The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election

    Excerpt:

    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born

    Excerpt:

    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

2 years ago

Alabama business dollars rolling in for return of UAB football

UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)
UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)
UAB Football plans to start construction this month on a new 46,000-square-foot football operations center, two practice fields and an open-air pavilion. (contributed)

In early December of 2014, UAB shut down its football program.

It wasn’t a popular move, to say the least.

Students protested, fans wailed, coaches and players grieved. And the Birmingham community, which had shown little interest in Blazer football before, realized it had lost something good.

There was such an outcry that UAB President Ray Watts, who had announced the program’s demise, came back six months later and announced that it was coming back – if the community would get behind it and pledge donations to make it a first-class operation.

Now, a little more than a year later, Athletics Director Mark Ingram told Alabama NewsCenter, “We are making great progress in terms of fundraising.”

Gifts and pledges are coming in for a 46,000-square-foot football operations center.

The center will include offices for coaches, meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight rooms, film rooms, a training room and nutrition room.

“We’re planning for success,” Ingram said.

Legacy Credit Union is donating $4.2 million – the largest sponsorship in UAB athletics history – for the operations center and an open-air pavilion. The donation will give Legacy naming rights for 20 years.

Legacy was founded by a group of UAB employees to serve faculty, staff, students and the community.

“Since UAB had the vision to charter us, and is the largest employer and most dynamic economic driver in the state, we believe an investment in UAB will yield returns for Legacy members and the entire community,” President and CEO Joe McGee said.

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Last month, retired businessman and Blazer fan Jimmy Filler made a $1 million donation for the operations building.

“UAB football is good for the city of Birmingham and is good for UAB,” Filler said. “A strong UAB means a strong Birmingham, and football is an important component in declaring that message.”

Hatton Smith, CEO emeritus of Royal Cup Inc., is chairman of a fundraising task force for new facilities.

“We will need $21 million for the football operations center,” Smith said. “There will be two fields initially and a covered pavilion” so the Blazers can practice in inclement weather.

Construction should begin in late August and be finished June 2017, a couple of months before UAB begins playing football again.

Smith said he took on the task of raising money because “I believe in our city, and abolition of football was not good for our city.”

Several large donations have been made in support of football, including $500,000 each from Protective Life, Alabama Power, Medical Properties Trust, Mike Thompson of Thompson Tractor and Harold W. Ripps of Rime Capital Account Inc.

The Birmingham City Council, which previously paid $250,000 for UAB football tickets, last year approved a resolution pledging to commit $500,000 a year for tickets, if UAB football returns.

Smith sets high goals. He is hopeful and optimistic that a 45,000-seat stadium will be built in Uptown, across the street from the Westin Hotel, to host not only UAB but also the Magic City Classic, Birmingham Bowl and the 2021 World Games.

He estimates a stadium would cost about $150 million.

1
2 years ago

Inside Alabama’s secret (successful) effort to attract Google to the Yellowhammer State

Google data centers like the one in Douglas County, Ga., can bring color to a community's economy. (Google)
Google data centers like the one in Douglas County, Ga., can bring color to a community's economy. (Google)
Google data centers like the one in Douglas County, Ga., can bring color to a community’s economy. (Google)

Getting Alabama to come out on top of Google’s own search results for its high-tech data center took thousands of emails and texts, 20 visits from the company to north Alabama and the last-minute signature of a mayor named Bubba.

The key players in the recruitment of the $600 million Google data center to Jackson County gave a behind-the-scenes look at the twists and turns the project took before settling on 500 acres at a power plant that was shutting down. The recruitment was the subject of a panel discussion at last week’s Economic Development Association of Alabama summer conference.

It was a project shrouded in secrecy. At various times, it went by the codename of “Project Zebra” and “Project Spike.” Officials involved in the recruitment had to sign nondisclosure agreements even though they didn’t know the name of the company.

In April 2014, Tennessee Valley Authority project manager Spencer Sessions took the first call and began trying to find sites that matched the criteria.

Data centers like the one Google operates in Council Bluffs, Iowa, bring large amounts of capital investment in the technological infrastructure and creates good-paying jobs. (Google)
Data centers like the one Google operates in Council Bluffs, Iowa, bring large amounts of capital investment in the technological infrastructure and creates good-paying jobs. (Google)

Bob Smith, project manager with the Alabama Department of Commerce, was brought in a few weeks later. He said Alabama had won a fair number of data centers the previous four years – projects that were heavy with capital investment because of the technology infrastructure, but don’t have the same number of employees as large manufacturing plants.

Site Selection magazine, an economic development trade publication, had cited Alabama’s success in the data center arena. Smith said officials recognized that the state’s incentives were more geared toward manufacturing but needed to focus on data centers.

The state passed such incentives in 2012. Alabama now had a new tool in the toolbox and waited for an opportunity to use it.

Meanwhile, TVA had a site in Jackson County certified as ready for a data center.

“We had this certified data center site right next to the community college,” said Dus Rogers, president and CEO of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority.

The only problem is Project Zebra (or was it Project Spike by this time?) didn’t care for that site and wanted officials to think bigger and broader to come up with something unique or special.

“They kept wanting something big and outside of the box,” Sessions said. “They turned down multiple sites.”

Google’s data center in Mayes County, Oklahoma is one of several the company operates in the U.S. (Google)
Google’s data center in Mayes County, Oklahoma is one of several the company operates in the U.S. (Google)

Rogers and Jackson County really needed this project. TVA was in the final stages of shutting down the Widows Creek Power Plant, near Stevenson, that once employed 400 and was set to lose the last 90 jobs when the unit shut down in 2015.

This data center project had up to 100 good-paying jobs associated with it and a capital investment of $600 million that would mean more money for schools and county services.

Meanwhile, Google was looking at 44 sites in seven states trying to find where to invest that money and create those jobs.

Google sent representatives to Alabama more than 20 times for meetings, site searches and negotiations. Sessions said most of the meetings were in Huntsville but other communities were asked to host receptions and tell the company about life in their city or county.

As Sessions and the recruitment team were trying to “think outside of the box,” the focus turned to the Widows Creek Power Plant. It was in exploring that site that TVA noted they owned an adjoining 500 acres purchased for a coal ash pond that was never built.

After much thought and planning, that site emerged as a favorite and negotiations centered on making it work.

Rogers had to personally drive the project agreement to entities throughout the county to get them to sign something that still didn’t have the name “Google” on it.

The final signature came from Bridgeport Mayor David “Bubba” Hughes.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley joined Google and local officials to announce the company’s $600 million data center a year ago. (Governor’s Office/Jamie Martin)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley joined Google and local officials to announce the company’s $600 million data center a year ago. (Governor’s Office/Jamie Martin)

Smith and the Department of Commerce team were applying data center incentives for the first time while ironing out the state’s project agreement.

With the agreements done, everyone tried to keep the project out of the media until the formal announcement with Gov. Robert Bentley on the site several days later.

But Rogers couldn’t help but mark the occasion.

“I took my wife to Dairy Queen for a banana split to celebrate,” he said. “Google doesn’t come along every day in northeast Alabama.”

Since the governor joined other officials to announce the project more than a year ago, months have been spent preparing the site and construction has started on Google’s data center. Two boulders were kept in place on the property and will serve as part of an entrance into what will be called the Widows Creek Technology Park.

In other states, Google has grown beyond an initial data center to add operations in a technology park setting. Jackson County, TVA and Alabama officials are hopeful Google will do more on the Bridgeport property.

For now, they are glad that Google’s last search ended up with Alabama as the top result.

1
2 years ago

USS Alabama commander shares about life on a nuclear submarine: ‘We’re always ready’

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The commander of the USS Alabama nuclear submarine doesn’t hesitate to make a nod to the state for which his ship is named.

“I tell my crew that our motto is ‘TIDE’ – a play on Alabama’s Crimson Tide,” he says. “T stands for training, I for integrity, D for deterrence and E for excellence. And excellence isn’t only technical competence, it’s also being fit – physically, morally, mentally and spiritually.”

During a “namesake” visit to Alabama, Commander Paul Reinhardt and two of his crew members shared information about their boat to re-establish ties between the ship and the state for which it’s named.

“Our primary role is to serve as a safe, credible and reliable deterrent to enemies of United States interests,” Reinhardt told Birmingham employees of Southern Nuclear during an information exchange about nuclear energy.

Designed for stealth and the precise delivery of D-5 ballistic missiles, “The ship’s sole mission is strategic deterrence, and many people believe the reason we haven’t had another world war is because of strategic deterrence.

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The ship’s crew, which is based in Bangor, Washington, totals 168 men (three of whom are from Alabama) from 39 states and Puerto Rico. “There’s something special about this crew,” Reinhardt said. “I know them all, plus their families and their children. They have pride in their work, and they’re known for having the cleanest boat on the waterfront.

“The USS Alabama has been in service for 31 years,” Reinhardt pointed out. “It’s 565 feet long, and if it was stood on its end, the ship would be taller than the Washington Monument.

“An average patrol is about 80 days at sea,” he continued, “with each crew member serving a six-hour watch each day for two weeks straight. An average day is made up of work, eating, training, administration and working out. The only time a crew member is alone is when he’s in his rack,” which is about 6 ½ feet long by 24 inches high with a curtain for privacy.

“When we’re out, we have very limited communication by email with our families. And when we’re on a primary mission for weeks at a time, there’s no communication at all.”

Members of Southern Nuclear listen as USS Alabama crew share their experiences. (Viki Pate/Alabama NewsCenter)
Members of Southern Nuclear listen as USS Alabama crew share their experiences. (Viki Pate/Alabama NewsCenter)

Reinhardt, who’s originally from Virginia and whose wife is the daughter of Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, has captained the ship for 18 months and been a member of the Navy for 19 years. He said the most junior members of the crew are the ones responsible for driving the $2.5 billion ship.

“Driving the ship is about reaching and maintaining depth. The closer we are to the surface, the more we’re affected by the weather. In the winter in the Pacific, there can be 8-12 foot waves, and you have to fight their suction forces.

“We can travel at speeds greater than 25 knots at 800 feet below sea level, but the faster we go, the louder and more detectable we are,” he said.

“Working on a submarine, especially an older one, is hard. It’s challenging. But our crew is up for it. We’re always ready.”

1
2 years ago

‘Now, Andy!’: Alabama man brings Barney Fife to life

People thought Andy Woods looked like Barney Fife even when he was a kid, but he has grown into the role in a big way over the past 12 years or so. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
People thought Andy Woods looked like Barney Fife even when he was a kid, but he has grown into the role in a big way over the past 12 years or so. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
People thought Andy Woods looked like Barney Fife even when he was a kid, but he has grown into the role in a big way over the past 12 years or so. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Karim Shamsi-Basha

Having been a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show for many years, I did not know what to expect waiting for Andy Woods. The Barney Fife impersonator was meeting me at the Strand diner along the quaint Main Street in Fort Payne. I was expecting a fellow who had the looks or the character of the mythical Mayberry deputy with one bullet in his pocket.

When he walked in, I gasped.

Some people may look like others, some sound like others, and some have the mannerisms of others. When Barney Fife … I mean Andy Woods … walked into the Strand, everyone ran and took pictures with their phones. Some had disbelief on their faces, some had huge eyes and some were laughing hysterically.

Andy Woods not only looks like, sounds like and acts like Barney Fife as he was portrayed by actor Don Knotts, but he lives and works as Barney Fife. He even has the car, the suit, the gun and the one bullet.

“Barney was a nickname I got when I was a little kid, back when the show was really big,” Woods said. “Older kids on the school bus used to call me Barney. It eventually stuck so all the kids in school would call me Barney.”

We were chatting at the front counter of the Strand. I turned to get my camera ready when I heard, “Meee Theyyy, Meee Theyyy, Meee Theyyy … ” I looked at the television to make sure there wasn’t a Barney practicing his singing. It was set on a news channel. Woods was behind me pulling on his throat and singing like Barney did in the fan-favorite choir episode.

Woods acts like Barney on the street and fusses at people for parking illegally or for jaywalking. He is a highly sought-after impersonator who took on the role 12 years ago.

“A lot of people started calling me and eventually offered to pay. I began doing some jobs here and there,” Woods said. “Things evolved and I had the opportunity to do two commercials with George Lindsey, who played the part of Goober on the show. It was on TV and it really exploded from there.”

As we walked along Main Street in Fort Payne, Woods ambled over to the Mayberry sheriff’s car he owns, looked at me with a “Barney” face, then took the lone bullet out of his pocket and stuck it in his gun. A man parked his motorcycle nearby and looked at Woods, did a double take, then smiled and waved as he walked away.

“It’s a dangerous world out there,” Woods said, squashing his lips like Barney. He now works every weekend in the spring and fall impersonating the famous TV deputy, out to remedy the high crime rate in the sleepy Southern town of Mayberry.

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I asked Woods what his favorite episode was. “The Manhunt,” “Mayberry Goes Hollywood” and “Barney Gets His Man” were a few.

“It’s hard to pick any, you know, with so many I’ve done that were, well, let’s just say they were tops,” Woods said, winking. When I insisted, he admitted he does have a special one.

“All my favorite episodes are with Barney, obviously, but specifically the one where Barney does the Preamble of the Constitution. I think that’s one of the most hilarious scenes in a TV show,” Woods said.

I asked Woods to do the scene, and he began just like in the episode.

“Give me the first word, that’s all I need,” Woods said, shaking his head.

“We,” I replied.

“Weeeeee….we….weeeeeeee….weee…” Woods kept repeating, then looked at me with Fife’s big eyes.

“The,” I replied.

“We the,” he said… then went on with the hilarious scene in which Barney Fife pretends he knows the Preamble, without having any idea what the words are.

Next time you are in Fort Payne, stop by the Strand diner and ask about Barney, but please make sure you park legally. You do not want to get arrested by none other than Barney Fife and thrown in that two-cell jail in the tiny town of Mayberry.

He does have a bullet, you know?

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1
2 years ago

‘I just want to change at least one life every day’ — Meet Alabama’s most beloved police officer

Birmingham Police Officer Heather Campbell with Waleed Senan, left, and Crystal Phillips at the Ensley Shell. (Photo: Karim Shamsi-Basha)
Birmingham Police Officer Heather Campbell with Waleed Senan, left, and Crystal Phillips at the Ensley Shell. (Photo: Karim Shamsi-Basha)
Birmingham Police Officer Heather Campbell with Waleed Senan, left, and Crystal Phillips at the Ensley Shell. (Photo: Karim Shamsi-Basha)

By Karim Shamsi-Basha

Twenty-year-old Tony Harris walked into the Shell station on Third Avenue West in Ensley looking defeated, sweat dripping from his chin. He held a bag of clothes over his shoulder, the other arm cradling a skateboard resting on his waist. He slowly approached Birmingham Police Officer Heather Campbell and me.

Campbell faced the young man with self-assurance and warmth, then asked how she could help him.

“I need to get to North Birmingham, near the food stamps office,” he said, doubtful.

“I’d be happy to take you,” Campbell replied with a smile. Then she bought him a cold drink, while sipping on her warm Coke.

The West Precinct officer works with the department’s Community Services Division. Her job is to build better relationships between community and police through interactive initiatives throughout the area she serves.

I tagged along with Campbell as she patrolled in Ensley. She drove near a street where a homicide had taken place that morning, but you would never have known it. She waved at people, smiling and comfortable. Her laser-focused eyes showed she was paying attention, and her no-fear attitude was obvious. She makes up for her 5-foot height with unmistakable power from within.

“I’m not here to kill people. I’m here to help people,” Campbell said. “A third of Ensley has my cell number. We have to be approachable. These people need us, and we are here to offer assistance, and hope.”

At the Shell station on Third Avenue West, operator Waleed Senan smiled broadly when Campbell walked inside.

“In my country of Yemen, when a policeman approaches me, I feel frightened. Here, I feel safe. They make life safe,” Senan said.

Back on patrol, we took a turn and Campbell stopped to walk the sidewalk. A woman wearing a scarf opened her door.

“Is everything OK?” the woman yelled.

“Everything is OK, ma’am. Just patrolling,” Campbell said, grinning.

Birmingham Police Department Community Services Division

Changing opinions

In the early 1990s at Leeds High School, Campbell wanted to be involved in her community and to help her neighbors.

“I want to at least make one change in the life of someone every day. I can go into somebody’s house who’s had an absolutely terrible day, and when I leave they’re smiling. That makes me know I helped someone today, that I changed their opinion about us,” Campbell said.

With recent shootings by and of police, policing has become a national news event – almost daily. Campbell, along with everyone else in the Community Services Division, wants to change perceptions.

“Being a police officer on the streets today, you have to watch your back. I leave my house every day not knowing if I’m coming back, but that’s not my first priority, me. My first priority is the citizens,” Campbell said.

Fellow Community Services Officer Tim Gardiner agrees.

“The Birmingham Police Department has done very well as far as community relationships, but people see more of the bad than the good. You don’t see us playing with the kids, giving out teddy bears, handing out popsicles because it’s hot,” he said. “Officer Campbell goes above and beyond what’s expected of her every day.”

Community Services Capt. Cathy Peoples concurs. She has been with the division since its inception in 2011, and believes in its impact on the community.

The Community Services Division offers a variety of programs designed to promote interaction between the police and community. Among them are internships, chaplain corps, school resources, explorers, gang resistance education, athletics, senior employment, community revitalization, citizens on patrol and a citizens’ police academy.

“With what’s going on in the country, we are out there beating the pavement letting people know what we have to offer. We really want to build those relationships. That’s what this Community Service Project is all about,” Peoples said.

Peoples believes interaction between the community and the police department has made a positive impact.

“We have more people for us than against us. We have volunteers that work in the jails teaching literacy. We have volunteers that provide church services. We have volunteers that provide clerical and administrative services. Our community loves to help,” Peoples said.

Procedural justice training

Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper was visiting the West Precinct. You can tell a lot of fire is brewing under his unassuming exterior.

“Treating people with dignity and respect is vitally important,” Roper said. “We just went through 16 hours of procedural justice. We’re one of the first departments in the nation to do that. That talks about day-to-day interactions and learning how to be neutral and how to listen to people.”

Roper believes officers like Campbell at the Community Services Division make a big difference, considering the turmoil surrounding many police departments around the country.

“It’s important that we are talking to the community, and listening to them,” Roper said. “We must give the people a voice because they are the ones that are living in the community, so their partnership is important. You can’t have a partnership without trust, and you can’t have trust without good communication.”

Turning on another Ensley street and waving to a woman on the porch of a modest home, Campbell summed things up.

“To me, the people we serve should get exactly that, service – with a smile, a genuine smile. When that happens, it makes you feel good inside. It makes you feel that you did what you’re supposed to do,” she said. “I get that feeling almost every day.”

1
2 years ago

Golden Flake, an iconic Alabama brand, is being sold in a jaw-dropping $141 million deal

Golden Flake's Birmingham operations are not expected to be affected by company's $141 million purchase. (contributed)
Golden Flake’s Birmingham operations are not expected to be affected by company’s $141 million purchase. (contributed)

Golden Flake will have a new owner but officials said to expect little else to change with the iconic Southern brand.

Utz Quality Foods Inc. said today it is purchasing Golden Enterprises, the maker of Golden Flake snack foods, for $141 million, including $7 million in debt.

The $12 per share purchase is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, making Golden Flake a Birmingham-based subsidiary of the Hanover, Pennsylvania-based Utz.

Golden Flake will join Zapp’s as part of Utz’s Southern brands. The company also owns snacks under its own name brand as well as Dirty Potato Chips, Good Health, Bachman, Bachman Jax, Whachusett, Snikiddy and other brands.

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For Golden Flake, the deal gives it the financial and distribution strength that comes with being part of a larger company and builds on the synergies of management practices from two businesses with long histories.

“This merger will allow the Golden Flake brand to continue to grow in our core Southeastern markets, while expanding the product selections for our consumers,” said Mark McCutcheon, CEO of Golden Enterprises. “Utz is a very community-oriented company and we look forward to the future that Utz and Golden Flake will create together.”

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McCutcheon said Golden Enterprises chose a special committee of its board of directors to review strategic alternatives for Golden Flake’s growth. The Utz deal was the result.

North Point Advisors advised and Sirote & Permutt acted as counsel to the special committee. Sandler O’Neill advised and Cozen O’Connor acted as legal counsel to Utz.

Dylan Lissette, CEO of Utz, said the deal helps the company grow geographically.

“Golden Flake’s product line, market coverage and manufacturing facilities blend well with Utz’s desire to expand and grow our markets in the South.”

Golden Flake was founded in 1923 and is based in Birmingham, where it operates a manufacturing facility in addition to the one it operates in Ocala, Fla. It distributes to 15 states, mostly in the South and Southeast. Utz was founded in 1921 and operates six manufacturing plants in Pennsylvania, along with additional facilities in Colorado, Louisiana and Massachusetts through its subsidiaries.

“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with Golden Flake,” Lissette said. “The two companies are very similar both in mission and values, and each has a team of dedicated associates.”

1
2 years ago

BIRMINGHAM BATTLE: Wilder set to defend world heavyweight title in the Magic City

Deontay Wilder will defend his WBC heavyweight title this weekend in a Birmingham bout with Chris Arreola. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder will defend his WBC heavyweight title this weekend in a Birmingham bout with <a href=
Chris Arreola. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)” width=”820″ height=”461″ class=”size-full wp-image-32537″ /> Deontay Wilder will defend his WBC heavyweight title this weekend in a Birmingham bout with Chris Arreola. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Undefeated WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder will take on veteran boxer Chris Arreola on July 16 in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena.

The event comes on the heels of a cancellation of Wilder’s last bout, which was scheduled for May 21 in Russia, when challenger Alexander Povetkin tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

Wilder and promoter DiBella Entertainment have filed a $5 million lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New York against Povetkin and his promoter, alleging breach of contract.

“I’ve got served papers and everything,” Wilder said on the pre-fight media call. “I’m not letting it knock me off my game, my focus. It’s just part of life, you know what I mean. I’ve been through worse situations in life. It’s just a bad storm – another storm that I have to weather in my life.”

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Wilder (36-0) has knocked out his past three opponents since wresting the belt from Bermane Stiverne in January 2015. The fight will be the Tuscaloosa native’s second in the Legacy Arena, where he retained the belt after taking out Johann Duhaupas in the 11th round last September.

Wilder has brought much attention to Alabama upon his rise in pugilism. The state is known for college football, but Wilder and trainer Jay Deas have put Alabama on the map in combat sports, and his thunderous roar of “Bomb Squad” can be heard from the confines of the quaint Skyy Gym to homes across the world.

Arreola is a former champion who has sought the WBC World heavyweight belt for a long time, losing to Stiverne for the then-vacant WBC World heavyweight belt in 2014. His first time competing for the prized heavyweight belt was in 2009, when his corner stepped in to stop the fight against then-champion Vitali Klitchko.

“Klitschko clobbered me with jabs left and right. I believe he threw the most punches he had thrown in his career against me,” said Arreola on the pre-fight media call.

“I just got to be a lot smarter and more athletic, because Deontay is a more athletic fighter than Klitschko is, and he moves a whole lot better around the ring.”

Anti-doping program

To combat the potential for unfair play, both Wilder and Arreola have enrolled with the world-renowned Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) to conduct the anti-doping program.

This marks the second straight training camp in which Wilder has enrolled with VADA. VADA testing, in accordance with the WBC Clean Boxing Program, was in place for Wilder’s scheduled defense versus Povetkin. Wilder has also submitted paperwork to VADA and the WBC to participate in year-round anti-doping testing that is expected to commence later this summer.

With British heavyweight sensation and IBF Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua now heating up the ranks, this fight is another stepping stone for Wilder to get to the bigger stage of his career.

Many feel Arreola is not relevant for the title shot, with his last win, a majority decision over Travis Kauffman, having been turned into a no-decision for testing positive for marijuana last December. Arreola fought Fred Kassi to a draw in the fight before that in July 2015.

“Of course, people say who deserves this or who’s supposed to deserve that,” Wilder said. “But who are people to say who deserved anything?

“Sometimes chances come around more than twice, and this is his third time. I don’t believe in luck, but he’s been blessed with a third opportunity,” Wilder said. “If I was him, I would take it very seriously.”

Often criticized for not having top-tier talent to fight, matches are beginning to materialize that will bring the spotlight back to the heavyweight division as it is now in the welterweight and middleweight division.

Arreola, in boxing terminology, is no soft touch. The event, which is a Premier Boxing Champions card live on FOX network television, looks to open many eyes to both Wilder and the resurgence in heavyweight boxing action.

Rhett Butler, a former fight promoter and owner of Fight Services, has been a freelance staff writer and reporter for several publications, including TIME, Jet, Money, BRE, UFC 360, UFC.com and Fight!

1
2 years ago

Big names coming to Alabama this weekend for ‘southeast’s preeminent tech festival’

Robert Scoble, futurist and keynote speaker at the inaugural Sloss Tech. contributed)
Robert Scoble, futurist and keynote speaker at the inaugural Sloss Tech. contributed)
Robert Scoble, futurist and keynote speaker at the inaugural Sloss Tech. contributed)

By Ike Pigott

Lost amid the sound and fury of the upcoming SlossFest is a fairly clear signal that Birmingham and Alabama are poised for great things. Technology sage Robert Scoble would agree – as long as we keep the geeks from leaving.

“You have to find a way to keep the nerds in your town,” Scoble said. “You’d better have world-class internet connections, and fiber. But you also have to have something for your workers to do, particularly the new workers coming out of college. Keeps the nerds from leaving. Find out what makes nerds stick.”

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The “brain drain” is not an issue just for Southern cities like Birmingham, but it is one hurdle to overcome. Another problem is how to showcase the opportunities that do exist. While the internet has brought great focus on tech-heavy cities like Palo Alto, Austin and Boston, it also enables remote workers to have more choice.

The son of a Lockheed engineer, Scoble has always surrounded himself with technology, and the people who drive its adoption. He was one of the first internal bloggers for Microsoft, and cultivated that corporate culture known for information sharing and video. He’s now embedded within a virtual reality startup, and is looking at the world through a lens we will probably be taking for granted in a few years.

As of the time of our interview, Scoble had been in 11 countries over the preceding five weeks. He says he learns more by being in the labs and strategy sessions of up and coming companies. Some of which you will eventually know – many of which will fail and try again.

“The world has really flattened when it comes to startups,” Scoble added. “It’s so much cheaper to start a company today than it was 15 years ago. Back then, you had to have a rack of computers and servers. Today, you go to amazon.com and swipe your card and you have infrastructure.”

Scoble will be one of the featured speakers for Sloss Tech, a one-day technology conference on July 15 at the Lyric Theatre that will be a companion lead-in to SlossFest. SlossTech is the work of TechBirmingham, with a stated mission of “becoming a hub for our technological community to network, share ideas and push their boundaries of innovation.”

Ike Pigott interviews futurist Robert Scoble, in advance of the 2016 Sloss Tech Conference


Other top speakers include Gary Vaynerchuk and Andy Grignon. For full details, visit sloss.tech.

Big names coming to Alabama this weekend for ‘southeast’s preeminent tech festival’

 
 
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2 years ago

How an Alabamian who grew up singing gospel music became a rock star at 50

Alabama's Buck Johnson is shown here on stage with Aerosmith. (Photo/Zack Whitford)
Alabama's Buck Johnson is shown here on stage with Aerosmith. (Photo/Zack Whitford)
Alabama’s Buck Johnson is shown here on stage with Aerosmith. (Photo/Zack Whitford)

By Alec Harvey

Buck Johnson might be having a mid-life crisis.

But it’s not like your run-of-the-mill find-a-sportier-car-or-younger-wife mid-life crisis.

“Instead of buying a Corvette, I get to tour with Aerosmith,” says Johnson, the Alabama-born musician who turns 50 in November.

Add to that this week’s release of a solo album, “Enjoying the Ride,” and you’ve got a full-fledged rock-and-roll change of life for the man who grew up in Shady Grove singing gospel music with his family.

After graduating from Minor High School and Birmingham-Southern College, where he met his wife, former Miss Alabama Kym Williams Johnson, he spent years playing rock ‘n’ roll, country and other kinds of music in bars and at festivals around the region. He co-wrote Carlos Santana’s hit “Just Feel Better” and twice made the top 40 while a member of the country band Whiskey Falls.

Buck Johnson, far left, is shown on stage with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford. (Photo/Matteo Abruzzo)
Buck Johnson, far left, is shown on stage with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford. (Photo/Matteo Abruzzo)
Alabama’s Buck Johnson, recently off a tour with Aerosmith, releases his solo CD this week. (Photo/Jacob Walker)
Alabama’s Buck Johnson, recently off a tour with Aerosmith, releases his solo CD this week. (Photo/Jacob Walker)
Alabama’s Buck Johnson graduated from Birmingham-Southern College before embarking on his music career. (Photo/Tammy Vega)
Alabama’s Buck Johnson graduated from Birmingham-Southern College before embarking on his music career. (Photo/Tammy Vega)

Since 2006, the Johnsons have made their home in Nashville, with Buck co-writing songs and touring with musicians such as the Doobie Brothers and John Waite, and Kym running Music City Music Together, a thriving music and singing franchise for mothers and babies.

Johnson had heard around Easter 2014 that Aerosmith was looking for a keyboard player, but it wasn’t until he was visiting Birmingham for Mother’s Day that year that he got the call. Literally, a call from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, which resulted in Johnson boarding a plane for Istanbul the next day.

After staying up all night on the flight “studying and cramming” and learning everything he could about Aerosmith’s music, Johnson checked into his hotel and went straight to the venue to meet with Tyler.

“I sat with him in his dressing room with an acoustic guitar, and the first song we played was ‘Cryin’,’ which has the highest parts,” Johnson recalls. “He wanted to be sure I could sing it. We got into it, and he just stopped and got emotional and said, ‘Where have you been?’ I said, ‘Waiting for the moment to happen.’”

In the wake of a mining disaster that killed hundreds in Turkey, Aerosmith canceled that concert in Istanbul, but Johnson took the stage with the band a few nights later in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“To get on stage in front of 20,000 people, and you’re playing with Aerosmith, you’re pinching yourself saying, ‘Just don’t mess up,’” Johnson says. “It was nothing short of a dream come true. I had the support of my family and my parents, and I wouldn’t be where I am without my wife, Kym. I already won the lottery in that regard.”

Johnson has toured with Aerosmith since 2014, and he plans to be with them when they start what Tyler has called a “farewell tour” in 2017.

During breaks, Johnson has toured with others (like Whitford/St. Homes, featuring Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford and Ted Nugent vocalist Derek St. Holmes) and performed with the Birmingham-based Black Jacket Symphony.

He has also continued to co-write songs in Nashville with longtime collaborator Charlie Midnight (“Living in America”) and others, including fellow former Birmingham singer-songwriter Alice Bargeron, who also lives in Nashville.

“Enjoying the Ride” is the new solo CD from Alabama’s Buck Johnson. (Photo/contributed)
“Enjoying the Ride” is the new solo CD from Alabama’s Buck Johnson. (Photo/contributed)

“As a collaborator, he’s the guy you go to when you need the song ‘elevated,’” Bargeron says. “If something’s missing, he’ll identify it and turn the whole thing around.

“The thing about him that most people might not realize is how multi-dimensional his talent is,” she adds. “I’ve worked with him for years and continue to be astounded by his versatility as a vocalist. He can sing any style flawlessly.”

“Enjoying the Ride,” Johnson’s solo debut, has been in the works for several years.

With songs by Johnson and Midnight, the album has been shopped around for a while.

“Right before I got the Aerosmith gig, there was a label out of Charleston, S.C., called Spectra, who loved it and wanted to put it out,” Johnson says. “Then I took off for Istanbul out of the blue, and we put on the brakes again.”

Spectra is still the label behind “Enjoying the Ride,” which Johnson is hesitant to describe.

“I don’t want to say Southern rock, because people immediately think Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it’s really not that,” he says. “It’s American rock ‘n’ roll that has some Southern in it, some country in it and some rock in it. Let the listener decide.”

Johnson just wants to continue playing, and he says that although he had some success early on, his long career has helped him maneuver the major successes of the past few years.

“Everyone has their place and time,” he says. “I was always working, but nothing of the magnitude of an Aerosmith thing. It took years of sticking with it, with some luck along the way.”

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2 years ago

AMERICA: ‘Patriot Guard’ riders escort massive Vietnam Vets Memorial into Alabama

Patriot Guard Riders of Alabama gave the American Veterans Traveling Tribute a hero's escort to Fultondale Wednesday. (David Macon/Alabama NewsCenter)
Patriot Guard Riders of Alabama gave the American Veterans Traveling Tribute a hero's escort to Fultondale Wednesday. (David Macon/Alabama NewsCenter)
Patriot Guard Riders of Alabama gave the American Veterans Traveling Tribute a hero’s escort to Fultondale Wednesday. (David Macon/Alabama NewsCenter)

The motorcycle engines were loud, but they couldn’t drown out the American pride that beats in the chests of the Patriot Guard Riders of Alabama as they honored America’s fallen and veterans everywhere Wednesday.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute wall arrived in Fultondale after making a Patriot Guard-escorted trek from Birmingham’s Uptown Entertainment District next to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to the Fultondale Promenade at 3321 Lowery Parkway.

The replica wall will be available for visitors starting at noon Thursday with events scheduled through Sunday, July 10. Find out more here.

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2 years ago

UAB psychologist warns Alabama summers can cause ‘increased anger and aggression’

SummerEmotionsFeature

Emotions can heat up when it is hot outside, says University of Alabama at Birmingham psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D. Numerous studies have shown heat is related to increased aggressive/violent behavior.

“The discomfort caused by extreme heat can lead to increased anger and aggression in many people,” Klapow said. “Tempers get shorter as we get hotter, and we are more likely to react angrily to circumstances that wouldn’t bother us as much if the weather were cooler.”

Klapow said recent events have left many people emotionally primed, and the addition of heat and discomfort is adding fuel to an already smoldering fire.

“There are a number of emotionally laden situations that are on people’s minds now as the temperatures rise, including the Orlando shooting, the rhetoric surrounding the presidential elections, debates on gun control and the continuing specter of terrorism,” Klapow said.

Klapow suggests three steps to control anger:

• Slow down, take a deep breath, calm down. “While it is probably the last thing you want to hear when angry, it is critical to slow down the anger response,” Klapow said. “Take deep breaths, which will modify heart rate and blood pressure, and relax your muscles, which will slow anger response. Repeat a phrase such as ‘calm down’ over and over until your anger fades.”

• Think the situation through, and see if your anger is misplaced. “Ask yourself why are you angry?” Klapow suggested. “Rethinking means coming up with another explanation for the problem that doesn’t cause you so much anger. Refocusing your thinking may help you solve the problem rather than just getting — and staying — mad.”

• Take all that emotional energy and do something positive with it. Try to solve the problem, if possible, but at least turn your energy into something productive, such as exercise or anything that works for you in releasing your pentup anger or emotion.”

Klapow said that anger is a normal part of life. What we do with it, and how we manage it, are the keys to good emotional health.

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2 years ago

Remembering the Alabama MoH recipient Eisenhower hailed as one of America’s most fearless warriors


(Video above: Alabama Medal of Honor recipient and patriot remembered fondly)

By John Herr

“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” – Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

Betty Mize looks at a portrait of her husband behind glass. A photograph of a helicopter is displayed next to it.

“That was at his burial,” she said. “An upside-down rainbow appeared that day. A smiling rainbow.”

Mrs. Mize has come to Ola Lee Mize Patriots Park in Gadsden, one of the grandest war memorials in Alabama and maybe the country. It is named after her late husband, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and who died in 2014.

The memorial, near Noccalula Falls Park, honors soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Etowah County who “made the supreme sacrifice” to “remind us and future generations that the price of liberty is often high.”

It also honors a man who saved many of his fellow soldiers from that fate.

Lee Mize (he didn’t like “Ola”) was born in Albertville, the son of a sharecropper. He joined the Army at age 17 after first being rejected for being underweight. He had another small problem.

“He was blind in one eye,” said Betty, laughing. “The trick of passing the eye test was, he didn’t change eyes with the paddle, he changed hands. He fooled them all of those years!”

Mize reenlisted in time for the Korean War, where he saw fierce action. His Company K was assigned to defend “Outpost Harry,” a hill between the American and Communist-held lines.

Suddenly the enemy attacked. Weaving through the heavy barrage, he rescued a wounded soldier, then established a defense from which Company K could counterattack, eventually driving the enemy from the outpost.

“During his fearless actions he was blown down by artillery and grenade blasts 3 times,” his Medal of Honor citation reads, “but each time he dauntlessly returned to his position, tenaciously fighting and successfully repelling hostile attacks.”

Told he was in line for the award, Mize refused it, saying it belonged to the whole company. Eventually the pressure became too great.

“He was threatened with a court martial,” said his good friend Rick Vaughn, past chairman of the Gadsden-Etowah Patriots Association.

Betty Mize at Ola Lee Mize Patriots Park in Gadsden. (Bernard Troncale/Alabama NewsCenter)
Betty Mize at Ola Lee Mize Patriots Park in Gadsden. (Bernard Troncale/Alabama NewsCenter)

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At the Medal of Honor ceremony, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took Mize’s fiancée aside and told her she wouldn’t have to worry because Lee would never see overseas combat again.

“We weren’t married,” Betty recalled, “but when Eisenhower said that, I thought, OK, I can get serious about this!”

It didn’t quite work out that way. Mize would volunteer for four tours of duty with the Green Berets in Vietnam. Afterward, he taught at the Special Forces school in Fort Bragg, N.C., where he authored the survivor escape program.

Beloved by his students, Mize — predictably — declined an offer by H. Ross Perot to build a statue of him.

“He loved his family and loved his country,” said Vaughn. “He didn’t care a whole lot about acclamations for himself.”

Mize especially loved the woman he called the Admiral. Betty Jackson grew up with Lee Mize in west Gadsden. She didn’t care for the older boy at first. Then she reluctantly went on a double date with him, and changed her mind.

Together they had two daughters, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, one of whom recently graduated from the University of Alabama.

The Mizes loved Gadsden. And their hometown loves them right back.

“His funeral was awesome, breathtaking,” said Betty. “The funeral procession was 2 miles long. People were standing on the side of the road with flags, veterans were saluting. It was overwhelming.

“He would be so honored,” she added, “but he would be like, ‘Oh my goodness, why are they doing this?’”

After touring the memorial, Betty let her emotions show for the first time as she talked about the nation her husband fought so bravely for.

“He taught me so much about patriotism, about loving my country,” she said. “The younger people need to learn that.”

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2 years ago

Alabama economists predict Brexit could ultimately benefit state’s real estate markets

unionjack-european-union

The United Kingdom’s historic referendum to exit the European Union last week sparked worldwide reaction.

It is safe to say that world markets did not react positively to Britain’s future exit from the EU, which will be negotiated over the course of the next 24-plus months.

Once the initial shock wears off, economists are mixed about the long-term effects of Brexit.

“The actual divorce of the U.K. and the E.U. will play out over two years or more,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist and senior vice president for economics and housing policy for the National Association of Home Builders. “And it remains a possibility that those separation proceedings will continue to enable free trade between the U.K. and Europe, as well as ongoing rules concerning cross-national workers. However, the U.K. Treasury forecasted significant domestic GDP declines due to Brexit over the next 15 years, and while those estimates may be biased to the high side, spillover effects to the U.S. are possible.”

The U.S. housing sector is one where some economists see potential benefits over the long run.

“The only way it could have an impact on housing and lending markets is through U.S. treasuries,” said Ahmad Ijaz, executive director and director of economic forecasting at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “If the demand for treasuries goes up, it will push the interest rates lower, in turn pushing the mortgage rates lower, which is actually good for the U.S. housing markets.”

Speculation continues as to whether the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee will continue to raise interest rates throughout 2016.

“Following its meeting earlier this month, the Fed cited risks associated with the Brexit vote as a contributing factor in its decision not to raise rates at that time,” noted commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap in its special report, Brexit Surprise Has Silver Lining. “With the outcome of the British vote decided, the potential for a July increase has been virtually erased, and the probability of a September hike has fallen significantly. In conjunction with the decline in Treasury rates and reassurances of liquidity, commercial real estate investors could benefit from low lending costs. Although lender spreads generally widened in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, interest rates remain highly favorable for investors.”

Ijaz said to expect some long-term impacts from Brexit in the currency markets and the restructuring of business models for firms already established in Britain.

“Most of them will be structural changes, which eventually will work out over time,” Ijaz said.

When it comes to a direct impact on Alabama, Ijaz said exports to Britain compose only about 3 percent of all Alabama exports.

“The only way it would affect an Alabama business is if they were set up in Britain to do business over there or with other EU countries,” Ijaz said. “It could have an impact on their business models.”

As for the short-term effects on the commercial real estate market, Marcus & Millichap sees minimal impact from the Brexit vote.

“Apartment demand in the second quarter appears quite robust, with positive demographics and long-run hiring momentum supporting the sector,” the report said. “The outlook for office and retail properties is more mixed, depending on how consumers and businesses perceive the news. Should confidence falter, demand for these property types could soften modestly, but restrained construction will remain an important factor supporting the performance of these asset types. Industrial properties are positioned to benefit from the Brexit as the strengthening dollar could lift imports of foreign goods, though potential downsides exist for U.S. manufacturers that export.”

Like with the housing market, Marcus & Millichap said the commercial real estate sector could see a boost if interest rates remain low.

“Downward pressure on interest rates will benefit investors, while the appeal of hard assets with favorable yields could draw additional capital to the sector,” M&M said. “The depth and duration of volatility surrounding the event will significantly influence the ramifications for investment real estate. However, barring an unanticipated major economic setback or consequences stemming from the Brexit, the prospects of significant downside risk are limited.”

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2 years ago

Amazing Alabama-made motorcycles and a star from ‘The Walking Dead’ steal the show

Jason Paul Michaels, left, on the Confederate Motors Hellcat with Norman Reedus on the Motus MTS. Both motorcycles are built by Birmingham companies and were featured on the AMC series "Ride with Norman Reedus." (Left/Right Productions)
Jason Paul Michaels, left, on the Confederate Motors Hellcat with Norman Reedus on the Motus MTS. Both motorcycles are built by Birmingham companies and were featured on the AMC series "Ride with Norman Reedus." (Left/Right Productions)
Jason Paul Michaels, left, on the Confederate Motors Hellcat with Norman Reedus on the Motus MTS. Both motorcycles are built by Birmingham companies and were featured on the AMC series “Ride with Norman Reedus.” (Left/Right Productions)

Did two Alabama motorcycle makers just upstage Daryl from “The Walking Dead?”

Well, no, but Motus Motorcycles and Confederate Motors did take center stage on the “Ride with Norman Reedus” television show featuring the actor who plays Daryl Dixon on the popular AMC network series.

On the most recent episode of “Ride with Norman Reedus” that aired on AMC Sunday night, Reedus took a ride with his friend Jason Paul Michaels, founder of Orlando’s Standard Motorcycle Co.

When the show begins, Michaels is straddling the Motus MST while Reedus is on the Confederate Hellcat. However, it doesn’t take long before Reedus convinces his friend to let him spend some time on the Motus.

Norman Reedus sits on the Motus MTS. (Left/Right Productions)
Norman Reedus sits on the Motus MTS. (Left/Right Productions)
The Confederate Motors Hellcat like Norman Reedus rode on the “Ride with Norman Reedus” that aired on AMC Sunday. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)
The Confederate Motors Hellcat like Norman Reedus rode on the “Ride with Norman Reedus” that aired on AMC Sunday. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)
Is that a Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum sign hanging behind Norman Reedus on the “Ride with Norman Reedus show? (Left/Right Productions)
Is that a Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum sign hanging behind Norman Reedus on the “Ride with Norman Reedus show? (Left/Right Productions)
The Motus MTS. (Motus Motorcycles)
The Motus MTS. (Motus Motorcycles)
Norman Reedus, left, rides the Confederate Motors Hellcat and Jason Paul Michaels rides the Motus MTS. (Left/Right Productions)
Norman Reedus, left, rides the Confederate Motors Hellcat and Jason Paul Michaels rides the Motus MTS. (Left/Right Productions)
The Confederate Motors Hellcat on the “Ride with Norman Reedus” show. (Left/Right Productions)
The Confederate Motors Hellcat on the “Ride with Norman Reedus” show. (Left/Right Productions)

The “Ride with Norman Reedus” series is produced by Left/Right Productions and gives “The Walking Dead” fans their Daryl fix until the show returns for its seventh season in the fall.

“Norman is an avid motorcycle enthusiast with millions of fans. We couldn’t be more pleased about the Motus MST being selected for this new series on AMC,” Lee Conn, president of Motus, said. “We’re so thankful to Left/Right and AMC for the opportunity to introduce our American-made motorcycles to a whole new audience.”

The episode featuring Motus and Confederate started in Atlanta and went north to the Blue Ridge Parkway of North Carolina, a favorite scenic roadway for bikers and others.

The Birmingham bikes weren’t the only Magic City entities to get some screen time. In one shot with Reedus, a Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum sign can be seen hanging in a motorcycle repair shop.

You can watch the full episode here.

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2 years ago

BIRMINGHAM’S BATMAN: The inspiring life and legacy of Alabama’s superhero of service

A photo on Willie J. Perry's tombstone shows him in crusading mode as "Birmingham's Batman" with his Rescue Ship. (Contributed)
A photo on Willie J. Perry's tombstone shows him in crusading mode as "Birmingham's Batman" with his Rescue Ship. (Contributed)
A photo on Willie J. Perry’s tombstone shows him in crusading mode as “Birmingham’s Batman” with his Rescue Ship. (Contributed)

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Marquetta Hill-King admits she didn’t always understand her father, the man known as Birmingham’s Batman.

When she was in school, Hill-King would sometimes accompany Willie James Perry as he drove around town in his souped-up 1971 Ford Thunderbird to aid people.

“I thought people were laughing at us because of the car,” Hill-King said. “But when I started riding and seeing the passion from people in the city, it really gave me a different look at what he was doing.

“In a sense, he was our superhero.”

A hero’s legacy

Thirty-one years have passed since Birmingham’s Batman patrolled the highways and byways to change a tire, offer a ride or even pay for lodging for stranded out-of-towners. But his daughter and others don’t want his memory to fade, having formed the Willie J. Perry Foundation.

The foundation’s Wheels of Change project restores donated cars and gives them to single parents. There are also community education programs such as one in Midfield on June 18 to address bullying.

The foundation’s other initiatives include weekly visits to feed the homeless and elderly, and the Willie J. Perry Vanguard Leadership Awards in November. The restoration of Perry’s car is another goal; the foundation wants to return it to the road as a symbol of helping others.

“He was ASAP before there was ASAP,” Hill-King said, referring to the roadside assistance program that aids motorists. “He was a good Samaritan.”

Willie Perry’s beloved ride, the Rescue Ship a.k.a Batmobile, at Old Car Heaven. The eccentric Good Samaritan died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on the car on a cold night. (Contributed)
Willie Perry’s beloved ride, the Rescue Ship a.k.a Batmobile, at Old Car Heaven. The eccentric Good Samaritan died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on the car on a cold night. (Contributed)

One of a kind

A 1982 episode of the ABC television show “That’s Incredible” told the world about Birmingham’s superhero. Perry wasn’t a caped crusader, but he did wear a helmet and he drove an incredible car that he remodeled and revamped.

A banner for the Willie J. Perry Foundation displays a photo of Perry’s signature ride, the Rescue Ship. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
A banner for the Willie J. Perry Foundation displays a photo of Perry’s signature ride, the Rescue Ship. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

The car was dubbed the Rescue Ship, but many knew it as the Batmobile. It was outfitted with a record player, an Atari video game player, a television, a toaster, flashing yellow and red lights, refrigerator, running water and a telephone.

“It looked like a spaceship going down the road,” recalled foundation member Lee Shook. “It was a one-of-a-kind automobile. You’ll never see another one like it anywhere else.”

These days, the Rescue Ship is at Old Car Heaven.

Ironically, Perry met his demise because of his car. The Associated Press reported that he succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning as the car was running in the garage of J.F. Day and Company on a cold January night in 1985.

“The car in which he did so much good took his life,” Shook said.

Acts of kindness

According to BhamWiki.com, Perry was spurred to action after he heard about a woman who was raped by a group of men who claimed they were stopping to help after her car had broken down. He took to the streets to prove people could be trusted.

Cans of Willie J. Perry Foundation coffee. The organization seeks to carry on its namesake’s benevolent deeds. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Cans of Willie J. Perry Foundation coffee. The organization seeks to carry on its namesake’s benevolent deeds. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

When making his rounds, Perry wore a white helmet – with the bat logo – and a white jumpsuit with brown trim. He accessorized his outfit with portable pagers and various tools worn on his utility belt.

In addition to carrying gasoline, battery jumper cables and tools, Perry gave free rides to people who had too much to drink, and he took elderly people to doctor appointments, drove kids to McDonald’s and entertained at children’s birthday parties.

The Titusville resident visited homebound neighbors and assisted with guiding traffic around road hazards. On at least one occasion, Perry foiled an attempted robbery at a pharmacy.

In one of his last acts of kindness, he helped four University of Tennessee students stranded by snow. He found a motel room, and when the students could muster only $7, he paid the other $30.

“He just gave so much of himself,” Hill-King said. “Everything he’d make he would basically give it away in helping somebody else.”

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2 years ago

This blazing fast high schooler could end up being Alabama’s next Olympic sprinter

Jayla is now ranked No. 2 in the nation. She practiced earlier this month at Hayes K-8 in preparation for upcoming matches. (Bruce Nix/Alabama NewsCenter)
Jayla is now ranked No. 2 in the nation. She practiced earlier this month at Hayes K-8 in preparation for upcoming matches. (Bruce Nix/Alabama NewsCenter)
Jayla is now ranked No. 2 in the nation. She practiced earlier this month at Hayes K-8 in preparation for upcoming matches. (Bruce Nix/Alabama NewsCenter)

Just after winning first place in the 200 meter race at the New Balance Nationals on Sunday, June 19, in North Carolina, Woodlawn High School track star Jayla Kirkland had to get used to another new title: the second fastest female youth sprinter in the nation for 200 meters.

Kirkland’s time of 23.15 at the New Balance Nationals not only pushed her into the No. 2 national spot, but qualified her to try out for the 2016 Olympic trials later this summer in Oregon.

Before she can even think about Oregon, she’s focused on competing in the World Junior Trials in California. She leaves Thursday, June 23, for the California meet, where she’ll be competing against high school and college students.

Alabama NewsCenter videographer Bruce Nix caught up with Jayla as she practiced earlier this month.

If she makes the U.S. Team at the World Junior Trials in California, she will fly to Poland in July to run in the 200 meter and 100 meter races for the World Junior Championship. It’s possible she could also compete on the World Junior Championship relay team.

In 2015, Jayla won bronze when she competed in Cali, Colombia, during the World Youth Championship, a different international competition. Currently, she’s the fastest female youth sprinter in Alabama. She has 16 state track titles and four national titles. She is a senior at Woodlawn High, where she’s in the Academy of Business and Finance.

Jayla Kirkland (left) is joined by her coach Myra Hawkins (far right)
Jayla Kirkland (left) is joined by her coach Myra Hawkins (far right)

“Jayla is a stronger runner this year than she was last year,’’ said Myra Hawkins, her coach. “She will always surprise you. She’s determined and very focused.”

Last year, Jayla won first place in the 100 meter and 200 meter races during the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. This year, she placed third in the 100 meters, despite a hamstring injury from earlier in the season, and first in the 200 meters.

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2 years ago

ON A ROLL: An inside look at Alabama’s stunning economic development successes

Voestalpine is investing $11.1 million and creating 42 jobs to build automotive parts in Birmingham. (photo from voestalpine)
Voestalpine is investing $11.1 million and creating 42 jobs to build automotive parts in Birmingham. (photo from voestalpine)
Voestalpine is investing $11.1 million and creating 42 jobs to build automotive parts in Birmingham. (photo from voestalpine)

By Michael Tomberlin

If you ever wanted a crash course in economic development, all you had to do was pay attention to the activity taking place in Alabama the past few days.

Some of the truisms of recruiting and expanding industry have been held up as, well, truisms.

For instance, “Confidentiality comes with the territory.”

We now know “Project Alpine” is voestalpine. (photo from voestalpine)
We now know “Project Alpine” is voestalpine. (photo from voestalpine)

We now know the identity of what was being called “Project Alpine.” Voestalpine said it will invest $11.1 million in the Birmingham area to make parts for German automakers in the Southeast, beginning in September 2017.

Officials have yet to reveal the companies behind “Project Sunrise,” which is eyeing Jefferson County, or “Project Rumba,” looking to locate in Montgomery. There are rumors of a major distribution project in the Mobile area.

There are competitive reasons for companies not wanting their names or their plans known before they are ready. There are also public relations and operational concerns in most cases.

After more than two decades covering economic development, I could tell many stories regarding confidentiality, confusion and rumor surrounding the cat-and-mouse game of recruitment.

Another truism is, “Success begets success.”

Alabama was awarded the “Silver Shovel Award” from Area Development magazine for its successes in 2015, joining a streak of similar recognition that has lasted a decade.

Once you show you are good at supporting a particular industry, it gets easier to attract that industry. The voestalpine project is a perfect example. The Austrian-based company was familiar with the Birmingham area because of its rail technologies operations in the Pinson Valley. Alabama is adept at attracting and expanding the automotive industry, so it’s no wonder that voestalpine wants to invest millions in the Oxmoor Valley and create 42 manufacturing jobs.

This rendering shows what the new $80 million Katmek plant will look like. (contributed)
This rendering shows what the new $80 million Katmek plant will look like. (contributed)

The same is true of Kamtek’s massive expansion and new operations in Birmingham, Yorozu establishing an automotive supplier plant in Jasper, Eissmann expanding in Pell City and numerous other automotive examples.

The same is true for the addition of aerospace suppliers in and around Mobile now that Airbus is producing airplanes.

Another truism is, “Economic development comes to those best prepared.”

The opening of Interstate 22 has been decades in the making and has long had the support of the business and economic development communities. That’s because interstates are the lifeblood of major projects. The most prime industrial sites are those that exist just off interstates (and it doesn’t hurt to have rail, too).

Gov. Robert Bentley is joined by elected officials and business leaders to cut the ribbon on Interstate 22. (Christopher Jones/Alabama NewsCenter)
Gov. Robert Bentley is joined by elected officials and business leaders to cut the ribbon on Interstate 22. (Christopher Jones/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham joins Atlanta and Nashville as the only Southeastern cities that can boast of six interstate spokes off a downtown area. But more important than what the interstate does for the city may be what it does for rural parts of the state that previously were not served by an interstate. I-22 now opens up a large swath of northwest Alabama for the kind of economic development that interstate-served regions of the state have long enjoyed.

Another primary type of preparedness is having sites ready for economic development. The Tennessee Valley Authority recently declared 1,252 acres in Limestone County as one of its Mega Sites, meaning the property is ready to land a large, international project.

“Project Sunrise” could take the more than 1 million square feet vacated by Meadowcraft in Pinson Valley. (photo from Graham & Co.)
“Project Sunrise” could take the more than 1 million square feet vacated by Meadowcraft in Pinson Valley. (photo from Graham & Co.)

The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama has a similar program known as AdvantageSite for ready-to-develop properties and has more than 50 such sites certified throughout the state.

Beyond sites, you have to have buildings.

The Walker County Development Authority and the Jasper Industrial Development Board are using the Alabama Power speculative building program to build the fifth speculative building in Jasper Industrial Park.

“Project Sunrise” plans to move into more than 1 million square feet of vacant industrial space in the Pinson Valley and voestalpine is taking vacant space in the Oxmoor Valley.

Watching all of the activity we’re seeing at the halfway point of 2016, there might be another truism to consider: Alabama is on a roll.

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2 years ago

Birmingham Barons keep breaking attendance records

The Birmingham Barons keep drawing more and more fans in their fourth season at Regions Field. (File)
The Birmingham Barons keep drawing more and more fans in their fourth season at Regions Field. (File)
The Birmingham Barons keep drawing more and more fans in their fourth season at Regions Field. (File)

The Birmingham Barons keep writing new entries in their record book when it comes to people passing through the turnstiles.

The team has led the Southern League in attendance since moving to 8,500-seat Regions Field. Three times this season, the Barons have eclipsed their single-game attendance mark.

The Barons set that mark at 8,577 on Aug. 15, 2015, a Saturday night that featured a Pyro Palooza fireworks display and Star Wars Night. Coincidentally, Star Wars Night on May 13, 2016, raised the bar with 8,587 people.

But the ball club on Birmingham’s Southside wasn’t done.

Star Wars Night was the final game of a series hosting the Jacksonville Suns. The Barons opened their next home stand on Thirsty Thursday, May 19, against the Montgomery Biscuits and reset the record at 8,595.

Two days later, the Barons did it again. Spurred by an appearance by the Zooperstars costumed entertainers, a pregame kids’ T-shirt giveaway, church night – which included the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance – and a postgame Girl Scouts campout, the game drew an announced crowd of 8,607.

The Barons have hosted seven sellouts in the first half of the 2016 season. They sold out six times in the first half of 2015 and 13 overall.

Weather, seating factors

General manager Jonathan Nelson said the club benefited from a good window of weather.

Jonathan Nelson, Birmingham Barons general manager (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
Jonathan Nelson, Birmingham Barons general manager (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

“People were really caught up in spring fever and wanted to come out to enjoy a Barons baseball game downtown at Regions Field,” he said.

Nelson explained that the varied seating options at Regions Field have allowed the Barons to exceed the 4-year-old stadium’s capacity. Those options include a banquet hall, party suites, the party deck, the parkside picnic area, the home run porch and the picnic area in left centerfield.

“Maybe certain nights we only have 150 in the parkside picnic area,” he said of the 300-capacity space. “That allows us to resell standing-room-only tickets as part of general admission. That’s how we’ve climbed the ladder and eclipsed that.”

Capacity of the banquet hall is 800, but “sometimes we get a little more in there,” Nelson said.

Fans pack Regions Field to watch a Birmingham Barons game. The team keeps breaking its attendance record. (File)
Fans pack Regions Field to watch a Birmingham Barons game. The team keeps breaking its attendance record. (File)
Fans take in a Barons game at Regions Field. (File)
Fans take in a Barons game at Regions Field. (File)
The Birmingham Barons are accustomed to drawing good crowds at Regions Field, which has the Southern League’s best attendance figures. (File)
The Birmingham Barons are accustomed to drawing good crowds at Regions Field, which has the Southern League’s best attendance figures. (File)

Raising the bar

A Regions Field record 444,639 fans passed through the gates in 2015, making it the second straight year the organization drew in excess of 400,000 fans over its 70 home games.

It was the third year in a row Regions Field saw an increase in fan support, drawing more than its inaugural, Southern League-winning 2013 campaign (396,820) and 2014’s 437,612.

The 2015 season’s turnout is second in team history only to 1994’s “Jordan Year” record of 467,867. That season was bolstered by a Major League Baseball strike and the presence of NBA great Michael Jordan as a member of the team.

“Even though this is the fourth season at Regions Field, from a shine standpoint it’s not getting any duller. It’s actually getting brighter,” Nelson said. “People are so excited to see what is new when they come back downtown.”

The general manager said the challenge for him and his staff is to continue to raise the bar and make the fan experience new for every visit.

“Whether it’s their first or 35th or more, we want it to be something fresh,” Nelson said. “Our goal each year is to add new things to the ballpark experience.”

This season’s additions are nachos served in a Barons batting helmet and the beer garden, which sells all the craft beers brewed in the city.

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2 years ago

Heavyweight champ & Alabama native Deontay Wilder readies title defense in Birmingham

Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder engages in a video staredown with his next opponent, Chris Arreola, at a press conference previewing their July 16 fight in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder engages in a video staredown with his next opponent, Chris Arreola, at a press conference previewing their July 16 fight in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder engages in a video staredown with his next opponent, Chris Arreola, at a press conference previewing their July 16 fight in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Deontay Wilder says he never looks past an opponent.

He looks through them.

“Looking through them, that allows you to daydream a little bit,” he said Wednesday as he announced details of his upcoming fight. “All of my opponents, I’ve been able to look through them. That’s just how confident I am.”

The Tuscaloosa native was exuding confidence at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex as he talked about the July 16 defense of his World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against Chris “the Nightmare” Arreola in Legacy Arena.

“I don’t get nervous and I don’t get no butterflies,” the champ said. “I kind of get mad when I have to wait. That’s how much I love this sport. Most people get terrified when it’s time to go to war. For me, I look forward to it each and every time.”

This bout follows Wilder’s scheduled May 21 meeting with Russian Alexander Povetkin in Moscow. That fight was postponed indefinitely after Povetkin tested positive for meldonium, a banned substance.

Wilder (36-0, 35 KO) said he couldn’t have been more prepared for that bout.

“I was super excited, super prepared,” he said. “I looked gooder than I ever did in my career.”

The cancellation left him on the verge of depression, he said, only to rise from those depths to step into the ring again. The fight with Arreola will be the third in Birmingham in just over a year, placing the Magic City in rare company with Las Vegas as a frequent host of heavyweight championships.

Wilder said he and his camp are cautious about being overprepared for the bout.

“This is going to be a short camp for us because I’m already ready,” he said. “We’re definitely taking the appropriate measures for this situation.”

Arreola is 36-4-1 with 31 knockouts.

Upper-level tickets are $20 apiece. Other tickets are $55, $125, $200, $375 and $600, according to Ticketmaster.

The fight will be broadcast on FOX television as part of the Premier Boxing Champions series. The telecast starts at 7 p.m. Central.

Doors open at 3 p.m., with the first fight of the undercard at 4.

Contender Chris Arreola appears via television at a press conference about his July 16 fight with heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Contender Chris Arreola appears via television at a press conference about his July 16 fight with heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
A promotional poster for the July 16 Wilder-Arreola bout. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
A promotional poster for the July 16 Wilder-Arreola bout. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder speaks to the press in Birmingham about defending his title. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder speaks to the press in Birmingham about defending his title. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder talks about his upcoming title defense fight against Chris Arreola. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder talks about his upcoming title defense fight against Chris Arreola. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

The Associated Press reported this week that Wilder and promoter DiBella Entertainment have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of New York against Povetkin and his promoter, alleging breach of contract.

The suit seeks damages of no less than $5 million and names Povetkin and promoter World of Boxing LLC, run by Andrei Ryabinsky. YahooSports first reported the suit.

Wilder was scheduled to make almost $4.4 million for the Povetkin fight.

Next month’s bout will be Wilder’s third title defense in Birmingham. His first was at UAB’s Bartow Arena in June of last year. He followed that with the defeat of Johan Duhaupas at the BJCC Legacy Arena in September.

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2 years ago

Alabama actor to star as world’s most popular musical comes to Birmingham

Tuscaloosa's Jake Boyd stars with Amanda Jane Cooper in "Wicked." (Photo/Joan Marcus) Jake Boyd is Fiyero in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)
Tuscaloosa's Jake Boyd stars with Amanda Jane Cooper in "Wicked." (Photo/Joan Marcus) Jake Boyd is Fiyero in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)
Tuscaloosa’s Jake Boyd stars with Amanda Jane Cooper in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)
Jake Boyd is Fiyero in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)
Jake Boyd is Fiyero in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)
Jake Boyd is Fiyero in “Wicked.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Jake Boyd tried for years to get into the cast of “Wicked” before finally getting the role of Fiyero in the high-flying musical about the witches from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I had been going in for it on and off for about five years, honestly,” says the graduate of the University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest High School. “There are a lot of people who want to be in this show. If they like you for it, then it’s mostly waiting for when it’s the right time.”

The right time was about a year ago, when Boyd joined the national tour of “Wicked,” which sweeps into Birmingham for a two-week run beginning June 22. In it, he plays Fiyero, love interest to Elphaba, the “green Witch” in the “Oz” tale.

“It’s an amazingly fun show to do,” Boyd says. “It’s epic, and I’m lucky enough to do a show that people want to see. We sell out the houses. People go wild for this show. I’ve never felt more like a rock star in my life.”

“Wicked” has been on Boyd’s radar since it came out while he was in high school.

“I was like 14 or 15 and a big ol’ musical theater nerd,” Boyd says with a laugh. “I’ve known all of these songs for years. ‘Wicked’ has the ability to transcend above the regular musical theater nerds into pop culture. It’s a really cool moment that I get to play this role that I’ve dreamed of playing.”

Boyd was in theater at UA and Hillcrest, and he performed in one show at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (ironically, that was “The Wizard of Oz”).

“This is the closest I’ve ever been to home performing as a professional,” says Boyd, who was on Broadway in “Rock of Ages” and TV in “Blue Bloods” and other series. “I’m very excited. It’s going to be a really nice, full-circle moment.”

“Wicked” is presented by Broadway in Birmingham June 22-July 3 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Concert Hall. Tickets ($39-$139) are available through Ticketmaster.

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2 years ago

Auburn dean: world hunger is a solvable problem

June Henton, dean of Auburn University's College of Human Sciences, has had a significant impact on the lives of impoverished people across the globe. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton, dean of Auburn University's College of Human Sciences, has had a significant impact on the lives of impoverished people across the globe. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton, dean of Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences, has had a significant impact on the lives of impoverished people across the globe. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

ABL-logo-307x300

Hunger is a solvable problem.

You don’t hear many leaders declaring huge problems as “solvable,” but that is exactly what June Henton believes.

As the dean of the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University, she has headed an effort to fight world hunger on the community, state and global levels.

In 2004 and under her leadership, Auburn University was invited to partner with the World Food Programme in a higher education campaign against hunger. And in 2006, she founded the UFWH, Universities Fighting World Hunger.

As a result of those two accomplishments, the Auburn University Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Hunger Solutions Institute with Henton as its executive director. She continues to lead the Human Sciences College in the research of nutrition, food, hunger, wellness, sustainable human development, relationships and health, and consumer behavior.

“In the first couple of years, we built what we call ‘Auburn’s war on hunger.’ We developed a model that engaged students in a grassroots campaign and helped them understand how to raise awareness about hunger, how to advocate for things they care about, and the long-term approach with our teaching outreach programs,” Henton said.

Henton was named a White House Champion of Change in 2012, and the U.S. Green Building Council Alabama chapter has honored her for her leadership in sustainability.

“I think having an issue like domestic and world hunger to present to students, that’s one of my top priorities as dean, for them to understand the world,” Henton said. “That’s why globalization has been a theme throughout the College of Human Sciences for over 20 years.”

June Henton, right, talks with a key partner in her efforts against world hunger, Hunger Solutions Institute Director Harriet Giles. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton, right, talks with a key partner in her efforts against world hunger, Hunger Solutions Institute Director Harriet Giles. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton talks with students on the Auburn University campus. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton talks with students on the Auburn University campus. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton’s work has given American university students a role in addressing the problems of people around the world. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton’s work has given American university students a role in addressing the problems of people around the world. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton’s work has given American university students a role in addressing the problems of people around the world. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)
June Henton’s work has given American university students a role in addressing the problems of people around the world. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Harriet Giles, director of the Hunger Solutions Institute, defined its mission.

“The Hunger Solutions Institute is what we call a multiplier of best practices, when it comes to the issue of world and domestic hunger,” Giles said. “We bring people together, and we collaborate with them in our own academic community. We take what is working, whether it’s to feed a hungry child at school or to help a farmer in Africa, and try to multiply those practices so it gets out into the real world. Our goal is to solve world hunger.”

For more information, visit http://wp.auburn.edu/hsi/.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning photojournalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at karimshamsibasha@gmail.com.

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2 years ago

Alabama non-profit partners with Apple on smartwatch

Birmingham's Lakeshore Foundation is helping Apple develop software for the Apple Watch to help keep the disabled active. (courtesy of Apple)
Birmingham's Lakeshore Foundation is helping Apple develop software for the Apple Watch to help keep the disabled active. (courtesy of Apple)
Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation is helping Apple develop software for the Apple Watch to help keep the disabled active. (courtesy of Apple)

Apple CEO Tim Cook is from Alabama, but it’s still a pretty big deal when a Birmingham institution gets a shout-out when the world is watching the tech giant’s Worldwide Development Conference.

Lakeshore Foundation was on the receiving end of such a shout out at the WWDC today. But even more significant is why Cook acknowledged the institution that is known for its work with those with disabilities.

Apple is working with Lakeshore Foundation and San Diego’s Challenged Athletes Foundation to improve functionality on the Apple Watch. Just like the smartwatch can alert able-bodied people to do something active during the day after they’ve been resting too long, Apple wants to do the same for wheelchair users or otherwise disabled people.

The problem is that while there is plenty of baseline material for the able-bodied on what constitutes active and inactive periods, the same doesn’t exist for the disabled.

Enter Lakeshore Foundation and Challenged Athletes Foundation, which worked with Apple to recruit about 300 people in wheelchairs for more than 3,000 hours of activity research. The data will help the Apple Watch software gauge the fitness and activity of those in a wheelchair who need to spin around, wheel for a distance or do some other activity.

“Encouraging people with physical disability to exercise is vital to addressing the issue of health disparity,” Jeff Underwood, president and CEO of Lakeshore Foundation, said. “Helping to ensure that the Apple Watch is accessible to as many people as possible could have a profound impact for the health and wellbeing of persons who are wheelchair users.”

For Apple, the goal was to make the Apple Watch useful for everyone.

“We want to make products that serve every walk of life,” Jeff Williams, Apple chief operating officer, told the Associated Press. “We realize that while it was great for messages on the wrist, we wanted to offer this group of people the same opportunity to get healthier using Apple Watch.”

Underwood said he hopes other companies will follow Apple’s lead.

“Perhaps just as important as the technological advancement is the societal impact this type of commitment to inclusion from Apple demonstrates,” Underwood told Alabama NewsCenter. “Creating opportunities for healthy, active lifestyles are at the forefront of Lakeshore Foundation’s work and this project is a significant milestone for the millions of people within our mission.”

1
2 years ago

Alabama community college receives massive NASA science and engineering grant

Student participates in Lawson State's Summer Enrichment Institute. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Student participates in Lawson State's Summer Enrichment Institute. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
Student participates in Lawson State’s Summer Enrichment Institute. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Tracey Wilson, an instructor at Lawson State Community College, wants students to reach for the stars.

But, she said, students have to know the stars are there.

“It’s hard for them to reach for the stars when they don’t know what’s out there for them,” said Wilson, who chairs Lawson State’s Department of Natural Science.

A grant of nearly $500,000 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will help accomplish that. NASA announced recently that the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn and Lawson State were selected out of 49 proposals for the chance to bolster education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We are delighted and very fortunate to be in a position to inspire tomorrow’s leaders in science and engineering through a partnership with Dr. Larry DeLucas, former chief scientist for the International Space Station at NASA headquarters,” Lawson State President Dr. Perry W. Ward said in a release. “This NASA award will allow science and engineering majors at Lawson State to use experiments conducted in the International Space Station to provide a comprehensive understanding of the underlying theories and experimental techniques utilized in microgravity research.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience world-class scientific techniques,” Ward continued. “I am confident this will excel them to greater heights.”

According to a statement from NASA, the MUREP Other Opportunities (MOO) solicitation challenged schools to propose innovative ways to create and implement STEM activities, with a goal of increasing the number of historically underserved students studying STEM fields relevant to NASA’s diverse exploration missions.

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

DeLucas, the former astronaut and University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher, asked if Lawson State was interested in applying for the grant. Wilson said DeLucas lent his experience with NASA as the school crafted its grant application.

“We’re working toward increasing the number of quality students we have at Lawson State,” Wilson said. She added that the aim is also to increase the number who come into Lawson State, graduate and continue as STEM majors when they transfer to four-year institutions.

Outreach and communicating with the students in high school is a key part of this program. And Lawson State is already working to accomplish this.

“This is a continuation,” Wilson said, noting the school’s Summer Enrichment Institute for high school sophomores, juniors and rising seniors. “And then students who are here, STEM scholars, they also do work in labs and tutor students in STEM and during the summer they go off and do research.”

The NASA grant was the latest success for the western Birmingham community college. Lawson State was also awarded a $200,000 EPA grant in May.

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2 years ago

Alabama Power and Walmart: a renewable energy partnership

Alabama Power and Walmart have reached an agreement that will make the retailer the majority customer of a solar energy generating facility to be constructed in east Alabama. (File)
Alabama Power and Walmart have reached an agreement that will make the retailer the majority customer of a solar energy generating facility to be constructed in east Alabama. (File)
Alabama Power and Walmart have reached an agreement that will make the retailer the majority customer of a solar energy generating facility to be constructed in east Alabama. (File)

A new solar energy generating facility to be built in east Alabama will help the world’s largest retailer move a step closer to meeting its renewable energy goals.

GoGreenLogo

Under a long-term contract with Alabama Power, Walmart will subscribe to a majority of the solar photovoltaic facility’s environmental attributes, also known as renewable energy credits (RECs). Those RECs will be retired on Walmart’s behalf. Alabama Power will market the remaining RECs to other customers who have an interest in renewable energy.

The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the contracts today in a unanimous vote.

Alabama Power has secured the rights to all the energy and the associated environmental attributes generated by the 72-megawatt facility under a long-term purchase agreement with a subsidiary of Origis Energy. The facility will be near the town of LaFayette in Chambers County. The subsidiary of Miami-based Origis Energy will build and operate the facility.

Walmart-logo-500x205

Walmart has an aspirational goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy with a benchmark goal of driving the production or procurement of seven billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy globally by 2020. This agreement makes a considerable contribution to these renewable energy goals for the Walmart facilities supplied by Alabama Power.

“We feel utilities can play a key role in helping meet these ambitious goals, and this is truly a landmark agreement as we continue to evolve into a more environmentally sustainable company – in Alabama and across the globe,” said David Ozment, Walmart senior director of energy.

The Alabama Public Service Commission has approved a long-term contract between Alabama Power and Walmart under which the retailer will subscribe to a majority of renewable energy credits from a solar facility in east Alabama. (File)
The Alabama Public Service Commission has approved a long-term contract between Alabama Power and Walmart under which the retailer will subscribe to a majority of renewable energy credits from a solar facility in east Alabama. (File)

The long-term contract with Walmart also protects other Alabama Power customers from bearing additional costs in connection with the new solar facility. The combination of the purchase agreement and the Walmart contract is designed to provide a net benefit for all customers.

“Our customers are at the center of everything we do,” said Mark Crosswhite, Alabama Power chairman, president and CEO. “We are working closely with Walmart to help it meet its goals. At the same time, we are working to keep prices affordable for all customers.”

Walmart employs more than 37,000 people in Alabama at 139 retail units and three distribution centers. The company is projected to spend more than $848 million with Alabama suppliers in fiscal 2016, and supports more than 31,000 supplier jobs in the state, according to the business data firm Dun & Bradstreet. The company paid nearly $89 million in taxes on its Alabama operations in fiscal 2015 and made more than $29 million in cash and in-kind charitable donations in the state last year, according to its website.

Solar power is an important part of Walmart’s plan to evolve into a more environmentally sustainable company. (File)
Solar power is an important part of Walmart’s plan to evolve into a more environmentally sustainable company. (File)

“Walmart is important to Alabama and to Alabama’s economy. It is also an important customer for Alabama Power,” Crosswhite said. “We are committed to supporting Walmart and all our customers, and helping them grow and prosper in Alabama.”

Construction of the $140 million facility is anticipated to begin later this year. It is projected be fully operating by the end of 2017. The project is expected to generate about 125 jobs during construction, according to Origis Energy.

This is the third renewable energy project approved by the PSC under a program put in place last year. That program, also approved by the PSC, gives Alabama Power the flexibility to secure up to 500 megawatts of renewable generation through 2021.

To qualify under the program, a proposed project must be expected to provide positive net benefit for all Alabama Power customers over its lifetime. The program allows Alabama Power to work directly with customers who are interested in renewable energy to help them meet their needs while protecting Alabama Power’s broader customer base from any additional costs related to renewable projects.

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