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.

2 weeks ago

Alabama Legacy Moment: Marshall Space Flight Center

(NASA/Twitter)

Alabama Public Television is producing a series of videos titled “Alabama Legacy Moments” that offer a quick history of the people, places and stories that have defined Alabama. Done in conjunction with the ongoing bicentennial celebration of the state that concludes in December 2019, the short pieces should inspire you to learn more about the rich history of Alabama. “Alabama Legacy Moments”  are sponsored by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and the Alabama Broadcasters Association.

This “Legacy Moment” is Marshall Space Flight Center.

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2 weeks ago

Birmingham Housing Authority, city, Alabama Power announce Smart Neighborhood initiative

Alabama Power is partnering with the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and the city to bring its Smart Neighborhood homes to Birmingham's 99 neighborhoods. (CCR Architecture and Interiors)

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD), city of Birmingham, Alabama Power and local builders have formed a partnership to bring state-of-the-art, “smart” homes to Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods.

The new Smart Neighborhood builds will incorporate energy efficiency and home automation upgrades during the construction phase of housing units to help make energy use more affordable for low-income families and seniors.

“This is a great partnership with Alabama Power in an effort to provide energy-efficient, cutting edge amenities for families who seek affordable housing,” said HABD President and CEO Michael O. Lundy. “HABD looks forward to strengthening this partnership in the future to incorporate similar technology throughout our portfolio. We’re beyond excited that affordable housing residents will now have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of greener living thanks to the Smart Neighborhood initiative.”

The initiative includes the construction of more than 200 smart homes throughout Birmingham neighborhoods over the next three years. Sites will be provided by HABD with construction of the first homes expected to begin in 2020.

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“We’re very excited to join forces with the Housing Authority, Alabama Power and local entities for this vital project,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said. “Neighborhood revitalization has been a cornerstone of my administration and these energy-efficient upgrades are key to fulfilling that promise. Every resident of our 99 neighborhoods deserves to experience this life-changing technology and I’m thrilled that we are making strides to provide them.”

Alabama Power is using key findings from its award-winning research and demonstration Smart Neighborhood at Reynolds Landing in Hoover to provide local builders technical expertise on energy-saving measures and technology installations during the homes’ construction. Each home will be designed with energy upgrades that will measure 15 percent more efficient than current Alabama state building codes.

“We are excited to continue our internationally recognized Smart Neighborhood initiative with great partners in the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and the city of Birmingham,” said Alabama Power Birmingham Division Area Manager Ralph Williams. “By applying our knowledge to the new affordable housing developments, these homes will provide residents greater efficiency and the ability to easily manage features through smart devices.”

In addition to construction enhancements, homes will feature high-efficiency heat pumps, hybrid water heaters, LED lighting, smart thermostats and security features such as doorbell cameras and smart sensors.

Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood initiative began in 2017 with a focus on providing innovative energy solutions for its customers. Building on the success of its flagship project in Hoover, the company launched the Smart Neighborhood Builder Program in 2018, which promotes energy efficiency through collaboration with homebuilders across the state. Three new neighborhoods are under construction across the state.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

On this day in Alabama history: President Warren Harding visits Birmingham for semicentennial celebration

(Alabama NewsCenter/Twitter)

Oct. 26, 1921

President Warren G. Harding’s visit to Birmingham on Oct. 26, 1921, was the highlight of a weeklong 50th anniversary celebration at Capitol Park (Now Linn Park). The president and first lady Florence King Harding, along with other dignitaries, took part in events celebrating the growth of Birmingham. Harding’s speech was notable because it was the first delivered by a sitting president in the South that called for political equality for African-Americans.

Harding and the first lady led a parade around the business district in a Premocar, manufactured by Preston Motors Corp. in Birmingham. After disembarking from the car at the Tutwiler Hotel, the president reviewed the remainder of the parade, which included Civil War veterans, National Guardsmen, industrial workers and the “Pioneers of 1861,” representatives of people living in the city when it was founded. It was estimated more than 100,000 people were on hand for the parade and in the park for the president’s speech.

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During the day, Harding made remarks at a luncheon in his honor, viewed a Fashion-Industrial Exposition and a mine-rescue demonstration, laid the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple and toured the city by car. He made his final appearance at the Pageant of Birmingham in Avondale Park.

Harding said Birmingham welcomed him with the “greatest, warmest and most enthusiastic reception” of his term in office.

Read more at Bhamwiki

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

On this day in Alabama history: First class of Alabama Academy of Honor announced

(NASA/Contributed)

Oct. 25, 1968

The first 14 members of the Alabama Academy of Honor were announced on Oct. 25, 1968, and inducted on Aug. 25, 1969. Each year, 10 members may be elected by the academy until its membership reaches 100. All living governors are automatically members of the academy.

Inspired by the Missouri Academy of Squires, UAB biochemistry professor Emmett Carmichael got the idea of creating an honorary society of living Alabamians in 1965 and proposed his plan to Gov. George Wallace. A bill was passed to create the academy during that legislative session, and Wallace signed it into law on Oct. 29, 1965. Little progress was made toward the establishment of the academy until 1968 when Gov. Albert Brewer agreed to appoint a nominating committee.

The first class included Winton Blount, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Jim Folsom Sr., A.G. Gaston, Lister Hill, Thomas Moorer, John Patterson, Frank Rose, Frank Samford Sr., Bertha Smolian, John Sparkman, Wernher von Braun, Wallace and Brewer.

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Read more at Bhamwiki and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

For more on Alabama’s bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: The latest USS Mobile brought into service

The fourth Navy ship to bear the name USS Mobile was a Charleston-class amphibious cargo ship. It served for 24 years from the Vietnam War through the first Gulf War. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, photo courtesy of the United States Navy)

A half-century ago today, the fourth ship bearing the name of the port city of Mobile was christened for service in the US Navy.

A cargo ship, the USS Mobile went into immediate service for the Vietnam War and supported more than a dozen missions. With a helicopter platform and powerful cranes, the Mobile was well-suited to support the buildup and execution of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The Navy decommissioned the Mobile in 1994 and sent it on to a maintenance facility at the port of Philadelphia.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Final designs are in for new $174 million Birmingham stadium

(Populous/Contributed)

Designs are done on the new $174 million Protective Life Stadium that will soon dominate the eastern edge of the BJCC campus in downtown Birmingham.

Project architect Populous presented the final designs to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex board of directors Wednesday, a week after the Birmingham Design Review committee approved materials and other components of the plan.

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“I’m happy to be able to present these designs to our board,” said Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the BJCC Authority. “Each step in this process brings us closer to a completed stadium. The team at Populous are industry leaders in human-centered design and have done a wonderful job with this project. They’ve designed Protective Stadium with a clear understanding of what has worked well – and what hasn’t – for other facilities around the world.”

Exterior designs include lush landscaping and focus on connecting the new stadium with surrounding facilities like the BJCC, Uptown Entertainment District and Topgolf. Inside amenities will include modern concession areas, restaurants and bars, suites and premium club lounges.

Kansas City-based Populous has designed more than 150 college stadiums and the one for Birmingham incorporates that experience.

“We are building the next-generation stadium designed for the 21st century fans,” said Jim Swords, Populous principal architect on the Protective Stadium project. “We are facing a shift in what fans want out of their ticketed experience. For today’s sports consumer, it’s all about the experience, which is exactly what Protective Stadium will provide.”

The designs were met with enthusiasm.

“Populous has met and exceeded expectations at every turn, and we look forward to bringing our shared vision to life with them and all of the local partners on the project,” said Dennis Latham, BJCC Authority board chairman. “We are ready to move forward and continue with the rapid progress we have made thus far.”

UAB will make the new stadium its home field, moving from Legion Field.

“This is a monumental day for UAB Football and the entire city of Birmingham,” said UAB coach Bill Clark. “Protective Stadium is a huge step in our vision of making this program a national contender every single year, and we would like to thank everyone who has made our future home possible. Birmingham is growing together and adding a world-class stadium in the heart of downtown will provide incredible value for our entire city.”

The BJCC Authority, the city of Birmingham, Jefferson County, Protective Life Corporation and UAB are providing the primary funding for the Protective Stadium.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Alabama legislature ratified the 19th Amendment

(Encyclopedia of Alabama/Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Sept. 19, 1953

The fight for the right for women to vote officially ended in 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Alabama, there was an active suffragist movement, led by the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, but opposition by some Alabama groups resulted in the legislature not taking up the amendment, and after Tennessee signed on the issue was moot. Thirty-three years later, the legislature decided to “record its approval of extending the right of suffrage to women” and officially ratified the 19th Amendment. Although the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association dissolved in 1920, many of its leaders and members joined the newly founded League of Women Voters, which remains active today in Alabama elections.

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3 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Talladega Superspeedway held first race

(Screenshot/YouTube)

Sept. 13, 1969

Bill France Sr., founder of NASCAR, helped created the Talladega Superspeedway in the late 1960s at a time most major tracks were located along the Atlantic Coast. France wanted a track more centrally located in the Southeast and chose a 2,000-acre site off Interstate 20 near the town of Talladega. Track construction began in May 1968, and the facility opened the next year as the Alabama International Motor Speedway. The first race, the Bama 400, was held on this day in 1969. Talladega is NASCAR’s largest race track and typically produces the fastest race speeds in the circuit. The Superspeedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a $50 million “Transformation” project that includes a new infield fan zone and garages.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Follow these tips for a safe Labor Day weekend on and off the water

(Pixabay,YHN)

Labor Day weekend is here and we know many of you are heading to the lake for the long weekend. Whether boating, fishing, swimming or just relaxing by the water, keep safety a priority with these quick tips:

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4 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: LBW Community College named in Andalusia

(Wikicommons)

Aug. 15, 1968

Lurleen B. Wallace Community College was founded in Andalusia and named for the first female governor of Alabama. The Alabama State Board of Education authorized a junior college in Andalusia in 1967 and selected Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College as its name on Aug. 15, 1968. Now known as Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, the school has facilities in in Andalusia, Greenville, Opp and Luverne.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Astronaut Jan Davis launched her last space flight

(NASA/Contributed)

Aug. 7, 1997

Astronaut Jan Davis boarded her last flight into space on the Discovery, completing 189 orbits and traveling 4.7 million miles. She joined NASA in 1979 as an aerospace engineer after receiving her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University, and earned a master’s (1983) and Ph.D (1985) in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Before retiring, Davis logged a total of 11 million miles in space, circling the earth 445 times for 673 hours.

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Read more at the Encyclopedia of Alabama

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Selma Army Air Base became active

Cadets R.J. Neal and G.D. Mabds climb into their pursuit plane at Craig Field, Southeastern Air Training Center, Selma, 1941. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Aug. 4, 1940

What is now known as Craig Field Airport and Industrial Complex was initially known as Selma Army Air Base. The facility became active on this day in 1940 and was used to train pilots for World War II. For 37 years, it served as a training facility for the United States Army Air Corps. It now operates as a general-aviation airport for Selma residents.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Lee Petty raced his sons

(Alabama NewsCenter/Twitter)

Aug. 3, 1960

Lee Petty was an American stock car racing driver and one of NASCAR’s first superstars. He won the NASCAR Grand National Series drivers championship three times. On this day in 1960, he raced against his sons, Richard and Maurice, for the first and only time at Dixie Speedway in Birmingham. Richard Petty finished second, while Lee placed third. Richard Petty became one of the most successful stock car racing drivers in history.

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Read more at On This Day.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Sparkman named Adlai Stevenson’s running mate

Alabama delegation. Seated (L-R): Sen. John Bankhead; Speaker Bankhead; Sen. Lister Hill. Standing (L-R) Pete Jarman; Frank William Boykin; Henry Bascom Steagall; Joe Starnes; John J. Sparkman; Sam Hobbs; Luther Patrick, c. 1937. (Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

July 26, 1952

On this day, U.S. Sen. John Sparkman of Alabama was named the Democratic vice presidential running mate of Adlai Stevenson. The Democratic Convention ratified the choice of Sparkman, even though he had supported Georgia U.S. Sen. Richard Russell for president. Stevenson and Sparkman lost the election that fall to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Sparkman, born on a farm in Hartselle in Morgan County, graduated from the University of Alabama and its law school. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936, serving until 1946 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979. During his 42 years in Congress, he became known as one of the nation’s most skilled legislators.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Sparkman and his running mate, Adlai Stevenson, meet with President Harry Truman during Stevenson’s presidential campaign in August 1952. (From Encyclopedia of Alabama, Courtesy of National Archives)

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Jasper goes green with new trees as part of historic city center revitalization

(Cierra Juett/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Cierra Juett

Good Roots are being planted in Jasper. The historic downtown is being revitalized and beautified with the help of new trees, as part of plans to attract new businesses and people to the area.

Over the years, Jasper’s downtown business district suffered a downturn as businesses relocated to the surrounding highways.

In response, nonprofits such as Jasper Main Street, downtown Jasper’s revitalization organization, implemented a plan to enliven the downtown area of the 132-year-old city. That plan is now paying off, with new commercial activity drawing people to the city’s historic core.

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As part of the plan, which launched June 1, 2015, the city established an entertainment district, among other initiatives. To date, 23 new businesses have located downtown, creating over 100 jobs and generating over $5 million in economic activity, said Mike Putman, Executive Director of Jasper Main Street.

Contributing to the success are trees, planted with the support of  Good Roots grants. An initiative of the Alabama Power Foundation, Good Roots helps pay for trees to be planted in communities across Alabama by nonprofits, schools, counties and municipalities. Within the last year, Walker County has been awarded eight Good Roots grants, with four supporting downtown Jasper.  Others in the area that have benefited from Good Roots grants are the Beacon House, Jasper City Schools and Bevill State Community College.

One element of the downtown project is redevelopment of the streetscape. “The streetscape project has been going on for the last five years: redoing the streets, sidewalks and planting trees,” said Britton Lightsey, manager of Alabama Power’s Jasper business office and a member of the Jasper Economic Vitality Committee. Lightsey said the project continues to expand as resources become available.

And folks are taking notice, Lightsey said, based on a recent survey given to Jasper residents and people who live outside the city, “There were over 1,100 surveys completed, and over 82 percent of people who took the survey said downtown Jasper was improving or making progress.” He said information gathered through the survey will be used to develop an updated plan, designed to continue the progress over the next five years.

The current progress in the downtown area has positively impacted its newest business, Thairapy Salon and Spa. “We were just excited about all of the new businesses and all the new work that was being put into downtown Jasper,” said Cindy Madison, the salon’s co-owner. Madison says their business has increased since their opening in March, attracting at least five new clients a week.

And coming this fall is Libby’s This and That! Libby Grimmett, co-owner of Thairapy Salon and Spa, will be bringing antiques, handcrafted items and seasonal supplies to downtown Jasper.

Yet another sign that, along with the new trees, downtown Jasper is growing and sprouting new life.

Applications are now available through the Alabama Power Foundation for the next round of Good Roots grants. The deadline to apply is July 31. For more information, go to www.powerofgood.com. Click “Grants” and then “Good Roots Grants.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: Tuskegee Airmen fought their first air battle

(Alabama NewsCenter)

June 9, 1943

It was an “experiment” that many in the military resisted: train African Americans to be military flyers. But with pressure from the NAACP, the African American press and support from then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others, the Army on the eve of World War II began training African Americans to fly at Tuskegee Institute in Macon County. On June 9, 1943, the “Tuskegee Airmen” of the 99th Fighter Squadron were escorting Allied bombers over the island of Pantelleria, near Sicily, when four German fighters attacked from above. It was the first time the squadron faced air combat. Five of the American fighters pursued the enemy, while eight stayed with the bombers. Despite the surprise attack from a seasoned enemy, the unit suffered no losses. The Tuskegee Airmen would go on to distinguish themselves in two wars, paving the way for full integration of the Armed Forces.

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Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama or the American Battle Monuments Commission.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama statewide home sales in April up 4.4 percent from one year ago

(YHN/Wikicommons)

By: ACRE Research

Sales: Alabama statewide home sales totaled 5,820 units during April, up 4.4 percent from 5,574 sales in the same month a year earlier. April sales were up 9.2 percent compared to 5,330 sales in March. Results were 25.5 percent above the five-year April average of 4,636 sales. Two more resources to review: Quarterly Report and Annual Report.

For all statewide housing data, click here.

Inventory: Homes listed for sale statewide during April totaled 21,481 units, a decrease of 10.7 percent from April 2018’s 24,055 units, but an increase of 2.2 percent from March 2019’s 21,017 units. April’s months of supply totaled 3.7 months, a decrease of 14.5 percent from April 2018’s 4.3 months of supply. April’s months of supply also decreased from March’s 3.9 months of supply.

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Pricing: The statewide median sales price in April was $160,283, an increase of 3.2 percent from one year ago and a decrease of 1.3 percent from the prior month. This direction is not consistent with historical data (2014-18) indicating that the April median sales price on average increases from March by 4.2 percent. The homes selling in April spent an average of 93 days on the market (DOM), a decrease of 2.2 percent from 96 days in April 2018. The statewide DOM average in April was five days less than March. This indicator can fluctuate from month to month because of the sampling size of data and seasonal buying patterns.

Forecast: April sales were 5,820 units or 10.9 percent above the Alabama Center for Real Estate’s (ACRE) monthly forecast. ACRE projected 5,248 sales for the month, while actual sales were 5,820 units. ACRE forecast a total of 18,061 residential sales year-to-date in 2019, while there were 18,727 actual sales through April, a difference of 3.7 percent.

ACRE’s statewide perspective: While nationwide residential sales dropped 1 percent in April, demand for housing in Alabama remained strong. Statewide residential sales increased 4.4 percent from 5,574 closed transactions in April 2018 to 5,820 in April 2019. Year-to-date, sales increased 3.8 percent from 2018. Home price appreciation in the state continued to climb as the median sales price in April increased 3.2 percent year-over-year from $155,250 to $160,283. The statewide median sales price is also up 3.2 percent year-to-date. Although nationwide inventory levels are trending upward, Alabama’s residential listings decreased 10.7 percent from one year ago. Low inventory levels were a significant factor contributing to rising sales prices throughout 2018 and in the spring buying season of 2019. With low inventory levels, it is not surprising to see homes selling more quickly than in previous years. Homes selling in Alabama during April spent an average of 93 days on the market, an improvement of three days from April 2018.

NAR’s national perspective: During April, total existing-home sales nationwide declined 1.1 percent from approximately 460,000 closed transactions one year ago to 455,000 currently. The nationwide median existing-home price increased 3.6 percent in April, marking 86 consecutive months of year-over-year gains. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said, “First, we are seeing historically low mortgage rates combined with a pent-up demand to buy, so buyers will look to take advantage of these conditions. Also, job creation is improving, causing wage growth to align with home price growth, which helps affordability and will help spur more home sales.”

Click here to view the entire monthly report.

The Alabama Residential Monthly Report is developed in conjunction with the Alabama Association of Realtors and its local associations.

Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter

7 months ago

On this day in Alabama history: First woman graduated from UA medical school

Portrait of Jimmie Ethel Montgomery, c. 1925. (Corolla Yearbook, University of Alabama-Birmingham Archives)

May 26, 1925

In September 1923, Jimmie Ethel Montgomery entered the University of Alabama‘s medical school in Tuscaloosa as its first full-time female student. Two years later, on May 26, 1925, Montgomery received a bachelor’s degree in medicine from the two-year basic sciences program at the university, becoming the first female graduate of the University of Alabama medical school. In 1928, Montgomery received her M.D. from the University of Minnesota. She went on to work as a general practitioner in Bibb County. Montgomery died in 1982. The recently renovated Hilton Birmingham, located in the heart of the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus, features the Montgomery Room, honoring Jimmie Montgomery’s historic accomplishments and educational endeavors.

Read more at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.

Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter

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10 months ago

Revised figures confirm Alabama set record with 2018 holiday sales

(Pixabay)

The Alabama Retail Association said final figures from the Alabama Department of Revenue confirm that 2018 holiday sales in Alabama set a record and topped $12 billion for the first time.

According to the Revenue Department, shoppers in the state spent nearly $12.07 billion, up 2.66 percent from 2017. The numbers were just shy of the Alabama Retail Association’s prediction of $12.2 billion.

The National Retail Federation’s preliminary numbers show a 4.6 percent growth in holiday sales nationally.

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The Alabama Retail Association said the state’s early adoption of tax policy related to online sales helped boost sales figures during the holiday season. A U.S. Supreme Court decision and a state tax rule broadened the collection of online taxes starting Oct. 1.

For the holiday season, those sales brought an additional $12 million dollars in tax revenue into the state compared to 2017. The sales reflected in Alabama’s simplified sellers use tax jumped 72.27 percent, or $154.5 million, in November and December 2018, from $213.8 million to $368.3 million. Alabama holiday sales for the almost 1,000 simplified sellers represent just 3.05 percent of total holiday sales in the state.

The Alabama Revenue Department reports sales tax collections on general merchandise, restaurant and other food service, automobiles, machinery and vending.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 years ago

Cullman ranks as a top ‘micropolitan’ for economic development

Officials celebrate an expansion at Rehau in Cullman. Rehau was one of 19 major economic development projects during 2016 that led Site Selection magazine to rank Cullman the No. 2 "micropolitan" in the country. (Made in Alabama)
Officials celebrate an expansion at Rehau in Cullman. Rehau was one of 19 major economic development projects during 2016 that led Site Selection magazine to rank Cullman the No. 2 “micropolitan” in the country. (Made in Alabama)

By Jerry Underwood

Site Selection magazine placed Alabama among the top states in a new measure of economic development success, while Cullman ranked No. 2 in the publication’s ranking of top U.S. small cities.

Cullman ranked behind only Findlay, Ohio, in the Site Selection “Top Micropolitan” list for the second consecutive year. The economic development-focused magazine examined new facility and expansion projects in 575 cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.

In 2016, Cullman had 19 qualifying projects, while Findlay had 22.

“This is an outstanding recognition for our community and the industrial base here,” Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith said. “Site Selection is a recognized leader in the economic development field, and this lofty ranking reflects Cullman’s tremendous industrial growth.”

Alabama ranked No. 8 among the states in Site Selection’s per-capita project rankings, which levels the playing field for small and midsized states. Alabama’s 2016 ranking improved from No. 10 in the previous year. Nebraska received the top ranking.

According to Site Selection’s criteria, Alabama had 132 qualifying projects in 2016. To be considered by the magazine, a project must involve either a capital investment of more than $1 million, construction of more than 20,000 square feet or the creation of 20 new jobs.

“This ranking validates the hard work put in by Alabama’s economic development team and underscores the strong appeal of our state when it comes to new investment and job creation,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Alabama is consistently ranked among the nation’s top states for business, most recently by Area Development magazine, which polled site consultants to prepare a list of the best states for business. Alabama ranked No. 6 in that survey.

Positioned for success

Situated along Interstate 65, just 45 minutes from both Birmingham and Huntsville, Cullman has become a thriving hub of diverse businesses such as auto suppliers, distribution operations and manufacturers.

Rehau had one of Cullman’s top projects in 2016, expanding two of its operations for a total $7 million investment creating 137 jobs. (Contributed)

Industry announcements in this city of 15,000 residents are common, with projects totaling nearly $70 million in new capital investment and 460-plus jobs launched last year alone.

Smith said she is confident that Cullman can eventually climb to the top of the Site Selection rankings of micropolitans.

“We ranked third in the nation in 2014 and improved to second in 2015,” Smith said. “I am excited that we closed the gap on Findlay, and I am optimistic that we can be No. 1 because of the strength of the workforce here and the quality of the industries in our community.”

Some of the top projects in Cullman in 2016 included:

    • Reliance Worldwide is investing $7.8 million to expand its Cash Acme plumbing products manufacturing operation in the city, creating 50 jobs. The company has expanded repeatedly in Cullman over the years.

    • Two Rehau operations in Cullman launched expansions in 2016. Rehau Automotive, which makes plastic parts, is investing $2 million and adding 80 jobs. Rehau Construction, which makes PEX pipe and gaskets, is investing $5 million, creating 57 jobs.

    • Retail giant Walmart is expanding its Cullman distribution center with an $8.5 million investment that will add 121 jobs.

‘Real winners’

Smith said Cullman County will continue to prosper because of its central location on the I-65 artery, the area’s strong workforce and job-training programs, and the quality of its education system.

“While it is disappointing in some respects to be second, there are 573 other communities envious of this ranking that would gladly trade places with Cullman to move up on this list,” Smith said. “Plus, we are the No. 1 micropolitan in the South.

“But the real winners are the companies that continue to create jobs and invest capital in Cullman,” she said. “We are so appreciative of their role in the economic stability of this community.”

In addition to national rankings for Cullman and Alabama, the Birmingham-Hoover area ranked No. 4 among Site Selection’s list of top-performing metropolitans in the South Central region, with 70 qualifying projects in 2016.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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3 years ago

Historic tax credit bill ‘vital’ for Birmingham and Alabama

The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)
The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills said he plans to again sponsor an Alabama historic tax credit bill in the Legislature to rehabilitate abandoned buildings.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 7.

Waggoner wants to renew Alabama’s historic tax credit, which has benefited nearly two dozen projects in Birmingham and more than 50 statewide, including the Lyric Theatre, Redmont Hotel and the Florentine Building.

The three-year program expired in 2016. The state Legislature failed to renew the historic tax credit program before the end of last year’s legislative session.

“The historic tax credit bill is vital not only for Birmingham but this entire state,” Waggoner said. “It has transformed downtown Birmingham. You look at the Redmont, you look at the Pizitz Building, you look at the Lyric and the list goes on.

“And it’s not just in Birmingham. We’re talking about Mobile, we’re talking about Montgomery, we’re talking about Huntsville, we’re talking about some buildings in rural Alabama that have to have the historic tax in order to bring back to life some of these buildings,” he said.

Waggoner sponsored the bill in the past session, but it failed to gain traction in the Senate. “A couple of guys in the Senate had heartburn,” Waggoner said. “Bottom line, it did not pass.”

A forensic audit company has been hired to look at all of the tax credits in Alabama, said Waggoner, who estimates there are “probably 3 or 4 billion dollars worth of tax credits in the state.”

The audit is expected back today.

“If they come back and say the historic tax credit issue is a good thing, positive for the state of Alabama, I will responsor the bill and I am very confident it will pass,” Waggoner said.

Re-establishing the tax credit is more than an economic incentive tool for rehabilitating and developing historic structures, Waggoner said.

“You don’t attract a Mercedes to come to Vance, Alabama, without a tax credit,” he said. “It’s all about industrial development, and they need tax credits. And Alabama through the years has taken advantage of them.”

The program has been responsible for $384 million in private investment in Alabama since it started in 2013, according to a report in January 2016 by a Maryland-based accounting firm.

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3 years ago

Deontay Wilder will face more capable Washington in replacement Birmingham bout

Deontay Wilder will face Gerald Washington in a title fight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex's Legacy Arena on Feb. 25. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder will face Gerald Washington in a title fight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena on Feb. 25. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

What do you do when your scheduled challenger for a heavyweight title fight is dropped when he fails a drug test? You pick up a better fighter.

That’s what promoter Lou DiBella says happened as Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk has been replaced by California’s Gerald Washington in Deontay Wilder‘s Feb. 25 World Boxing Council heavyweight title defense.

“This is a much more attractive fight,” DiBella said of the main event of the fight card that is set for Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Wilder, the Olympic Bronze medalist, has 36 knockouts in his 37-0 professional career.

The 6-foot-5 Wawrzyk would have brought a 33-1 record with 19 knockouts had he not tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. In his place comes the 6-6 Washington, who has an 18-0-1 record with 12 knockouts.

Washington’s most recent KO came at Legacy Arena as he took down Ray “The Rainman” Austin in the fourth round as part of the undercard for Wilder’s last fight in Birmingham in July 2016.

“This is a more competitive opponent, a more dangerous guy,” DiBella said. “He’s a physically imposing, huge guy. He’s a physical specimen. He’s a great athlete.”

Gerald Washington will face Deontay Wilder in Birmingham on Feb. 25. (Photo: Premier Boxing Champions)

Who is Washington? He was born to an African-American father and a Hispanic mother, and lived in Mexico for part of his childhood. His nickname is “El Gallo Negro,” The Black Rooster.

The 34-year-old is a United States Navy veteran who went on to play tight end and defensive end for the University of Southern California. In the NFL, he was a member of the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills practice squads.

“This is, by no means, a walkover fight,” DiBella said. “This is a real fight.”

Based on Washington’s 2016 comments to skysports.com, the challenger has long wanted a shot at the champ.

“Bring it on, I would love to take on Wilder,” the Californian said. “He’s a big guy and he likes to go at it, but I feel that my athleticism really comes to the fore when I’m up against a big guy, because I’m a lot more agile than a lot of bigger guys. If not, I’m definitely a lot stronger than him.

“I cannot wait for a matchup of that magnitude,” Washington continued. “It’s going to be very exciting for me, for my team and my gym.”

Wilder has been on the shelf since breaking his right hand and tearing his biceps as he defeated Chris Arreola in a seven-round technical knockout. The promoter has said that he wants to see whether Wilder is ready to take the next steps toward “more significant fights” later this year.

The Arreola fight took the place of the scheduled bout with mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin in Moscow. That fight was canceled when Povetkin tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

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3 years ago

Take Action: Dr. Josh has battle plan to keep germs at bay

Every journey begins with a single, often small, step. But the challenge for many is getting started.

Dr. Josh Klapow wants to help you take that first step toward positive change in your life. The clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at UAB is featured in our weekly multimedia series called “Take Action.”

He encourages you to simply set a goal and move forward – whether to improve your health and overall well-being, or to learn ways to be safer in your workplace, while driving or at home.

Here’s how to “Take Action” this week.

Take Action: Try these easy, effective ways to fight the spread of germs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

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3 years ago

Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility prepares offenders for a ‘brighter tomorrow’

Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)
Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)

Scott Frye said he has received a “second chance” at life, thanks to the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility (ATEF). Now Frye, who was convicted of securities fraud, is passing along that gift by giving former prisoners a second chance.

Frye is a graduate of ATEF, a facility in Columbiana that helps prepare offenders for successful re-entry into the community.

“ATEF really cares about you and helps you,” said Frye, an employee at the Foundry in Bessemer and a legal, financial and technology consultant. “They helped me put together a plan. They gave me the tools to become successful and to help other people become successful.”

Alabama statistics show that about 56 percent of offenders return to prison after their first year in the community. ATEF opened in 2008 to reduce recidivism in Alabama.

Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility gives prisoners a better chance upon release from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

ATEF is owned by the Community Education Centers (CEC), a re-entry treatment and education services provider that operates in 16 states. The 115,000-square-foot facility was created through a partnership between CEC, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education (PSE). It provides treatment, educational opportunities and vocational training geared to meet the individual needs of offenders to prepare them for transitioning into the community.

“This program is unique in that it lends itself to a culture that is not available anywhere else,” said Gary Hetzel, formerly ATEF director and now director of Re-Entry Operations for CEC. “Our residents are treated with give and take and respect – the way you want to be treated. When you step through the door, the labels go away. Through our program, we transform people, providing them with the skills and education they need to become productive citizens.”

Residents are housed in dormitories on site, while taking part in the six-month program.

They begin by completing the treatment phase of the program. Treatments address behavioral issues, such as addiction, stress and anger, and offer targeted interventions, including self-help groups and group counseling.

After that phase, residents are provided educational and vocational opportunities. They can receive training to help them prepare to obtain their GED, their post-secondary degree or a certification in a vocational trade, such as plumbing, carpentry, welding, forklift driving, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), and even culinary services. The residents attend classroom lectures and take part in hands-on skill-development activities to prepare them for their chosen trade.

“When offenders are sent to us, we interview them and assess their needs so that we can formulate a plan that will change their behavior,” said Hetzel. “Our mission is to change a person’s criminogenic thinking and the way of life they had in the past so they can start making progress. It’s important for our residents to know how to make good choices and how to have a good work ethic so they will not go back and repeat their crime.”

Hetzel said ATEF also helps offenders to repair family relationships that may have been severed or damaged during their time in prison.

After completing the program, graduates are paired with an appropriate facility that can help re-integrate them into the community. One of those community partners is the Dannon Project, which provides newly released individuals with housing, short-term training, job placement and other re-entry services.

Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)

“When ATEF graduates walk through the door, we can tell immediately that they are from ATEF. Their heads are held high, they look you in the face, and they have confidence,” said Kerri Pruitt, executive director of the Dannon Project. “ATEF restores a person from the ground up. They remind those individuals that good and decent qualities reside in all of us, and that they can use those qualities to become a success after incarceration.”

Jim Stefkovich, a volunteer from the Church of the Highlands, gives his time and shares his faith with ATEF residents. He is among 20 volunteers from his church who host Sunday services and a weekly Bible study at ATEF.

“We do not view the residents here as projects. We view them as part of the church family and treat them as church family,” said Stefkovich. “We are honored and privileged to be able to serve here. Any blessing the residents get, we get as much and more.”

Hetzel said ATEF doesn’t forget graduates after they leave the program. Through its alumni association, ATEF offers counseling services, as well as continuing support through its website and social media. Graduates can call ATEF staff directly for assistance.

Many of ATEF’s graduates have turned their lives into success stories, Hetzel said. Ranking among ATEF alumni are authors, motivational speakers, underwater welders and an accountant.

Since his graduation from ATEF in July 2015, Frye has become one of those success stories. Along with working at the Foundry, he has started Genesis, a program that assists offenders in transitioning into the community.

“ATEF laid the groundwork for what I am doing through the Genesis program,” said Frye. “Learning, or anything else you do, is what you make of it. ATEF can’t make you succeed. They can’t make you want to do right or make good choices. They give you the tools here, but you still have to apply them. I am so grateful to ATEF for helping me succeed.”

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