1 year ago

Shift to knowledge-based economy driving Birmingham’s workforce development efforts

In crafting what he calls a “supercharged” workforce development program, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin drew from his own early experience in the workforce as well as input from some of his city’s largest job creators.

Woodfin sat down recently with Yellowhammer News to outline his city’s innovative approach to workforce development through its Birmingham Promise – an apprenticeship and scholarship program made possible by a public-private partnership with area employers.

Having been part of a program where he left class early to attend a job in his junior and senior years of high school, Woodfin learned invaluable lessons as part of that work experience.

“I tell people I am able to be mayor because at my first job at a grocery store I got trained in soft skills and never looked back,” he said.

And feedback from employers has helped shape the direction of the program.

“As mayor, I’m afforded the opportunity to talk to CEOs all the time in various sectors,” Woodfin explained. “They talk about their workforce gaps. We also talk about how do we recruit industry to the city and expand and grow jobs. You do that by investing in your youngest generation and investing in your workforce. This is a full down payment on investing in our workforce.”

With September designated as National Workforce Development month, numerous ongoing campaigns have developed to highlight the scope of Alabama’s workforce development demands.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, visited Tanner, Alabama, Tuesday to support an apprenticeship program conducted through the National Association of Manufacturing.

Woodfin leads a city facing a welcome shift in the focus of its economy. He believes Birmingham Promise will meet those needs under what he calls “a very sustainable model.”

It is a model that will be tested by changing workforce needs.

The challenges of a new economy

Josh Carpenter, director of economic development for Birmingham, described to Yellowhammer News the fact that the city’s workforce needs have altered as a result of a shift to a knowledge-based economy.

Carpenter pointed to the online delivery service Shipt, which employs more than 1,000 people in Birmingham, to show that the skills for a digital-based company are far different than those emphasized in more traditional career training. He said a whole new group of innovators have made Birmingham their home and in doing so present more workforce challenges.

Woodfin called workforce development a “high priority” for his administration and envisions Birmingham Promise as the primary initiative for meeting those challenges.

Students in their junior and senior years will have access to apprenticeships in industry clusters which include business and finance, energy and engineering, healthcare and life sciences and information technology.

Birmingham school system graduates will have access to support for full-time apprenticeships or last-dollar funding at two-year and four-year public colleges in Alabama. Last-dollar funding means the program supplements any tuition balance after scholarships and grants from other sources have been paid out to the enrollee.

To be eligible for the scholarship program, students must live in Birmingham and have graduated from a Birmingham public school. Scholarship funds are awarded proportionally to the student’s time in the school system in order to maintain fairness and prevent misuse of the program.

The Birmingham Promise was one of nine programs to receive a grant from the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). Funders for PAYA include Ballmer Group, Bloomberg Philanthropies and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Promise partners in Birmingham and the surrounding region include large employers in healthcare, energy, construction, banking, manufacturing and insurance.

Funding from these partners will largely sustain the program.

‘Birmingham’s competitive advantage’

One such partner is Lee Styslinger III, chairman and CEO of Altec, Inc. Styslinger has served on President Donald Trump’s commission on American manufacturing. He is also part of an ongoing national effort to ensure workers acquire the necessary skills in a rapidly changing economy.

Styslinger views an increased emphasis on workforce development as essential to growth.

“The Birmingham Promise represents a transformational investment in the future of our region’s workforce,” he told Yellowhammer News. “In a knowledge-based economy, a skilled workforce will become Birmingham’s competitive advantage and change the area’s economic trajectory. Altec was pleased to help champion the apprenticeship program this summer, and we view the Birmingham Promise as an investment in the future of our company.”

Under the apprenticeship program in which Styslinger’s company participated, students receive $7.50 per hour from their employer and an additional $7.50 per hour from the city of Birmingham.

Woodfin says that workforce measurements are put in place “to make sure people are not just going to a job sitting in front of a computer and to make sure people are gaining exposure and matriculating through an actual apprenticeship program.”

He added that any child who wants to participate in the apprenticeship program will be allowed to and completion will result in the achievement of a certain amount of credit hours.

Woodfin aims to have between 150 and 300 students slotted for apprenticeships during the first year. He estimates the annual cost at $2 million per year once the program is up and running at full potential.

Program funding is administered through the United Way and a website is set up to collect private contributions.

“We believe this is a small down payment on investing in not only our youngest generation but our workforce,” Woodfin explained. “When you think about these major clusters that drive Birmingham’s economy, we have to say what are we prepared to do and what are we willing to do to make sure we are intentional about closing these workforce gaps, training the workforce.”

The mayor identifies communication between the partners as vital to the program.

“It is important for the city to remain aware of the private sector’s workforce gaps,” Woodfin said.

He explained that the program creates a workforce that can immediately go into action out of high school because it has been exposed for at least two years to the culture and climate of specific companies.

“It’s the ability for them to understand what responsibility means and work ethic and being on time and all these things,” Woodfin said. “It’s very important.”

And for those who choose to pursue a degree beyond high school, the previous exposure may lead to opportunities for that graduate.

Woodfin often uses the acronym “CPA” to illustrate his viewpoint on workforce. He describes it as “Creating” jobs, “Preparing” people and ensuring “Access” to those jobs.

“The Birmingham Promise hinges on the ‘P,'” he outlined. “The business community is responsible for creating the jobs, but I believe the city of Birmingham and the school system, in partnership, is responsible for preparing people for those jobs. Hence, the Birmingham Promise.”

“Corporate Birmingham has a bottom line as it relates to the gaps in its workforce,” he continued. “We’re saying partner with us to close those gaps. It works for the small business owner, it works for the entrepreneur, it works for a corporation because they have gaps, and this is a way long-term and short-term to close those gaps.”

A pilot program for all of Alabama

With Alabama ramping up its own workforce development efforts at the state government level, Carpenter thinks collaboration between Birmingham and state leaders is the natural next step.

“There are a lot of ways we think the policy considerations at the state level can be tested out here in the city of Birmingham, so we’re going to be pretty aggressive about making those connections,” mentioned Carpenter. “Having an office of apprenticeships with clear goals, our interests are tightly aligned with theirs. We want to be a pilot for them. We want to be a city that statewide people are looking at for apprenticeships and development of workers.”

He sees the partnerships the state has formed with the private sector as a model for Birmingham.

“I think what they’ve done is remarkable to encourage companies to be a part of it,” added Carpenter.

As with most ambitious programs, evidence of success for Birmingham Promise will take a couple of different forms, according to Carpenter.

“Our immediate goal is we want to connect 2,000 young workers to jobs in five years,” he outlined. “That’s the immediate goal. If we do that, we will be successful.”

There is another way, however, that Carpenter aspires to qualify success.

“When people around the country look up and say, ‘That city is serious about its talent workforce development,’” he will know the program is succeeding.

He recalled a recent conversation with a company in Silicon Valley contemplating expansion at a new location. Carpenter told them, “Birmingham has to be the place that you can grow.”

The conversation turned to what Birmingham has to offer — now and in the future.

“We talked about the type of talent they could find here and the way that they can grow,” Carpenter continued. “If we are very serious about investing in talent and people see that, I think it’s going to change the way Birmingham’s economy is developed. We have two goals there. One is to make sure companies really feel like Birmingham is the place they can grow and expand their business. And the other goal is obviously to make sure young people in our community feel like being a part of our community is getting a quality job and they find a sure pathway to that quality job.”

‘Not failure but low aim is sin’

Motivating Woodfin in his quest to improve Birmingham’s economy and communities through workforce development is a quote from civil rights icon Benjamin E. Mays, who said, “Not failure but low aim is sin.”

Woodfin’s commitment to the program is unwavering.

“This is bold but it needs to be done,” he concluded. “We’re going to meet the mark because our youngest generation is depending on us to meet the mark.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News

2 hours ago

Auburn trustee, Alabama native reportedly being considered as Biden’s Defense secretary

According to a report, U.S. Army General Lloyd J. Austin (Ret.) is under consideration to lead the Department of Defense under a Biden administration.

Axios on Friday reported that former Vice President Joe Biden has placed Austin on a shortlist to be the next DoD secretary.

This comes after the Trump administration began the formal transition process through the General Services Administration.

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President Donald J. Trump tweeted earlier this week that he still believes he will be found to have won the 2020 general election following ongoing legal challenges.

“I believe we will prevail!” he said. “Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that [the GSA head] and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Regardless, Biden is proceeding on the assumption that he is the president-elect, and on Tuesday he unveiled much of his national security team:

Secretary of State: Tony Blinken
National Security adviser: Jake Sullivan
Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines
Department of Homeland Security Secretary: Alejandro Mayorkas
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Special presidential envoy on climate: John Kerry

Notably absent from this list was a secretary of Defense nominee.

Axios on Friday explained that “[Michele] Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden’s comfort level — have come into play.”

This follows U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a top Biden ally who was viewed as key in Biden winning the Democratic nomination for president this year, and other prominent Black Democrats already publicly lobbying for Biden to do better when it comes to diversity among cabinet selections.

Austin would be the first Black DoD secretary in American history.

He currently serves on the Auburn University board of trustees and was born in Mobile, Alabama.

After a nearly 41-year decorated military career, Austin retired in 2016 as a four-star general. Some of his former posts include service as the commander of U.S. Central Command, commander of the Combined Forces in Iraq and Syria, and as the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army.

Austin is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds master’s degrees from Auburn and Webster University. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn, and his wife, Charlene, is also an Auburn graduate.

Additionally, the retired general currently serves on the board of directors for Raytheon Technologies and Nucor, both of which have large Alabama presences.

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

4 hours ago

‘Rivals’ Tuscaloosa and Auburn are shaping Alabama’s future

Tuscaloosa and Auburn have a lot in common.

That assessment might give pause to passionate fans on both sides of what has been called college football’s greatest traditional rivalry. But if the subject is small-but-thriving communities that continue to expand their established industrial base while nurturing new businesses in emerging innovation sectors, the two cities – along with Tuscaloosa and Lee counties – offer a similar range of compelling advantages.

Start with the fact that both are home to major universities – the University of Alabama and Auburn University – with all of the attendant impacts on everything from K-12 education to arts and culture to economic development. Add low costs of living and doing business, numerous locational benefits and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation year-round, and the term “quality of life” becomes apparent in all its facets.

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“If you dig deep into quality of life, you’re looking at actual facts,” said Arndt Siepmann, deputy director of economic development for the city of Auburn. “You’re looking at schools, housing, public safety and the ways those things contribute not just to profitability, but to the ability to attract and retain great people. A healthy community and a healthy business climate go hand in hand.”

The same is true in Tuscaloosa, where Danielle Winningham is executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA). What Winningham describes as “a small-town feel with the amenities of a bigger city” is reflected in housing options, the availability of parks and the variety of retail options, in addition to a growing population and a dependable, qualified and skilled available workforce.

“It’s that combination of factors that makes this area so vibrant,” Winningham said.

Both communities are situated in the heart of the Southeast, offering convenient access to larger markets. Located near Alabama’s western border, Tuscaloosa is served by Interstate Highway 20/59, one of the nation’s busiest commercial corridors. It is 50 miles from Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city and home to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Across the state, near its eastern border, Auburn is connected by Interstate Highway 85 to Atlanta and its international airport, just over 100 miles away.

Meeting the coming demand

Looking to the future, Tuscaloosa and Auburn have strategically developed assets and partnerships that position them for long-term growth in areas related to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. The universities are playing increasingly active roles in nurturing, supporting and accelerating a variety of sectors with high-growth potential – including software development, defense and cybersecurity, IT, and medical and other advanced manufacturing – as well as finding new ways to build on long-standing strengths in the automotive sector.

What’s more, both communities are recognized as developing labor markets for computer programmers. Currently, Auburn ranks No. 1 and Tuscaloosa No. 3 among all U.S. metro areas for computer programming cost factors, with that field projected to add well over 500,000 new jobs to the state economy by 2026. Alabama and Auburn have strong computer science programs at undergraduate and graduate levels and are highly attuned to meeting the coming demand.

“We’re putting a real emphasis on diversifying around knowledge-based industries,” said Winningham. “We recognize that both our existing industry base and those sectors that are just beginning to emerge have an important part to play in ensuring that our community continues to prosper in the future.”

One of the results of that strategy, Winningham points out, is The Edge, a 26,300-square-foot incubator and accelerator that provides office space, workstations, conference rooms and wet labs to knowledge-based startups and early-stage ventures. A partnership of the University of Alabama, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, The Edge continues to see steady growth in the number of businesses and individuals it serves, from 28 businesses and 50 people in June 2019 to 39 businesses and 90 people a year later.

In addition, the University of Alabama’s technology incubator, Edge Labs, incubated five university spinoff companies in 2019: 525 Solutions, an R&D company developing liquid technologies for the medical, pharmaceutical and materials fields; ThruPore Technologies, which produces innovative specialty materials for industrial uses; JAQ Energy, a developer of new technologies for power electronic and energy systems; and ForeSense Technologies, which is commercializing technology – developed by University of Alabama researchers, working with U.S. Army scientists – that uses electrical signals to quickly detect hazardous airborne chemicals.

“These companies are great examples of our vision for the future,” said Winningham. “It’s about connecting creators, builders and visionaries with the resources they need to be successful.”

In Auburn, a twofold strategy is accelerating the build-out of what already is a robust innovation infrastructure. The 170-acre Auburn Research Park, a partnership of the city of Auburn and Auburn University managed by the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, supports development of knowledge-based jobs in a setting adjacent to the university campus, with its fifth new facility – the 100,000-square-foot Research and Innovation Center – having opened this fall. The city and the university are working with local manufacturing companies to optimize collaboration around innovation.

“Manufacturing innovation is happening here,” Siepmann said. “We’re finding the answers to questions like, ‘Where are the best employees?’ and ‘What is the best training?’ Increased automation means increased demand for engineers and technicians from technology-based value-added manufacturing companies. Supporting that also helps drive innovation in other areas.”

Siepmann reels off three companies that exemplify Auburn’s growing success in leveraging and expanding its innovation infrastructure:

  • GE Aviation recently completed a $50 million expansion of its aerospace additive manufacturing operation to incorporate 3D printing technologies; the project created 60 new jobs.
  • RAPA, the U.S headquarters for German-based Rausch & Pausch. The company produces high-precision automotive parts, using Auburn-based R&D.
  • Sio2, a homegrown company that has for many years manufactured glass vials for medical and scientific uses. In July, the company announced a $163 million expansion after receiving a contract to supply the federal government with glass-lined plastic vials to support efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19; the project will create 220 jobs.

Siepmann also mentioned Auburn’s additive manufacturing accelerator, funded through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Currently, the program is working with 10 existing companies and three startups.

“We are providing steppingstones for companies and founders to learn about the viability of technology in their operations,” said Siepmann. “Auburn is a great example of how economic developers can leverage the assets of a university and state government to accelerate innovation and business development.”

All of which adds up to one more thing that Auburn and Tuscaloosa have in common: A bright future.

(For more information about innovation and opportunities in Alabama, contact Amendi Stephens)

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama holiday sales predicted to meet or slightly exceed 2019’s $13.25 billion

Alabamians, like the rest of the nation, have already begun their holiday shopping to ensure they can get the gifts they want and that those gifts arrive on time.

Through September, Alabama consumers had spent almost 8% more than they did in 2019, based on Alabama Revenue Department reports on all state-taxed sales. That growth came despite the business disruptions caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Retail analysts and economists agree that this year’s holiday sales will be unchanged over the 2019 holidays or grow modestly. Unchanged would be good, because spending in Alabama in 2019 during the traditional holiday shopping months of November and December reached an all-time high of $13.25 billion.

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For the past decade, and especially the past few years, shoppers moved away from the traditional Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) holiday shopping kickoff to Black November as their cue to begin shopping. The coronavirus has given shoppers reason to start their purchasing even earlier.

Alabama’s retailers are well-stocked and ready to serve their customers however they want to shop safely – in store, online, through apps or social media, delivery or pickup/curbside.

The Alabama Retail Association encourages shoppers to keep Alabama businesses open by planning to safely shop Alabama for the holidays throughout the holiday shopping season.

(Courtesy of the Alabama Retail Association)

5 hours ago

U.S. Rep.-Elect Carl urges State Sen. Elliott not to allow ‘personal feelings’ about Gov. Ivey interfere with I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge proposal

Earlier this week, State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) announced he had no interest in having discussions about a new I-10 Mobile Bay bridge until Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Transportation director John Cooper were out of office given the way the 2019 toll bridge saga unfolded, which was canceled after the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) removed the project from its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

According to Elliott, that was the last line of defense against what appeared to be an unpopular effort by the Ivey administration to construct a bridge that would have incorporated a toll through a public-private partnership.

Friday, during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, U.S. Rep.-elect Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) weighed in on the Eastern Shore MPO’s effort to revive the project and cautioned Elliott on taking such a stand on working with the Ivey administration.

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“Every time I cross the bridge, and I get stuck in traffic, I think about those of us that made a decision to push against the tolls, which I think was the right decision at that time,” he said. “But we’ve got to do something. We’re talking about not just the commercial side of that bridge but also us civilians going to and from work, shopping, beach — so on, and so forth. So, we’ve got to do something on the bridge. Now tolling is obviously off the table. But we’re going to do something.”

Carl urged Elliott not to rule out working with Ivey over “personal opinions” and said the focus should be on getting a solution on the bridge project.

“You know, I heard what my friend Chris Elliott said,” Carl continued. “Chris is a dear friend of mine, and he and I agree and disagree on a lot of things. But, you know, we can’t allow our opinions — and politics is like business. When you start allowing your personal opinions to spill over into your job, that’s when you start making some poor choices. And working with the governor or working with her staff — we don’t have an option.”

“Now I heard the argument you don’t trust them — well, that’s what the MPOs are for. They’re the check and balance system. It worked for us last time. So, why would it not work this time? I mean, it is a check and balance system. All the elected officials that sit on those MPOs — they did the job of shutting it down. Ultimately, they are the ones that shut it down on the Eastern Shore.”

“If the Eastern Shore wants to put it back together and bring it back up and talk to the governor about it — I say hoorah,” he added. “Let’s move on. Let’s see what we can actually do. Let’s see what the options are because doing nothing and waiting four years, waiting six years, or waiting whatever length of time until we have this administration replaced — I totally disagree with. Again, we work with a lot of people that we don’t care a lot for. I’m sure there are a lot of people that work with us that don’t care for us, too. But that’s just the daily way of doing business. And the governor — it has been a tough road, and we’ll all agree with that on this bridge project. But there have been so many parts that have truly been the big problem. Everyone that crosses that bridge that gets stuck is going to be thinking of our names. I’ll assure you that.”

@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.

6 hours ago

Mayors partner with Live HealthSmart Alabama to bring COVID-19 testing to their communities

Mayors across Jefferson County are leading an effort to bring COVID-19 testing to their communities by partnering with Live HealthSmart Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC).

Increasing options for testing is critical to reach all population groups, especially those in minority communities. Since August, Live HealthSmart Alabama has expanded its COVID-19 testing to such minority communities throughout Jefferson County, including Morris, Midfield, Kimberly, Bessemer, Trussville and many more – a task made possible by the mayors’ invitations into those communities.

Community testing is an essential part of the strategy to contain, and ultimately end, the pandemic.

“The MHRC has been a leader in community testing for COVID-19 in Birmingham and Jefferson County since we launched mobile testing locations early in the pandemic,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, director of the MHRC. “We are pleased to expand our partnership with these mayors to deliver testing across Jefferson County and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

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Residents in rural and minority communities need to have the opportunity for testing. While other testing facilities are focused on population density, Live HealthSmart Alabama actively seeks out smaller neighborhoods that are often overlooked. And, in areas such as Hueytown, it is the perfect fit.

“UAB is making testing possible and convenient for our citizens,” said Brannan Clark, Hueytown’s fire marshal and safety officer. “The timing couldn’t be better; just before Thanksgiving when many families will gather for the first time in months. This testing is convenient and safe, especially for our seniors who haven’t left their homes much.”

Also working to bring Live HealthSmart Alabama testing to their communities are Joe Pylant, mayor of Morris; Kimberly Mayor Bob Ellerbrock; and Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland. Testing was available in Hueytown, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Steve Ware, and in Trussville through the support of Mayor Buddy Choat.

Funding is provided by the Jefferson County Commission through federal coronavirus funding, with the goal of increasing community-based testing in the county, particularly in areas serving vulnerable populations.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.