travel to other stadiums. All those trips to Auburn and Tuscaloosa, along with the national exposure both teams receive, generate lots of money both programs. In fact, Alabama and Auburn are two of the richest football programs in the SEC.

Based on filings with the U.S. Department of Education, the Alabama Crimson Tide are worth $97.02 million, making it the wealthiest program in the SEC. The Auburn Tigers ranked third with $86.74 million.

The University of Tennessee stands in between Auburn and Alabama at number 2. With one of the nation’s largest stadiums, the Volunteers still bring thousands of fans to Knoxville, despite a lackluster performance in recent years.

Vanderbilt has the “poorest” program in the SEC with $27.4 million. The only private institution in the league, the Commodores also have the smallest stadium and string of disappointing records. The program only made $3 million in profit in 2014.

Here’s the complete ranking of SEC schools from richest to poorest:

1. Alabama — $97.02 million
2. Tennessee — $94.37 million
3. Auburn — $86.74 million
4. Georgia — $86.71 million
5. LSU — $86.31 million
6. Florida — $74.72 million
7. Arkansas — $66.17 million
8. Texas A&M — $62.19 million
9. South Carolina — $59.76 million
10. Ole Miss — $53.39 million
11. Missouri — $37.89 million
12. Kentucky — $31.49 million
13. Mississippi State — $31.3 million
14. Vanderbilt — $27.4 million

Forbes releases an annual list of the 20 most valuable college football teams, but they use data beyond the schools’ filings with the Department of Education. They study university value, athletic department value, conference value, and impact on local economies. On Forbes’ list, Alabama ranks number 8, and Auburn comes in at number 10. The Texas Longhorns took the top spot. The way the data is analyzed, Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia are all ranked above Alabama on Forbes’ list. Nine SEC teams were included on the list released by Forbes. Alabama and Auburn have consistently been included on Forbes’ yearly list.

Regardless of where they land on a list, it’s undeniable that Auburn and Alabama are two of the most profitable college football programs in the country. Both teams receive national coverage every weekend in the fall, and the Iron Bowl is constantly touted as the greatest rivalry in college football. The passionate fan bases of both teams ensure that the Tide and the Tigers will remain profitable for decades to come.

5 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court Justice seeks to hold off suspension with federal lawsuit

Alabama Supreme Court
Alabama Supreme Court

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker has filed a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission to block his potential suspension from the bench.

The JIC has been investigating Justice Parker on the basis that comments he made on gay marriage violated judicial canons of ethics. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed complaints in October that Parker inappropriately commented on the pending same-sex marriage ruling and voiced his personal opinions on the issue on a conservative radio talk show, which they believe violated Judicial Canons 1, 2A, and 3A(6).

“These provisions (of law) are being used by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its allies on the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) in an attempt to intimidate, silence, and punish Justice Parker for his originalist judicial philosophy and protected speech,” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, who represents Parker, said in a statement.

Although the JIC has not yet filed any charges against Parker, his lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and the state law that automatically suspends a judge when JIC files charges. Judges who are suspended can return to their office depending on the outcome of a trial in front of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary

The lawsuit also claims Parker’s free speech rights have been infringed upon and have negatively affected his re-election campaign. “That harm is continuing and, in fact, increasing as the election approaches and forces him to engage in self-censorship,” the lawsuit states.

Parker’s lawsuit follows one filed by Chief Justice Roy Moore after the JIC suspended him in May for “flagrantly disregard(ing) and abus(ing) his authority” with respect to the issue of same sex marriage. Moore’s lawsuit seeks to make the suspension provision unconstitutional. The Southern Poverty Law Center was also involved in filing charges against Moore.

After a federal court struck down Alabama’s gay marriage ban, Moore instructed probate judges around the state to ignore the court’s order and continue upholding the Alabama Constitution, which affirms the traditional definition of marriage. Most probate judges around the state are now issuing same sex marriage licenses, while a handful have opted to stop issuing marriage licenses all together, rather than violate their conscience.


5 years ago

Alabama political scandals get ‘The Daily Show’ treatment

The Daily Show takes on Alabama scandals

(Video above: The Daily Show takes on Alabama politics)

Last night, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” weighed in on the current state of Alabama politics – and it didn’t hold back.

During the seven-minute segment, host Trevor Noah made jokes about the three Alabama scandals making headlines around the country.

“Alabama – also known as “Liberal Mississippi” – they’re in a bit of a meltdown,” Noah began.

Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension over his position on same-sex marriage was dealt with quickly. “A Southern judge opposing gays – that’s the least surprising thing since Cookie Monster got diabetes,” Noah said.

Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was up next. The Daily Show found what could be one of the most stereotypical, local commercial-level videos of Hubbard, one where he endorsed something called “Chicken Finger Friday.” Noah discussed Hubbard’s lengthy political tenure and his power throughout the state. He even referenced the road named after Hubbard in Auburn – one that some are already trying to get renamed.

Noah then summarized the 12 counts of corruption Hubbard was found guilty of, including “funneling money from lobbyists into his printing company for political favors.”

“Which is despicable,” Noah said. “I mean, this is 2016 people, who puts money into printing companies? This is the future, you want to invest in beepers, my friends!”

Then came Governor Bentley, who received the full force of the show’s satire. Noah played the video from Bentley’s first press conference the audio recordings between him and his top advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, were released. The clip showed Bentley saying he loved all members of his staff, “but do I love some more than others? Absolutely.”

“That is such a ballsy way to handle a scandal,” Noah laughed. “Most people’s instinct is to deny something they’re accused of. This guy doubles down!”

“I wish I had this thought process when I was a kid,” he continued. “I would have got away with anything. My momma would have been like, ‘Did you eat the cookies?’ and I would have been like, ‘I eat many things mom! I eat Corn Flakes, I eat broccoli…do I eat some foods more than others sometimes? That is a possibility!”

In the most ridiculous part of the segment, The Daily Show played part of the now-infamous recording, which Noah described as “really bad phone sex. Or, a pretty good country song.” The show then actually put the dialogue from the recording to country music, complete with music video-quality images of a man and wife on a farm.

Noah then welcomed Roy Wood, Jr., a regular correspondent on the show and an Alabama native, to share his thoughts. Wood appeared in a white suit, a hat, and a bow tie – an outfit he called his “Alabama swag.”

“Trevor, this scandal is pretty upsetting, but I’m very relieved,” Wood began. “Finally, there’s bad news coming out of Alabama, and black people aren’t involved!”

Wood, who has quickly become the breakout star of the revamped show, even threw in a “Roll Tide” during his remarks.

The Daily Show is not the first group of comedians to comment on the current state of Alabama politics. In April, British comedian John Oliver shared his thoughts on Governor Bentley’s scandal and the impeachment process on his HBO series “Last Week Tonight.”

5 years ago

Massive Huntsville area just became the newest ‘mega site’ for the TVA

Downtown Huntsville, Alabama
Downtown Huntsville, Alabama

HUNTSVILLE – A huge 1,252-acre property outside Huntsville is the newest “mega site” for the Tennessee Valley Authority and is ready to welcome new business to the state, officials from the City of Huntsville and Limestone County announced today.

The new mega site certification will help Huntsville compete internationally to bring large-scale industrial and manufacturing projects to the region. Status as a certified mega site makes the property significantly more appealing to companies because it shows that the area has already been properly studied, providing for a faster development period.

“The certification is our international calling card telling global manufacturers we are open for business and a prime place for industry and jobs,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “This site should attract a high tech, high end company for worldwide customers.”

Governor Bentley also praised the new development for expanding Alabama’s economy.

“With this certification in hand, the Huntsville Mega Site is well positioned for a wide range of large-scale projects from major companies based around the world,” he said in a press release. “The Huntsville area has been a main driver of growth for the state, and this will make it even more attractive for new investment and well-paying jobs.”

To become a TVA-certified mega site, an area must have at least 1,000 acres, Interstate access, potential railroad access, and sufficient utility services. The site must also pass a number of due diligence studies to prove that any operations on the land would not damage the environmental, historical, or cultural nature of the area.

Huntsville is the eighth mega site for the TVA. Five of the seven existing sites have already landed major industrial projects with investments of over $5 billion. The mega site program was first established 12 years ago and has already helped create over 30,000 jobs throughout the region.

Mayor Battle expects that trend to continue with the new Huntsville mega site.

“You can move an industry in here, you can start working and you can expect 2,000 to 4,000 jobs. Each one of those jobs has a job multiplier and has 2.5 more jobs attached to it, so it’s a great thing for economic success of the area,” he said.

Huntsville leaders started the process of certifying the land in 2011 after the city lost the first U.S.-based Volkswagen plant to Chattanooga, TN. Volkswagen passed on the Huntsville land because it had not been tested for soil contamination or a number of other potential issues. But now companies will have all the facts up front, thanks to the TVA certification.

While the new site will have the biggest impact on Huntsville, Bill Johnson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, believes the rest of the Tennessee Valley will benefit as well.

“The entire economy of the Tennessee Valley is a seamless web of communities that support and strengthen each other, so the creation of the Huntsville Mega Site is a victory for the entire Valley.”

5 years ago

Best-selling artist holds private performance at Alabama children’s hospital

Jason Mraz performs at Children's Hospital

(Video above: Jason Mraz performs for patients at Children’s)

BIRMINGHAM — Two-time Grammy award winner Jason Mraz played a special concert for patients at Children’s Hospital on Monday before his sold-out concert at Iron City. The performance was part of a new partnership between Iron City and Children’s Hospital.

Mraz performed a few songs for the crowd in the lobby before he visited patients who were unable to leave their rooms. One of those patients was a massive fan of Mraz, so when he appeared in her room, she was speechless. The singer-songwriter even signed a few autographs for the patients. Chandler Bibb, Director of Development for Children’s, said even those who didn’t know of Mraz’s music enjoyed his performance.

“One little boy at the concert leaned up to [Mraz] and asked, ‘How did you get so good at the guitar?’ When Mraz said it was practice, the boy said, ‘I’m not good at practice.’”

Mraz’s visit to Children’s is part of a new partnership between the hospital and Iron City. The program, called Artists Care, allows musicians who perform at Iron City to have the opportunity to visit and perform for patients or donate memorabilia.

“This is really something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Mike Creager, general manager of Iron City. “It started with a few inspiring conversations I’ve had with artists over the past years. The goal is to help the kids of Children’s hospital and to directly affect their lives, with performances from the artist, a visit from the artist or money raised from memorabilia.”

The program launched in February with country star Blake Shelton, who donated a signed child’s sized guitar. Shelton would have visited the hospital in person, but his time was short before his free, surprise concert at Iron City.

Mraz is the first artist to visit and perform at Children’s as part of the Artists Care program. He was thrilled with the idea and agreed instantly.

“He did whatever he could to make it a special visit,” Bibb said.

The partnership between Iron City and Children’s is still growing, but the Artists Care program already has had a positive impact.

“There were smiles all over the place,” said Bibb. “That’s what we try to do… when these artists come in to entertain the patients… it’s about how to bring childhood in the hospital, or make them have a better time while they’re here.”

5 years ago

Check out Richard Shelby’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo on new CBS political drama

Senator Richard Shelby's name as it appeared on CBS's BrainDead
Senator Richard Shelby's name as it appeared on CBS's BrainDead

Senator Richard Shelby’s name as it appeared on CBS’s BrainDead


U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) had a background name drop in the first episode of CBS’s new summer political/sci-fi drama, “BrainDead.”

In the final minutes of the first episode, a closed door can be seen in the background with a name card for “Senator Richard Shelby – Alabama” on the wall. Shelby is never mentioned by name or appears on screen, but the appearance of his name helps ground the show in a pseudo-reality.

BrainDead” is almost purely satire, but it puts real politics and politicians in the foreground as much as possible. The premier featured a number of television and audio clips from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. The main characters on the show are completely fictional, but the audience is supposed to believe that they exist alongside real politicians like Senator Shelby.

The new series from Robert and Michelle King (creators of “The Good Wife”) stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”), Danny Pino (“Scandal,” “Law & Order: SVU”), Aaron Tveit (“Graceland,” “Grease: Live!”), and Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”).

BrainDead brings a different spin to the growing genre of television political dramas. The catalyst for the show’s central plot is a meteor that crashed down to the earth that released thousands of ant-like extraterrestrials that crawled straight into the brains of congressmen and other D.C. elites. The creatures alter their hosts’ brains and personalities, turning them into hyper-focused, robotic politicians. The remaining characters have to figure out what’s going on.

The balance between the science fiction aspect and real politics is designed to make viewers feel strangely uncomfortable. The central plot of the first episode involves a government shutdown after Republicans and Democrats fail to reach a compromise. Sound familiar? At the same time, the fantastic elements allow viewers to distance themselves from reality.

“I think it’s a bit of escapism. Anything that’s kind of heightened or larger than life can be a way to kind of look at what’s actually happening and laugh at it,” Tveit said in an interview with E! News. “And just separate yourself from it. That’s what’s great about these summer series, to just go on this little ride and see how it goes. With this, the reality is so kind of tough and depressing that if you can find anyway to laugh at it is good, so hopefully people can use this to laugh at it.”

The show is neither pro-Republican nor pro-Democrat, but in the current state of real politics, BrainDead hopes to give viewers a way to release the tension they may be feeling.

Who knows; maybe some other Alabama politicians will make appearances as the show unfolds.

5 years ago

Auburn residents want convicted House Speaker’s name removed from the city and university

mike hubbard auburn
AUBURN, Ala. — Before he was convicted on 12 felony ethics charges, Mike Hubbard used his position as Speaker of the House to support his home city of Auburn and Auburn University. His impact on the city and the university was so great, that many buildings and roads there now bear his name. But the events of last week have many Auburn residents calling for a change.

In 2013, Auburn University opened the Mike Hubbard Center for Advanced Science, Innovation, and Commerce. The $28.8 million, 84,000 square-foot facility houses researchers from the Colleges of Architecture, Agriculture, Engineering, Sciences and Mathematics, and Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The Auburn Board of Trustees voted to name the building in honor of Hubbard in 2012 after the then-Speaker helped the university secure $14.1 million in state funds to match a $14.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Now, the Board of Trustees must decide if they want to rename the building, which is a complex and multi-step process that may take months or years.

Hubbard’s name is also attached to a major road in Auburn. Mike Hubbard Boulevard is the home of Auburn University’s Cyber Initiative office and the Regional Airport. A petition has already been posted to to rename the street “Cam Newton Run” after the former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. So far the petition has 186 signatures of the 200 needed to send it to Auburn Mayor Bill Ham.

The background for the petition explains the reasoning behind the change:

With exit 57 serving as a prominent gateway to Auburn fans, prospective students, opponents and the like, “Cam Newton Run” recognizes one of Auburn’s most famous graduates and athletes who has served as a prominent and effective ambassador for Auburn both on and off the field. This rename also serves as a way to depoliticize what may be considered by many in this community to be a painful yet imminent name change. WDE and thanks for the support.

The Auburn City Council has already received a number of phone calls asking them to rename the road.

These changes may be the first in a massive fallout from Hubbard’s conviction. He will be sentenced on July 8 and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count.

Related: Alabama House speaker Mike Hubbard convicted
Related: Alabama’s most powerful politician has fallen. Here’s what (and who) is next.

5 years ago

Positivity and Awareness: Alabama sheriff shares his cancer story

Sheriff Mike Hale
Sheriff Mike Hale
Sheriff Mike Hale

Jefferson County’s long-time sheriff Mike Hale is currently battling prostate cancer, but he isn’t letting it slow him down.

“I’m kind of tired. I come back to the office, eat an early lunch, have a nap. I don’t think citizens will begrudge me that,” Hale told WBRC last week.

The JeffCo sheriff found out he had prostate cancer about three months ago during a routine physical with Dr. Mike Chandler, the Chief Medical Officer for the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office. During the exam, Dr. Chandler performed a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test and noticed a spike in the sheriff’s PSA levels. While high PSA levels alone don’t necessarily mean cancer, it was enough to schedule more tests.

After being referred to a local hospital for a few biopsies, Hale had an MRI that confirmed his prostate cancer. Luckily the cancer had not spread to the bones or anywhere else in his body. Hale is currently undergoing an eight-week radiation treatment.

While cancer can be a scary diagnosis for anyone, Hale has a strong inspiration by his side. His wife, Dianna, battled breast cancer and has been cancer-free for seven years. Hale stood by her side during her dark days, and how she is standing by him.

“I’m blessed to have D on my side. She is battle tested and battled scarred,” he said.

One thing he learned from watching his wife battle breast cancer was the community and mentoring relationships that exist between women with breast cancer. So Hale reached out to former Jefferson County Deputy Chief Carl Johnson, who also had prostate cancer, as a resource for questions and support.

Hale wants his story to be a reminder to others to get regular check ups. Throughout the process he has remained positive and looks forward to finishing radiation treatments and beating his cancer.

Sheriff Hale has been in law enforcement in Alabama for 42 years. He started his career at the Homewood Police Department in 1973 before transferring to the Sheriff’s Office in 1976. Hale was first elected sheriff of Jefferson County in 1998 and has been reelected four times since.

During his tenure as sheriff, Hale has strengthened and grown the Sheriff’s Office. He fought to change Alabama’s convicted sex offender law and make it the strongest of its kind in the country. He also pioneered the first Identity Theft Unit and Computer Forensics Unit in the region. In 1999 he created the Sheriff’s Office School Resource Division for County Schools to fight Domestic Terrorism, a division that has since been named a National Model for Law Enforcement Agencies across the country.

(h/t WBRC)

5 years ago

University of Alabama student contracts Zika Virus

Zika virus

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A student at the University of Alabama has tested positive for Zika virus, the school announced yesterday. The student had recently studied abroad and is believed to have contracted the virus while overseas.

“Federal privacy laws prevent us from commenting on the student’s condition; however, in the majority of Zika cases, individuals make a full recovery within a week,” said University of Alabama spokesman Chris Bryant.

Bryant also stated that students who have recently studied abroad in Central and South America and the Caribbean have been notified and urged to get tested at the UA Student Health Center or their personal healthcare providers.

Almost all of the Zika cases in the United States have been travel-related. Only 11 of the 691 documented cases have been contracted through sexual contact with infected individuals. The UA student marks the sixth confirmed case of Zika in Alabama.

Zika virus is spread mainly through the bites of Aedes species mosquitoes but also can be transmitted through infected blood and sex. Only about 1 in 5 people infected with the virus become ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those who do get sick, Dr. David Freedman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UAB, describes Zika as “like a bad flu with a rash.” Symptoms include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, red eyes and headache.

Those who are at the greatest risk are women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

That’s because the Zika virus, after a widespread outbreak in Brazil in early 2015, has been linked to a spike in microcephaly in babies born in the virus-affected areas. Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the head, with complications that include developmental delays, stunted growth, seizures and mental retardation.

The best thing health officials suggest is not traveling to places with confirmed Zika outbreaks. In Alabama, experts advise residents to take serious precautions against mosquitoes – like eliminate pools of stagnant water, stay in screened-in or air conditioned rooms, wear long sleeved shirts and pants, and always apply mosquito repellent.

5 years ago

Auburn’s pre-health program sends record numbers to medical school

Auburn University's Samford Hall
Auburn University’s Samford Hall

AUBURN, Ala. — Graduates from Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics are some of the most successful students in the country when it comes to getting accepted to medical school.

Auburn students are consistently accepted to medical school at a rate that is 30 percent higher than then national average. And it’s not just medical school where Auburn students succeed; the acceptance rate of Auburn students to optometry and dental schools normally ranges from 85-100%. Auburn has cultivated a pre-med program that helps students find the best way to succeed and further their careers.

Faculty and students in the College of Sciences and Mathematics point to Beverly Childress, the pre-health professions director, as the reason for Auburn’s success in molding future medical professionals. Childress takes personal interest in every student and guides him or her through orientation, academic advising, mock interviews, the application process, and more. Her dedication has propelled Auburn students to some of the best medical schools in the country.

Childress and Auburn’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by medical school faculty, either. One Auburn graduate recalled one of her advisors for UAB’s medical school praising Auburn’s pre-admissions program in front of her whole class.

Medical schools are notoriously difficult to get into, and record numbers of students apply every year. In fact, many medical schools are increasing the number of students they accept to meet the growing demand. In 2013, over 48,000 students applied to medical school, but only 41% were accepted. Some of the most prestigious schools in the country have incredibly small acceptance rates. For example, Florida State University’s med school accepts 2.4% of applicants.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Medical School is also highly selective. UAB has made a name for itself as one of the best medical schools in the country, and students are taking notice. The U.S. News & World Report ranked UAB as the 35th best medical school for research and the 21st best for primary care. The number of students who apply to UAB has grown every year. In 2015, 3,720 students applied to UAB, and the school only accepted 265, a 7% acceptance rate. Of those accepted, only 186 enrolled in the fall.

The University of South Alabama has a comparable acceptance rate to UAB, but it has a much smaller pool of applicants and a smaller class size.

Although applying to medical school may feel like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, Auburn students breathe a little easier thanks to the preparation they receive from the faculty of the College of Sciences and Mathematics.