9 months ago

Pursell Farms: This family-owned business showcases the best of ‘Alabama The Beautiful’

David Pursell’s family business has undergone significant transformation over the years.

It began as a fertilizer company started by his great-grandfather in the early 20th-century and now stands as the premier golf and vacation destination in the state of Alabama.

One thing has remained constant for the Pursell family, and that is the land they call home. It has been their family farm, a headquarters for the fertilizer business and now it is the property onto which the Pursells welcome visitors from all over the United States and the world.

Pursell, who currently serves as CEO of Pursell Farms, lives on the property with his wife, Ellen. From their house, they are able to stay involved in every detail of the business and also enjoy the natural beauty of the farm by simply looking out of any window.

That view is one of which Pursell never tires.

“It’s an amazing view and I realize that I am super blessed to be able to live out here but also to live in Alabama and live in this country,” he said. “We take it for granted, but it’s an amazing privilege to live here. I try to remember that every day.”

A world-renowned destination

For him, “here” means the 3,200 acres on which Pursell Farms sits in Sylacauga, Alabama. This includes FarmLinks golf course, an 81-room inn, three restaurants and a wedding venue which holds up to 350 people.

In its 16th year, FarmLinks was voted once again the number one golf course in Alabama by Golf Week. And the wedding venue has a fairy tale quality about it. Visitors are struck by the seeming perfection of the scenery and grounds, with nary a blade of grass out of place.

One of the newest additions to the property is the Orvis shooting grounds.

Pursell Farms’ collaboration with the acclaimed outfitter and sporting company is a testament to the family’s reputation nationally among those in the sports and hospitality industries.

When Orvis wanted to add a shooting facility in the southeast – their biggest market – there was one place they had in mind.

“They called us,” recollected Pursell.

So, he went up to New York to meet the Perkins family, who owns Orvis, and to tour one of their facilities. Then the Perkins came down to Alabama.

“We drew up the contract on the back of a napkin,” Pursell said. “It wasn’t hours or days or weeks or months dealing with lawyers. It was just two family-owned companies saying, ‘This is what we are going to do, and this is how we are going to do it.’”

A true family business

The kind of agility that comes with being a family-run business traces its origins back more than 115 years.

Pursell’s great-grandfather, DeWitt Alexander Parker, founded Sylacauga Fertilizer Company in 1904. When he died in 1930, Pursell’s grandfather, Howard Arrington Parker, took over and ran it until the early 1960s.

As a result of some matchmaking by the great Alabama actor and entertainer, Jim Nabors, David Pursell’s father, Jimmy Pursell, married his wife Chris and joined the family business under Howard Parker’s tutelage.

RELATED: Matchmaking by actor Jim Nabors led to life on Pursell Farms

The extent to which the business was a family enterprise was impressed upon David Pursell at an early age.

“It’s been all these different generations of people,” he noted. “Again, about the land. The fertilizer business. There were a lot of cows involved always. And the mealtime conversations I just remember about the company. Even though I was young when I was coming up in the business, I actually was not sheltered from really anything about the fertilizer business itself. So, I learned a lot just around the dinner table.”

His first job was working in the family business as a 12-year old shoveling cottonseed in the warehouse. He has been at it ever since.

“All through high school I worked in the family fertilizer plant here in Sylacauga,” he remembered. “Went to Auburn, came back every summer, worked on the family farm here. Or doing something with the family business. So, when I get out of Auburn in December of 1980 it was never even a thought of going to work anywhere else. This was something I knew. It was in my blood, but it was a passion because I knew so much about it. It was kind of like ‘Hey, this is my family heritage.’”

Not only did he decide to enter the family business, but he also got married and moved out to live on the farm for the first time. That is where he and Ellen began raising what would ultimately become a family with six children.

During that time, Pursell and his family came to really know the land through time spent on it and with the help of a couple of four-wheelers they owned.

“At one time we didn’t even have a TV set,” he said. “We would just kind of takeoff and go on these adventures and we would spend hours and hours and hours just going around the farm – what is now Pursell Farms that nobody ever got a chance to see.”

RELATED: Enjoy the breathtaking view from atop Pursell Farms

Something his creative mind did see on those jaunts was the potential of the land and what it could become – what it has become today.

“Although I was in my early twenties, I didn’t have the means to do squat, so it was just kind of something I stored,” he remarked. “I guess you could say I stored it up in my heart. It was an amazing time to really get to know the land before it ever got transformed into the purposes that we used it for over the years or certainly what it is now.”

The evolution of the family business and Pursell Farms has been substantial during the four decades Pursell has lived on his family’s land.

“We had this great run in the fertilizer business for probably about 85 years,” the Pursell Farms CEO explained. “And then we started getting involved in more technological advancements. We got involved in controlled release fertilizers.”

In the 1950s, the company developed a brand-name called Sta-Green. It was his father’s “brainchild,” according to Pursell.

Under this brand, they entered the consumer lawn and garden market for the first time in addition to marketing to ornamental nursery growers, golf courses and their traditional agricultural customer base.

“Rocket fuel” added to the business

Then the company made a monumental discovery that would change its course, and that of the entire industry.

It developed the POLYON fertilizer technology.

“Amazing technology,” described Pursell. “It was kind of like rocket fuel compared to kerosene. We’re from Sylacauga, Alabama. I can’t overemphasize that more. We were competing against public companies that were operating in foreign countries and whatever, and we were just Sylacauga. We only had one plant and it was right here in downtown Sylacauga.”

The company developed and patented the technology to manufacture a coating for application to any type of fertilizer product. The thicker the coating, the longer the product would last. They developed different grades for different uses. Certain grades were developed for agriculture, others for tasks as sensitive as fertilizing golf course greens. The release technology allowed it to last anywhere from six weeks to one-and-a-half years. Nothing like this had ever been done before.

The structure of the company changed, as well, in 1997 when the consumer fertilizer segment was sold off. Taylor Pursell, David’s brother, went with the new company to serve as its CEO. David Pursell also recalled it being a time when his father, Jimmy, was beginning to remove himself from the day-to-day operation of the business.

“So, this was really my baby to run with,” David Pursell said. “It was an exciting time, but it was also kind of scary when you think about it because we had a lot riding on it. At the time, we had very little sales. We were still trying to kind of figure out how we were going to put this company together. Our main goal was to take this rocket fuel, this POLYON technology and figure out how are we going to get this fertilizer technology applied to every golf course in North America.”

What they needed was a customer base who understood the product. Not an easy task given the complexity of the product and its use.

“You can’t just make a flyer on it and them get it,” explained Pursell.

Another challenge was the fact that the product sat at a higher price point than most on the market.

“We knew that if our potential customers, our prospective customers, if we could convince them and tell them the story and have them understand it that we couldn’t come up with a reason why they couldn’t buy it because it’s just a matter of getting the point across to them,” said Pursell.

He and his company came up with an innovative sales and marketing strategy: They brought their customers to Sylacauga.

The company moved its headquarters from downtown Sylacauga to the family property outside of town and onto the land that is now Pursell Farms.

RELATED: How did Renaissance art (and a pool table Ronald Reagan played on) get to Sylacauga?

It was through the creation and implementation of a “visitation strategy” that the Pursells invited prospective customers to the farm to “state the case” for the use of their unique fertilizer product.

After the company headquarters was constructed, they then built accommodations to host their customers. The experience consisted of a two-night trip of education and fellowship for 20 people at a time. The Pursells did this twice a week for 42 weeks out of the year.

“We were trying to put our best foot forward with people that we didn’t know,” Pursell outlined. “You have one chance to make a first impression, so to speak. So we wanted to kind of showcase the family, the family business, eventually we would get to the product. What we knew was that we needed to build a relationship with these people, first, before we would get them to buy anything from us.”

Even with all of the information that was exchanged about the product, Pursell believes the focus was really on one aspect of each growing relationship.

“Essentially, it’s building trust,” he declared. “The trust was built over this three-day period of time.”

He credits their ability to build the requisite trust as a result of southern hospitality mixed with the introduction of the technology.

“Everything we did, nobody else was doing at the time,” he noted.

When Pursell felt the need to take their sales to an entirely new level, he tapped into the vision he had held for the land all those years.

In 2001, they began construction of FarmLinks. By 2003, with the golf course complete, their customers could understand the product even better by seeing it in what he termed “a real laboratory.”

With the beauty of the property, “it’s a pretty easy sell when you get people here,” he observed.

“Even if somebody wanted to copy it, it would be pretty hard for them to do it just because it was a huge investment on our part,” Pursell explained. “And it was something, as I look in my rear view mirror, you can pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Yeah, it worked out great’ but we didn’t know that at the time it was going to work out as good as it did.”

He calculates they have hosted more than 10,000 golf course superintendents on the property and still meets some in his own travels around the country who remember everything about their trip.

“Weaponizing” southern hospitality

In 2005, they began to attract suitors for the fertilizer business, which subsequently sold the following year.

“The farm was never going to be for sale,” he said. “This was just a marketing tool that we used to build the business up. Then we had this nice earnings pattern. The business was growing.”

However, he had a feeling it was time to sell the company even though they were 102 years old.

Having spent some time working with the acquiring company, Pursell began to contemplate how his family could forge its way into the hospitality business.

Now, Pursell Farms is a preeminent destination, and the core of its business is marketing southern hospitality.

As Pursell likes to say, their family has built a business by “weaponizing” southern hospitality.

Harkening back to the years spent hosting potential customers of their fertilizer business, Pursell knows they have been in the business of southern hospitality for a long time.

One of the reasons they are so adept at delivering southern hospitality is because they live on the property.

“My wife calls it living above the storefront,” noted Pursell. “We are always going to be the worst critics.”

He says it matters more to them because it is a family-owned business. And their involvement has only increased with some of his children and their spouses having assumed active roles.

“Everything we do is a reflection on the family,” he explained. “The family is our brand now. We don’t have a fertilizer product, per se. So, we want to do things well – excellently – and we love hosting people.”

Their love of hosting people has translated into a heightened degree of satisfaction among their guests.

Pursell Farms possesses an extraordinarily high 97% TripAdvisor rating. This means 97% of the people who provided a rating could not have rated Pursell Farms any higher.

“We’ve always been about the land”

Margaret Mitchell once wrote that land “is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything.”

For David Pursell and his family, it has amounted to much and has served as a central point in their lives. It has bound together generations of his family. It has brought thousands of people from a countless number of places to them, and it has permitted their involvement in life’s worthwhile pursuits.

As he modestly concluded, “We’ve always been about the land.”

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

Listen to David Pursells’ entire conversation with Yellowhammer:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

Restoration of Alabama’s Lightning Point nearly complete

Work to restore and preserve one of Alabama’s most iconic and important coastal habitats is wrapping up as planners shift their focus to building trails, boat ramps and a pavilion at the site.

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNCA) said heavy construction at Lightning Point in Bayou La Batre is almost complete. Judy Haner, Marine Program director, said contractors finished this phase of the project two months ahead of schedule.

“The contractors really went above and beyond,” Haner said. “The great thing about working with really good contractors is they know how to do it and to do it right. They found ways to do a couple of things at the same time, so it saved us time and made this project progress faster than what we thought.”

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Lightning Point restoration moves into next phase from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Contractors installed two jetties at the mouth of the channel and 1.5 miles of overlapping, segmented breakwaters along both sides of the navigation channel. The breakers provide a buffer from waves and boat wakes while the jetties help maintain access for all types of vessels, including commercial shrimp boats and recreational bay boats.

“The project was about more than the habitats,” Haner said. “It was about how those habitats supported the fisheries and the livelihoods, how the breakwaters protect the entry to Bayou La Batre, this fishing hamlet on the coast of Mississippi Sound. That is the biggest win for me.”

TNCA broke ground on the restoration project in April 2019 after securing support from public agencies and private organizations, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Alabama Power. As the project got underway, additional support was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security ActCITGORestore America’s Estuaries, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the city of Bayou La Batre, Mobile CountyDauphin Island Sea LabMobile Bay National Estuary ProgramPartners for Environmental ProgressUABEmbrace the Gulf 2020Alabama Law Enforcement AgencyAlma Bryant High School and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Haner said construction was handled by engineers and contractors at Moffatt & NicholGEC, J & W Marine, Magnolia Dredge & Dock, Wildlife Solutions and Hydroterra.

“When we first started this project and we saw this schematic our engineer firm, Moffatt & Nichol, came up with, we all thought, ‘Doesn’t that sound good? It looks good. It’s pretty on paper, but can we really build it?’” Haner said. “What we’ve seen is we have. We’ve watched that transformation over time and what’s really cool is the community has watched that transformation over time and they are excited.”

In addition to the breakwaters and jetties, the project created 40 acres of coastal habitats ranging from marshes to tidal creeks, scrub-shrubs and shell hash beaches that support a wide range of fish, shellfish and birds.

“We’re really excited about the diversity of the habitats we’ve been able to create at this project,” Haner said. “The wildlife we’ve seen over on the west side – otters, alligators and, in our tidal creeks, we have schools of minnows that have come in and are already using areas that don’t have the habitat fully set yet. So if you will build it, it looks like they will come.”

The project got its first test in June when Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in Louisiana, dumping lots of rain and generating a 4-foot storm surge at the new breakwaters. Haner said the breakwaters performed as designed.

“Four feet of water came over the top of these breakwaters, but it held up like a champ,” Haner said.

What’s Next?

As TNCA moves into the monitoring phase, Haner said its team is working with partners to construct and install multiple public access amenities at Lightning Point, including a new boat ramp, an ADA-compliant viewing platform, trails and pavilion.

“What we’re doing now is we’re trying to line up the contracts, which will be super-exciting,” Haner said. “We’re really looking at big things happening down here still, even though the major part of the construction is done.”

All of the amenities are scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020.

“The best thing about Lightning Point was how it brought the community together,” Haner said. “Everything that we heard from the community we were able to input and implement within this project. It’s really exciting.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

O’Neal Cancer Center and ADPH bring enhanced cervical cancer education and screening options to 13 counties in state

Women in 13 counties across Alabama are gaining better access to education and screening for cervical cancer through a collaboration between the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The ADPH Family Planning Community Education and Outreach Pilot, which began Aug. 1, provides a team of community health workers who will work to increase cervical cancer screenings throughout the state in Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Chilton, Dallas, Fayette, Lowndes, Macon, Shelby, Walker and Winston counties.

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Cervical cancer causes the deaths of about 4,000 women in the United States each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has one of the highest cervical cancer mortality rates in the country.

Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus infection but can be treated successfully if found early. The HPV vaccine is effective in preventing cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers in men and women.

“We are excited to partner with ADPH to do this work. Local health departments are the only means of health care for many women and families in our medically underserved communities,” said Claudia Hardy, MPA, program director of the O’Neal Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. “Our goal is to increase the number of people who use the local health department for health care.”

Seven community health workers from the Cancer Center, who live in the targeted areas, will educate the public about the services of local health departments, including cervical cancer screening and HPV testing. The team will also connect patients to additional resources within their communities.

The pilot program will run through Dec. 31. The initiative adopts a local grass-roots model already used by the Office of Community Outreach and Education to promote health awareness and cancer education.

“Historically, individuals in underserved communities are suspicious of health care systems,” said Grace Thomas, M.D., medical officer of Family Health Services at the ADPH. “Community health workers will serve a vital role in bridging this divide, particularly as the nation weathers the COVID-19 pandemic and women are less likely to seek routine well-woman care.”

Hardy called the initiative a natural fit for the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, as cervical cancer is already among the “impact cancers” that the office targets. Additionally, Hardy says the program comes at a pivotal time when many health care needs may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For additional information on the partnership and resources, please contact coeinfo@uab.edu.

(Courtesy of UAB)

6 hours ago

Hey, ABC Board … know your role!

Let’s start with clearing the air … generally speaking, I don’t hang out in bars. This is not a puff piece to defend pub crawls. So before any of my folks, fans or friends think that I’m writing this because I was hoping for one last round after 11 p.m., the answer is “no.”

What I do have a problem with is unelected bureaucrats enacting policy outside of their charter that has the effect of shutting down private enterprise. Last week the Alabama Beverage Control Board did just that.

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Before putting my thoughts in print I took the time to review the enabling legislation that established the ABC Board and its mission. I also took the time to review Governor Ivey’s proclamations regarding Alabama’s societal efforts against the coronavirus. Nothing in the Code of Alabama or the various iterations of Governor Ivey’s orders told the ABC Board that they should become the arbiters of what time of day is considered safe and healthy. Although one Board member did espouse concern that late-night consumption could increase fraternization. Well, that’s every country song ever sung. But despite a complete lack of marshaling orders the members of the Board allegedly agonized over how best to save the good people of the state of Alabama from themselves … after 11 p.m. And just like that another regulatory agency created a sweeping blanket regulation that stymies the free market.

The immediate assumption if you take this at face value is that drinking alcohol in a social setting is inherently more dangerous after the evening news has concluded. It’s a true headscratcher. And in the meantime, business owners who have invested in tourism locales, entertainment venues, restaurants, and yes – bars, have to take another hit from the government that does damage to their ability to run a business. Only this time it wasn’t from the people they elected to watch over the state. It wasn’t from some form of representative leadership. The body blow this time came from an unelected group of people whose sole function is the determination of licensure to operate.

That’s right. The business owners on the receiving end of this jackslap face the potential loss of their license because it is the licensing authority who made the rule. That’s not my interpretation. The Board explicitly stated in their emergency proclamation that violators will be subject to license revocation.

Having reviewed the verbiage in the various statutes and proclamations I suspect that the ABC Board will attempt to assert that 28-3-47 of the Code of Alabama states “The board may, with the approval of the Governor, temporarily close all licensed places within any municipality during any period of emergency proclaimed to be such by the Governor.” But they didn’t do that. Nowhere in the ABC Board resolution does it state that the Governor approved of anything. The Board resolution simply recites the fact that the Governor has declared a state of emergency. The Board then took it upon themselves to shut down businesses at 11 p.m. each night.

I could also reasonably foresee the Board responding that 28-3-2 of the Code authorizes the ABC Board to act “for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the state.” We can set aside the part about peace and morals for now…what about “health?” Is it really the purview of the ABC Board, the body that issues and regulates liquor licenses, to interpret the time of day at which bars become “unhealthy?” The Supreme Court of Alabama has already weighed in on this in the 1995 case of Krupp Oil Co. v. Yeargan by affirming that the legislature may delegate certain powers to the various executive boards and branches (such as the ABC Board) to promulgate rules at their discretion but only if clear guidance is given to do so. In this case, the guidance given required the “approval of the Governor.”

The ABC Board is made up of appointees. They are non-elected officials with regulatory authority. They are not the governor. They are not the legislature. They are not the various city councils or county commissions in which these businesses lie. And they are not the owners of businesses who have been shut down for months and are struggling to do everything right under extreme conditions only to have their regulatory agency tell them that they cannot be trusted.

The law of this state does not give the ABC Board the authority to act in this manner without the express and open approval of the governor. The Board cannot speak for the governor, only the governor can voice that approval.

This is another proverbial slippery slope. If we sit idly by and say nothing which board of appointees will act next to limit life as we used to know it? Will the Board of Dental Examiners decide that cavities can only be filled after 3 p.m.? Will the Real Estate Commission decide that houses cannot be sold during the hours of darkness? This is not about bars my friends. This is about liberty, and regulatory intrusion, and the erosion of the free market.

Hey, ABC Board … know your role.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

9 hours ago

UAH student rocket team takes third overall, first in safety at NASA Student Launch

A student rocket team at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) earned first place in project safety and third place overall in competition at a COVID-shortened national NASA Student Launch.

“The students worked really hard and faced a lot of technical challenges this year, not to mention a shutdown at the end of the spring semester,” says Dr. David Lineberry, team advisor and a research engineer at the UAH Propulsion Research Center (PRC).

“This is well deserved,” Dr. Lineberry said. “It would not have happened without support from the College of Engineering, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Alabama Space Grant Consortium and the PRC.”

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The UAH team was mentored by Jason Winningham, who assisted in rocket launches and advised throughout the project.

“We are very proud of the accomplishments of the students and their UAH instructors and mentors,” says PRC Director Dr. Robert Frederick. “Safety is an essential part of rocket science and these experiences will serve them well as they transition to industry.”

Named Baedor and designed by the UAH Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 490/491 Rocket Design team, the rocket carried a rover as its payload. It uses a Level 2 Aerotech L2200G solid fuel motor, is 136 inches long and 6.17 inches in diameter and weighs 61.5 pounds with a loaded motor and payload.

Little Dipper, the rocket’s rover, is piloted by remote control. Its mission was to deploy from the vehicle after landing, advance to a mission collection area and use its scoops to collect samples of simulated ice.

“During the spring semester, as segments of the country started to close down, the team recognized the potential impacts on the project and felt a sense of urgency to complete a demonstration flight,” Dr. Lineberry says. “After a busy couple of weeks, they were able to demonstrate the full vehicle and payload missions at a launch in Woodville, Ala., with the Huntsville Area Rocketry Association.”

Baedor achieved an apogee of 4,454 feet in its final demonstration flight, days before the UAH campus closed as a precautionary measure for COVID-19. When it landed, the rocket successfully deployed Little Dipper, which achieved its collection mission.

Competition category and overall winners were announced virtually by NASA on July 23.

NASA Student Launch challenges middle school, high school, college and university teams from across the United States to build and fly a high-powered amateur rocket carrying a complex payload to over 4,000 feet above the ground. The rocket then must descend and land safely before its scientific or engineering payload can begin its work. This year’s competition drew teams from 19 states and Puerto Rico.

College and university teams developed payloads to navigate to a designated sample site, retrieve a simulated sample of planetary ice, and navigate at least 10 feet away from the site with the sample stored safely aboard. How they tackled the challenge was up to them.

Teams earn points for progress and successes during the eight-month competition, and the team with the most points wins. Awards also are presented in 11 different categories that range from payload design and safety to best social media presence and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – outreach.

UAH team members are:

  • Nicholas Roman, project manager; senior, aerospace engineering, Cullman, Ala.
  • Joshua Jordan, chief engineer; senior, mechanical engineering, Mount Vernon, Wash.
  • Peter Martin, vehicle team lead; senior, mechanical engineering, Coopersburg, Penn.
  • James Venters, payload team lead; senior, mechanical engineering, Huntsville, Ala.
  • Jessy McIntosh, safety officer; senior, mechanical engineering, Beaufort, N.C.
  • Maggie Hockensmith, technical writing coordinator and vehicle safety deputy; senior, aerospace engineering, Lexington, Ky.
  • Claudia Hyder, payload safety deputy; senior, mechanical engineering, Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Patrick Day, project management team; senior, aerospace engineering, Johnson City, Tenn.
  • Will Snyder, project management team; senior, aerospace engineering, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Rodney L Luke, vehicle team; senior, aerospace engineering, Pleasant Grove, Ala.
  • Roman Benetti, vehicle team; senor, aerospace engineering, Woodbury, Minn.
  • Rachel O’Kraski, vehicle team; senior, aerospace engineering, Huntsville, Ala.
  • Ben Lucke, vehicle team; senior, aerospace engineering, Saint Petersburg, Fla.
  • Jeremy Hart, vehicle team; senior, aerospace engineering, Gainesville, Ga.
  • Jacob Zilke, vehicle team; senior, aerospace engineering, Wilmington, N.C.
  • Joseph Agnew, payload team; senior, mechanical engineering, New Market, Ala.
  • Johnathon Jacobs, payload team; senior, aerospace engineering, Valley Head, Ala.
  • Thomas Salverson, payload team; senor, mechanical engineering, Gretna, Neb.
  • Kevin Caruso, payload team; senior, mechanical engineering, Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
  • Jacob Moseley, payload team; senior, aerospace engineering, Gaylesville, Ala.

(Courtesy of UAH)

10 hours ago

State Sen. Elliott: ‘No way in the world’ financing for Ivey new prison plan passes the smell test

Within the coming weeks, state officials are expected to announce the details of a prison build-lease plan, part of Alabama’s effort to reform its prison system and get it in compliance with federal standards. According to reports, the state of Alabama would enter into a deal with a company (or two companies) that would build three new prisons, which would be leased by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Under this plan, savings would be generated by the upgraded facilities that would reduce costs in terms of personnel and upkeep, which would make it possible for Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration to enter into the agreement without input or a vote of the Alabama Legislature.

Critics argue the state could save taxpayers money if the state bonded the construction costs out while interest rates were low and built facilities that would be owned by the state, as opposed to paying a contractor rent on new facilities. However, previous legislatures had been unable to agree on an overall plan, which has seemingly forced the state to seek alternatives as the Department of Justice’s scrutiny increases.

During an interview on Friday’s broadcast of Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) expressed his willingness to take on the prison issue. At the same time, some of his legislative colleagues are reluctant.

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“[I] didn’t run for office to not have to make tough decisions,” he said. “I welcome those tough decisions. That’s why the people of my district elected me. That’s what I’m here to do. I think shying away from that once you’ve been elected is really the wrong answer. But I would say to anybody who is not willing to take this on, you know, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure we run this government as efficiently as possible.”

Elliott expressed his skepticism about the cost savings from using upgraded facilities as being enough to fund the Ivey administration’s proposal.

“Mark my words — we’re going to run into a situation where the governor’s projections on the annual cost of these leases are going to fast outpace what they say they’re going to be able to fund with and that is the savings on maintenance,” Elliott continued. “This is going to end up costing a whole lot more money. And most of this legislature and this governor are going to be gone by the time those chickens come home to roost. And it’s going to be left to the taxpayers to fund an inefficient and expensive plan.”

“I think there is no way in the world that that passes the smell test, and anybody believes that is going to happen,” he added.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.