3 years ago

How Opelika became Alabama’s gold standard for small-town downtown revitalization

You know the place – a dominant courthouse, a few oak trees, a park and a few businesses with storefronts along a sidewalk that is sheltered by awnings. Perhaps there is a post office, two or three churches, a museum or a library. Throw in a handful of offices, a diner or a coffee shop, and you have a small town downtown district.

They are scattered all throughout Alabama and serve as the primary junction in places like Eufaula, Ozark, Demopolis, Winfield, and Cullman. Some are weathering hard times as commerce has shifted beyond downtown to lower cost outposts along the highways—like the Walmart Supercenter or malls with Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Welcome to Opelika

In East Central Alabama’s Lee County, the city of Opelika is reversing that trend and making downtown the place to be. Opelika, a city with a population pushing 30,000, has a traditional, small-town Alabama downtown, but with a railroad corridor and two adjacent avenues at its northern boundary.

Opelika is often overshadowed by its sister city Auburn to the west with its well-known university and status as a destination during college football season. But with an economy that has benefitted from the presence of nearby Auburn University, Opelika has started a different trend and is growing from within by revitalizing its downtown.

(Image: First Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Long-time Opelika resident Glenn Buxton, a 50-year veteran of the radio business who now serves as the director of the local museum, explains how Opelika resurgence has become noticeable in just the last several years.

“Even as late as 2010, there was nothing going on downtown until they started revitalizing the downtown restaurants,” he said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “Now, there are people living downtown. You got all the restaurants. The parking lots are filled all the way up to where we are even at night. You have a lot of activities going on.”

“From 2009 back, you could take a rock and throw it down that street and not hit anybody,” Buxton added. “And of course, a lot of the stores were in bad shape.”

After 5 p.m. on weekdays and the entire weekend, activity ceases in many a downtown. After working hours, people migrate out to their homes on the edge of town, out in the country and away from the blocks surrounding the courthouse square.

That trend had reversed for Opelika. While many of its establishments close shop after business hours, there are also businesses that start the day around the same time. Restaurants, bars, a brewery and now a distillery maintain the downtown’s pulse late into the night hours.

(Image: 1929 Western Railway of Alabama, Opelika Map — University of Alabama map archives)

A decades-long process

Getting to this point was a gradual process that goes back decades. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller estimates the first steps took place under his predecessor former Mayor Bobby Freeman in the mid-1990s. Freeman’s successor Mayor Barbara Patton continued the effort, and the transformation is still taking place today.

“Toward the end of [Freeman’s] term, we started our first streetscape project,” Fuller explained to Yellowhammer News. “It was Courthouse Square, where the fountain is. Then we did some other streetscape downtown. We did a couple of blocks – underground utilities, landscape, new sidewalks. And then when I got here in 2004, we did several more streetscapes projects.”

(Image: Courthouse Square in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

What happened next Fuller suggests was something of an attitude adjustment by the downtown business owners. Initially, he explained the attitude seemed to be the businesses were downtown were something of a hobby for their owners. However, once they realized these businesses could be profitable, things started to change.

“We had some entrepreneurs come in,” he said. “They wanted to make some money. They were motivated by profit. They had a mortgage. They had a car payment. They had children in college. They wanted to make some money, so that changed that business atmosphere. So then, we got these great restaurants.”

The Marsh Collective

Fuller says the Irish Bred Pub, an establishment on the edge of the downtown district by the railroad, sparked his downtown’s resurgence.

The Irish Bred Pub (not to be confused with its franchise in Montgomery on Dexter Avenue that started that downtown’s revitalization) replaced an old drug store. The two-story gastropub has a balcony that wraps around a street corner and has an interior that is outfitted with mahogany to give a classic look.

(Image: Irish Bred Pub in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Fuller credits local developer John Marsh the Irish Bred Pub’s interior and many of the other revitalized elements in Opelika.

Marsh, who Fuller describes as a “young entrepreneur,” is the owner of J Marsh Enterprises, Inc., a company that is in the business of—as Marsh would say—redemptifying historic spaces.

“We’ve done 185-plus houses and buildings and ten blocks, so we’ve dedicated a good portion of the last 20 years to redeeming this small patch of ground,” Marsh said. “I grew up in Opelika. It’s been my home for about 30 years, and we believe there is something powerful about redeeming cities. So we’ve renovated all these downtown buildings and residential houses in an effort to make a difference.

“We believe that when you save historic structures, it makes a generational difference,” he added. “We know that Opelika’s blessed with some great historic structures. In fact, it’s our Mount Rushmore in so many ways. It’s something unique for us to have the type of historic downtown we have with historic districts that are in such beautiful condition.”

Marsh said his 50-year vision for Opelika has opened up other opportunities for his business, which include Stanford, Ky., Winter Haven, Fla., Bloomfield, Ky. and Albany, Ga.

(Image: Ave A at 8th Street in Opelika, Ala. — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“We believe it is such a huge part of our opportunity to have Opelika flourish for the next 50 years,” he added. “That’s our dream. How do we help our city flourish for the next 50 years? We learned that by slowly doing the work, and we stored a huge vision we have for our downtown and for this area. Then secondly, it opened up the door for us to help cities all around America. We have seven cities that have different patrons with portfolios of up to $100 million that we helped through our consulting company that we helped steward whole towns.”

Critics of downtown revitalization projects cry gentrification, wherein the city improvements attract more affluent patrons and residents, with the effect of displacing lower-income people. Marsh says that is a faulty label for his efforts.

“People say, ‘Well, is this gentrification?’” he said. “We kind of coined our own word. We say, ‘No, we do redemptification.’ And that’s the creative work of redeeming a place to its intending beauty or glory. We have a different mindset about this type of work, and we paid the price over 25 years to learn with our own money.”

(Image: Avenue A at 8th Street in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Marsh seeks to break the cycle of cookie-cutter development, which has plagued a lot of places in Alabama – strip malls with chain restaurants that offer a near-identical experience, be it in Tulsa, Okla. or Lakeland, Fla.

“Opelika has got a bright future – smart folks trying to do good work in the world and uniqueness,” he said. “Nobody ever goes to a city and says, ‘I had the most amazing dinner. I went to this town.’ ‘How was it?’ ‘Well, it was Ruby Tuesday’s.’ Nobody says that. We only celebrate uniqueness and to be honest with you, that’s one of the benefits of downtown Opelika. It’s not loaded with a bunch of chains that have the same experience as anywhere else in America.”

The formula

As Fuller had said, the business owners’ attitudes have a lot to do with the character of the downtown. Marsh says the first ingredient to set that tone is the culinary offerings.

“That’s in the hearts of the people that are running the businesses,” he said. “Businesses – you reproduce who you are, not what you want. Those are the operators who are creating. We realize food is powerful. Most town revitalization, we always start with food.”

(Image: 8th Street near Zazu in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“We know we can get people to drive through the worst part of town for good barbecue,” he added.  “Food moves people. We use food as the primary starting point for building communities.”

The other elements beyond food he says are the overnight stay options, the specialty shops and retail and the residential component.

“We think we can bring people in from one gas tank away,” Marsh explained.

Beverage attractions

Two of downtown Opelika’s “unique” offerings, the John Emerald Distilling Company and the Red Clay Brewing Company, are side by side on the north edge of the city’s downtown.

The John Emerald Distilling Company is a father-son team that released its first whiskey in 2015. That was a historic occasion given Alabama’s embrace of prohibition long before the rest of the country.

(Image: John Emerald Distillery in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“They distilled the first legal whiskey made in Alabama since before prohibition,” Mayor Fuller explained. “Alabama, and we’re the only state capable of this, we declared prohibition five years before the federal [government] did. I’m sure the bootleggers helped promote that, them and the preachers – but they make whiskey.”

Fuller also touted Red Clay Brewing, which he praised as one of Opelika’s big draws.

“Next door to that is Red Clay Brewing,” he continued. “Both of those are attractions. Folks come in and want to go to the tasting room, and it just draws people downtown.”

(Image: Red Clay Brewing in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

More development to come

Fuller anticipates the city will continue its role in downtown revitalization, just as it had when it started decades earlier.

“We’d like to extend our streetscapes – take it a few more blocks in town to go to the underground wiring, redo the sidewalks, landscape, and so I suspect we’ll be doing some more of that.”

Currently, Fuller says there are a handful of downtown loft apartments that he highly recommends as nice and convenient.

“I want to tell you – I’ve been in a couple of those lofts. My wife and I could live there just like that,” he said.

(Image: Downtown Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Fuller, a four-term mayor, said he would like to see more residential offerings, perhaps in the form of a condo development.

“I can see in the coming years we’re going to see more and more of it,” Fuller said. “I’d love to see somebody find a nice piece of property downtown and put some kind of nice condo development, maybe with some underground parking and maybe with some retail on the ground floor.”

(Image: 8th Street near Zazu in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

Lacking in Opelika’s downtown portfolio are hotel options. Aside from the Golden Cherry Motel, made famous by the 1979 Academy Award-nominated film “Norma Rae” and has seen better days, and the Heritage House Bed & Breakfast, most of Opelika’s lodging accommodations are away from downtown. They are around exits off of nearby I-85, or north of town near the city’s much-celebrated Grand National golf courses, part of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones golf trail.

Marsh told Yellowhammer there is a plan in place to change that.

“We’re in the process of putting together an 88-room boutique hotel,” he said.

Marsh explained the entire effort had been a learning process through trial and error, which he indicated has made his business better positioned for the future.

“We have our heart and life invested in 10 blocks,” he explained. “We believe that we’re stewards of that place and we have to do a good job and make a difference for the people that live there. We want everyone in Opelika to flourish. That’s a pretty big order.”

Marsh predicted there would be “a lot more” over the next two years.

(Image: Lee County Courthouse in Opelika, Ala., — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

“People don’t want to drive as much,” he said. “They want to have fast Internet, good shipping and walkable to all the things they need, and a good quality of life. If we can provide that, I think Opelika has a unique – probably the most unique downtown, properly located to the I-85 corridor between Atlanta and Montgomery. I don’t think there’s any downtown that is better located with distance to the Interstate and inventory of historic buildings. Hopefully soon, with offerings – we have more restaurants and hospitality concepts and all of that coming. You’re going to see a lot more within the next 24 months.”

Jeff Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and works as the editor of Breitbart TV. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_poor.

(Top image: View of Downtown Opelika, Ala. from Railroad Ave. facing south — Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

2 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to launch second wave of production hiring

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, the joint-venture automotive plant between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to resume the hiring of production positions at its Huntsville assembly facility on Monday.

The company will make its public announcement during a Facebook event on at 3:30pm Thursday.

“When you join the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing team you become a part of something bigger. Our production team member positions are career opportunities on a world-class team of highly-skilled, high-trained coworkers supported by leadership committed to the individual success of each employee on our team,” said Janette Hostettler, vice president of production at MTM.

“We looked forward to launching this next phase of hiring and encourage all interested in joining our team to tune into the Facebook Live event to learn more,” she said.

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MTM’s assembly facility, now under construction, is expected to open next year. Ultimately, the plant will employ up to 4,000 workers.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is assisting MTM with the hiring process. The Thursday Facebook event will take place on AIDT’s page.

In August, when MTM announced an additional $830 million investment in the Alabama facility, the company said its employment had reached 600. Initial hiring of the production team began in January 2020.

“The partnership between the State of Alabama and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has been great not only for our state but also our citizens,” said Ed Castile, head of AIDT and deputy secretary of Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re proud to support their hiring and training needs as they move into the next phase of their process and give more Alabamians an opportunity to jump start their manufacturing careers,” Castile added.

The new jobs are direct hire, full-time positions on the MTM production team. Starting wage for production team members is $17 an hour, with a top wage of $23 an hour plus shift premium.

MTM production team members are provided benefits on their first day of employment including paid time off, vehicle discount program, and medical, dental and vision coverage. Employees are also eligible to participate in MTM’s 401(k) with 6% employer match after 60 days.

Interested candidates may submit their application beginning Monday at the company’s website.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

32 mins ago

UAB infectious disease expert says Alabama coronavirus situation at ‘scary inflection point’

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) infectious disease expert Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo held a virtual briefing on Tuesday during which she provided context for Alabama’s troublingly high rate of coronavirus spread and concerning number of hospitalized patients.

As Yellowhammer News reported on Monday, Alabama is experiencing a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, including at Marrazzo’s own UAB Hospital. New cases, meanwhile, are very near the highest average the state has experienced.

“This is not a surge… but a spike,” Marrazzo said of Alabama’s current increase in coronavirus numbers, repeatedly warning that the next few weeks could bring a “tidal wave” of new COVID-19 patients.

Marrazzo further relayed that Alabama is doing less testing than earlier in the pandemic, and she believes the current case numbers are an “underestimate” of reality.

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“We are not even in the post-Thanksgiving surge yet,” cautioned Marrazzo with regards to the even further increase in cases she and others expect to come about after many citizens traveled last week.

“This is a really, really scary inflection point,” Marrazzo said of Alabama’s current COVID-19 numbers, adding that hospitals may need to set up “ancillary care places” if the number of patients requiring hospitalization continues to go up.

“A lot depends on what happened over Thanksgiving weekend,” she said.

The doctor said one hypothetical situation keeping her up at night is a potential shortage of health care workers leading to some patients who urgently need care not being able to receive it in a timely manner.

“Are we going to have enough people to take care of what I thank may be a tidal wave of patients in the next month?” Marrazzo asked rhetorically.

She described that Mobile has currently exhausted its supply of ICU beds and said the statewide ICU bed situation is “not particularly optimistic.”

Marrazzo said Monday that she has gone to great lengths over the course of the pandemic to avoid being alarmist and offered some more positive news amid the rising cases.

“We have managed to improve the way we take care of people in the hospital,” she noted, further explaining that far fewer patients require being placed on ventilators now that doctors have more experience treating the virus.

“I think the vaccine news is very, very encouraging,” Marrazzo highlighted, mentioning specifically the medical company Moderna’s submission of its vaccine candidate to the FDA.

The expert also explained a complicating factor in the upcoming vaccine dispersal, for which the consensus is that health care workers will get the first doses, but the next round of people to get vaccinated is not wholly agreed upon.

Marrazzo described how priority could be made to give it to older citizens who are most at risk for serious complications if coming down with COVID-19. Another priority might be giving it to those in the community most likely to transmit the virus even if they are younger or less vulnerable.

With regards to the Pfizer vaccine, which was similar in its effectiveness to Moderna’s vaccine but must be stored and transported at much lower temperatures, Marrazzo said she was “very encouraged” by the company’s recent efforts to see if its vaccine was stable enough to be transported and stored more easily.

Near the end of her briefing, Marrazzo said “a huge amount of fatigue” is likely to blame for the numbers increasing even as the public is aware of the proper precautions – like mask wearing and social distancing – that must be taken.

The doctor said that going forward, “shaming is not the answer,” and those interested in stopping the virus must “appeal to people’s better nature.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Alabama Power employees raise money to help people in need

Employees at Alabama Power raised more than $49,000 in November to support nonprofit agencies and community partners who are helping people in need this holiday season.

The virtual fundraiser was organized by the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) as an alternative to traditional supporting activities. APSO State Board President Kodi Belford said the pandemic changed the way APSO volunteers would normally assist these organizations.

“What has been especially hard this year is knowing that organizations in the community need our support, and due to the pandemic, we have shifted how we engage,” Belford said. “While the pandemic has changed things, it hasn’t completely prevented us from being there for our communities. We are continuously finding new ways to provide support, and I am extremely proud of our members and how they are overcoming these hurdles.”

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The money will support several nonprofit agencies and community partners, many of which either purchase clothing and toys for foster children or provide food for families in need. Employees from Southern Company Services, Southern Power and Southern Nuclear also participated in the fundraiser.

“The pandemic has changed the way in which APSO is able to serve, but our long-standing commitment to serving the community has not wavered,” said Tequila Smith, vice president of Charitable Giving. “I’m proud of the way APSO volunteers have remained engaged and continue to give back. This fundraiser is just one example of how our APSO volunteers have found a way to still make a difference and ensure those in need have a bright holiday season.”

APSO shared highlights of its partnerships during a live-streamed event Nov. 17. During the event, APCO Employees Credit Union President Derrick Ragland presented a $15,000 donation to APSO.

“We have a long history of supporting APSO, Renew Our Rivers, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels and other events and we are so proud to be part of this partnership with Alabama Power,” Ragland said. “Just because COVID has stopped traditional events, doesn’t mean the need is not still there. We are proud to be part of the Alabama Power family and will continue our support of the charitable initiatives of Alabama Power.”

Some of the organizations benefiting from the fundraiser include Home of Grace, Ronald McDonald House of Mobile, Lifting Spirits of Senior Citizens, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, Boys Club of Sylacauga, Shelby County Department of Human Resources (DHR), St. Clair County DHR, Talladega County DHR, Vincent Elementary School Backpack Buddies, Walker County DHR, Walker County Salvation Army Angel Tree, AIDS Alabama, Vineyard Family Services, YWCA of Central Alabama, Jefferson County Salvation Army Angel Tree, Mulherin Home, Montgomery Area Food Bank, Girls Inc. of Dothan, Miracle League of Dothan, Wiregrass Area Food Bank, Bigbee Humane Society, Boys & Girls Club of West Alabama and City of Lights Dream Center.

For more information about APSO, visit PowerOfGood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

City of Mobile to purchase 300-acre ‘Brookley by the Bay’ plot — ‘Will be an economic boom’

The City of Mobile on Tuesday announced an agreement to purchase hundreds of acres of land in a multi-faceted deal that is intended to provide public access to Mobile’s waterfront for generations, preserve sensitive wetlands and secure invaluable property for 21st century economic development.

The announcement was made in a press conference featuring Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL), Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, University of South Alabama (USA) Foundation President John McMillan and other dignitaries at the Mobile Downtown Aeroplex at Brookley.

The approximately 300-acre swath of land to be purchased is commonly known as “Brookley by the Bay,” sitting along the western shore of Mobile Bay to the east of the namesake aeroplex. It is made up of multiple parcels owned by the USA Foundation.

“Today’s announcement is a win-win for the city of Mobile and the state of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement.

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“By preserving our wetland areas, we are ensuring that future generations of Alabamians can experience the beauty of Mobile Bay,” she continued. “Also, expanding the footprint of Brookley Aeroplex will be an economic boom, not only for the Mobile area but for the entire state. I appreciate everyone involved in this extraordinary project and making it a reality for the people of Alabama.”

Maps of the land can be viewed here.

The purchase agreement, which was approved by the Mobile City Council on Tuesday, is the culmination of six years of negotiations between the City of Mobile and the USA Foundation.

“This is a truly transformational purchase that will impact Mobilians for generations to come,” Stimpson commented. “With this agreement we will secure nearly 150 acres of waterfront property in one of the last undeveloped areas on our shoreline. It will be managed by the City of Mobile Parks and Recreation department for all Mobilians to enjoy. Additionally, the nearly 150 acres being set aside for economic development will ensure Brookley Aeroplex has a great opportunity to sustain the growth that will one day make it the world’s 4th largest site for the construction of commercial aircraft.”

The total purchase price as agreed will reportedly be $42 million, with $33 million due upon the subsequent closing of each parcel and the remaining $9 million payable should an option be exercised by the City within the next 5 years.

“This is a uniquely situated property, located close to downtown Mobile, the Alabama State Docks and adjacent to the Airbus Final Assembly Lines,” McMillan explained. “Development of this property will greatly enhance the economic vitality of the Greater Mobile community and greatly benefits the entire community, the City of Mobile and the University of South Alabama, which the Foundation is chartered to support.”

Of the 150 acres of waterfront property, about 50 acres of coastal wetlands will be purchased with $2 million of NFWF funding from the State of Alabama, and 100 acres at the site of the old Brookley Center will be purchased with $16 million from GOMESA funds.

Of the 150 acres for economic development, approximately 100 acres will be purchased with $15 million from the Governor’s Economic Development Fund. This parcel will be developed into an industrial park that will serve as an ideal location for the aerospace supply chain supporting companies like Airbus, ST Aerospace and Continental. The City of Mobile will also maintain an option to purchase the remaining 50-acre parcel for the next five years for $9 million.

“This is huge win for the City of Mobile,” stated Elliot Maisel, chairman of the Mobile Airport Authority. “Under the city’s ownership, the property will enhance the quality of life for all citizens through future job growth and recreational opportunities. This tract of land is just one piece of the mosaic that fits into the future growth of Brookley over the next 20 years. We look forward to working with the City to maximize the development opportunities surrounding this property.”

The announcement marks the culmination of several years of planning, as well as a long-standing partnership between the City of Mobile and the State of Alabama.

“In particular, I’d like to thank Governor Ivey. Due to the complexity of this transaction, this would not have occurred were it not for her steadfast support,” Stimpson concluded.

Tuesday’s news also comes after a plan was announced in recent months to move all of Mobile’s commercial air traffic to Brookley.

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

4 hours ago

Rapid disease pathogen identification is one step closer following successful demonstration by GeneCapture

Soon it could only take an hour to find out what pathogen is making you ill following the successful demonstration of the world’s first multi-pathogen identification using non-amplified RNA detection by GeneCapture, a company cofounded by researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

GeneCapture has licensed a molecular binding technology from UAH, and the company’s CAPTURE PLATFORM is on track for commercialization within two years.

The GeneCapture team has briefed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its approach and has begun to prepare for the clinical testing required for FDA clearance. It is in discussions with industry leaders for various applications in health care rapid infection detection.

“We made history today – this is the first time an automated rapid pathogen identification has been reported directly from the RNA of the sample, with no modification or amplification of its genetic source, in about an hour,” said GeneCapture CEO Peggy Sammon. “We envision a future where finding out why you are sick can be solved almost anywhere, in an hour, and without being chained to a lab.”

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The company’s unique disposable cartridge and portable reader platform enables rapid, inexpensive multi-pathogen detection at the point of care. Whether the illness is bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoan, a single test that’s estimated to cost around $20 will pinpoint the cause.

The novel technology consolidates sample prep and molecular signature detection in one plastic cartridge with a one-button portable reader.

The initial molecular binding concept was conceived by researchers at UAH and licensed exclusively to GeneCapture. The co-inventors on the original patent included Dr. Krishnan Chittur, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering; Dr. Joseph Ng, professor in the Biological Sciences Department; Dr. Mark Pusey, UAH adjunct professor; and Jeff Dowell, who at the time was a student in UAH’s graduate program in Biotechnology Science and Engineering. In 2016, GeneCapture was awarded $100,000 in Alabama Launchpad’s inaugural LEAP Alumni Competition for local start-ups.

The partnership with GeneCapture is an example of a truly groundbreaking technology developed at UAH and being made available for the benefit of all, said Kannan Grant, director of UAH’s Office of Technology Commercialization.

“I would term this as a disruptive technology and not merely an incremental improvement to the current state of the science,” Grant stated.

“UAH research has been at the cutting edge of technology development,” he added. “UAH has always shown responsible stewardship so the fruits of taxpayer-funded research are being made available for public consumption at the earliest possible time.”

Since its founding, the company has filed an additional 11 patents, automated the process in a cartridge, built prototypes and performed successful pre-clinical validation tests. In addition to the commercial applications, the company has been awarded multiple Department of Defense contracts to mature the technology for potential military operational use.

GeneCapture’s CAPTURE PLATFORM has a closed cartridge that accepts a direct sample of urine, blood or a sample from a swab and then concentrates and exposes the pathogen’s RNA fragments to custom DNA probes on an array. Once the RNA is captured, the specific probes activate an optical sensor. The pattern across the array identifies the pathogen. Limits of detection have been validated and are currently clinically relevant for most bacterial infections. They are now being optimized for low-load viral infections.

Infection detection will soon be portable, fast and inexpensive, GeneCapture officials have advised.

“Just as the shift from relying on central computers to desktop and handheld devices enabled entirely new markets, so will decentralized, portable multi-pathogen infection detection enable new point of care markets,” Sammon explained.

A rapid diagnostic solution will fill a critical need, noted Dr. Louise O’Keefe, Ph.D., the director of UAH’s Faculty and Staff Clinic and an advisor to GeneCapture.

“Our industry needs a breakthrough in turnaround time for diagnostic results,” Dr. O’Keefe said. “GeneCapture’s approach will transform the challenges we deal with every day.”

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.