4 months ago

Brooks leads Alabama House delegation in fighting for state’s aerospace industry

Led by Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05), members of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation are fighting simultaneously on behalf of Alabama’s aerospace industry and to maintain the military’s commitment to its national security space launch program.

On Friday afternoon, a bipartisan group of 27 representatives of the U.S. House of Representatives signed onto Brooks’ letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson supporting the National Security Space Launch Program’s Phase 2 acquisition strategy. The group included Reps. Bradley Byrne (AL-01), Martha Roby (AL-02), Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Terri Sewell (AL-07). Reps. Mike Rogers (AL-03) and Gary Palmer (AL-06) did not sign the letter.

This letter was first reported by Yellowhammer News when it was being drafted and circulated to potential signatories. Now delivered to Wilson, the letter represents a major stand for the Yellowhammer State and for modern national security interests.

The signatories called on the Air Force to refrain from weakening any performance requirements and emphasized the importance of limiting Phase 2 missions to two launch providers.

The program, called Launch Services Agreement (LSA), originally awarded three companies the opportunity to develop launch vehicles for use in national security space missions under public-private partnerships.

News of the award to carry national security payloads brought praise from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and others.

The companies entered into LSA with the understanding that certain performance requirements were necessary to participate in a second phase of the program where the Air Force would only call on the top two providers.

As a result, companies became incentivized to make substantial investments for the opportunity to participate in the second phase.

Not proceeding as planned has some in the industry concerned that companies who fell behind, or were not willing to invest the necessary resources, could end up getting rewarded.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Brooks reiterated the importance of ensuring Phase 2 gets down to two providers from three on schedule.

“America’s military relies heavily on space to defend America,” the congressman from north Alabama said. “Therefore, America must have reliable and affordable space access options. The Air Force conducted a robust and competitive launch provider selection process open to all U.S. launch providers. National security requires that the Air Force’s launch provider acquisition must remain on schedule.”

He further explained, “Current law mandates that America stop relying on Russian rocket engines. If launch provider acquisition is delayed, America cannot ensure we can reliably launch space assets on time. The Air Force should not weaken performance requirements, particularly for America’s most sensitive national security missions, because doing so risks mission loss caused by lesser quality rockets.”

State and federal leaders have positioned Alabama as a key player in the national security space race.

However, Brooks outlined that there could be negative effects on the state’s aerospace industry if Phase 2 remains open to three providers.

“The Air Force has determined that there are enough launch missions to support two providers but not three. Having only one launch provider is costly and risky,” Brooks advised. “Costly because, with just one provider, there is a monopoly and no competition. Historically, monopolies result in much higher consumer prices. Risky because, if there is only one provider and that one provider goes out of business, America no longer has launch capabilities for military, commercial or space science launches. That would be very bad for America, particularly since an overwhelming majority of America’s national security weaponry relies on space assets to properly function.”

He continued, “While three or more launch providers are an option, there simply are not enough missions available to profitably allow three or more providers to co-exist. More launches equals fewer launches per provider which, in turn, means higher taxpayer cost resulting from the loss of economies of scale that reduce prices.”

“Essentially, one launch provider is not enough and three providers are too many. Two providers is the sweet spot, and the sooner we get to two providers, the better off America and its taxpayers will be,” Brooks concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

20 mins ago

Alabama’s Margaret Renkl, writer for New York Times, launches first book, ‘Late Migrations’

A couple of years ago, Alabama native Margaret Renkl, who had made a career out of writing and editing, was stressed. Really stressed.

Living in Nashville, she had moved her mother up from Birmingham to help take care of her in her final years.

“After my mom died, and my husband’s parents had moved up here, too, it really was unbearable,” she says. “I was dealing with grief and caregiving, and two of my three children were still living at home. It was a lot.”

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Then, at the Southern Festival of Books, Renkl ran into an editor from The New York Times. The newspaper was starting a new series, The End, about end-of-life issues, and he urged her to write about her experience.

“I ended up working, first thing in the morning, 15 minutes a day, on an essay about my mother’s death and my mother-in-law dying, and at the end of the month, I sent it in, and they bought it,” Renkl says. “I did another piece, and they bought that, also. By that time, I was feeling a lot more confident.”

Her mother-in-law had also passed away, so Renkl had a bit more time.

“I was still sorting through these issues about grief, but I didn’t think of them as a book,” she says.

But they were a book, at least the beginnings of one, and last month Renkl released “Late Migrations,” a book of essays about two of Renkl’s passions – her family and the natural world.

The book has received rave reviews from celebrities and bibliophiles alike. Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine says Renkl “guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits.” Author Ann Patchett says the book has the makings of “an American classic … beautifully written, masterfully structured and brimming with insight into the natural world.” Actress Reese Witherspoon says Renkl “is the most beautiful writer. I love this book.” “Late Migrations” has been featured on NPR and in Garden & Gun and People magazines, among others.

It’s all a bit surprising to Renkl, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in English in 1984 and earned her master’s at the University of South Carolina.

“The structure is unusual, and the subject is often sad,” Renkl says. “It’s a meditation on grief some ways, and I think we as a culture aren’t comfortable talking about death and grief. I’ve been surprised and heartened by the response.”

Renkl was born in Andalusia, but she moved to Birmingham while in first grade.

“The world I lived in in Birmingham was completely different from the world I lived in heretofore,” she says. “We went back to lower Alabama all the time, because my grandparents still lived there. That was pretty foundational for the way I think of my growing-up years.”

Renkl’s father was in real estate development, building apartment complexes, and she and her family would move from site to site, wherever her father’s company was building a complex.

“It’s a little ironic that I spent so much time in the outdoors, because we were living in the woods that my father’s company was tearing down,” says Renkl, who graduated from Homewood High School.

She and her brother, Billy, an artist who provided illustrations for “Late Migrations,” forged their collaboration early on with childhood books of poetry and illustrations. Later, Billy would be her art director when she was editor of her high school newspaper and also when she was editor of the Circle literary magazine at Auburn.

After graduate school, Renkl taught high school, but in her 10th year of teaching, she found herself on bed rest while pregnant with her second child, and since she couldn’t teach, she had to “find a way to make some money.”

She launched a 12-year freelancing career with an essay for Glamour magazine and later edited Chapter 16, an online journal for Humanities Tennessee, for 10 years.

After that, The New York Times, a publication she had failed to sell freelance essays to after several tries, came calling, and she began writing for The End. The Times soon hired her to write a regular monthly column, and six months later, they asked her to write weekly.

“I asked for my first contract to be six months instead of a year, because I wasn’t completely convinced I could come up with something every week,” Renkl says. “Then I signed a contract for a year, then another for a year. I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.”

As a regular writer for The Times, Renkl writes about “flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South,” according to the newspaper. She has written about her familyanimals and politics.

In the meantime, Renkl was continuing to write essays about her family – the grief of losing her mother, mother-in-law and, earlier, her father – and, thanks to her disdain for the 2016 political season and its aftermath, nature. “I started writing a little nature blog that had pretty much zero audience, but writing about the natural world reminded me that what was happening in the political arena was only temporary,” she says. “At some point, the other women in my writer’s group said, ‘You know this is a book, right? … This is a book about longing and loss in many different contexts.’”

Milkweed Editions agreed and worked with Renkl on “Late Migrations,” which includes memoir-type essays along with essays on nature and drawings by her brother.

“This was his family, too,” Renkl says. “So it seemed natural to me to have my story of my family include work by him. … Also, Billy’s artwork is very often about birds and insects and stars and flowers and leaves.”

Initially, Renkl paired her work with pieces her brother had already created, but he ended up creating 20 original pieces for “Late Migrations.”

“As I was reading the early drafts of the book, I came to realize that I wanted to use my voice to amplify the beautiful connections between Margaret’s backyard observations of nature and her stories about our family,” Billy Renkl says. “Eventually, I decided to aim for a carefully calibrated relationship between images that seemed to reference the history of wildlife identification guidebooks and family photo albums – images that were equal parts objective observation and idiosyncratic family myth.”

Though some have referred to “Late Migrations” as a memoir, Renkl disagrees.

“To me, that means comprehensive and complete,” she says. “These essays make no pretense to be comprehensive. I’m not telling the story of my life. I consider it primarily to be a meditation on loss and human life and in the natural world. I took great comfort, in writing both sets of essays, in seeing how what happens to us in human life is being played out all around in the natural world.”

Renkl says her parents would have loved “Late Migrations.”

“They were so proud of me, and the book is a love letter to them,” she says. “It’s a love letter to family life, to the natural world. It’s a praise song. They would have loved that.”

Margaret Renkl will be signing “Late Migrations” on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at Pebble Hill in Auburn; and Read Herring books, 105 S. Court St. in Montgomery, on Sept. 5. You can find her book tour schedule here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

Samford University’s Ida Moffett School of Nursing receives $3.5M Nurse Practitioner Residency Grant

Samford University’s Ida Moffett School of Nursing will receive $3.5 million over four years to place nurse practitioner graduates in rural, underserved areas for primary-care residency. The grant is the largest in Samford University’s history.

The Advanced Nursing Education – Nurse Practitioner Residency Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration is designed to prepare new nurse practitioners to deliver high-quality primary care in community-based settings. During the year-long program, nurse practitioner residents will complete academic coursework and clinical hours in underserved population locations.

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“For nearly 100 years, Ida Moffett School of Nursing has prepared well-equipped, compassionate nurses to serve the underserved,” said Nena Sanders, vice provost of Samford’s College of Health Sciences and nursing school dean. “This grant affords us the opportunity to enhance the knowledge and skill sets of our graduates and intentionally place caring, competent nurse practitioners where the needs are greatest.”

The grant will facilitate the launch of the first residency program housed within the nursing school.

The program will focus on developing new family nurse practitioners with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to improve the quality and safety of rural health care systems. According to professor and grant manager Stephanie Wynn, the program will place a special priority on addressing value-based care, telehealth, obesity and mental health issues.

“This residency program will distinctively position new nurse practitioners to face the complexities which occur when providing care to rural and underserved populations,” said Wynn. “Ninety-eight percent of Alabama’s counties are designated, either all or in part, as a Medically Underserved Area or a Health Professional Shortage Area. This program will transform communities by increasing the quality and quantity of primary-care providers who are trained to provide innovative, compassionate care.”

Fifty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural, and only two of those 55 are considered to have the minimum number of providers available. According to Wynn, the state’s population-per-physician ratio well exceeds 3,000 to 1 in many rural areas. “Nearly 44% of Alabama’s population is living in rural areas, yet 70% of primary care physicians practice within Alabama’s five largest counties,” said Wynn. “Health care must shift to better meet the needs of today’s population.”

During their rotations, residents will receive training in vital telehealth technology reducing accessibility issues for patients who would otherwise need to travel long distances to seek care. “By providing residents with telehealth training, rural communities will gain direct access to specialists in the urban areas,” said Jill Cunningham, nurse practitioner department chair.

Cunningham and Wynn are leading the residency and curriculum development with the support of an interprofessional team of educators. The first cohort of 10 nurse practitioners will begin their rotations July 1, 2020.

“More than 20 years ago we launched a nurse practitioner program to fill a need within the health care system, and that vision hasn’t changed,” said Jane Martin, senior associate dean for Ida Moffett School of Nursing. “We are producing well-trained, compassionate nurse practitioners who are breaking health care accessibility barriers.”

Ida Moffett School of Nursing offers nurse practitioner coursework that is aligned with the needs of today’s heath care environment. Students choose from specialty areas such as family, emergency or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and entry points are available for associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree holders. Advanced practice registered nurse, nurse practitioner certificates are also available.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Josh Laney to head Alabama Office of Apprenticeship as skills program expands

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, announced that Josh Laney has been named director of the newly established Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) as the state moves to expand a program that elevates the skill levels of workers.In his new role, Laney will partner with industries and education providers across the state to develop and expand traditional and industry-recognized apprenticeships for youth and adults.  He will also lead the AOA’s support of larger workforce development infrastructure for Alabama to identify and promote the recognition and use of valuable credentials.

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Laney previously served as senior director for Workforce Development at the Alabama State Department of Education, where he supported local school system efforts to align the career technical training initiatives with workforce needs.

With over 20 years of experience in education, Laney’s career path has taken him from the classroom to administrative leadership in junior high and high school settings before assuming the role of career technical director for Phenix City Schools in 2011.

Under Laney’s leadership, the AOA will expand Alabama’s registered apprenticeship opportunities, resulting in additional skilled employees in the workforce and increased economic activity for Alabama.

“The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship is a game changer. Having someone like Josh who is passionate about education and dedicated to the growth and preparedness of our workforce is a home run for Alabama,” said Castile, who heads Commerce’s Workforce Development Division.

MEETING DEMANDS

The establishment of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship represents another step in Alabama’s strategic efforts to develop a comprehensive workforce system. Apprenticeship programs allow the state to meet the current and future demands of business and industry, while also creating greater opportunities for Alabamians.

Registered apprenticeship programs are innovative work-based learning opportunities that rely on business involvement and provide on-the-job training while also providing wages from employers during training.

Apprenticeship sponsors develop highly skilled employees, while reducing turnover rates and increasing productivity.

Alabama has five industry focused sectors for apprenticeships:  Healthcare, Construction/Carpentry, Information Technology, Distribution/Transportation & Logistics and Advance Manufacturing.

“The success of Apprenticeship Alabama over the last few years made us realize that we needed to go bigger,” Castile said. “With Josh’s extensive background in workforce development and education it was natural fit for agency.”

Laney’s appointment follows the passage of Senate Bill 295, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, which not only established the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship but also expanded the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit from $1,000 to $1,250.

The legislation also increased the number of apprentices one employer may claim from five to 10, as well as the tax credit cap from $3 million to $7.5 million, and established the Alabama Apprenticeship Council.

The AOA will serve as the registration agency for all registered apprenticeships in the state of Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

5 hours ago

Huntsville’s economic future is tied to our airport’s success

Huntsville is one of the fastest-growing local economies in our nation.

Boosted by federal and private sector investments, our region is on a strong economic trajectory. In fact, a recent population boom has put the Rocket City on track to potentially be the largest city in Alabama in the next six years. Our airport represents a key component to continuing this trend because current and new industry considering locating to our region depend on passenger and air cargo operations that support their own operating needs. The local economy depends on our ability to connect with other communities across the globe, so Huntsville International Airport (HSV) is vital to maintain those bonds as the region’s gateway to the world.

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But similar to other airports around the country, HSV needs infrastructure investments in order to continue to be able to meet the expected flow of passengers and goods in the future. Projected growth in the area and HSV’s desire to continue to propel this region forward is why in 2012 the airport completed a major $92 million dollar terminal and landside project that included creation of a public waiting area, a new security screening checkpoint, a new baggage claim and a second parking deck. Those necessary upgrades that were a part of the 2002 Master Plan update, have improved the passenger experience and the efficiency of the airport.

Although HSV has seen many improvements and aesthetically offers visitors a very warm welcome to our community, other portions of our terminal are between 30 and 50 years old and in immediate need of improvement. As determined by HSV’s current Master Plan update, the parts of the airport’s facility that passengers use every day like our elevators, escalators, restrooms and concessions need redevelopment and expansion to keep up with demand. In addition, these anticipated terminal improvement projects are imperative to adhere to new federal standards and provide our passengers with facilities that meet their expectations like nursing rooms and pet relief areas. The aforementioned terminal improvement projects would reinvigorate HSV and set the stage for continued growth for our region for years to come.

We are grateful to Senator Shelby and our Alabama congressional delegation for recently securing significant FAA discretionary grants, however, these funds are designated for specific federal government high priority airfield projects. The previously mentioned terminal improvement projects are considered a lower priority for federal discretionary grants. Therefore, our challenge is to find funding for these necessary terminal improvement projects that are currently on hold.

The good news is that there’s a solution that doesn’t require taxpayers to foot the bill. If Congress would lift the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) — a small user fee paid only by air travelers on which airports depend to fund their infrastructure – HSV could begin this project immediately. The PFC is federally capped at a maximum of $4.50 and it hasn’t been updated in nearly 20 years, making it ineffective and inadequate to serve 21st-century airports that have experienced inflation just like everyone else. For example, HSV’s current PFC dollars are already committed through 2030. By modernizing the PFC for the first time since 2001, Congress would allow our airport to generate funding from only the people using the airport, for the project referenced above – all without a dime of taxpayer dollars.

Starting these terminal improvement projects would have a major impact on our region’s economy. On top of the tens of thousands of jobs that Alabama’s airports already support, it’s estimated that these projects would create 608 construction jobs and inject $19.1 million into the Huntsville economy via construction labor wages alone.

Some will say that we should leave the PFC alone. However, those voices fail to acknowledge that maintaining the current PFC could result in stalled growth in Huntsville. The airport has a major footprint on the local economy, with a total regional economic direct impact of 7,692 jobs equating to a payroll of $474,327,000 and a total multiplied impact of 24,293 jobs equating to a payroll of $942,828,000. Failing to upgrade our airport infrastructure could harm our economy and job growth. We have recently experienced lower fares at HSV due to the addition of two new carriers and the competition that those carriers created in the market. The improved and expanded infrastructure projects will further encourage the airlines to grow and expand, therefore modernizing the PFC can have a positive and direct impact on passenger fares.

HSV is not alone, America’s airports need nearly $130 billion in infrastructure over the next five years in order to match the demand. It sounds like a staggering number, but the number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports has doubled since 2000 to approximately one billion annually. Conversely, the PFC that pays for critical infrastructure of those airports has not increased in nearly two decades. These airports in their current state were designed for half of that traffic so it is clear that something must be done to modernize airports.

Airports across the country and organizations like Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives stand alongside numerous conservative organizations asking Congress to consider eliminating the PFC cap entirely or, raising the cap and adjusting it periodically for construction cost inflation.

There’s no doubt that Huntsville is a city on the rise. With a strong economy and a growing population, we are poised to continue to enjoy this success. HSV has always worked to provide the community with an airport that acts as an economic engine by taking proactive measures that allow for immediate and long-term growth. However, to stay on this path we must ensure that our airport is able to meet the vital needs of the growing population and business community. Modernizing the PFC isn’t just important for HSV – it’s critical for the future of our region.

Rick Tucker is the executive director at Huntsville International Airport

7 hours ago

Roby: A recap from the road

Each year, during the month of August, Congress is out of session for a month-long district work period. This is an excellent time for me to travel throughout the Second District to hear directly from many of the people I’m honored to represent. During my recent time on the road, I made several productive stops in Enterprise, Dothan, Headland, Montgomery, Troy, Opp, Andalusia and Red Level, and I would like to take this opportunity to share what I learned.

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In Enterprise, I visited Enterprise State Community College (ESCC) with several members of my staff, and we received a very warm welcome. I received updates from ESCC President Matt Rodgers, division chairs and directors, and State Representative Rhett Marques. It was exciting to learn more about the college’s many facility improvements, as well as new programs and opportunities ranging from academics to athletics. As I told ESCC leadership, I will continue to do all I can in Congress to support their critical role in workforce development. We are certainly fortunate to have this outstanding school in the Wiregrass.

In Dothan, I had the privilege of speaking to the Associated General Contractors (AGC) during their monthly lunch meeting. We had a fantastic discussion, and I appreciated the opportunity to update the group on my committee assignments for the 116th Congress and how I will continue to fight for their priorities in Washington. AGC has been a friend to me over the years, and I am thankful for their diligent efforts to keep me informed about what’s important to their organization.

On my second stop in Dothan, I visited Key Fire Hose Industries, Inc. (KFH) to talk with company leadership and greet employees. I was truly blown away by their impressive operation designing and manufacturing hoses for firefighting, forestry, the military, agriculture industry, and more. KFH has more than 300 distributors reaching more than 70 different countries worldwide, and the company has sold a fire hose to every continent. I was glad to see the work they perform firsthand.

In Headland, I participated in a roundtable discussion with local farmers and business owners. We had a very productive conversation about some of the challenges they’re facing and how I can be helpful. I sincerely appreciate all who took the time to speak with me.

In Montgomery, I was honored to offer the keynote address at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues event. I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with friends in my hometown, and I am glad the event was a success. My next stop in Montgomery was to the Alabama Fusion Center where I received an informative update from Secretary Hal Taylor, Fusion Center Director Jay Moseley, and others. I appreciated their presentation about the important work they’re doing each day to combat human trafficking and other heinous crimes against humanity. These men and women are on the front lines fighting the terrible crimes that plague communities throughout our state, and I am tremendously grateful for their work.

In Troy, I attended Rex Lumber’s open house and was given an awesome tour of their extensive operation. Rex is one of the most technologically-advanced sawmills in the South, and I am so grateful they’ve chosen to invest in the Second District. I am looking forward to partnering with their company and others as we work to strengthen our economy and create more jobs for Alabamians.

In Opp, I visited with local leaders and small business owners. I was glad to hear directly from these hardworking folks on the ground in Covington County, and it was especially great to see my good friend, Mayor Becky Bracke.

Down the road from Opp in Andalusia, I enjoyed lunch at the Buckboard Restaurant with my friends at PowerSouth, the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and many other constituents. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to speak one-on-one with some of the people I represent, and I appreciate all who attended.

My next stop in Andalusia was to the South Alabama Regional Airport (SARA) for a tour and an update from Executive Director Jed Blackwell. SARA is a major job creator for the area, and we are fortunate to have this economic activity in our district.

Last, but certainly not least, in Red Level, I stopped by the municipal complex where I sat down with Mayor Willie Hendrix, Water Clerk Sandy Williamson and Town Clerk Tonya Cook. We discussed some of the ways we can help each other improve the lives of our shared constituency.

My time on the road during the August district work period was very productive, and it would not have been possible without the many constituents and local leaders who took the time to share their thoughts with me. Spending this valuable time with the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District enables me to better represent our shared priorities in Washington.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.