2 years ago

Greg Reed: ‘God put’ coal on earth for a reason; Alabama’s miners have strong ‘sense of pride’

JASPER — Yellowhammer News on Thursday held the fourth of its 2019 News Shapers events: “West Alabama and the coal industry.”

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

Yellowhammer co-owner Tim Howe moderated the forum, which featured Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper); Philip Saunders, vice president of engineering for Warrior Met Coal; Ken Russell, director of workforce solutions for Bevill State Community College; Judith Adams, vice president of marketing for the Alabama State Port Authority; and Brett Bussman, senior vice president and general manager for Tractor & Equipment Company.

Areas of focus included analysis on the past, present and future of the industry, highlighting the industry’s state and regional impacts, related workforce development efforts and community influence.

‘For me to represent those folks — it’s important’

Reed was the first panelist to speak and kicked things off by emphasizing how much the coal industry has meant to West Alabama historically — and how that special importance remains today.

He said the impressive standing room only crowd, which included a bevy of state legislators, local elected officials and representatives from various state agencies, was a tribute to the continuing impact coal has throughout the Yellowhammer State.

“Some of you have heard me say this before, but I pride myself on saying that I’m ‘the coal senator.’ And it’s because I represent Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties,” Reed said. “If you look at the numbers, those are the top coal-producing counties in the state of Alabama.”

“But you go a long way back — I’m 54 years old and I grew up in Cordova, Alabama, down on the Warrior River in south Walker County,” he continued. “And just about everybody was involved in some way with the coal industry… It’s just a fiber of who I am. My wife Mitsy is with me tonight. Her grandfather was a coal miner. Her daddy was a coal miner. Both my grandfathers were retired coal miners. So, the roots run deep in this community in regards to the significance of coal.”

“And the reality is God put something in the ground, and he gave men and women the intellect to know how to extract it, be able to then use it to produce all kinds of fantastic things that are so important to our lives. So, there is a certain sense of pride in knowing that’s who you are and what you do. For me to represent those folks — it’s important.”

Reed then said while Alabama’s coal industry has experienced “ups and downs,” the present state of affairs looks relatively good.

“[T]hings are back, and they’re positive,” he advised. “They’re exciting.”

However, that has not always been the case, recent times certainly included.

Reed outlined, “We’ve had some difficult times, too. I remember — you may know (Alabama Secretary of Labor) Fitzgerald Washington … this was only, during my tenure in the Alabama Senate, only about five or six years ago. We had an event at the Jasper Civic Center that was a job fair for coal miners (who were unemployed). At that time, I had about 1,000 men and women in my district that were out of work. And the coal industry had run on tough times. That day, we signed up 1,100 men and women that were standing in there with their resume, waiting for an opportunity to ask somebody for a job when they had spent their whole life being a coal miner. The good news is most all those folks have gone back to work (in the coal industry since then). And we’ve got folks that are on the panel with me here and those of you that are sitting out there (in the crowd) that know that the industry has hired hundreds and hundreds of new folks that are making big money doing what they enjoy doing and love doing, which is a great benefit to our community.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Bussman then spoke about the steam/thermal coal (which is burned for power generation) industry, explaining the high startup costs that these surface miners in the state face. He said a fleet of equipment alone would easily run someone $15 million off the bat.

Not only is this equipment supporting indirect jobs in Alabama, but so is maintaining the equipment. Whether that means highly skilled mechanics or giant specialty tires for the trucks, this is still big business. Additionally, there are tools and resources needed that have provided many secondary jobs from the industry, including the mining explosives provided by companies such as Nelson Brothers. That is not even to mention the transportation jobs supported by coal, from trucking to rail to inland waterways.

Saunders built off of this in his remarks, explaining that the modern mining industry is now what people perceive it as.

Using pictures to make his point, Saunders said that long gone are the days when coal mining entailed miners using pickaxes picking out rocks out of stores of mined coal by hand.

Now, the equipment is massive, high tech and, yes, very expensive.

However, high tech equipment also calls for highly trained workers to operate and maintain them.

This is why miners at Warrior Met Coal are also highly paid, with starting annual salaries of $80,000.

Through the company’s unique collaboration with Bevill State, Saunders and Russell outlined that Warrior Met Coal has trained 600 new miners this year alone.

Saunders stressed that this public-private workforce development effort is integral to the company’s ability to thrive and grow, which in turn is crucial to the surrounding community.

This past legislative session, Bevill State’s groundbreaking mine training facility was given another major boost via an approximately $1 million grant for longwall mining training. Reed spearheaded this effort, according to the Alabama Coal Association.

A major theme from the industry and academia panelists on Thursday was that the state’s support of workforce development initiatives and infrastructure investments are crucial to the coal industry, as well as many other jobs juggernauts in Alabama.

Adams said this especially included the Rebuild Alabama Act, which will make possible the deepening and widening of the Port of Mobile’s ship channel in order to compete at the highest level of international trade.

In fact, the met coal (coal used for coke, which is a necessary component in steel and iron making) industry is by far the port’s biggest commodity exporter– and Warrior Met Coal is the port’s largest single customer by tonnage. Overall, coal accounts for 50% of the port’s total business.

Looking forward, Adams predicted that deepening the ship channel will allow Alabama’s coal exports to make a significantly increased dent in Asian markets especially.

Saunders advised that Australian met coal producers are currently Warrior’s biggest international competitor, and the Rebuild Alabama Act’s effects are expected to make the state’s met coal industry even more of a player on the worldwide stage.

Adams hailed state leaders, such as Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, for the infrastructure package and especially singled out the stalwart efforts of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) for his support of the port improvements.

“We see the money that’s being invested and what that means for these shippers. And this industry up here (coal), they’re going to be able to load more coal,” she said. “They’re going to be able to put 20/30,000 tons more per ship, and for the first time, we think we’re going to have a competitive edge in the Asian market. We already serve Latin America and Europe… We’re excited about it.”

While things look up from this perspective, Saunders also advised that Warrior Met Coal was seriously looking into another expansion.

He said that its Blue Creek Mine has been identified as one of the largest untapped coal reserves in America. The company is studying the economic feasibility of the project, with a decision to likely come near the end of this year or early 2020.

If Warrior Met Coal does move forward with this expansion, it would probably mean another 450-700 high-paying jobs in the area.

‘This is a big deal’

This type of industry optimism can continue, with the support of the state and federal governments, Reed said.

“We’re proud of the fact that we are a pro-business state,” Reed emphasized. “We are looking for ways … minimize regulatory requirements that would cause us to not be able to see the kind of investment and growth that we have.”

He then recounted a story a vendor told him this past session that provides powerful perspective into the impact of Alabama’s coal industry across the globe and back here at home.

Met coal mined in the state is being shipped by barge down to the Port of Mobile and then shipped out to European steelmakers. Some of that steel is then sent back through the Port of Mobile to Mercedes-Benz’s manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa, and those automobiles are enjoyed worldwide, thanks, in part, to the contributions of hardworking, proud Yellowhammer State coal miners.

“For West Alabama, this is a big deal,” Reed concluded. “And I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

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

8 hours ago

Alabama lineworker training programs graduate spring classes

Bishop StateLawson State and Jefferson State community colleges are investing in the future by offering technical training programs to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades.

Through this innovative partnership, students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science knowledge needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready upon graduation.

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This spring, 39 students successfully completed lineworker training programs in Birmingham and Mobile.

As part of its ongoing commitment to workforce development, Alabama Power Company partners with these colleges to offer lineworker training programs.

“We are excited to partner with these outstanding colleges and provide opportunities for Alabamians to train for great, safe careers as lineworkers,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services. “Helping ensure our state’s workforce is well-represented and prepared to succeed today and in the economy of the future is an important way we seek to elevate Alabama.”

Post-graduation response has been favorable from hiring companies.

“Alabama Power and other utility partners have been extremely impressed with the quality of hires from these programs,” said Tom McNeal, Alabama Power Workforce Development Program manager. “I encourage utility companies and contractors seeking quality candidates and students interested in applying for the programs to contact the school in their area.”

Potential students who want to apply or learn more about the program should contact:

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Smiths Station celebrates two decades through new city clock

This June, Smiths Station will mark 20 years of incorporation, and the city is planning to celebrate the past, present and future in the most momentous way. City officials led by Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland unveiled a city clock that will honor history while looking to the future.

Nestled between Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia, Smiths Station is one of the three fastest-growing cities in Alabama, according to state officials. Incorporated in 2001, the Smiths Station community was founded in the early 1700s. It had an estimated population of 5,345 people in 2020.

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Copeland, the second mayor in city history, offered appreciation to the first administration in setting standards for Smiths Station’s successful 20-year history as a city.

“Thanks to the previous administration, former Mayor LaFaye Dellinger and the City Council that laid the groundwork, it was easy for us to build on that foundation, build the roof and with each passing administration, the building will get fancier and fancier,” he said.

Copeland went on to say, “the clock represents time set upon us and what we do in life.”

He said the city and community deserve the landmark and all that it signifies.

Melissa Gauntt, the daughter of Dellinger, expressed her gratitude to the foundation. She said of her mother’s work: “I know the time and commitment that she gave to the city in her 16 years as the mayor and even before becoming mayor in leading the efforts to incorporate the city. “It is truly befitting that this beautiful clock be representative of these deeds and is a striking addition to the front of City Hall.”

The clock is in downtown Smiths Station at 2336 Lee County Road 430. For more information about the city of Smiths Station, visit www.smithsstational.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Hyundai lending cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell SUV to Alabama State University

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) will lend one of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell sport utility vehicles, the Hyundai NEXO, to Alabama State University for an extended evaluation period.

Robert Burns, Hyundai’s vice president of Human Resources and Administration, made the announcement at a news conference April 6 joined by ASU President Quinton Ross in front of the ASU Lockhart Gym.

“This is truly a great time to be a Hornet as we celebrate the continuing partnership between Hyundai and Alabama State University,” Ross said. “Several weeks ago, Hyundai and ASU came together as the university hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the employees of Hyundai, and today we witness ASU partnering with Hyundai again as it loans us its high-technology vehicle, the NEXO, which will allow us to expose our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to this first-of-a-kind vehicle.”

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The Hyundai NEXO is the first hydrogen fuel cell SUV available for commercial sale in the world. It uses hydrogen to produce electricity for the vehicle’s electric power train and its only emission is water vapor. The Hyundai NEXO is available for sale only in California. Although the NEXO is not assembled at the Montgomery plant, HMMA has two Hyundai NEXOs that are part of a ride and drive program.

“The groundbreaking spirit behind the NEXO mirrors our own mission to be an innovative manufacturer of current and future mobility solutions,” Burns said. “The partnership between ASU and Hyundai began a few weeks ago with the COVID-19 vaccine clinic. The system ASU had in place was smooth, efficient and it worked well. Today, we extend that partnership with the evaluation of the Hyundai NEXO by the university. We are excited again to be working with Alabama State University.”

ASU hosted the first of two COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Hyundai employees March 26-27. ASU Health Center personnel will administer the vaccine’s second doses to them April 16-17.

“Our partnership between ASU and Hyundai has been smooth and wonderful,” said Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis, senior director of ASU’s Health Services. “Today’s event and our April COVID-19 vaccine’s second-round injections to Hyundai’s employees is a great example of ASU and Hyundai’s relationship jelling and extending into the future.”

Montgomery County District Judge Tiffany McCord, an ASU trustee, thanked Hyundai for being a team partner with ASU. “This is yet another positive example of President Ross putting his vision of ‘CommUniversity’ into action, which is good for both Hyundai and ASU,” McCord said.

She was joined at the news conference podium by fellow trustee Delbert Madison. “Thanks to the Hyundai family, which is a major contributor to our community,” he said. “When Hyundai shows up, it shows out.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

Auburn University’s Department of Animal Sciences partners with Winpak to extend shelf life of food

Auburn University’s College of Agriculture and its Department of Animal Sciences are teaming up with global packaging manufacturer and distributor Winpak to focus on research to extend the shelf life of meat and food products.

The food product packaging research began in October 2020.

“We are grateful and excited for the unique learning opportunities that will come from utilizing a collaborative partnership,” said associate professor Jason Sawyer. “Through this partnership, Winpak and Auburn University will aid their shelf life research through the placement of a VarioVac Rollstock Packaging Machine provided by Winpak.”

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Collaborating with Winpak and working with industry leaders will not only enhance and contribute to diverse research experiences within the graduate program, but will provide undergraduate students with real-world meat and food packaging involvement, Sawyer said.

“We anticipate this project will work as the foundation to a significant relationship with Winpak, as Auburn University works in tandem with company experts to produce cutting-edge protein packaging and shelf-life solutions,” he said.

The Auburn University meat science research team goal is to provide more product value and reduce markdowns and waste at the retail counter.

Research evaluating alternative packaging of protein products can provide greater knowledge about creating safer products for consumers as a result of less microbial growth.

“Winpak is excited to partner with Auburn University on this unique opportunity,” said Tom Bonner, protein market director at Winpak and an Auburn alumnus. “Developing packaging concepts is an area where Winpak feels Auburn’s Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory can add valuable knowledge and insight.”

Leaders in the protein industry are looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to the ever-changing demand for new packaging concepts, Bonner said.

“As Winpak continues to develop sustainable packages for the protein market, we hope this partnership will attract these industry leaders to the Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory to conduct packaging trials and ideation sessions,” he said.

The packaging equipment at Auburn will allow for student interactions with industry leaders. The goal will be to expose students early in their pursuit of career options and facilitate better-informed students entering the workforce. The protein industry will need strong, innovative leaders to develop creative ideas to keep up with the demand for meat proteins.

“Supporting our customers and upcoming food manufacturing leaders is something we take very seriously at Winpak,” Bonner said. “We anticipate that our new collaborative relationship with Auburn University will be the spark to many unique and interesting ideas for the protein industry.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Nearly $100 million targeted for wildlife injured by 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

The Deepwater Horizon Regionwide Trustee Implementation Group, which includes trustee representatives from four federal agencies and the five Gulf Coast states, is seeking public input on the first post-settlement draft restoration plan.

The regional approach exemplifies collaboration and coordination among the trustees by restoring living coastal and marine resources that migrate and live in wide geographic ranges, as well as linking projects across jurisdictions.

The plan proposes $99.6 million for 11 restoration projects across all five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and specific locations in Mexico and on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Comments will be accepted through May 6. The trustees are hosting two public webinars with open houses for questions and answers on April 15.

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The draft restoration plan evaluates projects that would help restore living coastal and marine resources injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through a portfolio of 11 projects:

  • Four projects ($18.6 million) to help restore sea turtles.
  • Three projects ($7.2 million) to help restore marine mammals.
  • One project ($35.8 million) to help restore and increase the resilience of oyster reefs.
  • Two projects ($31 million) to help restore birds.
  • One project ($7 million) to help restore both sea turtles and birds.

The public is encouraged to review and comment on the draft plan through May 6 by submitting comments online, by mail or during the virtual public meetings.

Information on how to submit your comments are at the latest Regionwide Restoration Area update.

During the April 15 virtual meetings, trustees will present the draft plan and take public comments. Register and learn more about the webinars and interactive open houses.

The draft plan and more information about projects, as well as fact sheets, are posted on the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)