The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

3 hours ago

Commerce secretary says Alabama needs new economic development plan

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield addresses the Economic Development Association of Alabama at its summer conference. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

How does Alabama’s commerce secretary react to a record year of economic development in the state? By calling for a revamp of the statewide plan that has guided that growth.

Greg Canfield knows that Alabama’s successes have come because the state has been willing to constantly improve on everything from incentives to targeted industries. It started with the state’s first comprehensive strategic plan with Accelerate Alabama more than seven years ago.

“I know when we came out of the gate with Accelerate Alabama in January of 2012, I believe we labeled it as a five- to six-year plan,” Canfield told Alabama NewsCenter. “Well, no. You know, the world’s changing too fast. So, we’re already in the second iteration with Accelerate Alabama 2.0 and we just launched it in 2016. Well, now here we are about three years later, maybe close to four, and it’s time again, because the world’s changing and we just want to make sure that the future is made in Alabama.”

707

Canfield called on professionals gathered at the Economic Development Association of Alabama summer conference to get ready for a new plan that responds to disruptive technologies and growth industries that the state wasn’t targeting a few years ago.

The state’s economic development plan identifies key business sectors Alabama is targeting in its recruitment and expansion strategies as well as the foundational processes that stretch across different industries, such as research and development or data centers.

Since launching the first iteration of Accelerate Alabama in 2012, the state has seen $37 billion in capital investment and 122,000 new jobs.

That includes new heights in 2018.

“We have been fortunate in Alabama that we have had a good story to tell and 2018 was a great story – record-breaking year, $8.7 billion in new investment was announced that will come into our state, not only from new companies coming here to Alabama but even more importantly perhaps is existing companies who are making the decision that they want to reinvest new capital and expand in Alabama as opposed to doing that somewhere else,” Canfield said. “All of that is bringing about 17,000 jobs just from the activity in that one year alone.”

The recent legislative session set the stage for how the Alabama Department of Commerce will expand its economic development efforts going forward.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act expands on the Alabama Jobs Act that was passed in 2015. That was a fundamental shift in the way Alabama offers incentives. Previous incentives were more debt-driven for the state while the Jobs Act allowed a company to receive incentives on a pay-as-you-go basis as the state realized capital investment and job growth. That sustainable approach was not only better for the state, but it offered incentives as more meaningful tax breaks for companies.

As a result, for the $1.7 billion in incentives the state gave between July 2, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, it has realized $10.5 billion in capital investments and seen 23,952 jobs created – a more than 5-1 return.

Even better news is the types of jobs being created. Projects supported by Jobs Act incentives pay $23.04 per hour, a 46% boost over the $15.77 per hour median wage in the state.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act builds on the Jobs Act by applying incentives to knowledge-based, innovation, technology and R&D industries. It also expands the number of rural counties in the state that get enhanced incentives and adds some distressed counties that don’t qualify as rural based on population, but face other issues that would allow them to benefit from the special incentives.

Alabama’s rural economic development incentives now apply to 13 additional counties (light red) and seven distressed counties (dark red) joining the previously designated 27 rural counties (red). (Alabama Department of Commerce)

“We’re really looking forward to implementing the new tools from the Modernization Act and having them apply for new technology companies as well as rural economic development opportunities,” Canfield said.

Canfield said rural economic development is getting added attention.

“We’re continuing our focus on rural economic development,” he said. “Again, 2018 was a record year — $1.1 billion of new investment in rural Alabama, over 1,100 jobs that will flow from that – so we’re proud about that, but this new set of tools from the Modernization Act are going to allow us to go even further in rural Alabama.”

Canfield announced last week that economic development veteran Brenda Tuck is in the newly created rural development manager position at the Alabama Department of Commerce.

In addition to that, EDAA has created the position of rural development strategist, which is held by Brian Hilson, who has headed economic development entities in Huntsville and Birmingham.

While it might seem a bit contradictory for the Commerce Department to say it wants to see high-tech, innovation industries grow while also saying rural economic development is a priority, Canfield said both are necessary.

“Alabamians are building great things, building great products that are found in over 192 countries around the globe,” he said. “So we need to underpin that activity and make that foundation more solid by creating the types of product development and R&D that anchors those industries in Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Record year for foreign investment sparks growth in Alabama

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

With major new growth projects moving forward across Alabama, foreign direct investment continues to play a vital role in the state’s economy, building on a record total of foreign investment approaching $4.2 billion last year.These FDI projects represent major job-creation engines for many Alabama communities.

853

Last year, companies from 16 different countries launched projects with more than 7,500 new jobs. So far in 2019, FDI projects approaching $1 billion in value will bring another 3,300 jobs to the state, according to an Alabama Department of Commerce estimate.

In Enterprise, Tier 1 auto supplier Hwaseung Automotive Alabama (HSAA) in March announced plans to add 168 jobs to its Alabama operation through a $6 million expansion that represents Coffee County’s largest FDI project in four years.

HSAA, which launched its Alabama operation in 2003 with 20 employees, will have nearly 600 when the new hires are added, said Jonathan Tullos, executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp. Its last major expansion in Enterprise came in 2015.

HSAA, which produces weather-stripping and air conditioner hoses, serves Hyundai’s Montgomery assembly plant, along with Kia, Chrysler and General Motors. Its Alabama-made products are found in more than a dozen automobiles.

“Having a company like HSAA make an investment in Enterprise is a ringing endorsement of the quality of workforce and opportunities that exist in our area,” Tullos said.

“We have seen in the past that these investments can yield additional job-creation opportunities from other companies looking for a home.”

One example: Advanced Carrier Products, whose parent company is based in Germany, opened a manufacturing operation in Enterprise to supply metal inserts to HSAA.

FDI IMPACT

Similar stories have played out in a number of Alabama communities in recent years, particularly as growth in the state’s auto industry has intensified.

Select USA, a federal government program that facilitates foreign investment in the U.S., says the Alabama operations of foreign-owned companies employ 109,000 people in the state. Read a report.

Since 2013, FDI projects in Alabama have involved nearly $13 billion in new capital investment, generating almost 25,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

FDI typically accounts for 30 to 50 percent of new and expanding industry activity in the state each year, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Clearly, this is a huge priority for us as a state, and we’re fortunate to have a diverse base of industries, along with a highly-skilled workforce, to attract and retain these commitments from global manufacturers year after year,” Secretary Canfield said.

Not all FDI flowing into Alabama is tied to the auto industry.

In fact, foreign investment recorded in 2018 originated from a diverse slate of sources in a variety of industries.

Major FDI projects now under way include French planemaker Airbus’ $264 million, 432-job expansion of its Mobile manufacturing plant, and the $101 million, 150-job expansion of the Calhoun County plant operated by Austria-based Kronospan, a leading manufacturer of wood-based panel products.

Other big projects were Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions Inc., part of a China-based conglomerate and parent company of GE Appliance, which announced a $115 million, 255-job expansion of its Decatur refrigerator plant.

In Mobile, Swedish steelmaker SSAB is investing $100 million, adding 60 jobs and relocating its North American headquarters from suburban Chicago.

FDI HORSEPOWER

Alabama has seen significant increases in FDI in the automotive sector over the past 25 years, thanks to the growing operations of foreign automakers Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, and their sprawling supplier networks.

Toyota has also played a major role. Earlier this year, Toyota announced a $288 million expansion at its Huntsville engine plant, where it will add two new production lines and 450 workers. The project will push the investment in the plant to $1.2 billion and its workforce for more than 1,800.

Meanwhile, just miles away, construction on the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA joint venture auto assembly plant is well under way. After production begins in 2021, the facility will have up to 4,000 workers.

Already, suppliers have begun circling the plant, bringing $380 million in new investment and nearly 1,500 jobs. More announcements are expected in 2019.

For Alabama, 2018 was a banner year for automotive FDI.

In addition to the new Mazda Toyota factory, other major projects included Mercedes-Benz’s new $268 million, 325-job EV battery plant in Bibb County, along with a $495.5 million expansion at the automaker’s Tuscaloosa County campus.

Elsewhere in the auto industry, Hyundai constructed a $388 million facility for engine manufacturing operations in Montgomery, and Honda announced plans to spend $55 million to improve weld operations and add more than 50,000 square feet at its Talladega County factory.

According to Select USA data, Alabama has attracted 114 auto-related FDI projects.

TARGETING INVESTMENT

Like other areas of the state, Tullos said Enterprise and Coffee County are making moves to position their region for future investment opportunities by focusing on education and workforce development.

“Our workforce is anchored by one of the best K-12 school systems in the state of Alabama as well as the efforts of Enterprise State Community College President Matt Rodgers, who recently launched a mechatronics program to support companies like HSAA,” he said.

The mechatronics program, offered at the Alabama Aviation College in Ozark beginning this fall, will train workers for high-demand industrial automation careers that focus on electrical, mechanical and computer engineering.

There are similar programs in place to assist Mercedes and Toyota. In addition, Alabama has rolled out initiatives including Success Plus and Apprenticeship Alabama that are designed to fill the pipeline of skilled workers needed in the future.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

23 hours ago

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers named Water Conservationist of the Year

A Renew Our Rivers cleanup crew displays its "catch" near Alabama Power's Plant Gaston. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

Alabama Power’s Renew Our Rivers campaign has earned one of the state’s most prestigious environmental conservation awards.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) honored Renew Our Rivers Aug. 9 as the Water Conservationist of the Year during the group’s annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony.

For more than 40 years, AWF has presented the awards to people and organizations that work to conserve the state’s wildlife and other natural resources.

The Water Conservationist of the Year award recognizes work in water resources conservation. Efforts focused on protection and improvement of water quality are especially important.

503

Renew Our Rivers began in the spring of 2000 with one Alabama Power employee’s vision to clean a stretch of the Coosa River near the company’s generating plant in Gadsden. Since then, more than 117,000 volunteers have joined the effort and collected more than 15.5 million pounds of trash and debris from waterways across the Southeast.

More than 117,000 volunteers have participated in Renew Our Rivers cleanups during the past 20 years. (Wynter Byrd/Renew Our Rivers)

“I experienced the positive impact of the Renew Our Rivers program firsthand during my time as executive director of the Freshwater Land Trust,” said Wendy Jackson, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance.

Jackson nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “This program truly benefits the rivers while inspiring people and communities to care. I understand the prestigious nature of the conservationist award, and I believe Renew Our Rivers exemplifies great dedication to conservation.”

More than 30 cleanups are taking place in 2019, the program’s 20th year.

“Renew Our Rivers, now celebrating 20 years, has become known nationally as a conservation leader in waterway cleanup,” said Thomas A. Harris, president of Alabama Black Belt Adventures. Harris also nominated Renew Our Rivers for the award. “The natural instinct to conserve and preserve water resources spurred this initiative and grew each year with the help of neighboring community partners, volunteers and organizations.”

In 2018 alone, 4,000 volunteers removed more than 268,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes, rivers and shorelines.

“The commitment to Renew Our Rivers continues to grow,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “We couldn’t do this without the wonderful partnerships we have made along the way. The campaign’s continued success is a testament to our partners and their passion for protecting our state’s precious natural resources.”

In addition to the Water Conservationist of the Year award, recent Alabama Power retiree Steve Krotzer was honored as the Fisheries Conservationist of the Year.

Krotzer worked 37 years with Alabama Power, collaborating on numerous projects with state and federal biologists. This included work on assessing fish communities; discovering the most viable population of the threatened trispot darter; and assisting with data collection and water quality improvements for the Tulotoma snail, which contributed to the first federal “downlisting” of an aquatic snail, from endangered to the less-dire threatened category. He also worked as the principal biologist on a landmark project to restore flows to a bypassed section of the Coosa River downstream of Weiss Lake.

“Steve’s fisheries career spans nearly 40 years. In that time, he has made significant contributions to the conservation, research and education of Alabama’s fisheries resources,” said Jason Carlee, Alabama Power Environmental Affairs supervisor. Carlee nominated Krotzer for the award. “In addition to his tremendous contributions to fisheries research and conservation throughout Alabama, Steve has served as a mentor for numerous other biologists and naturalists.”

For a list of all the honorees and more details about the ceremony, visit https://www.alabamawildlife.org/governors-conservation-achievement-awards/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 day ago

State Sen. Elliott: ‘We don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge…[The port director] doesn’t need it for port operations’

(Contributed-State Sen. Chris Elliott/ALDOT)

The controversy surrounding the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed $2.1 billion I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge that will require a toll of $6 each way may have hit another boiling point on Friday.

On the heels of a standing-room-only public meeting a night earlier in Spanish Fort, State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) criticized the design parameters of the ALDOT proposal that appears to have the support of Gov. Kay Ivey.

He contends those features have more than doubled the estimated cost of the structure over the past few years. Elliott told Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings” host Sean Sullivan on Friday the height of the bridge, which under the current plan is 215 feet, is unnecessary and should be reconsidered.

769

“I think it all goes back to the cost of the project,” Elliott said. “The cost of the project drives the need for tolling. The cost of the project drives the need for a very long timeframe on the tolling. So that’s where in my mind we need to start – is we need to go back to some of the design input that were made early on in this process and take a step back and look and say, ‘Do we need this bridge to be this tall?’ for instance.”

Elliott recounted the Mobile and Baldwin County delegation’s meeting with Ivey at last week’s Business Council of Alabama Governmental Affairs Conference in Point Clear and said she had “read from a sheet of paper” that made the case for the current ALDOT proposal. He went on to reject the necessity of the height of the bridge.

“And that’s one thing I want to focus on,” he continued. “We met with Governor Ivey last week in Point Clear. She had the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations in. And she read from a sheet of paper and proclaimed that we needed a 215-foot bridge for post-Panamax vessels to go under.”

“Now Sean, you know the Port of Mobile as well as I do,” Elliott added. “You’ve fished up there. I’ve fished up there. But you know how it works. You know what the upper harbor looks like and how that is different from the lower harbor and how they serve different kinds of ships. But my problem is, and you can ask Jimmy Lyons at the State Port Authority, and he’ll tell you – we don’t need a 215-foot tall bridge. We don’t need it! Why in the world is that a design parameter? Why do we have several hundred million dollars in cost on this project we don’t need? Why in the world is ALDOT proceeding with that?”

The Baldwin County Republican state senator was asked by Sullivan to reiterate his contention Alabama Port Authority director Jimmy Lyons saw the 215-foot height as unnecessary and said that height was based on a survey of the cruise ship industry of the tallest ships.

“We don’t,” Elliott confirmed. “He doesn’t need it for port operations. The 215-feet came out of the cruise ship industry and the poll that was done 10-15 years ago where they asked, ‘Cruise ship industry, how tall is the tallest ship that you have? Now listen, I have all the respect in the world for the City of Mobile and their cruise ship industry. But I think it is fair to categorize that as probably a tenuous grip on that industry. Why the governor’s administration is doing right now is designing a bridge for the Queen Mary 2 to sail under. And that’s just nuts. We’ve got a problem keeping just the smallest ship Carnival has here. And we’re designing for the Cunard Line to steam up Mobile Bay. That’s crazy. It really is.

“I think that’s we may have some success changing the governor’s mind is pointing out some but very digestible facts like that that says, ‘Time to take a step back. Time to look at reality, and oh, by the way, time to figure out what we can actually afford,’” he added.

Later in the appearance, Elliott urged Ivey to convene a meeting toll authority scheduled for October 7 in Southwest Alabama instead of Montgomery given the location of the bridge. Ivey as late as Friday afternoon has rejected such overtures.

He was also asked about the composition of the toll authority board, which includes two at-large appointments made by the governor. Ivey has filled those two positions with her chief of staff Jo Bonner and her deputy chief of staff Liz Filmore. Elliott predicted forthcoming legislation that would change that.

“You’re probably going to see legislation this year that changes that,” Elliott said. “There are certain things the legislature can do and certain things the legislature can’t do. But what you are going to see out of the Mobile and Baldwin County delegations is probably a dozen pieces of legislation that tries to address some of the failings that we’re seeing right now. Governor Ivey has two appointments that are at-large appointments. She can pick anybody in the state. And instead of picking anybody in the state, she picked her chief of staff and her deputy chief of staff. And I do not think that was the intent of the legislation.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 day ago

Roby: ‘My name isn’t on the ballot in 2020, but I still have a few fights left in me — The VA remains at the top of my list’

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay)

Last month’s announcement that U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) would not be seeking reelection remains as a shock to many. However, one of her signature achievements when she leaves office on January 3, 2021 will be the changes that resulted from her taking on the scandal-plagued Central Alabama Veterans Affairs system headquartered in Montgomery.

With some 16 months remaining in her term, Roby pledged to continue to make veterans’ issues a priority.

“My name isn’t on the ballot in 2020, but I still have a few fights left in me,” she said. “The VA remains at the top of my list. Throughout my time in Congress and especially over the last five years, we have made strides in the central Alabama veterans’ health care, veterans’ health services to turnaround a deeply broken system. But we still have a lot of work to do, and I fully intend to continue to fight. It is too important to quit. And until I take my last vote in Congress, you can rest assured and the people I represent can rest assured this is going to remain a top priority.”

335

She explained that access to health care for veterans continues to be an issue with which her congressional office is confronted and noted that when it reaches her office, that constituent is likely “at the end of their rope” in handling whatever that issue may be.

“Not only do our veterans need access, they need the best health care we can give them,” Roby added. “We continue to face issues in our VA system with being able to hire enough physicians and the amount of casework that we do through our office, which we are there to do. That is what we do – we help veterans get care. But the amount of casework is still far too high to say that we have succeeded at this point because when a veteran calls our office, they’re at the end of their rope in terms of being able to get through the system on their own. So they’re calling our office to work on their behalf.”

“And of course, our caseload is still way too high for us to say that we’re there,” she continued. “There are things that need to be addressed. Personnel is a big part of it. And just overall, the veterans’ experience – are they being treated with respect when they walk through the door or do they feel as if they are getting the best quality care the VA can give them. And so, again our nation’s veterans deserve so much more than they’re getting right now when it comes to getting health care through the VA. And so, like I said I’m going to continue to pound my fist on their behalf to make sure that we make the right changes to make sure they get the best quality care we can give them.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 days ago

NASA head visits Alabama public high school, praises ‘incredible teachers,’ ‘amazing’ students

NASA Admin. Jim Bridenstine addresses students at Arab High School (Rep. Aderholt/Twitter)

ARAB — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) visited Arab High School on Friday, speaking with students, faculty and local elected officials about all things space.

First on the agenda was meeting with the school’s student robotics team that is competing in NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, an annual competition in which student teams from around the country design, build, program and then operate their very own robotic moonbuggy.

The team’s teacher told Bridenstine that for him, “It’s not a job, it’s a calling.”

This type of passion was evident in the students and faculty when visiting with Bridenstine and Aderholt, as well as a contingent of NASA employees, some from the nearby Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, who were accompanying the administrator.

This included a starring appearance by Ricky Arnold, an active astronaut who has spent time on the International Space Station, among other missions.

1092

The next stop on the tour was another robotics team at the school, this one annually competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. This is a “legacy team” for NASA, as it was funded by the agency for the first three years of its existence from 2004-2007. Now, operating for 15 years, it has become a nationally respected program, winning the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award at last year’s regional and advancing to the world championships. 25,000 students across American participate in this competition. And while not receiving funding from NASA anymore, several employees of NASA and/or Marshall Space Flight Center do help the team out as mentors and volunteers.

Bridenstine, while speaking with the students on the team, turned to Aderholt and said, “We at NASA believe in this (supporting student robotics efforts) so much because of the benefit we get from it, from young folks that get involved and end up working in either industry that supports NASA or working directly for NASA.”

“We actually invest about $4,500,000 annually into the FIRST Robotics program,” he advised.

This was a major focus of NASA’s visit to Arab High School — emphasizing the value of STEM education and the pathways to high-quality, fulfilling careers that come from these types of classes and programs.

Bridenstine explained to the students on both teams that the work they were doing for their respective competitions “very closely mimics the kind of projects that NASA does.”

This builds real-world skills and prepares them realistically for STEM and technical jobs.

Bridenstine also offered words of encouragement.

“These kids here … could very well one day be building the robots that we put on Mars,” he stressed.

“I think you’ve got some future NASA employees right here,” Arnold chimed in.

“Yeah, no doubt,” the administrator responded. “No doubt.”

‘You guys are doing amazing things here’

While speaking to a more comprehensive group of Arab High School students shortly afterward in the school’s media center, Bridenstine shared some of the things NASA is working on now, things he told the students they could soon be directly involved in.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about this high school,” he remarked, adding that what he saw Friday affirmed what he had been told beforehand. “Clearly you guys are doing amazing things here.”

“Maybe, one day, NASA will be able to enlist you in some of the projects that we’re working on,” Bridenstine said.

The biggest project, perhaps, that NASA has on its plate was handed down directly from President Donald Trump: the Artemis program, which will see Americans return to the Moon, the first woman step onto the surface of the Moon and eventually see the first human voyage to Mars.

Much of the work on Artemis is actually being done at Marshall Space Flight Center, and Bridenstine, after leaving the high school in the Sand Mountain area, traveled up to Huntsville to announce even more goods news for north Alabama’s space industry — Marshall will lead the lunar lander program for Artemis now.

However, before leaving Arab High School, he left the students with more words of inspiration.

“I think if we were able to find life (microbial life) on another planet … if we can discover that, I think it’s going to change how we think, it’s going to change what we want to go discover and, of course, humanity will go further into the solar system than ever before,” Bridenstine concluded.

STEM — ‘Alabama has some really amazing programs’

Bridenstine and Aderholt also spoke to the members of the media present, sharing their enthusiasm for modern space exploration — and what the future could hold with students like the ones in Arab.

They both reiterated how educational tools like the robotics and STEM programs they witnessed on Friday help prepare students for real careers. The administrator added that at Arab High School and others like it, he hopes NASA can “inspire” students to travel the STEM pathway.

“When we talk about what it’s going to take for the United States of America to lead in the future, we’ve got to have folks entering the STEM educational programs — all across the country,” Bridenstine advised. “And of course, Alabama has some really amazing programs, some really amazing folks.”

Speaking with State Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) afterward, Bridenstine stressed how important state-federal partnerships are to NASA.

Legislators like Kitchens and State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) strongly supporting workforce development — whether it be technical training or STEM education — is important to build the highly skilled pipeline that keeps NASA and places like Marshall Space Flight Center running.

Kitchens told Yellowhammer News, “A lot of these things are teaching the kids what it’s like in a real-world application. Not only seeing it in the classroom, but being able to actually go out and be career-ready once they graduate high school.”

“Marshall Space Flight Center is so important to this area and this whole district, they have such an economic impact that kids are able to see and hopefully inspire them to be the next engineer or astronaut or whatever they want to be,” he added.

One important component that allows for successful STEM and workforce development programs like this, especially in rural areas like Marshall County, is having high-quality broadband in place. Scofield has recently led the charge in the legislature to expand rural broadband access across Alabama.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News, he called workforce development efforts “critical.”

“We’ve made every effort to invest in it here on the local level,” Scofield explained. “We’ve done that for the past nine years, and we’re really seeing the results firsthand here.”

“When we hear the administrator for NASA ask what these young people want to do and they say, ‘Precision machining,’ well that investment has paid off,” he continued. “That’s creating great opportunities for these young people.”

Scofield concluded that workforce development must continue to be invested in on the state and local levels.

You can view a tweet thread from the event, including photos and video clips, here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Marshall Space Flight Center to lead NASA lander program in return to moon

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine today announced that the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will lead the agency’s Human Landing System Program for its return to the Moon by 2024.

Bridenstine made the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket liquid hydrogen tank structural test article currently being tested at NASA’s Alabama installation.

He was joined at the event by U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee.

“We greatly appreciate the support shown here today by our representatives in Congress for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the Moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said.

342

Illustration of a lunar lander on the Moon (Photo: NASA)

“We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”

‘UNIQUE CAPABILITIES’

Informed by years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with U.S. companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said.

“Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era.”

Aderholt said Marshall is the perfect pick to lead the Human Landing System Program.

“Marshall Space Flight Center, and North Alabama, have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program,” Aderholt said.

“I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the Moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

RELATED: Alabamian selected to oversee key part of Artemis Moon mission

2 days ago

‘Consistently improving’: Alabama breaks four more employment records

(Pixabay, YHN)

After shattering five economic records in June, Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington on Friday announced that the Yellowhammer State set four more new employment records in July.

This includes a historic record-low unemployment rate, with July’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate coming in at 3.3%. This beat the previous month’s rate of 3.5%, which at the time was the record.

July’s rate represents 2,171,721 employed people, another new record high, which was 11,244 more than June’s count and 57,413 more than in July 2018.

“I’m proud to see our unemployment rate decrease and continue to reach record lows,” Washington said in a statement.

588

“This month we also saw the number of people counted as unemployed fall to its lowest count ever,” he continued. “More people are joining the workforce, with the expectation that they will find work, and, for the most part, they are. But even as we celebrate these records, we know that there is still work to be done. We’re proving month after month that Alabama has good, quality jobs. We stand ready to assist anyone who’s ready to work.”

The number of people counted as unemployed also dropped to a new record low of 75,157, which represents a drop of 12,761 people year-over-year.

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey lauded, “More than 57,000 Alabamians have jobs today that didn’t a year ago. That means that 57,000 more Alabamians have work and are contributing to their communities and our state.

“The effort we are making to bring jobs and employers to Alabama is working. We are consistently improving our workforce and preparing Alabama for the future,” the governor concluded.

Additionally, the civilian labor force increased over the year by 44,652 to a record high of 2,246,878. The civilian labor force represents the number of people, aged 16 and over, who are either working or looking for work, excluding the military and those in institutions.

Alabama’s labor secretary explained that the state’s progress is often outpacing the national average.

“Our over-the-year job growth measured 2.0% this month, which outpaced the nation’s job growth by half of a percentage point. In fact, Alabama has matched or outpaced the national growth rate for six out of seven months in 2019,” Washington advised. “Alabama’s economy added over 40,000 more jobs in the last 12 months, with at least four sectors reaching record level employment highs.”

Over-the-year job growth measured 2.0% in July, compared to the national growth rate of 1.5%. The only month in 2019 in which Alabama did not match or outpace the national growth was January, when Alabama’s growth rate measured 1.8%, and the national rate was 2.0%.

Over-the-year, wage and salary employment increased 40,200, with gains in the professional and business services sector (+8,700); the leisure and hospitality sector (+7,700); and the education and health services sector (+5,000), among others.

Four sectors saw record-high levels of employment in July: transportation equipment manufacturing (66,600); motor vehicle manufacturing (14,100); leisure and hospitality (219,200); and computer systems design (26,300).

All 67 counties saw declines in their over-the-year unemployment rates, with drops ranging from more than half of a percentage point to more than three percentage points. In fact, 64 counties saw no increase or a decline in their over-the-month unemployment rates, as well. All 67 counties saw monthly decreases in May and June.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates in July were Shelby County at 2.1%; Marshall County at 2.4%; and Elmore and Baldwin Counties at 2.5%.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were Wilcox County at 7.5%, Greene County at 7.0% and Perry County at 6.7%.

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates were Vestavia Hills at 1.7%; Homewood and Alabaster at 2.0%; and Hoover at 2.1%. Major cities with the highest unemployment rates were Selma at 7.3%, Prichard at 6.2% and Anniston at 4.6%.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Alabama psychologist admits to $1.5 million in Medicaid fraud

(S. Waltz/Facebook, YHN)

A Birmingham psychologist has admitted to trying to defraud Medicaid by billing for counseling services that were never provided, state and federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Sharon Waltz has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud Medicaid of at least $1.5 million, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced.

163

Waltz also agreed to pay restitution to Medicaid in the amount of $1.5 million, they said.

Waltz billed the Alabama Medicaid Agency for counseling services to at-risk youth that her company did not actually perform, according to a prosecution filing in federal court.

“The greed of this defendant deprived mental health care to many at-risk young people in Alabama, with the focus on profit rather than the efficacy of care,” Town said in a statement.

The state Medicaid Agency started the investigation after an audit showed that Waltz’s billings jumped from $99,000 to more than $2.2 million over two years.

Alabama Attorney General Marshall said in a statement that it was “a callous abuse of this trust and a fraud of staggering proportions.”

Court filings did not indicate if Waltz has an attorney. A federal judge has scheduled an arraignment for next week.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

Sign-up now for our daily newsletter and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.

2 days ago

Fourth-generation Alabama state trooper graduates academy

(CBS 42/YouTube)

Thirty-two new state troopers graduated from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) academy in Selma on Thursday, but there is still a ways to go to reach the state’s target level of staffing.

CBS 42 reported that one of the new graduates is Pate Nelson, making him a fourth-generation trooper.

“My great grandfather was an Alabama state trooper, my grandfather [was] and my father is currently a state trooper,” Nelson told the television network.

Nelson’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all reportedly reached the rank of captain during their career. Nelson’s father, Tracy, and grandfather, Doug, attended the graduation ceremony.

161

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall spoke during the graduation ceremony.

Watch CBS 42′ report:

Even with the new graduates, ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor advised that the state is still well short of its goal of having 550 troopers. He still hopes to hire approximately 200 new troopers within the next year, per WSFA.

This comes after the Alabama legislature appropriated $5.5 million during its 2019 regular session to hire a total of 50 new state troopers.

Funding for additional troopers is also expected to be requested in the 2020 session.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Powerful video teases grand opening of Alabama sawmill — ‘American dreams begin with American jobs’

(YellaWood/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey recently declared, “Alabama’s timber industry is at full throttle.”

There is no greater evidence to support this statement than the upcoming August 27 grand opening of Abbeville Fiber Sawmill in Henry County.

A “who’s who” of state and local dignitaries will be in attendance, including the governor, to celebrate the creation of over 100 direct jobs in the area, as well as significant new tax revenue for the city and the county.

However, this new facility is about much more than the facts and figures involved. For this rural Yellowhammer State community, Abbeville Fiber is indicative of a way of life.

With the big event coming up, a chill-inducing video featuring the tagline “American dreams begin with American jobs” was released on Thursday evening.

538

Watch:

Abbeville Fiber, a part of Jimmy Rane’s Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc., will occupy the former WestPoint Stevens textile plant off U.S. Highway 431 and Alabama Highway 27.

The state-of-the-art sawmill, featuring the latest technology in the industry, will have the capacity to produce 200,000 feet a day of finished wood and will purchase an estimated $14 million to $15 million of yellow pine timber annually from suppliers within a 50-mile radius of the plant, with local timber owners set to benefit as a result. Additionally, the facility will employ over 15 truckers from the surrounding area.

With the same innovation, honesty and hard work that helped build the YellaWood and Great Southern Wood Preserving brands, Abbeville Fiber is the latest reminder that Rane’s legacy is much more than being Alabama’s richest person. This project is all about empowering people in the area to provide a better life for their families and building a stronger, more prosperous community for all — a lofty goal that Rane has made his life’s work.

He and his company are truly committed to the Abbeville area, which is once again evident in this new facility’s location. Keep in mind that Abbeville Fiber will service Great Southern Wood Preserving locations across 28 different states, meaning this sawmill could have been built just about anywhere.

When asked by Yellowhammer News years ago, “Why Abbeville?” Rane showed his heartfelt passion — and loyalty — to his hometown, county and state.

“Why not Abbeville?” Rane replied without hesitation. “I think that’s the better question. Abbeville is home. I’ve lived here all my life. My mother’s family has been here a long time. My friends and family are here. Abbeville is composed of really fine, educated people who want an opportunity… so why not? I want to do all I can to help make Alabama as great as it can be.”

Production has begun

While the grand opening is still over a week away, business is already ramping up at Abbeville Fiber.

Charles Money Logging delivered the first load of logs on July 8 and sawing began that week, a source familiar confirmed to Yellowhammer News. The first finished lumber began shipping this month.

The sawmill has already hired over 50 employees and 15 truckers as of August 1, with more to come.

It should be noted that this is a two-phase project.

During Phase I, the facility will work its way up to an annual production rate of 50 million board feet per year.
In this phase, the sawmill will consume 40-45 truckloads of logs per day.

Then, in the next 12-15 months or so, Abbeville Fiber will ramp up production to 100 million feet, marking Phase II.
At that point, the facility will employ 105-115 people total, plus supporting 15 truckers. During this phase, the sawmill will consume 80-90 truckloads of logs per day.

The total cost of the sawmill will be approximately $40 million.

An $850,000 federal grant administered and awarded by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will provide transportation construction assistance to ship lumber, timbers and posts produced at Abbeville Fiber. The Henry County Commission and the city of Abbeville have pledged an additional $160,000 to complete the project.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Watch: ‘West Alabama and the coal industry’ News Shapers event shines light on high-paying jobs

(YHN)

Yellowhammer News recently held the fourth of its 2019 News Shapers events: “West Alabama and the coal industry.”

Hosted at Musgrove Country Club in Jasper, top stakeholders from industry, government and academia came together to discuss the coal industry’s impact on Alabama.

On Thursday, Yellowhammer released a video on social media with highlights from the event.

Watch:

114

You can read Yellowhammer News’ full coverage of ‘West Alabama and the coal industry’ here.

For even more on the event, you can read The Daily Mountain Eagle’s coverage here and here and WVUA’s article here.

The legislative edition of Yellowhammer News Shapers kicked off 2019’s series and was followed by the rural broadband edition on July 18 in Guntersville and ‘Prepare for Launch‘ in Huntsville on July 31.

More Yellowhammer News Shapers events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

3 days ago

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

(Wikicommons)

Aug. 15, 1968

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

19

Read more at Encyclopedia of Alabama

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 days ago

Census Bureau director, Alabama officials urge everyone to participate in 2020 Census

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham pictured with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt and Gov. Kay Ivey (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

The director of the U.S. Census Bureau traveled to Alabama yesterday to urge everyone living in the state to participate in next year’s census.

Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt invited U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to Cullman Wednesday to talk about Alabama Counts, the state’s action plan to accurately count the number of people living in Alabama next year. Gov. Kay Ivey said her goal is to get 80% participation which, if achieved, would be a record high.

Why all of the added emphasis?

“If we turn out at the rate we did in 2000, we will lose two congressional seats,” Ivey said. “If we turn out at the rate we did in 2010, we will lose one.”

437

Census information also determines the amount of money the state receives from the federal government to pave interstates, support Medicare and fund other programs in the state.

“The results are real important,” Ivey said. “It determines how many congress people we will have representing our voice in Washington and it also represents a high amount of dollars we will lose if we lose representation.”

In other words, getting counted counts.

“So much is dependent on the census,” Aderholt added. “If we want Alabama to grow and prosper economically, we need people to fill out the census.”

The 2020 Census will, for the first time, allow citizens to use the internet to report their household information. Dillingham said the agency is going to great lengths to make sure all the data is safe and anonymous.

“Everyone in America should be willing to give that information and know that it’s secure,” Dillingham said. “It will not — in any way, be shared with others, not with law enforcement or anyone else.”

Dillingham said the agency will be adding “digital noise” to data reports to prevent anyone from being able to link responses to specific people.

“The agency has employed dozens of people to make sure the data cannot be merged with other public data from other federal, state and local agencies to connect people with specific responses,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham said his agency is currently sending out workers to knock on doors and verify mailing addresses. He said the agency is also using technology, such as satellite imagery, to help workers determine if houses are still standing in areas where they were in 2010.

“The rural areas are of special interest to us,” Dillingham said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that we reach everyone. Sometimes it’s a farmer’s market or any kind of location where people gather. You can have someone there with a laptop encouraging people to answer the census.”

By April 2020, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census count, which will officially begin on April 1, 2020, also known as “Census Day.” When completing the census, you will note where you are living on April 1.

“We want people to understand that filling out the census form is easy, simple and safe,” Aderholt said. “Alabama can either gain a lot or lose a lot depending on who answers the census questions.”

To learn more about the 2020 Census, visit 2020Census.gov. To learn more about Alabama’s action plan to count as many people as possible in the census, visit census.alabama.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 days ago

Losers in three-way competition for 55-year Mobile Bay Bridge contract get bidding expenses reimbursed says State Rep. Stringer

(Fox 10 WALA/YouTube)

As if the proposed $2.1 billion Interstate 10 Mobile Bay Bridge needed another distinction from other projects, it turns out the remaining three competing groups bidding for the project will have their bidding expenses reimbursed.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “Midday Mobile” on Tuesday, State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) told host Sean Sullivan that win or lose, the companies involved in the bid would not walk away empty-handed.

Stringer, a freshman lawmaker, said he was opposed to the plan.

277

“You’re looking at doing a toll bridge on the heels of a gas tax,” Stringer said. “They haven’t even started collecting the gas tax, and we’re already talking about doing a toll. We need to think some of this out and how we do some of these projects. I’m definitely against the toll. I think we’ve got to look at other options before we go and do the toll and put a burden on our citizens.”

Stringer and other Mobile and Baldwin County lawmakers had a meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey recently while she was in Baldwin County for the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Conference. The Mobile County lawmaker said it seemed as if the governor and others in her administration had their minds made up about the project.

“I get that feeling, too,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a done deal. Is it close? Probably so. I think the people’s voices are starting to be heard. I’m the representative for North Mobile County and West Mobile, and the toll bridge is not going to affect us as much as it will others. And our citizens are in an uproar over it.”

Later in the segment, Sullivan asked Stringer about the reimbursement issue, to which Stringer confirmed and said the deal was one that many construction company owners would like to have.

“I have a lot of friends that are construction owners that would love to get reimbursed for the projects they don’t get on job sites,” Stringer said.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

 

3 days ago

15 states oppose Alabama’s effort to count only US citizens in Census

(YHN, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services/Facebook)

A coalition of 15 states and several major cities is opposing a lawsuit by the state of Alabama that would have the U.S. Census count only U.S. citizens and other legal residents in totals that play a key role in congressional representation and the distribution of federal funding.

New York, California, Virginia, other states, the District of Columbia and some other cities have asked to intervene in Alabama’s federal lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau.

529

The states and cities want to defend the longstanding practice of counting all U.S. residents regardless of immigration status, and oppose Alabama’s effort to have it declared illegal.

Alabama’s 2018 lawsuit continues a battle over immigration status and the U.S. Census after President Donald Trump abandoned an effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that the coalition will fight to ensure all people are counted in the census “despite the Trump Administration’s previous racist and xenophobic attempts to tip the balance of power in the nation and Alabama’s endeavor to continue down that path.”

“No individual ceases to be a person because they lack documentation.

The United States Constitution is crystal clear that every person residing in this country at the time of the decennial census — regardless of legal status — must be counted, and no matter what President Trump says, or Alabama does, that fact will never change,” James said.

The cities and states argued in a Monday court filing that the Constitution requires an actual enumeration of the population, which means all people regardless of their citizenship or legal status.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville filed the 2018 lawsuit that says counting all residents, regardless of immigration status, was not intended by the Constitution’s writers and the practice unfairly shifts political power and electoral votes from “states with low numbers of illegal aliens to states with high numbers of illegal aliens.”

Alabama argued in the lawsuit that “illegal aliens have not been admitted to the political community and thus are not entitled to representation in Congress or the Electoral College.”

Alabama has said it could lose a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 Census.

Attorneys for the intervening states argued they too have a “significant stake in the outcome of this litigation” because it will affect their political representation in Congress and their eligibility for federal funds.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar case ruled against two Texas residents who argued their votes were diluted by the practice of using the “whole population” to draw legislative district lines.

The Department of Justice is defending the Census Bureau in the lawsuit. However, the cities and states seeking to intervene in the case questioned the Trump’s administration commitment to defending the practice.

U.S. District Judge David Proctor in December allowed others to intervene in the case, noting the federal government’s “rather halfhearted” argument to dismiss the lawsuit.

The latest motion to intervene noted that Trump Attorney General William Barr had noted the “current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes.”

The states seeking to intervene in the lawsuit are: New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

The United States Conference of Mayors, the District of Columbia and nine other cities and counties, including Seattle and New York City, are also asking to join the lawsuit. The city of Atlanta also asked to intervene in a separate court filing.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

Sign-up now for our daily newsletter and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.

3 days ago

Mexican man gets 99 years in crash that killed Alabama woman

(Prattville PD/Contributed, Pixabay,YHN)

A Mexican national who was convicted of reckless murder and possession of alcohol as a minor has been sentenced to 99 years and three months in an Alabama prison.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports Jorge Ruiz was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum penalty in the October death of 29-year-old Marlena Hayes.

99

Ruiz, now 20, was speeding in his Ford pickup when he veered into oncoming traffic striking Hayes’ Honda. Hayes died from blunt force trauma.

Multiple open and unopened cans of beer were in and around Ruiz’s vehicle when authorities arrived.

Ruiz’s blood alcohol level wasn’t over the limit for minors.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement records say Ruiz entered the county illegally.

Ruiz initially posted bond and was being held by ICE for deportation until an “emergency motion” revoked his bond.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

Sign-up now for our daily newsletter and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.

3 days ago

Report: Harvey Updyke back in legal crosshairs over infamous Toomer’s Oaks poisoning

(CBS 42/Twitter)

Harvey Updyke, who in 2011 poisoned the historic Toomer’s Oaks at Auburn University, has been ordered back to court for his crime, according to WRBL.

Updyke wrote his own infamous chapter in Auburn’s football rivalry with the University of Alabama, with the Tide fanatic in 2013 pleading guilty to poisoning — and eventually killing — the since-replaced Oaks with a powerful herbicide.

At that time, he was given a three-year split sentence, with five years probation. Updyke was also ordered to pay almost $800,000 in restitution to Auburn, split into monthly installments.

However, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has now advised that Updyke is consistently failing to make his monthly restitution payments.

382

The district attorney told WRBL that Updyke has paid less than $5,000 total, frequently missing monthly payments along the way and even more so now that his probation period has ended. Reportedly, the missed payments have reached an egregious level.

“Harvey Updyke has never left my radar,” Hughes told the Columbus, GA-based news station. “We have been keeping an eye on his payments or more specifically, his non-payment, and he has made exactly two payments for a total of $200 in the past year.”

This did not suddenly just become an issue, either.

Hughes said that his office has been attempting to locate the man for nearly 12 months. On Tuesday, they were successful, as Updyke was served with an order to show cause when investigators tracked him down in Louisiana.

“Because of that (non-payment), we have been looking for him for close to a year, and we finally found him,” Hughes advised.

Now, Updyke has a new court date.

“He was served with a show cause order on Tuesday basically telling him he needs to be in Lee County court on October 30th of this year to tell the court why aren’t you paying,” Hughes explained to WRBL.

If Updyke fails to appear, Hughes said he will issue a warrant for his arrest.

“As long as I am in this office and [Updyke] is still breathing, I am going to be a bur in his side under his saddle and make sure he pays what he owes,” Hughes emphasized.

The district attorney believes that based on Updyke’s behavior (and potentially past comments), he has no remorse for intentionally killing the Oaks.

In fact, Hughes said that Updyke seems to celebrate what he did.

“He embraces his role as the villain when he goes to Alabama sporting events, which we know he has been back to an Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa in November,” the district attorney stressed. “If you have enough money to go see your team play, you have enough money to pay Auburn University.”

If Updyke does show up to his October hearing date, the court will decide how to proceed regarding restitution.

This is not the first time Updyke has run into issues with the court following his guilty plea.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Auburn implementing metal detectors at Jordan-Hare Stadium

(Bailey Harris)

Auburn Athletics has announced that Jordan-Hare Stadium will implement metal detectors at all gates beginning with the Tigers’ home opener against Tulane on September 7.

Auburn’s football gameday guide for the 2019 season details that all SEC schools will have to make the switch to metal detectors by the following season at the latest.

The new change means fans should arrive 30 minutes earlier than normal at Jordan-Hare.

For those unable or unwilling to pass through a metal detector at a gate, hand-held metal detector wands will be available as an alternative screening method.

165

Auburn’s guide states that the usage of metal detectors is being made “[t]o continue our university’s commitment to provide a safe and secure environment for fans, student-athletes, coaches and guests at our athletic facilities.”

While the guide’s frequently asked questions section advises that no prior threats have been made against Jordan-Hare, “like many stadiums and arenas, Auburn is implementing walk-through metal detectors along with other measures as means to enhance all safety and security procedures. Walk-through metal detectors are mandatory at all NFL and MLB stadiums. Several college stadiums across the nation already utilize walk-through metal detectors.”

The clear bag policy remains in effect.

(Graphic via Auburn Athletics)

You can read Auburn’s full metal detector policy here.

The University of Alabama implemented metal detectors at Bryant-Denny Stadium last season and will continue this policy, according to the Tide’s 2019 gameday guide.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 days ago

Byrne: Anti-gun push an attempt to blame ‘breakdown of American society’ on people not responsible for it

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

Last week, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), a candidate for U.S. Senate, hosted a town hall meeting at Hoover Tactical, a gun dealer located in Hoover.

During that event, Byrne fielded a question from AL(dot)com reporter Abbey Crain, who suggested there was something untoward in holding an event at a gun dealer’s facility in the wake of the El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio shootings.

On Wednesday, Byrne responded to that critique during an interview on Huntsville radio’s WVNN and asked how it might look if he had scrapped his plans for the town hall event at that venue.

396

“You don’t find people making these shootings going to places like Hoover Tactical,” Byrne said. “Plus, what sort of message would it send that I scheduled a town hall there and then because of the shooting, I’m going to say, ‘No, no Hoover Tactical – there’s something wrong with you and other gun dealers like you? I’m not going to support you or being anywhere near you.’ I met the people that run that business. They seem like really good people.”

“Everything I hear about them – they run a very good, very professional shop,” he continued. “It looked like high-quality stuff to me. It was never much of a question on our end. We were going to go forward with it at that venue. And as you saw, it was excellent town hall. We got great questions, got into some substantive and meaty issues. We just had one reporter there that wanted to go off on that one issue and I don’t think it had much of an impact on the other people in the room that day.”

The Baldwin County Republican addressed the push to change gun laws and regulations, which he said but the blame on people that were not responsible for the actual problem.

“We’ve got a problem with the breakdown of American society and we’re trying to blame the effects of that breakdown on people that aren’t responsible for it,” he added. “But it is not unusual with the far left. They do that. And so, the question is are the rest of us going to succumb to that. And I just made up my mind that I’m not going to. I know where I stand on that issue. I’m not going to change my mind on it. And I’m not going to allow other people to try to villainize or try to taint the good people like the folks that own that business. I’m going to continue to stand with them because they’re doing nothing wrong and they have a right to be doing what they’re doing.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

4 days ago

Alabama’s ULA chosen for six missions, lauded for ‘proven safety record and on-time performance’

(Sierra Nevada Corp./Twitter)

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) on Wednesday announced that they have selected Alabama rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s six NASA missions to the International Space Station.

The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021.

“Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options,” SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen explained in a statement.

338

“SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance,” he said. “This is bringing America’s spaceplane and America’s rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration.”

(Sierra Nevada Corp/Contributed)

Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and remain attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns to earth large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing.

SNC’s Louisville, Colorado-based space systems division is proudly partnering with ULA, which assembles rockets at its world-class Decatur, Alabama production facility.

“In this very competitive launch vehicle market, we feel privileged that SNC chose to launch this block of six missions to the ISS with ULA,” Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO, commented.

“This is one of the first contracts for our new Vulcan Centaur rocket, and the first of the six missions will serve as the rocket’s second certification flight,” Bruno advised. “We are excited to bring our more than 120 years of combined launch experience with our Atlas and Delta rockets, which build on a progressive history of technology development and advancement, to Vulcan Centaur.”

RELATED: ULA submits proposal for Air Force launch competition; Vulcan Centaur rocket on schedule for 2021

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Tuberville on Senate campaign: ‘When people are coming at you, you’re doing pretty good’

(T. Tuberville for Senate/Contributed)

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville on Tuesday interviewed with Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Aunie” show, discussing his 2020 Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Alabama and some of the recent headlines that have stemmed from his campaign.

Some of the issues that Tuberville touched on included requests to see his driver license, as well as his highly publicized comments regarding veterans’ healthcare that led to criticism from some of his GOP opponents.

“Well, first of all, you know when people are coming at you, you’re doing pretty good,” Tuberville told cohost Matt Murphy. “And our campaign’s getting stronger and stronger.”

899

Tuberville then hinted that his candor could occasionally land him in hot water on the campaign trail.

“You know, I’ve never done this for a living, I just go out and speak my peace,” he said. “Sometimes, I probably get a little over-zealous, because I’m passionate about this state and country. I mean, that’s the reason I’m running. I don’t have to have this job. But I’m running against guys that are career politicians — they’re establishment. And they’re ruining this country.”

The former football coach then directly addressed the comments he made regarding President Donald Trump and veterans in Muscle Shoals two weekends ago.

He said his thoughts came from the “listening tour” that he has been on around the Yellowhammer State.

“I’ve been doing less talking and more listening, because I want to find out what people need,” Tuberville advised. “I’m not going up there (to Washington, D.C.) representing them and not knowing what they need.”

He added that in the week leading up to that Shoals speech, he had been consistently hearing from veterans who expressed dire issues with the VA healthcare system, which was the point he was trying to convey during his remarks that day.

“You know, my dad died in the military, and I am very passionate towards the vets and the military,” Tuberville noted.

He then reiterated that “there’s nobody that’s done anything more for our vets or military than President Trump in the last 50 years.”

“He loves them, he’s trying to help them, but he has got a full plate,” Tuberville continued. “And I got up there (during the Shoals speech), and said, ‘Listen, I’d like to talk to President Trump about this. He really doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s turning it over to assistants, which is Congress, and they don’t do a dang thing other than try to get votes.’ Now, they’re on a two-month vacation. He gets more done when he’s up there by himself than when Congress is in session. So I said, ‘Listen, I’d like to talk to him. The vets are hurting in this state. We’ve got to have help for them. I mean, they’re dying. It’s immediate. We’ve got to have help.’ And he’s trying. But he doesn’t have help from Congress… so that’s kind of the direction I was going in.”

He also reaffirmed that he is “120% behind President Trump on everything he is doing.”

“[H]e has saved this country,” Tuberville added. “He has saved us, folks. He has saved this country, and we have got to get him back reelected.”

Tuberville dismissed attempts from political opponents to claim he is not a Trump supporter.

“Look, if that’s all they got — please, come on. Keep coming,” he remarked.

To the chuckles of the show cohosts, Tuberville then added that he wishes to see more of his primary opponents on the campaign trail instead of trying to raise money.

“Better get out there, because I’m getting votes, and I’d like this thing to be a little bit competitive. Right now, it’s not even competitive,” Tuberville quipped.

Co-host Andrea Lindenberg then asked him to address last week’s campaign trail spectacle in which someone asked to see Tuberville’s driver license, as his state of residence has become a seeming point of contention.

“Do y’all think I’m stupid, really?” Tuberville responded, clarifying that he was not referring to the show hosts with “y’all.”

“It’s absolutely amazing,” he continued. “You know, wherever I go, all my [opponents] send these kids in with cameras to shoot everything I talk about. Maybe they can get a word or two that I say that’s probably out of context. Because let me tell you something: I’m not going to be politically correct. And I’m tired of this double standard.”

He explained that the individual who asked him for his license was one of these “trackers” who has been attending his events in different places.

Tuberville said he does not use trackers for his campaign.

“[B]ecause I could care less what these people say, you know that I’m running against,” he advised. Later on, Tuberville said it was a tried and true tactic of “career politicians” to try tearing down their opponents because they themselves have no accomplishments to run on. He suggested his opponents focus on their own campaigns rather than his.

Between the pressing issues facing Alabama, including healthcare, broadband access, veterans’ problems, supporting law enforcement and agriculture, Tuberville also stated it was “amazing” that people are worried about his driver license.

He then explained that he does in fact have an Alabama driver license, telling the story of how he was pulled over recently by a police officer who reportedly wound up saying he was voting for him.

Later in the interview, Tuberville steered the focus to the Alabama GOP’s ultimate priority: defeating incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in the general election.

“We’ve got to get the Democrat out — socialist. He, for the majority of the people of this state, doesn’t represent [them] and hasn’t even tried to do so since he’s been in there,” Tuberville stressed. “President Trump’s gotta have help. He’s got to have huge help, and it’s got to be in the Senate.”

He expressed tremendous optimism with his chances of emerging from the primary victorious.

“I’m running away with this race,” Tuberville emphasized.

Listen to the full interview:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Madison County’s credit rating upgraded, now highest in county history

(D. Strong/Contributed, Madison County/Facebook, YHN)

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong on Wednesday announced that the county has received an upgrade in its credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service, resulting in the best rating in the history of Madison County.

Moody’s has upgraded Madison County from an Aa2 rating to Aa1. Additionally, S&P Global Ratings maintained the county’s current rating of AA+ with a stable outlook.

317

A press release from Strong’s office outlined that during recent meetings with both S&P and Moody’s, Madison County was praised for systematic measures taken to improve and strengthen the financial control of county operations. This includes the execution of debt reduction, upgraded accounting practices, financial management, job creation and organizational rightsizing.

“Our Commission and financial team have embraced change and have set conditions through new policies while making the hard decisions when it mattered most leading to this momentous announcement, and the tax payers of Madison County will benefit the most with lower bond rates,” Strong said in a statement.

In their new rating, Moody’s specifically cited Madison County’s large and growing tax base; healthy financial position marked by solid reserve and liquidity levels; and manageable debt burden. S&P noted strength in the local economy and budgetary performance, as well as strong liquidity and budgetary flexibility.

“These are historical times in Madison County, Alabama,” Strong emphasized.

“Since 2012, we have been very successful in letting the rest of the world know our engineering, advanced manufacturing, and propulsion capabilities thereby leading to more than 25,000 new jobs for the greater Madison County region,” he outlined. “While Huntsville has always been the Rocket City, if your company is in space or missile defense and you don’t have a presence in Madison County you need to rethink your business model because whether it be rockets or automotive engines Madison County is truly the Propulsion Capital of the World.”

Madison County continues to grow quickly, currently with a population of approximately 360,000 residents.

While Strong believes the economy in his county is the most robust he has ever witnessed, he concluded, “I believe Madison County’s finest hours are still ahead. Our team continues to build a solid economy and workforce not only for this generation but for many generations to come.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Tyson Foods blames contractor for Alabama fish kill

(Black Warrior Riverkeeper/Facebook, YHN)

Tyson Foods is blaming temporary piping installed by a contractor for pollution that killed tens of thousands of fish in a north Alabama river.

An open letter posted by an arm of the agricultural company says about 220,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater was released from a River Valley Ingredients plant at Hanceville on June 6.

95

The company says a contractor had installed temporary piping that failed.

It says waste reached the Black Warrior River’s Mulberry Fork, where an estimated 175,000 fish were killed.

The company says fish died because of low oxygen levels in the water, not chemicals.

The company says oxygen levels are now normal and fish are returning.

State conservation officials say it could take years for the river to recover, and area residents have filed suit.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

Sign-up now for our daily newsletter and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.