1 year ago

Waggoner helping Alabama lead on artificial intelligence growth

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills), the powerful chair of the Senate Rules Committee, is at the forefront of a concerted effort to make Alabama a leader in the emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI).

In the 2019 regular session that concluded last week, the Alabama legislature unanimously passed Waggoner’s Senate Joint Resolution 71, which would create the Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Associated Technologies.

Now, Governor Kay Ivey has approved Waggoner’s measure, giving the Yellowhammer State one of the first AI, state-focused commissions of its kind in the nation.

“In a few short years, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will transform business, create new jobs and grow our economy,” Waggoner said in a statement. “Realizing the full potential and opportunities of AI and related technologies for Alabama requires the combined efforts of our state and local governments, industry, and institutions of higher education.”

The newly created commission will advise Ivey and the legislature on the growth of AI technologies in Alabama and make recommendations on policy and advancing the prowess of the state’s technology sector.

This comes after recent studies have identified opportunities and challenges for Alabama’s technology sector.

For example, Waggoner pointed out that the Bloomberg 2019 U.S. Innovation Index ranked Alabama at 46 of 50 states. The Bloomberg Index is based on several key metrics, including the number of technology companies in a state.

However, a recent Cyberstates study noted that Alabama increased the number of job postings related to AI and other technologies by 57 percent in 2018.

“The outlook for expanding Alabama’s technology industry remains very positive. The Commission on AI will be a focal point to promote this continued growth,” Waggoner advised.

“We have to have a discussion on building an AI-ready workforce and formulate policies to continue the transformative technologies of AI in a responsible way,” he added. “The timing to convene a commission on AI couldn’t be better.”

Another revolutionary technology measure passed by the legislature this session was the Alabama Incentives Modernization (AIM) Act.

This bill, signed into law by Ivey on Thursday, provides an update to Alabama’s incentive law, providing attractive incentives to recruit out-of-state tech companies to the Yellowhammer State. The incentive legislation states, “Alabama must also prepare for the future by attracting and retaining high-tech companies, and preparing and retaining a workforce trained for such jobs.”

“The Alabama Commission on AI complements the technology incentives contained in the newly passed incentive modernization legislation. Together, these two measures give Alabama competitive leverage, and show that we are serious about building a vibrant technology sector,” Waggoner commented.

“The Commission on AI will play an important role in charting a bold course and showing the nation that we are ready for the technology jobs of the present and the future,” he concluded.

Summary of the Alabama Commission on AI as follows:

  • Mission — Advise the Governor and Legislature on all aspects of the growth of artificial intelligence and associated technology and its impact on various sectors in Alabama such as health care, manufacturing, and workforce development.
  • Membership — The 18-member Commission will be constituted as follows: ten members appointed by the Governor; the Secretary of Commerce (or designee); the Secretary of Information Technology (or designee); two members appointed by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth; two members of the House of Representatives, appointed by Speaker Mac McCutcheon; and two members of the Alabama Senate, appointed by Senate President Del Marsh.
  • Appointees must have professional qualifications in AI, workforce development, technology, or computer science.
  • Governor Ivey shall call the Commission’s first meeting, and then the Commission will elect a chair and vice chair.
  • The Commission is charged with releasing a public report on its findings and recommendations by May 2020.

Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, recently wrote in support of Waggoner’s proposal.

“I am writing to express my support for the establishment of the Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence and Associated Technologies,” McCallum outlined. “Recent passage of the Alabama Modernization Incentives Act will create an attractive technology ecosystem in the state that boosts entrepreneurship, attracts venture capital, and increases the growth of small businesses such as start-ups.”

He continued, “In the Birmingham region, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Southern Research, and Innovation Depot serve as anchors for a thriving innovation and technology scene. The need to ensure that Alabama has skilled workers in this field is greater than ever, and the AI Commission will serve as a complement to these efforts. On behalf of the BBA, I thank you, Senator Waggoner, for your leadership and vision to ensure that Alabama will continue to grow and develop as a technology hub.”

Birmingham has recently been named as a growing tech hub by multiple national publications, including Forbes and Barron’s.

Last year, Huntsville was named as the nation’s best “new tech hub.”

Montgomery, with public-private collaborations with the Air Force, and Mobile have also put recent emphasis on growing tech sectors.

Prominent officials like Waggoner and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) hope the Alabama Modernization Incentives Act will provide added competitiveness to these urban anchors while helping rural areas across the state join in on tech growth moving forward.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 mins ago

Palmer calls for Sessions-Tuberville debate; Cites needs for Huntsville-Memphis Interstate, Birmingham Beltline, Mobile Bridge, Dothan I-10 Connector

With just nine days until the July 14 Republican U.S. Senate runoff, U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) said he still thinks there is a need for the two candidates, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, to debate.

Palmer called an unwillingness to debate based on political strategy a show of “weakness” during an appearance on Birmingham radio Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Aunie Show.”

“The thing that bothers me, and you know this — I’d debate anybody,” Palmer said. “I think that both candidates owe it to the voters to have a debate. When you don’t have a debate, I think it is indicative that there’s severe weakness, serious weakness in one who refuses to debate. People say, ‘Well, it’s good political strategy if you’re way ahead.’ No, you’re buying a pig in a poke.”

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He pointed to the potential for lack of seniority among the Alabama congressional delegation with the possible departure of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) and U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery).

“You need to know what you’re getting because what Alabamians need to realize is that in two years, Richard Shelby is leaving,” he continued. “He is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, enormously important for the state of Alabama. We’re in competition with businesses moving here. They’re moving out of California, New York and Illinois as fast as they can. In two years, when Shelby leaves, we’re going to wake up, and either Jeff Sessions or Tommy Tuberville will be our senior senator. People need to think about that. We’re losing Martha Roby off of the House Appropriations Committee, and it’s going to make a big, big difference in terms of what we’re able to do at the federal level to help this state with our infrastructure and a whole host of other things.”

Palmer also raised the issue of several desirable highway projects around the state, including new Interstate highways and connectors, and the persisting I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge traffic snarl, which he argued was something that both Sessions and Tuberville should be willing to discuss.

“I want to know what their plans are for the future of the state of Alabama,” he said. “In two years, Huntsville is going to be the biggest city in Alabama. They have tremendous infrastructure needs, Matt. We have an opportunity to improve the transportation infrastructure west of Huntsville all the way to the Tennessee line to create an economic corridor between Memphis and Huntsville, and then down I-22 to Birmingham and back up [Interstate] 65 to create this triangle that would rival anybody in the country.”

“I want to know if Tuberville or Sessions is thinking that far ahead, or thinking about the Northern Beltline for Birmingham, or the Mobile bridge, which the Mobile tunnel on I-10 is the single biggest bottleneck for commerce from Texas to the Atlantic,” he continued. “And then down in Dothan — the I-10 connector, and what that would do for the Wiregrass. There’s a new interstate being proposed from Texas all the way to Savannah — it would be I-14. I’m all for bringing that down between Montgomery and Fort Rucker. It’s really to connect our bases, our Army bases. But it would be a tremendous benefit to Alabama economically. I want to know if these guys have a vision for the future of Alabama.”

@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 Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

33 mins ago

VIDEO: Face mask ordinances seem inevitable, Alabama schools will be back this year, Trump will not campaign in state for Tuberville and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Governor Kay Ivey put forth a statewide mandatory mask ordinance, or will we be looking at a large number of cities and counties implementing them?

— How many Alabamians will send their kids to schools, and how many will be keeping them home in the fall of 2020?

— Why isn’t President Donald Trump coming to campaign for former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, and what does it mean for the July 14 runoff?

Jackson and Handback are joined State Representative Neil Rafferty to discuss the rising coronavirus pandemic, Confederate Memorial Park compromises and a potential special session of the Alabama legislature.

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at people who refuse to wear masks, even though President Donald Trump has made it clear that there are times when it is appropriate for everyone to wear them.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

4 hours ago

Walmart announces 8,000 veterans hired in Alabama through Welcome Home Commitment

Walmart announced this week that it had hired 266,260 veterans since 2013, including more than 8,000 in Alabama.

First announced on Memorial Day 2013, the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment (VWHC) guaranteed a job offer to any eligible, honorably discharged U.S. veteran. The initial goal was to hire 100,000 veterans by the end of 2018. Two years later, the company expanded that goal to 250,000 by the end of 2020.

“We’re forever grateful to our veterans for their service, and it’s an honor to offer them opportunities at Walmart,” said Doug McMillon, president and CEO. “To reach this goal so quickly says a lot about our company as a great place to work and build a career. I’m proud of the commitment we’ve made to veterans and their families, and I’m thrilled that so many have decided to join us. They are critical to helping us achieve a more diverse and inclusive future.”

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Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have a long history of supporting veterans, service members and their families by investing more than $40 million in programs that support job training, education and innovative public/private community-based initiatives.

The Military Spouses Career Connection program, started in 2018, has opened additional opportunities and support for military families. To date, the company has hired 19,045 associates and continues offering any military spouse hiring preference when applying for a job.

“We’re proud of our achievements and the opportunities presented to the talented service members who’ve honorably served our country,” said Brynt Parmeter, senior director for Walmart Military Programs. “Now, it’s our responsibility to continue preparing these men and women for meaningful futures with the Walmart community.”

Parmeter is now looking to the next chapter in Walmart’s commitment to veterans and the communities they serve. He says his team is taking an interest in employment, entrepreneurship, learning, health and wellness initiatives when looking to the future of Walmart Military Programs.

“This is such an important time for us,” he said. “Our company is committed to finding new ways that we can build relationships and engage with members of this community to advance and improve both economic opportunity and overall well-being.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

University of Alabama Theatre and Dance releases online performances, lessons

While live performances and instruction on the University of Alabama campus are paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UA Department of Theatre and Dance is releasing weekly performances and lessons through two new video series.

“In an effort to remain connected to our audiences, the chair and associate chairs of the department began brainstorming ways we could stay connected to our community throughout the summer while also contemplating ways to continue supporting the department’s social mission of making the arts accessible to everyone,” said Lawrence Jackson, associate chair of dance. “Presenting art virtually has become a crucial strategy for arts organizations and programs to keep audiences engaged during this time.”

The Virtual Black Box video series showcases theater performances on the department’s YouTube channel. New performances are planned for each Monday and Friday at noon.

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Jackson said the heads of dance, theater and musical theater selected works that represent the quality of work produced throughout the department.

The Movement Series will feature mini-masterclasses taught by the department’s world-renowned faculty. Lessons will be each Wednesday via Zoom. All sessions are free, but registration is required.

“At a time when in-person gatherings are no longer possible, we feel it’s more important than ever to encourage our audiences to stay engaged culturally and artistically while we weather important social distancing guidelines,” Jackson said. “Virtual arts presentations help lift our spirits during difficult times and keep us connected to our family, friends and colleagues from afar through collective concerts, online classes, workshops and seminars.

“We would like for audiences to understand that the benefit of having art in your life doesn’t have to disappear despite the current challenges we face. This season’s arts and cultural experiences aren’t going away. They just might be presented differently.”

For a list of upcoming Virtual Black Box videos and Movement Series lessons and registration information, visit theatre.ua.edu/virtual-series.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Macon County organic farmer cultivates ambitions with ag startup

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – A startup, minority-owned organic farm in Macon County is expanding its crops and customer base, fueled by an ambitious vision to carry on the region’s rich history of agricultural innovation.

Lifetime Natural Organic Farm, which includes about 25 acres of raised-bed bio-intensive organic vegetables, this year invested an additional $500,000 to increase plantings and seek new business.

The move, which brought the farm’s total capital investment to $1 million, is paying off in a big way. Lifetime, already a supplier to Whole Foods stores in Alabama, recently began selling to the grocery chain’s Braselton, Georgia, distribution center that serves 400 locations.

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The farm also is now selling to Albert’s Organics, one of the largest organic produce wholesale distributors in the U.S. It also supplies Publix stores and has begun supplying Alabama schools, with orders for nearly 30,000 heads of organic lettuce for Elmore County Schools’ summer feeding program over the next two weeks.

Lifetime is believed to be the largest USDA-certified organic farm in Alabama, and owner Nelson Wells wants to grow it even more, to the largest in the Southeast.

At the same time, he wants to deepen its roots in Tuskegee and Macon County. Wells was drawn to the area after one of his advisors invited him to Tuskegee University to watch a video about the institution’s history, its founder Booker T. Washington and the work of George Washington Carver.

Learning more about the famous African American scientist and inventor Carver – who developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and transformed U.S. farming practices during his tenure at Tuskegee – struck a chord with Wells and his own biracial heritage.

“That changed my heart,” he said. “It made me want to be a part of the rich history of Macon County and Tuskegee, Alabama. I’m half black and half white, and I saw how important it was to continue the legacy of what George Washington Carver was to the world. He was at the forefront of modern agriculture.”

GROWING RELATIONSHIPS

Wells isn’t your typical Alabama farmer. The 6-foot-6-inch California native is a vegetarian and former surfer who played football for the University of Southern California before he moved to Alabama to be closer to his family.

Promoting healthy living through clean eating has been a lifelong passion for Wells. He and his family have been involved in running another organic farm in Verbena, and he and his partners courted Tuskegee for several years with their plans for a commercial organic farm.

Carver’s imprint on the region was a big draw, as was the opportunity to collaborate with agricultural researchers at Tuskegee University. Wells has begun building relationships with professors and students.

Lifetime started last year as a joint venture with the Macon County Economic Development Authority. The MCEDA provided the land, a former hayfield purchased and owned by MCEDA as a potential industrial site, as a “proof of concept” farm.

That growing season went well, and this year, Lifetime expanded its farming area from 10 to 25 acres and tweaked its crop mix to match the demand of its existing and targeted customers. Products include all types of bell peppers, sweet peppers, watermelon, tomatoes and leafy greens.

GAINING ACCESS

Across Alabama, there are 20 to 25 certified organic farms and possibly another 100 or so that follow organic practices but are not certified organic, said Don Wambles, director of Agriculture Promotion for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

To his knowledge, Lifetime is the largest USDA-certified organic farm in the state, he said.

Wambles and his office assisted Lifetime with gaining access to markets and also provided direction on applicable USDA programs.

The state offers many advantages for all types of farmers, he said.

“Alabama has a great climate and abundant water resources to allow agriculture to be bountiful. We are a very diverse state, which allows producers to choose whether they want to grow organically or conventionally. We have an abundance of customers for either production system the farmer chooses and we support all farmers.

“With Lifetime’s commitment to grow even larger, they will be able to meet the demand for locally grown organic produce while creating jobs and assisting the economic health of their community and surrounding communities,” he said.

NEW GROWTH SECTOR

An organic farm isn’t a typical economic development project, but it’s one that is well-suited for rural areas, said Joe Turnham, director of the MCEDA.

“As economic developers, we’re all so programmed to go out and get industrial sites, and we should, but very rarely do we think about going out and getting a tract for an ag startup,” he said.

Lifetime has provided new jobs for 20 to 30 people in the community, and it represents new business for utilities and other local services, Turnham said.

Another notable benefit is that the type of products and processes involved in organic farming are not common in the South, so Lifetime is helping to forge a new growth sector.

“Our strategic plan has always called for an agricultural component of economic development in Macon County,” Turnham said.  “We’re the home of George Washington Carver, and we really wanted to have a purposeful, high-value project for that agricultural vision. This fits perfectly.”

In addition to the farm’s land, MCEDA has provided in-kind services and also helped the farm’s operators make valuable connections, such as those with state agriculture officials and others at Tuskegee University.

“Last year, they hit every milestone and had beautiful crops. It wasn’t quite what buyers wanted, but they proved they could do it. This year, they are growing to meet the demand profiles of Whole Foods and Publix,” he said.

Turnham said he is excited about the farm’s growth potential.

“We have a gentleman’s agreement that once they’re really profitable, maybe there will be a small rent or royalty that comes back to MCEDA that we can put toward helping the next company.”

BUILDING ON A LEGACY

Along with expanding its existing customer base, Lifetime aims to do more in promoting organic farming from its home base in Macon County.

The farm is participating in Sweet Grown Alabama, a new marketing effort by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to promote farmers and products across the state.

“Our goal is to have a vegetarian restaurant here in Tuskegee, and we would also like to do farming and cooking demos here,” Wells said. “We want to increase the understanding of the importance of healthy eating and its effects on the body and mind.”

Beyond that, Wells wants to continue growing ties with Tuskegee University and collaborate on research involving organic farming.

“My dream is to continue the legacy of George Washington Carver and Tuskegee University that was the forefront of modern agriculture at one time,” he said.

“This could change the world in organics.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)