12 months ago

Recent bills to bring rural broadband, business growth to Alabama

For more than 40 years, I have dedicated my life to advancing the economic interests of Alabama. I’ve spent time in the state legislature as a representative of my hometown district and was honored to be selected speaker of the House for Alabama. I served the governor as the director of what is now the Alabama Department of Commerce, which exists to help boost the state’s economy. I currently act as chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama as well as vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. In that time, we have seen Alabama businesses show impressive growth. This year alone, we are at record levels of unemployment.

A lack of high-speed broadband internet access in some of Alabama’s most rural areas persists in holding our state back. It’s a simple fact in today’s interconnected economy that, if one doesn’t have access to the internet, their business is more likely to fail. This lack of reliable internet access keeps businesses from investing in our state due to fears of being stranded on the information superhighway. For companies, particularly, high-tech companies, to invest in rural Alabama, we simply must be able to provide consistent broadband access at sufficient minimum speeds and capacity.

It should also be noted that weak internet connections and speeds can hinder everyday life in general. Every email, text message and digital alert depends on consistent internet in order to keep you and your loved ones updated. Students rely on the internet to receive and send their assignments. All are impacted by poor or nonexistent internet access.

So, I am proud to voice my praise and gratitude for the legislature’s passage of House Bills 400 and 540 and Senate Bill 90. These bills support the expansion of broadband internet systems to the parts of Alabama that need it most. According to the governor, 276,000 Alabamians lived in areas without any internet providers available last year. These new bills will improve situations like these that are simply inexcusable in today’s connected world.

Thanks to state representative Randall Shedd’s (R-Fairview) leadership, HB 400’s passage allows electric providers to install, operate and maintain broadband systems within their easements, the areas of property used by utility companies. These rights enable electric providers, or their affiliated or third-party providers, to more quickly and cost-effectively expand and improve broadband infrastructure to make quality internet access in rural Alabama a reality.

One of the greatest champions in the Alabama legislature for rural broadband access and expansion, Senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab), sponsored SB 90, which makes it easier to secure grants for these projects. It increases the minimum broadband speeds to 25 megabytes per second for downloads and 3 megabytes per second for uploads. It focuses on unserved and rural areas and improves the framework of broadband systems. While HB 400 allows the physical renovation of Alabama’s internet, SB 90 will make sure that these renovations are increased and accelerated.

Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) sponsored HB 540, also known as the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act. Among other things, it provides significant incentives for the state’s broadband and connectivity efforts by allowing rural fiber projects to be eligible for 15 years of an investment tax credit. This allows recovery of 22.5% of capital investments in rural counties, use of the Growing Alabama economic development site preparation program for fiber projects at industrial parks, inland ports, and intermodal facilities, as well as provisions for broadband projects in federal Opportunity Zones. HB 540 will give businesses another reason to settle in areas that benefit from HB 400 and SB 90’s improvements.

The passing of these bills was greatly influenced by the dedicated members of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition. This group includes representatives of multiple industries, ranging from agriculture to business to healthcare to education (K-12 and post-secondary). Influential entities such as the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA, the Energy Institute of Alabama and many others all joined in the effort. Clearly, these bills were approved with a wide range of popular support and I commend these individuals for their steadfastness in pushing for the betterment of our state. All of this will help bring Alabama into a modern economy while also providing internet access and its benefits for all Alabama citizens.

I have spent a great deal of my life making sure businesses in our state have the best chance to succeed. However, for a long time, weak or non-existent internet access was simply accepted as a fact of life for Alabamians living in rural areas. The people of Alabama and the legislature have finally said enough is enough. HB 400, HB 540, and SB 90 will usher in a new era for business in Alabama. Again, I want to thank Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Clay Scofield, Rep. Randall Shedd, and Rep. Bill Poole for helping spearhead this great achievement. I also have to recognize the leadership of Sen. Steve Livingston, Sen. Del Marsh, Sen. Greg Reed and Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter. Please take a moment to call your representative and thank them for their part in passing these bills. I know from personal experience that they appreciate hearing from you.

Seth Hammett is chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama and vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. Hammett spent 32 years in the Alabama House of Representatives, including 12 years as Speaker of the House. Visit https://energyinstituteal.org/ for more information.

10 hours ago

‘The Bama’ at KBC restaurant is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama

KBC are the initials of Kelsey Bernard Clark, the winner of the 16th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the chef and owner of KBC restaurant in Dothan.

What began as a butcher shop and grocery evolved into a restaurant based largely on the popularity of the sandwiches Clark started serving customers.

“Some of the sandwiches on our menu are named after people and The Bama was actually named after my mother-in-law, who is known by her grandchildren as ‘Bama,’” Clark said.

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The Bama at KBC in Dothan is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bama sports pimento cheese, thick slices of tomatoes and crispy bacon. It’s about as Southern a sandwich as you can get and is so delectable it has made its way onto the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, KBC tried curbside service but Clark said it wasn’t as fulfilling as the experience of dining in the restaurant. So, KBC stopped doing curbside until the dining rooms were allowed to reopen under new guidelines. She said KBC is operating well and safely under the new rules and business is good again.

And The Bama is as popular as ever.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

17 hours ago

Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations to start

UAB football coach Bill Clark is like many fans who are waiting for a clear sign that the college football season is on the horizon this year.

With less than 90 days until the start of the season, that sign will be next week when UAB players report for voluntary individual workouts and training. Clark said that will progress into the more familiar pre-season camp between now and August.

“I’m excited to get them back, even in small numbers right now,” Clark said.

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Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It’s been a challenging few months for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic and football was not immune. It eliminated the normal spring training and spring football scrimmages for all collegiate teams, and officials from all schools and conferences have been weighing whether and how to proceed with preparations for a season that at one time seemed uncertain.

Clark said he is confident the plan UAB has in place is a good one and he has one of the premier institutions to draw on for medical expertise.

“Rule No. 1 has always been athlete safety, so this is not something new for us,” Clark said. “Obviously, the COVID crisis was something new for us to deal with. The support of our athletic trainers obviously being at UAB with the medical school helps.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.

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Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

18 hours ago

Florists decorate Birmingham Rotary Trail in an act of beauty and healing

Flowers bring joy, and they can heal the soul.

On Friday morning about 25 florists joined in decorating the Rotary Trail in Birmingham. As a beautiful start to the weekend, said Cameron Pappas, florists swathed the trail in greenery, roses and colorful blooms of all sorts. People even brought flowers from their yards.

The effort was to bring “light and joy” to Birmingham residents. And the 46-foot-tall sign with the words “Rotary Trail in the Magic City” was the perfect place to begin.

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“I was laying in bed Sunday night, watching these scenes unfold where Birmingham was in chaos. Seeing this was so sad,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist in Birmingham.

When Carolyn Chen called Pappas later, an idea was born. The owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Homewood, Chen thought that decorating the entrance of the Rotary Trail could be a start to bringing emotional healing to the Magic City.

Area florists put Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in full bloom from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Random acts of botany

“Carolyn wanted to figure out how to help the city heal after this past weekend and the coronavirus,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist for more than four years. Between the two, giving flowers in a difficult time is a natural response: “Flowers bring joy. Whether it’s a sad time like a funeral or a happy occasion like a birthday, flowers bring happiness,” he said.

Pappas and Chen invited more than 50 florists from a 40-mile area around the city to help. Three wholesale flower distributors in Birmingham – DavisR&W Wholesale Inc. and Hall’s Birmingham Wholesale Florist – donated flowers and greenery.

“It’s cool to have everyone in an industry come together,” he said. “We want to make people happy, and give them something to look at besides broken glass and boarded up windows.”

What started as a simple gesture bloomed into something memorable. Several of the participating florists were livestreaming to Facebook. Several people from outside of Birmingham saw the videos and posts on social media, and came to take their own pictures.

Pappas said that seeing people join together to help was an amazing sight.

“People were cutting flowers, using their talents to help,” he said. “Everyone was busy beautifying the Rotary Trail with one thought: We love Birmingham. We love this city and our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

19 hours ago

Auburn University expert discusses COVID-19’s impact on sales projections, consumer costs

Brian Gibson, the Wilson Family Professor and executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, recently commented on the impact of coronavirus on sales projections for retailers and suppliers, how supply chains are adapting and how consumer costs will be affected.

Gibson leads multiple industry studies, including the Logistics 2030 project, the annual State of the Retail Supply Chain Report and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ talent management project. He has published numerous articles in supply chain journals, co-wrote “The Definitive Guide to Integrated Supply Chain Management” and co-produces the “Supply Chain Essentials” video series.

Q: How is coronavirus affecting sales projections for retailers and suppliers?

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Gibson: The COVID-19 pandemic has created quite the challenge in the retail sector. U.S. retail sales plunged nearly 9 percent in March as shoppers began to follow shelter-in-place measures. The situation has created a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario. For many retailers it has been the worst of times, with all stores closed due to state government emergency orders. Small retailers lacking the resources to support online selling, and large discounters like TJ Maxx and Ross Stores with minimal e-commerce operations are generating no sales. Retailers with a large online presence are generating e-commerce sales, but it is not enough to make up the loss of in-store revenues. Only the small group of retailers selling essential products like groceries and household goods items are in the best-of-times category, relatively speaking. In March, Kroger and Walmart experienced double-digit growth of same-store sales due to consumers stocking up on essentials. AmazonCostcoTarget and other select retailers also generated higher revenues.

The situation is much the same for suppliers. It all depends on the type of product being produced. Manufacturers of essential food, paper and cleaning products are working overtime to handle demand surges. In contrast, the apparel and automobile industries are largely shut down due to lack of demand, key parts or available labor. Some of these companies are now making personal protective equipment, ventilators and other necessary products that are in short supply.

Q: How have coronavirus-affected supply chains adapted to this situation?

Gibson: The news headlines and stories certainly paint a bleak picture of a broken supply chain that is plagued by product shortages. The reality is that there is no single supply chain. Products flow through different channels from their raw material sources to manufacturers to retailers and distributors. As consumption patterns for certain products have spiked to historic highs, there have been temporary shortages while companies work to restock their inventories. It is an ongoing challenge. If a meat processor shuts down for two weeks, that link in the supply chain is broken temporarily, but the whole supply chain is not broken.

Supply chains are resilient; they bend but typically don’t break. Adjustments are being made by companies to continue serving demand. Distribution centers and grocery stores are working overtime to fulfill orders. Product is being redirected from commercial channels to consumer channels. Production lines are being modified and alternate sources of supply are being tapped to alleviate inventory shortages. Collectively, these solutions from organizations along the supply chain will bring supply and demand back into sync.

Q: Will supply chain costs increase and, thus, increase the cost of consumer goods?

Gibson: Without question, supply chain costs are rising. Retailers are paying front-line store and distribution center associates an hourly wage premium. It costs more to fill and deliver an e-commerce order than to have consumers do their own shopping. Facilities are going through expensive deep-cleaning protocols on a regular basis. And the cost of some commodities is rising. It’s logical to expect that some of these costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher product prices. How much they will go up and for how long is the tricky question.

Q: Will we see changes in supply chains and will this actually help certain companies?

Gibson: In the wake of COVID-19 disruptions, “Massive Shifts in Supply Chains Forthcoming” is a popular headline but one that is almost clickbait status. Change will happen, but in a more methodical and incremental fashion than is currently being predicted by pundits. Production will continue to shift from China to other low-cost countries. We will possibly see more domestic production with flexible capacity built in. Some companies will increase safety stock inventories of key materials. And companies will likely cultivate additional strategic supplier relationships. Companies that succeed with these initiatives will achieve greater supply chain agility and resiliency without dramatically increasing their costs. They will be the ultimate winners.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)