Home Tags April 2017

April 2017

Top News Links: Thursday, April 27


Roy Moore throws his hat into crowded U.S. Senate ring

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's entry into the U.S. Senate race adds another layer of drama to what's already expected to be a rollicking special election to fill the seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore announced his candidacy among the swelling GOP field Wednesday in what is expected to be a cutthroat primary. – AP/WBOC

Toyota invests $150, 000 toward female STEM programs

Huntsville engine maker Toyota is making a contribution toward a summer camp focused on keeping female students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The automobile company's Toyota USA Foundation is providing a $150, 000 grant to support and grow Tech Trek. The camp is only for rising eighth-grade girls, and the week-long program provides participants hands-on STEM-based activities. – WAAY

Trump appears to be slowing down on NAFTA changes

President Donald Trump won’t immediately terminate U.S. participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement, the White House said, after he spoke with the leaders of Mexico and Canada about ways to renegotiate the accord. “President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries, ” the White House said in a statement late Wednesday. – Automotive News

Venture Club invites business pitches for competition

Birmingham Venture Club is taking applications for small companies to pitch their business plans in a head-to-head competition with a $10, 000 cash prize. The club is hosting its second Spark Match competition and is accepting applications until May 5. The competition will be held Thursday, May 25 from 11:30 until 1 p.m. at the Harbert Center at 2019 Fourth Ave. N. Click here to apply. – AL.com

‘Indian fighter’ picked by governor as top legal counsel

Gov. Ivey’s hiring of former state Sen. Bryan Taylor as her general counsel and legal adviser has the potential to rock the Capitol boat. Taylor isn’t new to Alabama politics. In fact, he’s old, bad news. Taylor, a Prattville Republican who serves in the Alabama National Guard, is a political relic of former Gov. Bob Riley’s administration, for which he unsuccessfully attempted to rout all gambling from the state, particularly by the Poarch Creek Indians. – Lagniappe

Lyn Stuart named Alabama Chief Justice

With Roy Moore moving on, Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday named Lyn Stuart Alabama Chief Justice. Stuart, a Republican like her colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court, was sworn in Wednesday in a private ceremony in Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. Associate Justice James Main read the oath of office to Stuart. Stuart served as acting Chief Justice for almost a year, following Moore's suspension on ethics charges. – Montgomery Advertiser

Blue Cross warns of phone scammers ‘verifying’ information

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama wants to make Alabama residents aware of a current telephone spoofing scam targeting individuals throughout the country. Officials said these scammers represent themselves as Blue Cross and Blue Shield employees. The perpetrator may use various tactics to obtain or verify the victim’s personal information. – WHNT

compiled by dave helms

Top News Links: Wednesday, April 26


National Commerce Corp. buys Florida bank for $31M

An Alabama bank acquired Pasco County-based Patriot Bank, adding to the list of community banks on the Gulf Coast of Florida that have been sold in the past year. Birmingham, Ala.-based National Commerce Corp., parent of National Bank of Commerce, acquired Trinity based Patriot for $31.3 million, according to a statement. – Business Observer

Steris/IMS to expand again, create 22 more jobs in Birmingham

STERIS/IMS recently announced a second expansion of its Birmingham operations, one that will create 22 more jobs with a capital investment of approximately $1.6 million. This latest expansion will help accelerate growth and bring the company’s local employment to approximately 450 people in downtown Birmingham. – News release

Voters could rule on revived gas tax proposal

Alabama lawmakers are considering an alternate route to raise money for road projects. Tuesday, a Senate committee approved a measure that would allow voters to decide whether to raise the gas tax five cents in their county. Senator Arthur Orr's proposal comes after the House rejected a statewide gas tax increase. – ABC3340

Alabama House ponders Sunday morning booze sales

The Alabama House of Representatives has voted to let some local governments decide if restaurants can offer up Sunday morning mimosas and other alcoholic drinks. The bill would allow county commissions and city councils, in areas where Sunday alcohol sales are legal, to authorize restaurant sales to begin at 10:30 a.m. Currently, sales often don't begin until noon or later. – AP/USN&WR 

Trump proposing massive tax cuts for business

President Trump plans to propose massive tax cuts for businesses big and small as part of an overhaul that he says will provide the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history. In addition to big tax cuts for corporations, Trump also wants to cut taxes for small business owners from a top tax rate of 39.6 percent to a top rate of 15 percent, said an official with knowledge of the plan. – WIAT

Alabama scores amazingly low for gambling addiction

For a state that’s constantly debating whether or not to institute a state lottery as a means to generate revenue, Alabama should probably consider a new report that ranks the Yellowhammer State as the least gambling-addicted state in the country. In personal finance website WalletHub’s latest report of 2017’s Most Gambling-Addicted States, analysts found Alabama is neither gambling-friendly nor do its residents have the need to seek treatment for gambling addiction. – Alabama Today

compiled by dave helms

Top News Links: Tuesday, April 25


Margaritaville won’t be acquired by Wind Creek

Margaritaville has announced that they are ending their pending merger to an Alabama Indian tribe. In a press release issued on Monday, the casino and resort says the merger ended because one of the requirements that the casino would be operated under the tribe's Wind Creek brand rather than the Margaritaville brand could not be met. – KSLA

Life sciences focus of Alabama trade mission to Europe

Alabama business and community leaders are in Europe on a trade mission this week, seeking new market opportunities for the state’s growing bioscience industry in the countries of Germany and Denmark. The 22-member delegation also is promoting the cutting-edge developments happening at research centers from Huntsville to Birmingham to Mobile and beyond, an effort to encourage new investment in the broader U.S. life sciences sector. – News release

New Orleans airline startup files for bankruptcy

New Orleans-based GLO Airlines,  which has operated regional charter flights from Louis Armstrong International Airport since late 2015, has filed for bankruptcy protection and must stop operating after Thursday, federal bankruptcy court records show. GLO has asked the court to allow it to keep flying past Thursday, saying that otherwise it will lose “its principal source of revenue.” – The Advocate

AT&T closing Birmingham Collections Center, 130 jobs to go

AT&T will close its Birmingham Collections Center this summer, affecting 130 employees starting in June. AT&T said the consolidation is a result of a reduction in call volumes. It is attempting to place as many of these employees in other positions in the company as possible. Those it is unable to place will receive a severance package, a representative said. – AL.com

State’s preliminary March unemployment rate 5.8 percent

Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted March unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, down from February’s rate of 6.2 percent, and below March 2016’s rate of 5.9 percent. March’s rate represents 128, 757 unemployed persons, compared to 136, 667 in February and 128, 478 in March 2016. March’s rate represents 2, 080, 139 employed persons, compared to 2, 067, 352 in February and 2, 037, 370 in March 2016. – Trussville Tribune

State taken to task over crime victim info online

Crime victims are calling for personal information such as addresses and telephone numbers to be removed from Alabama's court records website. They say that information should remain private in order to keep them safe from their perpetrators. A review of Alacourt.com by The Associated Press found the full names, home addresses, telephone numbers and other information of rape victims as well as children who have been molested. – ABC3340

Federal budget changes likely to pinch Alabama

President Donald Trump's budget proposal zeroes out two programs that benefit Alabama in big ways — Community Development Block Grants and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The money from those programs flows through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to local communities. – WHNT

Lake Martin Innovation Center has grand opening today

The Lake Martin Innovation Center will host a Grand Opening & Ribbon Cutting today from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. The event is open to the public and will include catered food, drinks, live music and much more.  The 17, 000 square foot facility off Highway 280 in Alexander City will function as a business incubator, complete with office suites, high-speed fiber internet and co-working space targeted to professionals that work from home, travel through the area to do business or reside full-time or part-time on Lake Martin. – News release

Report: Albertson’s looking to acquire Whole Foods

The Financial Times is reporting that the Albertsons supermarket chain is eyeing organic grocery Whole Foods for acquisition. Cerberus Capital Management, which backs Albertsons, has held preliminary talks with bankers about  a bid, the paper reported. – AL.com

compiled by dave helms

Top News Links: Monday, April 24


Tourism in state was a $13B business last year

A report says travelers spent more than $13 billion in Alabama last year. The study was conducted for the state tourism agency by an economist at Auburn University Montgomery. It says more than 25 million travelers spent a total of $13.4 billion in the state in 2016 on hotels, shopping, transportation and restaurants. The number represents an increase of 5.4 percent from the year before. Tourism Director Lee Sentell says travel spending doubled in the state over the last 14 years. – AL.com

Goodyear plant in Gadsden set for possible strike

The union that represents workers at Gadsden's Goodyear plant voted this week to authorize a strike. The vote with United Steelworkers Local 12L was taken ahead of contract negotiations scheduled to take place this year. The last contract negotiations with the company were in 2013 over a four-year deal, which was reached on the day before the existing contract was set to expire. – AL.com

Regions building $23M facility in Hattiesburg

An Alabama-based bank will invest $23 million into a new operations facility in Mississippi. Regions Financial Corp. is looking to hire around 420 workers when the facility is complete in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Al.com (http://bit.ly/2pjoUQh) reported. The bank plans to start construction on the 75, 000-square-foot facility later this year. The new facility in Hattiesburg will primarily house workers from Regions Mortgage. Employees are spread through three different downtown facilities. – USN&WR

First neighborhood to be run by smart phones being planned

Alabama Power is partnering with Signature Homes to build the “Smart Neighborhood” with one main electrical system to power 62 homes. The template is to allow homeowners to control energy usage with a smart phone. Alabama Power Spokesperson Katie Bolton said the project is innovative, “New creative energy solutions that we can provide to make their lives easier.” – ABC 3340

Mohammed Khan named senior VP at AR

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), today announced that Mohammed A. Khan, Jr. has joined the company as senior vice president of its recently formed Defense Business Unit. Khan will be based out of the company's Huntsville facility, its Defense headquarters. – Nasdaq

Molecular diagnostics company unveils new disease tests

BioGX, a Birmingham-based molecular diagnostics company, announced the launch of four additional CE-IVD infectious disease tests at the 27th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), reflecting the inspiring vision of ECCMID: “Managing Infections, Promoting Science”.  BioGX has developed an extensive line of multiplex tests for infectious organisms that aid in early diagnosis and proactive management of infections. – News release

FDA sends warning letter to Safe Harbour Seafood

The Food and Drug Administration found serious food safety violations at two seafood facilities, one in Ecuador and one in Alabama, according to warning letters recently made public by the federal agency. Food companies that receive FDA warning letters have 15 working days to respond with an outline the specific things they are doing to correct violations. In an April 10 warning letter to President James R. Shutt, the FDA described problems at Safe Harbour Seafood Inc. that were documented during an inspection Feb. 13-17. – Food Safety News

compiled by dave helms

Top News Links: Friday, April 21


Honda to start building new Odyssey vans Tuesday

Honda is getting ready for the next generation of its popular Odyssey minivan. Production on the 2018 model – which was redesigned and unveiled earlier this year – will begin Tuesday. The company is planning a start-up celebration for employees that day. – AL.com

Port of Mobile has new vessel-sharing agreement

Alabama State Port Authority and APM Terminals in May will launch an AL 4 service network between the Port of Mobile and ports in Northern Europe. THE Alliance, a vessel sharing agreement between five container ocean carriers – Hapag-Lloyd of Germany; Yang Ming of Taiwan; and Japan’s NYK Line, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) and “K” Line – will provide vessel calls through APM Terminals Mobile. With the new arrangement, Mobile will be served by the three largest global container carrier alliances. – News release

Troy University offers Global Azure Bootcamp

Troy University’s Sorrell College of Business will be in class Saturday when it hosts for the second year the Global Azure Bootcamp. The 100-person class is full, and the TROY site is one of about 180 sites in 65 countries that will host the deep-dive session into Microsoft Azure, a growing collection of integrated cloud services that developers and information technology professionals use to build, deploy and manage applications through Microsoft’s network of data centers. – News release

House passes bill requiring carriers to cover autism

A unanimous vote in the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday was celebrated by families in the Autism Community. The House passed a bill requiring insurance companies cover medically necessary treatment for autism. Alabama is one of five states that does not have that requirement in place. The autism community tried to pass a bill like this for years. This is the first time for the measure to pass a chamber at the Alabama State House. It now moves upstairs to the Senate. – ABC 3340

State’s first public charter school opens in Mobile

Alabama’s first public charter school opened its doors today at the Bel Air office complex located at 3100 Cottage Hill Road in Mobile. ACCEL Day and Evening Academy will serve high school students in grades 9-12 from Baldwin, Mobile and Washington Counties. ACCEL will provide students with a challenging college preparatory curriculum, individualized construction, small class sizes and an engaging use of technology in a safe, supportive environment to ensure students graduate college and career ready. – News release

compiled by dave helms

Top News Links: Thursday, April 20


Auto supplier to do $20M upgrade in Opelika

Auto supplier Hanwha Advanced Materials America LLC plans to invest $20 million to upgrade its manufacturing facility in Opelika, adding 100 new jobs over the next three years, according to Mayor Gary Fuller. The additional new jobs will push Hanwha’s total employment to more than 400, Fuller said. – Made In Alabama

Poarch Creek Indians launch aviation company in Huntsville

The only federally recognized Indian Tribe in Alabama unveiled an office this morning for its new aviation company in Huntsville. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians held a ribbon cutting ceremony on 7067 Old Madison Pike for PCI Aviation, a subsidiary that will focus on cable and wiring harness fabrication before moving to system integration, kitting, hangar operations, ground support equipment and logistics support services for the U.S. military. – AL.com

Commerce wants to expand workforce investment boards

The Alabama Department of Commerce is trying to restructure their workforce investment boards, expanding them from just three, to seven across the state. The Madison County Commission discussed the topic at Wednesday's meeting. Under the current structure, 65 Alabama counties share just one board. The Alabama Department of Commerce wants to change that. – WHNT

Alabamians a step closer to wine arriving by mail

A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would allow Alabamians to have wine shipped directly to their homes. Under the legislation, which now goes to the full Senate, people over the age of 21 in Alabama could have up to 24 cases of wine shipped to their doors each year. Shippers would need to obtain licenses from the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board, and out-of-state shippers would have to pay all applicable taxes on the alcohol. – Montgomery Advertiser

Feds sort out botched Avondale smokestack demolition

A Pell City contractor pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal explosives storage and record-keeping charges over a year and half after his botched demolition of the smokestack at historic Avondale Mills in Pell City. Contractor Timothy Manley Phifer pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor, according to an announcement by acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Steven L. Gerido. Phifer is scheduled for sentencing on Aug.14. – NewsAegis

Baldwin County may get state’s first Buc-Ee’s travel center

Baldwin County may soon be home to a huge, new travel center along Interstate-10. Texas-based, Buc-Ee’s wants to build its first out-of-state store in Alabama at the Baldwin Beach Express exit. The store will have 120 fuel pumps for passenger vehicles and inside will be 50, 000 square feet of retail space.  No 18-wheeler truck traffic is allowed at these stores. – WSFA

‘Buy American’ rules sketchy for state’s steelmakers

U.S. President Donald Trump's “Buy American, Hire American” executive order on Tuesday left questions about how the government would enforce the order and whether it would make a real difference in output and employment, according to steel executives and analysts. “Buy American” provisions already exist in U.S. law but policing them has been difficult because of waivers granted to foreign companies that undercut their U.S. counterparts on pricing. – Fortune

Moe’s BBQ must now win hearts and minds in Cloverdale

Times are changing in Cloverdale. The old Sinclair’s filling station- turned restaurant is no longer in business. And signs are gone. What was open every day at 11 a.m. is now closed and Moe’s Original BBQ is set to come in. But it’s not sitting well with everyone in the neighborhood. “A lot of people are very sad. It was home for many years to a lot of people. But change is good. He was ready to retire and that’s okay. I think it will be great, ” said Jen Powell. – ANN

Merger approved for Progress Financial, First Partners

Shareholders of Progress Financial Corporation and First Partners Financial Inc. have voted to approve the merger agreement first announced on Feb. 14. Under the agreement, Progress Financial will acquire First Partners and the combined institutions will have banking operations in northern Alabama, the Birmingham MSA and Destin, Fla. – News release

compiled by dave helms

Career Notes, April 2017


Russell Thompson Butler & Houston LLP has welcomed Freda Sun, a Chinese foreign exchange student, as an intern. 


Ford Wiles, chief creative officer and partner for Big Communications, has been named American Advertising Federation-Birmingham Silver Award Medal winner.


Eric Archie has joined Chambless King Architects as contract administrator.


Erin Stephenson has joined PNC Bank as vice president and director of client and community relations for the Alabama market.

Regions Bank has named Edward Lubembe, a branch manager in Bessemer, its Better Life Award recipient.

Danny Cottrell has joined the board of directors of United Bank


Stephen McNair, owner of McNair Historic Preservation Inc., has been named to the Leadership Mobile class of 2017, Mobile Bay Magazine's 40 Under 40 and to Coastal Alabama Partnership's 2017 Civic Masters Program. 

Credit Unions

Avadian Credit Union has promoted Teresa Hunter to branch manager for the Geneva location.


​Mrinal Mugdh Varma


Mrinal Mugdh Varma has been named provost and senior vice chancellor at Auburn University at Montgomery. In addition, Jessie Rosa has been promoted to director of athletics at AUM.

Annette Funderburk has been named interim president at J.F. Ingram State Technical College.

The Auburn University Foundation has appointed new directors to its board: Leslee Belluchie, Kerry Bradley, Bruce Donnellan and Javier Goizueta. The board also named Mike McLain its new chair and Benny LaRussa vice chair.

The Alabama State Senate has confirmed Lloyd Austin, Raymond Harbert and Quentin Riggins as at-large members of the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

Michael Pretes, a professor of geography at the University of North Alabama, is the 2017 recipient of the American Association of Geographers Distinguished Teaching Honors. 


The Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame has inducted Brian Barr, Paula Martese Marino and H. Stuart Starrett, all of Birmingham; Bill Harbert, formerly of Birmingham; and Todd May, of Huntsville. 

Human Resources

ESS has promoted Jared Balint and Mark McFadin to vice presidents of sales. In addition, the company has added Catherine Vinson as director of client care. 

Information Technology

Jason Jacobson has been named CEO and Brendan Jacobson has been named president of NetGain Technologies. The brothers became the third generation to run the company. In addition, John Meholovitch has been promoted to business controller. 


Brad Gabel has joined Protective Life Corp. as vice president and chief underwriting officer. 


Stephen Hunt Jr.


Stephen Hunt Jr.  has been named a principal of Cory Watson Attorneys.

Margaret Thompson has joined Beasley, Allen, Crow,  Methvin,  Portis & Miles PC as of counsel in the firm's Mass Torts Section.

David Hill Bashford has joined Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP's Birmingham office as counsel on the Construction, Energy and Litigation teams.

Robert Shreve has become an associate in the Mobile office of Burr & Forman, where he will serve in the Tort Trial & Insurance practice.

Steven Worley has joined Carr Allison. He has over 20 years of experience.

Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley, of Lightfoot Franklin & White, served as the keynote speaker at the Lean On: Alabama's 2017 Women's Lifestyle and Leadership Conference in March.

Jon Mills has joined Maynard Cooper & Gale as an associate in the firm's Corporate, Securities & Tax Practice group. 


Dunavant Logistics Group has acquired Mobile-based John M. Brining Co. John Hearne, of John M. Brining Co., has become Dunavant’s new vice president of customs brokerage.

Glenn Smith has earned the CSX Industrial Development’s Partnershipping Award for his work in securing the Wayne Farms feed mill project in Ozark.


Steve Pierson has been promoted to director of convention sales at the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau. Carman Atchison has joined the staff as sales manager for the Northeast territory and April Deal has rejoined the staff as customer relations manager. In addition, Rita Kelley has been promoted to information technology manager.


Laura Kappler-Roberts


Gabriel Restrepo, an area manager of Latin America sales with ACIPCO International, a division of American Cast Iron Pipe Co., has been appointed to the Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

Laura Kappler-Roberts, president and CEO of Kappler Inc., has been named an honoree for the 2017 STEP Ahead awards presented by The Manufacturing Institute.


Crestwood Medical Center has re-elected Mike Gillespie as chair of the board and John Stallworth as vice chair. In addition, Jeffrey Garber, Eric Janssen, Smita Shah and Stallworth have been reappointed to three-year terms.

Southeast Alabama Medical Center has welcomed Brandy Duke to its Westway Medical Office in Dothan. 


Shelby Humane Society has named David Arias as its new executive director. 


Ann-Brooks Morrissette has joined the Fuse Project as planning and development manager.

JDRF has appointed Hanny Akl as its new board member of the Alabama Chapter. 


Jake Carlisle has been named director of ticketing at Talladega Superspeedway.

Real Estate

James Lomax has joined Colliers International as an associate in Huntsville.


Charles Marsh has been appointed to senior vice president of global sales for Adtran.

James Lackey has joined Quantum Research International Inc. as senior vice president/Defense Systems Group manager. In addition, Brad Kettner has been promoted to the position of manager, Space and Warfighter Support Division and site manager for Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

compiled by erica joiner west

From Theory to Practice: Genomic Medicine in Alabama


David Bick


From 1990 to 2003, researchers around the world — including some in Alabama — completed the Human Genome Project (HGP), an international, government-funded effort to identify and map all the genes that are included in human DNA. While the groundbreaking project successfully identified the locations and functions of each human gene, it was just the beginning of genomic medicine, a way of customizing medical care to a person’s unique genetic makeup. 

Since the completion of the HGP, researchers have continued to study how a person’s genes affect his or her health. A great deal of groundbreaking work in that area is happening here in Alabama, led by the team at Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. 

The HGP research showed that any two humans are identical in more than 99 percent of their genes. While humans have many more similarities with each other than differences, those slight variations in DNA can have a major impact on whether a person develops a particular disease, how he responds to an infection and which drugs are most effective, says Howard Jacob, Ph.D., HudsonAlpha’s executive vice president for medical genomics. At Hudson-Alpha, scientists have developed cutting-edge technology for DNA sequencing, the process of “reading somebody’s entire DNA, ” Jacob says.

“Lots of people read little pieces of DNA, but we read the entire genome, which gives us all the information that shows what makes that person that person, ” Jacob says. “Imagine building a house with a partial blueprint versus a full blueprint. By doing whole genome sequencing, we have all the information we may ever need to help in diagnosing or treating illnesses for that person.” 

Whole genome sequencing is used in other places, but HudsonAlpha — with partners at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama, the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine, the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital of Alabama — has developed technologies and methods for doing it for about the same costs as partial genome sequencing. And in Alabama, researchers and clinicians are using whole genome sequencing to make life-changing differences for current patients and the future of health care.

“For the first time in history, we are able to read nearly all the DNA bases that provide the blueprint of life, ” says Shawn Levy, Ph.D., faculty investigator and founding director of the Genomic Services Laboratory at HudsonAlpha. “Every single living thing is based on the same fundamental building blocks, and the variations in size and content on their genomes creates the diversity of life. We now have the ability to read and compare those genomes and to bring those capabilities to improve human health care.” 

Economic Impact of Genomic Medicine

Shawn Levy


Health care is big business, and the work happening at HudsonAlpha and its partner locations represents positive economic news for Alabama. HudsonAlpha-based scientists continue to discover new genetic markers associated with specific health conditions. For instance, researchers there discovered a new gene signature associated with triple negative breast cancer last year, which could lead to more targeted treatment for a devastating form of the disease. 

But in addition to new genetic discoveries, HudsonAlpha has made strides in developing software that can process and decipher reams of genetic information, as well as hardware that can securely store and catalog loads of human genetic data. To that end, HudsonAlpha has assembled, in addition to genetic and clinical experts, a team of experts in accompanying fields, such as software development, informatics and information technology. 

“When you sequence a genome, you derive a terabyte of information from each person, ” says Liz Worthey, Ph.D., faculty investigator and director of software development and informatics at HudsonAlpha. “The challenge is to take all that data and make it useful.” 

Worthey and her team have developed software that takes that data, aligning billions of pieces of an individual’s genome with reference data, and identifying all the places where that person is different from the standard. 

“Most people have about 6 billion variances in their DNA, but many of those variances aren’t associated with disease; they just determine things like hair color and eye color, ” Worthey says. The process of determining which variances could be associated with disease took about nine months, just a few years ago. Today, with the software Worthey has developed, the process takes about 90 minutes, and then the data is ready to be studied by a human expert. 

Furthering its economic impact, HudsonAlpha also is helping to launch new startup companies such as Ploid Storage and Kailos Genetics, both of which are developing new technology to assist medical genomics and are located on the HudsonAlpha campus. 

Health Impacts of Genomic Medicine

Liz Worthey


For the scientists and physicians who work in Alabama’s groundbreaking genomic medicine industry, economic impacts take second place to the impact of their work on human health. For instance, David Bick, M.D., spent 13 years as a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he also led a pediatric genetics clinic and a genomics lab, becoming a nationally recognized leader in the field of genomic medicine. He and a group of colleagues left Wisconsin in 2015 to join the faculty of HudsonAlpha because they saw a great opportunity to use whole genomic sequencing to make a positive impact on the health of more patients. 

“HudsonAlpha has the most advanced sequencing instrument available in the world, the HiSEQX, which was a remarkable resource for the group of us in Wisconsin, ” says Bick, who now serves as chief medical officer at HudsonAlpha and medical director of the Institute’s Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine, which opened in 2015. “HudsonAlpha had the sequencing technology, and we brought the informatics and the clinical knowledge to apply to that sequencing.” 

At the Smith Family Clinic, Bick and his team focus on using genome sequencing to diagnose diseases, especially in children, that have not been diagnosed through traditional avenues. Up to 10 percent of Americans have undiagnosed diseases, according to Jacob. Children may suffer from seizures, delayed development, intellectual disabilities or autism with no clear diagnosis.

“Some of the conditions are simply given names that are descriptions of the symptoms rather than a true diagnosis, ” says Greg Cooper, Ph.D., faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. “We receive a blood draw, perform whole genome sequencing, and map out every single piece of the DNA. We look for genetic changes in those children that might underlie the symptoms they have.” 

About a quarter of the time, Bick and his team find the answer, he says. While that means many patients remain undiagnosed, “new gene-disease connections are being discovered all the time, ” Bick says. “And once we have your genome, we continue to check against new research to find an answer. So if we don’t have a diagnosis this year, we may have one next year.” 

As the whole genome sequencing center for the Undiagnosed Diseases Network, funded by the National Institutes of Health, HudsonAlpha receives cases from across the country. And HudsonAlpha has delivered diagnoses in more than 100 Alabama cases in the past few years, Levy says. For the families who receive concrete diagnoses, the sequencing work done here is life changing. While there may not be a cure for the genetic disease that is diagnosed, “there are strategies that can help, ” Cooper says. “Many people experience improved medical management once they have a correct diagnosis.”

For instance, one young patient suffered from undiagnosed symptoms for several years, until genome sequencing at HudsonAlpha resulted in a diagnosis of Rett syndrome. “Now she sees one of the world’s leading physicians for treating Rett syndrome, and her family would have never known that’s who she needed to see until she got a proper diagnosis, ” Cooper says. 

In addition to helping achieve difficult diagnoses, genomic medicine has made great strides in pharmacogenomics, which is the analysis of key genes that dictate how a person metabolizes drugs. “Some people are, genetically, ultra-fast metabolizers of pain medication; therefore, they need to be given higher doses, ” Levy says. “And some people’s genetics prevent them from responding at all to common drugs.” 

In fact, up to 18 percent of drugs being taken today are being taken by people who can’t process them correctly, Jacob says. In his own case, Jacob’s genetic assay shows that “there are 50 common drugs I can’t process correctly, ” he says.

Understanding how a person’s genetics affect his or her ability to process medicines can affect anesthesia and all types of treatments for various conditions. While a pharmacogenomics analysis, often referred to as PGX, is widely available for physician use, such tests are not yet widely used, Levy says. HudsonAlpha’s Smith Family Clinic now offers Insight Genome testing, which sequences the genomes of healthy people, allowing participants to learn about how (and whether) their body will respond to various drugs, and whether they are susceptible to contracting various genetic-related diseases. The Institute also adds each participant’s genome into its research program.

As the field of genetics continues to provide new knowledge and informed practice to the field of medicine, scientists and practitioners in Alabama remain on the cutting edge. And the people of Alabama, with access to the latest studies and care, will continue to benefit.

Nancy Mann Jackson and Dennis Keim are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. They are based in Huntsville. 

TEXT By NANCY MANN JACKSON // Photos by dennis keim

Skills Standards for Manufacturers

Jeff Lynn, the community college system’s new boss for workforce development.

The Alabama Community College System hired Jeff Lynn in October as executive director for Workforce and Economic Development. Before that he was the head of the state of Louisiana’s LED FastStart workforce training program, for which he worked since 2008. Prior to that, he directed workforce development projects for Georgia’s Technical College System for 10 years. He grew up in Alabama and graduated from Auburn University. His first months in his new job were spent visiting campuses around the state and the companies they serve.

On our visits to campuses around the state and the companies in those service areas, a common theme is something that we should have been addressed 20-plus years ago. Having a strong manufacturing base throughout the state, we need a better certification program through the two-year college and dual enrollment high schools. One of our immediate goals is the implementation of MSSC standards, a national manufacturing certification program of the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council.

We’ve seen the results of not having such a program in the example of a company that is located at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley — VTMAE (VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering), a very sophisticated company that retrofits Boeing 757s for FedEx. They ran out of a pipeline of employees in Alabama and decided to build a new facility in Pensacola, and they now have about 550 employees over there. We need to be better at feeding that pipeline with the competencies, behaviors and technical skills for a company like that.

The MSSC came together in the late ’90s, led by Fortune 500 companies that were fed up with the product that was coming out of the school systems and wanted to make sure there was a set of standards to train workers. Nothing existed like it before, created for production and logistics.

We have had a lot of other certification programs, such as the NCCER, which prepares students in industrial construction with great fundamentals and technical abilities. But we need something specific for manufacturing companies. High schools want to be involved in dual enrollment and the two-year campuses are very excited, because it is a baseline program, which — beginning either at the two-year college or dual enrollment in high schools — applies toward future diplomas or degrees. Kids who might not know what they want to do at age 18 can know that the work they do will carry them forward to get credentials for a career.

What such a program will do is it will create a pipeline of skilled employees who come out of our schools across the state with the exact standards and abilities that companies want. And it’s going to decrease their recruitment costs. They will be able to prefer job candidates and move them to the top of the line to be interviewed. And it will eliminate remedial training costs in time and help retain qualified workers as well. Last but not least, it will create an agile workforce that’s capable of adapting to technology changes.

We also have got to create a world-class workforce development program at the two-year colleges. We need to standardize from campus to campus and city to city. We need to create a very customized training program that we can use to meet with business and industry and deliver customized programs that can get them through short-term needs.

I participated in a certified workforce developer program that had been created in Georgia and I helped to create one in Louisiana. It has a phenomenal return on investment. The candidates go through a nine-month workforce development program and have hefty homework and they come out of the program really able to take on workforce issues in their service area. They can do needs analysis and they understand forecasting of job needs. They graduate understanding a learning management system that allows them to pull down a curriculum or course and use it and sell it to companies in their region. They create these tools.

I think it’s going to be very inexpensive for companies to go through these programs. In most cases companies allocate a certain amount of their budget to training, and sometimes they do the training in state and sometimes they go out of state. We expect to be able to provide the training in state and at a very reasonable cost, so they can let us be the experts in the competencies their employees need to be trained in.

Another of the things we need to do better in our two-year colleges is to collect better data, in multiple areas. One area is customer relationship management. So that when we meet with companies around the state we can collect critical data and aggregate it and look at trends and programs that need implementation and get better at delivering them more proactively rather than reactively.

For example, there is a need for a lot of welding across the state, and particularly a lot of aluminum welding, so in meeting with the companies you identify the types of equipment needed in the schools to train those kinds of welders. Another example is identifying an alarming trend in turnover of supervisory personnel. And there is a huge need for CDL driver training. Or you might spot downward trends and identify programs that are not needed.

We also need to increase dual enrollment by 25 percent, and, I think, by creating those national manufacturing standards vetted by Fortune 500 companies we can accomplish that quickly.

Some of these things are low-hanging fruit, and we can implement them now. With the MSSC, there are some companies that want to get rolling immediately, so several community colleges are already working on that. And we are starting a curriculum for certification of workforce officers, and we’re looking at ways the K-12 folks can increase dual enrollment.

We need to market careers in manufacturing. It’s a problem we have had in the U.S. since World War II, and it isn’t fixed yet. Students can come out of two-year colleges with little or no debt and the ability to earn $50, 000 to $100, 000 a year and still have a four-year degree path that they can pursue until retirement. We just need to market that.

We want to use our young adults who have worked at companies across the state and use them as marketers for career opportunities.

We need to get schools the tools they needs so students can pull down the information they need to see that there are great careers out there. And we need to talk with them about how much money they can make and how they can be successful.

On February 27th we’ll be hosting six high schools to visit the Robotics Park in the Decatur area, and students will be looking at all the technology and software and the companies that use them. We have that great asset and many more that we will be using across the state, such as the maritime institute in Mobile.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

Health Programs Make the Grade

When it comes to nursing and radiologic technology education, several of Alabama’s community colleges are making the grade with a high number of students passing licensure exams on the first try.

Nursing programs at Lawson State, Coastal Alabama and Wallace State community colleges have 100 percent pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for nursing, according to reports by the Alabama Board of Nursing. 

Jefferson State Community College’s radiologic technology students have achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the national registry exam of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for both licensed practical nurses and registered nurses will climb 16 percent by 2024, while employment for radiology technicians will rise by nine percent during the same period.

Graduating Radiology Technicians

Students who enroll in Jefferson State Community College’s radiologic technology program can earn their associate’s degree to become X-ray professionals, able to operate CT scanners and other high-tech imaging equipment used for patient examinations in hospitals, emergency clinics and doctors’ offices. 

Christie Bolton directs the program that Jefferson State offers at its Shelby County-Hoover campus on Valleydale Road. The radiologic technology program graduates have a 100 percent passage rate on the National Registry exam administered by the credentialing agency known as the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Gaining admittance into the radiologic technology program, however, is not easy, says Bolton. The program accepts only 35 students each fall.

“It’s very competitive, ” says Bolton. “We typically have about 150 applicants for those 35 slots.” 

To enter the program, students must have an ACT score of at least 18. Grades in math, biology and English are also considered. 

“We have a great mixture of students, ” she says. They come straight from high school, from college or another career. “Although the field is predominately female, we are seeing more men.”

Students in the program study subjects such as anatomy and physiology, radiographic procedures, exposure principles, radiation protection, image evaluation and pathology. Later on, they learn how to position patients for diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy. 

“We’ve recently installed a state-of-the-art digital radiography room, ” she says. “We have portable radiography equipment. We also have the capabilities of doing analog or film screening.”

Students practice their radiography skills using full- and partial-body “phantoms” or mannequins where they can rehearse moving and positioning patients and taking images. They also learn how to take blood pressure and temperatures, as well as other tasks within the scope of the radiology technician’s job, she says. 

Once students earn their Associate in Applied Science degree, they can then use the credits toward a four-year degree at a university if they choose to further their education. 

Radiology students, however, must pass the ARRT exam to practice. Bolton says instructors at Jefferson State take care to teach the information that students will need on the certification exam. “This allows students to be able to apply the principles they’ve learned to all of the variables on the exam, ” she says. 

She says the program’s instructors also work to identify and assist students who appear to struggle with the coursework. 

“We are personally connected to our students, ” says Bolton. “I think that’s just part of the community college process. We want to see our students succeed.” 

Nursing students at Coastal Alabama learn CPR and other vital functions on an iStan mannequin. 

Topping the Nursing Program List

According to the Alabama Board of Nursing, the school formerly known as Faulkner State Community College, based in Bay Minette, has had NCLEX pass rates of 100 percent for its licensed practical nursing (LPN) program, as well as its registered nursing (RN) program for the last three academic years. In fact, RegisteredNursing.org ranks its RN program as number one in Alabama. 

Today, Faulkner State has a new name, Coastal Alabama Community College, following Faulkner’s merger with Alabama Southern Community College and Jefferson Davis Community College in 2016. With the merger, students can take nursing classes in Bay Minette, Fairhope, Brewton, Monroeville or Thomasville.

Coastal Alabama’s Director of Nursing and Allied Health Jean Graham says the nursing curriculum’s design is based on current trends in nursing education, as well as recent developments in health care.  

“There has been a big push for nurses to graduate knowing how to care for the elderly with the growing population of older baby boomers, ” says Graham, “and for nursing education to be more interactive, in which lectures are coupled with more in-class discussions and team exercises that cover concepts discussed in class.”

For hands-on training, the nursing program has two skills labs with static mannequins, where students can learn the skills required for nursing care, she says. 

The school also has a simulation lab with a wireless device called iStan. The device is a mannequin that is engineered to mimic symptoms and bodily functions, so nursing students can practice CPR and other maneuvers under realistic scenarios. 

“It’s a controlled environment where we can see how the students are going to react and get a better feel for whether they can think critically and outside of the box and think under stress. It’s a great learning experience. Afterward, they’re debriefed, and they can view themselves in the video so they can see what they didn’t do correctly with coaching from the instructors.”

Coastal Alabama Community College admits 150 students each year, says Graham. Most are non-traditional students. The instructors, she says, encourage students to not work. 

“It’s rare to find an individual who can juggle a full-time job and nursing and be successful because of the volume of material they have to learn, ” she says. “You have to be able to put the time into it.” 

At the end of their third semester, students can choose to take the NCLEX exam to work as LPNs. LPNs work under the supervision of RNs and physicians.

To prepare for the NCLEX, Graham says the instructors regularly administer computerized exams with “NCLEX styled questions” to get students comfortable with the testing environment. 

“I have good instructors, ” says Graham. “We set our criteria high. Our expectations are high, and we don’t lower the bar.” 

Nursing Programs Get High Marks

Lawson State Community College, a historically black school in Jefferson County, has one of the top-rated nursing programs in Alabama.

RegisteredNursing.org ranked Lawson State’s associate’s degree RN program at number two out of 43 RN programs in Alabama on its “Best RN Programs in Alabama” list, which includes both two- and four-year colleges and universities. PracticalNursing.org ranked Lawson’s practical nursing (PN) program at number three out of 19 on its “2017 Best LPN Programs in Alabama.” 

In addition, Lawson State has had NCLEX-RN and LPN pass rates of 100 percent for the last two academic years, according to the Alabama Board of Nursing.  

Admission to Lawson’s nursing program is competitive with, on average, 150 applicants accepted each year. The school’s nursing advisory committee selects applicants based on grade point averages, pre-requisite courses, ACT scores and grades in biology classes. 

“We plan to admit up to a total of 225 students each year, ” says Shelia Marable, Lawson State’s associate dean of health professions. 

Lawson State has two campuses. Its instructors teach RN courses at the Birmingham campus and LPN classes at the Bessemer campus. 

Katrina Swain, chair of Lawson State’s practical nursing program, says the school’s small class sizes are an advantage for students.

“You get more one-on-one attention, ” says Swain. “We do call the roll. You can speak with your teachers after class. We also have a tutor for the students.”

Practice labs offer students the chance to hone their skills on high-tech patient simulators and using virtual simulations online on computers, Swain says. 

“We’ve had great support from our administration that has allowed us to purchase the simulators for our campus labs to prepare students prior to going to the clinical settings and agencies, ” Swain says.

The nursing students gain clinical experiences at area hospitals and clinics like the Birmingham VA Medical Center. They also participate in a two-day disaster training drill in Anniston at the Center for Domestic Preparedness to learn procedures for dealing with patients exposed to chemical, biological or nuclear accidents or injured due to explosions.

PN students take classes for three semesters before sitting for the NCLEX-PN exam. The RN program, on the other hand, is five semesters. Upon completing the coursework, those students take the NCLEX-RN exam. LPN graduates who return to school within two years can enter Lawson’s “LPN to RN Mobility Program” and start the third semester of the RN program.

Lawson’s nursing program is tough. Marable says their instructors do not typically round up grades or offer extra credit assignments. 

“We work with them, ” says Marable. “We have resources available for them, and so we feel that the teaching that we do and the time that we take with them is sufficient to make sure that when they graduate, they’re completely ready to take that NCLEX exam and be successful.”

Gail Allyn Short and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. They are based in Birmingham.

Text By GAIL ALLYN SHORT // Photo by cary norton

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