Home Tags July 2018

July 2018

Top News Links: Tuesday, July 31

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Teledyne Brown among firms to work on nuclear plant reboot

A businessman says that he's assembled a group of nuclear engineering and construction firms, including Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, to finish building an idled nuclear plant in northern Alabama in the next five to six years. Former Chattanooga, Tennessee developer Franklin Haney's company, Nuclear Development LLC, was the top bidder when the Tennessee Valley Authority auctioned the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in 2016. – AP/Miami Herald

Lockheed Martin CEO, husband make $15M gift to UA

Marillyn A. Hewson, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and her husband, James, have made a gift of $15 million to The University of Alabama to benefit the Culverhouse College of Business. The gift is the largest one-time financial contribution in the University’s history. – Newswise

Tyson Foods says profits will drop because of trade war

Tyson Foods, the largest U.S.-based meat producer, said profit this year will be less than it previously forecast because of the country's escalating trade dispute with major importers of agricultural products. Both China and Mexico have imposed import tariffs on American pork recently in retaliation against U.S. duties on metal shipments. – Washington Post

Alabama Maker Frios Gourmet Pops now boasts 43 locations

It’s good ol’ summertime, and sales of Frios Gourmet Pops are exploding across Alabama and nine other states. At Noccalula Falls Park and Campground, many visitors stop at the Frios store while hiking or taking in the famous falls, Kathy Guest said. With 43 stores and counting – Frios hopes to grow to 60 locations in 2019 – devotees of the flavorful pops abound. – ANC

AEgis Tech wins $29M laser applications contract 

The AEgis Technologies Group Inc. (AEgis) has announced the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC)/Army Forces Strategic Command (USARSTRAT) has awarded a $29M Advanced Technologies for High Energy Laser Applications (ATHELA) contract to AEgis. – News release

University of Montevallo computer informatics degree praised

The University of Montevallo is offering what the school calls a “first of its kind” degree in its Stephens College of Business. Computer Informatics is geared toward the business information and technology sectors, and was designed with input from the chief information officers of some of Birmingham's large corporate, government and educational organizations, school officials said. – AL.com

Vulcan sees $1.19 per share profit in second quarter

Vulcan Materials Co. on Tuesday reported second-quarter profit of $159.7 million. The Birmingham-based company said it had profit of $1.19 per share. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs and to account for discontinued operations, were $1.23 per share. The results did not meet Wall Street expectations. – AP

Blue Cross CEO Vines to speak at Auburn commencement

Tim Vines, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, will give the summer commencement address to more than 1, 200 degree recipients on Saturday. Vines graduated from Auburn with a degree in finance in 1988. In his role with BCBS, Vines serves nearly three million members. He began his work in management and worked his way up during his 24 years of service. – Auburn Plainsman

New amenities being offered at Pursell Farms

Pursell Farms in Talladega County, which opened a new inn earlier this year, is announcing a fresh slate of amenities for guests. The 3, 200-acre resort features a 40-room inn, 22-acre wedding venue, Orvis shooting grounds and the 18-hole, 7, 444-yard championship FarmLinks course. Guests this summer can now enjoy trail riding on the UTV Mountain Experience, or on horseback, a walking and jogging trail and other offerings. – AL.com


Dave Helms

Alabama’s Largest Accounting Firms 2018

Source: Alabama Society of CPAs and firm surveys

Click here to view the complete listing.

Top News Links: Monday, July 30

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German auto supplier sees drop in first-half profit margin

German auto supplier ZF on Monday said its first-half operating profit margin narrowed due to currency headwinds and higher steel and aluminum prices, as a global trade war weighed on earnings. ZF said earnings before interest and taxes fell to 1.06 billion euros ($1.24 billion), down from 1.2 billion a year earlier, citing higher raw material prices, currency effects and high research and development spending. ZF operates a chassis systems supply plant in Tuscaloosa. – Reuters

Shhhhh! Speakeasy about to open at Founder’s Station

A clandestine speakeasy with a typographical theme is preparing to open at Founder's Station in downtown Birmingham. Pilcrow Cocktail Cellar from West Coast transplant Joe Phelps is opening in the basement of the mixed-use building on Aug. 3. “We're thrilled to be part of downtown Birmingham's revitalization, ” Phelps said. “The timing of our opening and location couldn't be better.” – AL.com

Congress on track to approve 3 LCS contracts for 2019

In what may bode well for Mobile-based shipbuilder Austal USA, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a defense spending bill that includes three Littoral Combat Ship contracts in 2019. The House voted 359 to 54 last week to approve a conference version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019. Back in May, the House had passed a NDAA draft that included funding for three new LCS contracts. But in June the Senate passed a version funding just one. – AL.com

Skateboard entrepreneur catches air with Hollywood connections

Bear Walker's mission is simple: to build a company producing “bad-ass, creative, innovative pieces of art that people can ride.” The Baldwin County craftsman and skateboard entrepreneur seems to be off to a good start, considering that the Flash and Aquaman already have his work in hand, and he's got a limited-edition showpiece officially commemorating Netflix's “Lost in Space” reboot. – AL.com

USA Medical Center welcomes new SouthFlight chopper

USA President Dr. Tony Waldrop and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson christened a red EC 130 helicopter emblazoned with USA SouthFlight during a ceremony last week on the helipad at USA Medical Center in Mobile. About 15 minutes before the christening, a flight crew lifted off with simulated stroke patient Louis Mapp from H.L. “Sonny” Callahan Airport in Fairhope headed to the region’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. The flight took 13 minutes and 10 seconds. – News release

Roy Moore files another lawsuit, claims ‘political conspiracy’

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore filed another lawsuit this week, fulfilling a promise he made to pursue a  “political conspiracy” that he feels lies behind his failed U.S. Senate campaign last year.  Moore, 71, and his wife, Kayla,  filed a lawsuit in Etowah County Circuit Court Wednesday targeting several political organizations and strategists who he said had “conspired to defame” or “knowingly funded false material” during the campaign last November. – Newsweek

BMW plans to hike prices on two models sold in China

The German automaker said it has hiked the prices of two popular sports utility vehicles in the world's biggest car market after China put tariffs on American-made imports. The prices of its X5 and X6 models have increased by 4 percent and 7 percent from Monday. The price changes were made because of “the increased import duty for US-made cars, ” a spokeswoman for BMW said. – CNN


Dave Helms

From Baseball to Auto Entrepreneur

Photo by Joe De Sciose

Chris Donohoo, owner of DonohooAuto in Pelham and Donohoo Chevrolet in Fort Payne, was center stage at year’s UAB Excellence in Business Awards sharing his deep regard for the university and his non-traditional drive to success in business. Donohoo has twice been recognized for UAB Excellence in Business Top 25, most recently in 2017 for “Fastest Growing Company – Over $10 Million” with impressive growth of 53 percent.

“What makes us different is our customer centricity, ” Donohoo says. “I had never been in the car business so I never learned the habits of the auto trade world. There are no tricks of the trade in my brain. I want to offer customers a car the way I would want it to be offered to me.”

And his customers concur, based on the level of repeat business and the trajectory his career has taken in a surprising twist on his original ambition.

Donohoo’s road to success wasn’t a path he anticipated as a standout member of UAB’s baseball team and later graduate assistant under Coach Gino Giangrosso. While he was preparing for his own career in coaching, Donohoo decided to sell a used car for extra income. He and his wife were just starting their family, and it seemed the prudent thing to do.

“I never planned to be in the car business, ” Donohoo says. “My plan was to be a baseball coach, but I kept buying and selling cars, and here I am today. In my head, I always wanted to start a business. If I was going to coach, I wanted to be a head coach. The successes I was having in car sales made my confidence level go up. I knew I could do this. Throughout my athletic career, I pushed myself to be the best I could, and I parlayed that in the business world.”

Donohoo says he was a strong student but not valedictorian material. Instead, the thing that set him apart was his decision-making skill. He says his two-year stint bartending was also helpful in giving him insight into what it takes to lead.

“I did nothing but talk to businessmen who came in, and I listened and understood what their world was like, ” Donohoo says. “It was a good segue to my business. I learned to take care of people and bartending really helped me understand what the customer wanted — what entrepreneurship was really about.”

Donohoo says his wife, Denise, deserves equal credit for the business success, working with him from the beginning whether on paperwork or delivering cars with two babies in tow. He looks forward to sharing his unique story and his gratitude for what UAB has meant to him in building a business that now includes both his brother and father.

“I want to show my gratitude to the university and let the people at UAB know how thankful I am to them for starting my journey, ” he says. “I’m so happy to be part of a platform like UAB that springboarded me into the American dream. It would have been hard to do if I hadn’t graduated from college and gained the understanding of the world it gave me.”

The catapult began with turning around that one used car via online advertising. After his first, surprisingly easy sale, Donohoo’s small-scale interest expanded, and he applied for his state retail license. During his first year, he sold 25 autos, turning them around as quickly as he could buy and market them. A picture of the 1991 black Ford Taurus, the one he sent to the state to acquire his license, hangs in his Pelham office as a reminder of humble beginnings. It was one of the first cars actually purchased at auction.

“Never in my dreams would I believe what I’m doing right now, ” Donohoo says. “I just kept going and going, and here we are now. We have close to 850 cars in Pelham.”

After his first year in business, Donohoo received a capital infusion from New South Federal and doubled his inventory by the end of 2003. He had been renting a small lot on Birmingham’s Southside, selling most vehicles online via Ebay or Yahoo Auctions.

“Ebay had just started, and it was a good time to be in the business, ” Donohoo says of those salad days. “There was not as much competition, so it was easier to put the car online and see them not only in Birmingham but to ship them nationwide.”

In 2004, Donohoo made the move from his $500-a-month rental lot to a larger lot in Pelham. But it was in 2005 that Donohoo says he made his smartest move in asking his brother, Pete, to join him in the automotive sector.

“That was my best move for this company, ” Donohoo says. “I was able to understand my weaknesses and understand something so valuable was available to me within my own family. Pete is a mastermind in accounting and finance, with a true understanding of the business world. He spent six years in the corporate world at Motorola and Protective Life. I knew if I could get a mind as brilliant as his, we could really go places. When he joined me in 2005, we elevated the business.”

The Donohoos purchased an adjacent property for the business in 2006. In 2008, he added the current facility that specializes in luxury names like Lexus, Infiniti, Audi and BMW at price points from $5, 900 to $100, 000.

“When you come to our dealership, you’re not going to get sold, ” Donohoo says. “You’re going to make your decision, and we are going to make it as easy as possible. Our people are there to help, and we want that experience to be awesome. Anybody can sell a car. We want our cars to be really nice and long lasting for customers. That’s how a customer can come here and be so excited to tell somebody else about us. That’s what’s helped us over the years — our referral is out of control.”

With word-of-mouth advertising boosting traffic flow companywide, DonohooAuto will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary in its current location and 20th anniversary as a company.  In 2013, Chris and his brother, Pete, purchased a Chevrolet dealership in Fort Payne, taking the business to the next level and more than doubling the number of employees in only a few years at the helm.

“We started selling all over the country and over the region, ” Donohoo says. “Now, probably 80 percent of our cars are sold locally.”

Donohoo’s business acumen, combined with an information explosion on the web, fired like a combustion engine to launch his automotive career.

“I happened to get into the car business at the right time, ” Donohoo says. “The industry was ready for a shift and ready for information to be in the customers’ hands. I wanted to go into this world with nothing to hide. You look at the market and respect the market. That is the backbone of entrepreneurship. You have to respect the market. It has been challenging at points, and at times things worked in our favor. We do whatever it takes to acclimate ourselves to whatever season we may be in.”

Cara Clark and Joe De Sciose are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

Top News Links: Friday, July 27

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Talladega Superspeedway to undergo $50M ‘Transformation’

The owners of Talladega Superspeedway are investing at least $50 million as part of a year-long project dubbed “Transformation” that will add amenities that include a fan area in garages and a massive covered area with a bar, seating and giant video screen. International Speedway Corp. said Thursday it is making the investment in NASCAR’s most competitive track to “take Talladega to another level, ” according to ISC Chief Operating Officer Joie Chitwood. – ANC

Lawsuit reveals tangled history of Internet smear on Huntsville realtor

Three years after setting out to clear her name from an Internet smear, the story of a Huntsville realtor is finally coming to light – a story of an online vendetta that went all the way to California, cost a woman most of her business, and involved three people who apparently didn't know each other. All of it started over a comment on an online news story. – AL.com

Automakers splitting themselves up to compete with Silicon Valley

Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is splitting itself up into three companies in order to make itself “fit for the future, ” the automaker announced this week. Mercedes-Benz, Daimler’s truck division, and Daimler’s mobility division will all become independent entities as a result of the effort (which Daimler AG is calling, in all caps, “PROJECT FUTURE”). Under the reorganization, Mercedes-Benz vans and cars will be rolled into Mercedes-Benz AG. – The Verge

Four-month trade truce with EU seen as hopeful

A U.S.-EU deal on trade should give the European Union at least four months of respite from transatlantic tensions, crucially pushing past the U.S. midterm elections, a senior EU official said on Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker agreed on Wednesday to remove duties on industrial goods and boost U.S. soybean and energy exports to Europe, while working to resolve their tariff dispute. – Reuters

Calhoun Community College students to refurbish lunar rover 

Students enrolled in the Technologies Division at Calhoun Community College in Decatur recently took delivery of a reclaimed lunar moon rover replica for the purpose of refurbishing it for exhibition around the world. In partnership with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Calhoun students from such areas as Design Drafting, Machine Tool, and Welding will work now through the end of the 2018 fall semester restoring the rover.  – News release

Former U.S. Senator Maryon Pittman Allen dies at 92

Maryon Pittman Allen, one of only two women to serve as a U.S. senator from Alabama, has died. Allen’s nephew, state Sen. Trip Pittman, says his aunt died Monday. She was 92. Allen was a journalist for The Birmingham News who married state politician Jim Allen, who died while serving in the Senate in 1978. Then-Gov. George Wallace appointed Allen to fill her husband’s Senate seat until a special election could be held. Allen served for five months starting in June 1978, but lost the Democratic primary to eventual winner Donald Stewart. – ALToday

Office messaging wars end, Slack emerges as victor

Last September, the software company Atlassian launched a new workplace chat app called Stride, aimed squarely at taking on the similar app Slack. “We’ve been thrilled by the excitement we’ve seen from the tens of thousands of teams who have adopted it as their communication platform, ” the company gushed in a March blog post. Now, less than a year after the launch, Atlassian is pulling the plug on the product, along with its earlier workplace chat app HipChat. – Wired


Dave Helms

Flashback: Smoking Gun of National Wealth Liquidation

 

Securities attorney Tom Krebs

In February 2013 we interviewed Tom Krebs, former director of the Alabama Securities Commission (1975-1985), to ask who was to blame for the collapse of the housing market in 2007-2008, which led to recession and a still spotty economy.

Krebs was in a good position to furnish answers. Three years before, his work helped crack the case on what went wrong and who made it happen. Krebs was deputy general counsel of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which Congress set up to study the financial crisis.

“The ultimate cause of the financial crisis was nothing more than what it was in 1929 — securities fraud. It was committed in connection with the huge number of residential mortgage-backed securities offerings that were sold.”

Thousands of mortgages were sliced into fractions, mixed into pools and sold as securities to thousands of buyers.

“The failure to disclose that loans in the pool did not meet the issuers’ underwriting guidelines is securities fraud. That’s why there is the huge number of cases that have been filed against the issuers — the securitizers, the investment banks — by the SEC, the FDIC, the FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency) and other federal agencies.

“The FHFA examined the loans in the pools that were sold, studied them for a year, and they came back and said the offering documents overstated the percentage of owner-occupied homes; overstated the loan-to-value ratios; misstated the down payments. There is not a definitive point used in the analysis that the securitizers did not misstate.”

Krebs was one of the first to detail these misstatements for the FCIC in 2010. It opened the way for the first settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Federal Housing Finance Authority, which came in 2012. The first Department of Justice settlement (with JP Morgan, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual) came in 2013. Estimates now put the total settlements of DOJ suits at nearly $60 billion; FHFA settlements, $25 billion.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of  Business Alabama.

Top News Links: Thursday, July 26

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Annoyed solar buyers say Alabama Power fees ‘a tax on the sun’

More businesses and homeowners are opting for solar energy as a less expensive and more environmentally friendly power alternative. The Bankston family lives on the lake in Tuscaloosa. Solar energy panels seemed like a good way to save money until Dr. Jim Bankston learned of the monthly fees from Alabama Power. “I wouldn't have done it, this doesn't make any financial sense, ” says Bankston. – ABC3340

High court revives lawsuit involving Birmingham’s minimum wage

A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a lawsuit that had accused the Alabama Legislature of racially discriminating against the city of Birmingham by preventing the majority-black city from setting a minimum wage within the city limits. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge's decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The court said that “plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of depriving Birmingham's black citizens equal economic opportunities on the basis of race.” – AP

Caddell-Nan wins $56.7M contract to build Navy clinic in Guam

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific on Tuesday announced the award of a $56.7 million firm-fixed price contract for the construction of a new clinic at Apra Harbor on Naval Base Guam. Caddell-Nan a joint venture from Montgomery, Alabama, won the contract, which is being funded by the Japan government as part of the more than decade-long plan to reduce the presence of U.S. troops in Japan, in part by moving an estimated 4, 100 Marines and more than 1, 000 dependents to Guam. Four contractors had competed for the contract. – Guam Daily Post

Jones joins effort on bill to block automotive tariffs

A day after criticizing President Trump's plan to implement tariffs on foreign-made cars, trucks and auto parts as “the worst, ” U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., teamed up with a Republican senator from Tennessee on a bill that would delay the tariffs by prompting a study on the auto industry. – AL.com

Analysis ranks Alabama first among states for business climate

Business Facilities, an economic development-focused publication, ranked Alabama’s business climate tops among the states in a new analysis that examined performance in several key economic categories. The publication cited Alabama’s successful recruitment of the Toyota-Mazda joint venture automobile manufacturing plant to illustrate the state’s appeal. – ANC

NASA Marshall awards 43 small innovation and tech research proposals

NASA has selected 304 proposals from U.S. small businesses to advance research and technology in Phase I of its 2018 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and 44 proposals for the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, totaling $43.5 million in awards. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will manage awards totaling $5.375 million. – News release

Nissan Motor posts 29 percent drop in Q1 profits

Nissan Motor Co. posted a 29 percent drop in first-quarter profit Thursday, slammed by a drop in profitability at home and sluggishness in the United States, where the firm is cutting back on steep discounts. Operating profit at Japan’s second-biggest automaker was $986 million in April-June. – Reuters

Greg Alexander named to lead Coastal Alabama Business Chamber

After a search of over 100 candidates from all around the nation, the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber Tuesday announced Greg Alexander has been selected as the new Chamber President and CEO. Previously Alexander served as Director of Public Policy and Small Business at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in Hilton Head, S.C. – ALToday


Dave Helms

Career Notes, July 2018

Advertising

Bill Stoeffhaas, co-owner and president of Style Advertising, was presented the Lifetime Achievement in Business Services Industries Bronze Stevie Award. In addition, Audrey Pannell, vice president of PR, was presented the PR Executive of the Year award, while Katie Beck and Kirsten Funk both won Communications Professional of the Year honors.

Aquatic

MarineMax has given Regional President Jay Rasmusson managerial responsibilities for the stores at Panama City Beach, Pensacola at Bahia Mar and Gulf Shores.

Automotive

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA Inc. has named Ikuo Sugiyama senior vice president of manufacturing and Mark Brazeal vice president of administration.

Micah Charyn

Banking

BB&T has hired Micah Charyn as private advisor, vice president, in its North Alabama Region.

Biotechnology

Brittany Lasseigne, a senior scientist at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, has been selected by the National Institutes of Health to receive the Pathway to Independence training grant.

Construction

DeAngelis Diamond has promoted Bryan Trtan from estimator to preconstruction manager.

Mark Sybrant has joined Doster Construction Co. as vice president and regional operations manager.

Economic Development

Alex Patrick has joined the Birmingham Business Alliance as economic development specialist.

Education

The Boy Scouts of America recently presented the National Outstanding Eagle Scout Award to Columbia Southern University President Ken Styron.

Faulkner University has named Phillip Calvert its new chief of police.

Jennifer Kerpelman has been named Auburn University‘s interim vice president for research.

Joe Burke has been named interim president of Calhoun Community College. Most recently he served as vice president and dean of instruction at Northeast Alabama Community College.

Paul Campbell Erwin, M.D., has been named dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.

Anne Clem Whitaker has become the newest member of the University of North Alabama‘s Board of Trustees.

Engineering

Building & Earth has appointed Curtis Osier branch manager of its Springdale, Arkansas location.

Rachel Layton

Food

Taziki’s Mediterranean Café has named Rachel Layton vice president of marketing and growth.

Legal

Adams and Reese Mobile Special Counsel Raymond Bell Jr. has been elected to the Alabama State Bar Board of Bar Commissioners.

Christian Borek is a new associate in Burr & Forman’s Birmingham office.

Abbott Jones has joined the Birmingham office of Butler Snow, and Rance Sapen has been named chief operating officer.

Jay St. Clair, Birmingham office managing shareholder of Littler, has been recognized in the 2018 Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business.

David Williams, senior attorney for Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers LLP, has joined the charter board of Build UP, a construction workforce program for Birmingham-area youth.

Maynard Cooper & Gale has added James Childs, Greg Peterson, Joe Bird, Dave Cooper, Jonathan Kipp and Jim Rotch as shareholders. In addition, the firm has added associate Seth Capper to its Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Practice.

Logistics

Shane Hill has joined Pace as director of information technology.

Medical

Douglas Brewer becomes chief executive officer of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital on June 30, after the retirement of current CEO Arthur Evans.

Urgent Team has opened a new center in Florence with Dr. Jonathan Summers, Andrea Aquadro, April Goodloe, Tanya Roberts and Ashley Presley on staff.

Greg Shoemaker has joined Baldwin Bone & Joint as executive administrator. In addition, John Todd, orthopaedic surgeon and medical director of The Shoulder Center at Baldwin Bone & Joint, has been named the president of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine Alumni.

Jayme Locke, M.D., director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, has been awarded the Distinguished Investigator Award for Translation into Public Benefit and Policy.

Military

Seaman Recruit Andrew Lockhart, of Birmingham, has graduated as the top sailor from Recruit Training Command, earning the Military Excellence Award.

Music

Kevin Fitzgerald has been named the music director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra and assistant conductor of the ASO.

Oil & Gas

Jason Gimeno has been named SPOC Automation‘s newest sales manager. In addition, Jamie Goodgame has been named human resource and risk manager.

Organizations

The Business Council of Alabama has awarded a BCA fellowship to University of Alabama student Reynolds Sorrell of Vestavia Hills.

Equality Alabama Executive Director Alex Smith has been named senior policy manager at AIDS United.

Racing

Davey Allison, a Hueytown native, has been named to the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. In addition, former Talladega Superspeedway PR Director Jim Hunter received the 2019 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Real Estate

Anthony Lunceford and Joe Massa, of Colliers International, were recognized by the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors in its Top 20 Investment Transactions Awards for a $53 million office investment deal they arranged in Huntsville.

Newcastle Homes has promoted Nick Jones to area construction manager in the Pelham office. In addition, the firm has hired Michelle Awtry as an agent for Camellia Ridge.

Buff Teague and Leigh Dale Younce, with JLL in Mobile, were recognized as the Best Prospector Team by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The Shopping Center Group has appointed Ray Jones as operating partner for its Alabama, Mississippi and Florida panhandle regions.

Research

CFD Research Corp.’s Phillip Whitley received the 2018 John Paul Stapp Award for his 35 years of experience in developing protective gear requirements for the aviation industry.

Space

Steve Miley has been named associate director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Transportation

Joey Woodle, a deaf student at Central Alabama Community College, has earned a Class A CDL. He is the first deaf student in the state to be certified.

Timothy Bibb and Nicholas Smith have been hired as diesel technicians with Four Star Freightliner after graduating from the company’s apprenticeship program.

Wealth Management

Holley Pierce, senior financial advisor and senior vice president with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Montgomery, has been recognized on the Forbes Top Women Wealth Advisors list.

Top News Links: Wednesday, July 25

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Auto plant construction resumes after pause for pygmy sunfish

A nearly two-week work stoppage caused by a rare one-inch fish that halted construction on Alabama's largest-ever economic development is over.  Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA announced work has resumed Tuesday on its $1.6 billion plant in west Huntsville. Protecting the habitat of the spring pygmy sunfish – a species of fish about 1-inch long listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – caused the brief delay. – AL.com

States consider new fuel-saving truck tech called ‘platooning’

Although 34 states have rules that block trucks and fleets from using a fuel-saving technology called platooning, a new study shows legislatures are warming to the idea. Platooning is an emerging vehicle technology in which digitally tethered convoys of two or more trucks travel closely together to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency. The Competitive Enterprise Institute said 10 states in the last year have cleared the way for trucks to travel with as little as 40 feet between them. The trucks must have a radio-based vehicle-to-vehicle communications and automatic emergency braking. – Trucks.com

Diversified Gas & Oil completes $575M acquisition of EQT assets

Birmingham's Diversified Gas & Oil PLC says it has completed the $575 million acquisition of EQT Corporation's southern Appalachian producing gas and oil and midstream assets. This effectively doubles the company's production to more than 60, 000 barrels of oil per day. – AL.com

Industrial development continues at record pace in Huntsville

The Hollingsworth Companies recently broke ground on their ninth and tenth industrial project in SouthPoint Industrial Park in Huntsville. These are the third and fourth projects started within the last 12 months, designed to support  continued growth in the North Alabama market. – Business Insider

Trump plans billions in bailouts for farmers hit by tariffs

The U.S. readied a plan Tuesday to send billions in emergency aid to farmers who have been hurt by President Donald Trump's trade disputes with China and other American trading partners. The Agriculture Department was expected to announce the proposal that would include direct assistance and other temporary relief for farmers, according to two people briefed on the plan, who were not authorized to speak on the record. – AP

Newsweek weighs in on Alabama bribery trial

An Alabama lawyer and a coal executive were convicted in a bribery scheme to pay off a local politician to work against the Environmental Protection Agency. The two men were both convicted Friday of six federal charges including bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and honest service wire fraud in an attempt for the coal company, Drummond, to flout responsibility for a northern Alabama superfund site. – Newsweek

Verizon Call Center closing with transition to home-based model

As one business gets ready to open, another is closing. The Verizon Call Center in Huntsville is closing its doors this Friday, for good. The company announced several months ago they would be transitioning their Huntsville customer call center to a “home-based agent” model. – WAFF


Dave Helms

Alabama Gold Assayed

Powell visits the old mines near his Goldville home. You don’t often find gold, he says, but when you do it’s like “a flake of sunshine.”  The niche in the mine tunnel, he says, is just a spot his daddy carved out to stow his lunch box. Photos by Cary Norton

It’s the busy time of the year for the Alabama Gold Camp in Cragford, just southeast of Lineville, on the Clay-Randolph county line.

“We stay busy, ” says Bob Hendrix, who works at the camp. “People come from all over the U.S. We have people who come in April and stay until October.” The camp has two miles of creek for the campers, whom Hendrix says are mainly retirees, to pan for gold, along with a campground, a store and other amenities. Hendrix says gold mining clubs and other groups often meet at the camp.

And, occasionally, someone finds gold. “The biggest piece of gold I’ve seen was about the size of a dime, ” Hendrix says.

Not far away is Goldville, once home to dozens of mines plus 14 stores and 3, 000 residents, and birthplace of Alabama’s 44th governor, John Patterson.

Now the town has 53 residents, but it’s still “on the map” for gold, says Mayor Coy Powell, who also answers to Coye, Coya or even James C.

“I heard some of the old people talking and saying that if you ever see raw gold, it is something that is going to hypnotize you. I remember panning and the first big flake of gold that came shining like a flake of sunshine in the pan sort of took my breath and it was beautiful. Pure gold is so beautiful.”

With gold prices bouncing around $1, 300 an ounce and an uncertain economic environment, could gold mining in Alabama be making a comeback?

“I don’t think so, ” says James Saunders, retired professor emeritus in geology at Auburn University and longtime observer of the gold business in the South. “Other than people can pan a little gold out of several streams in Alabama in some former gold-producing areas. Then there might actually be some little businesses where they charge people to pan, but there is no commercial mining of gold right now.”

“As far as I know, ” says Saunders, “there is only one producing gold mine in the entire South, and it is a major mine in northern South Carolina called Haile Mine. That is a very profitable mine, and one of our students is going to go work up there for a summer job.”

Alabama produced a significant amount of gold when it was discovered in Chilton County in the late 1830s. The state’s gold rush ended in 1849, when most gold miners left the state to join the California Gold Rush. There have been sporadic gold revivals since then, but no large quantity has been produced.

The Alabama goldfields are primarily in a gold belt 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. The gold belt enters the northeastern part of the state coming from the border with Georgia toward an area in central Alabama, known as the Piedmont Uplift.

“Historic production of gold in Alabama was maybe 50, 000 ounces of gold, total. That might be a good week’s production at the Haile Mine, ” Saunders says.

“Many of the rocks that had the gold in them have been weathered over the years, back when the Appalachians formed, maybe 300 million years. That’s a long time for mountains to be subjected to weathering and erosion, so probably a lot of gold that used to be in the rock has been released into the creeks, but that doesn’t mean there is no gold in the rocks.”

And still, the state has some “gold districts, ” a mining phrase that means a section of country in which gold is found in paying quantities and which is worked under rules and regulations prescribed by the claimholders in the district.

These districts were organized by early miners and were one of the few ways to establish and maintain law and order.

Powell says he used to have a lot of people coming to the Goldville District and asking him where to look for gold. “But I put a stop to it. I just told them. There ain’t nobody going to give you permission to get on their property unless you got somebody with you, and I am not going to be with you.”

“I done all my research 40 years ago, ” Powell says, “when I was young and able to walk and this that and the other. You got to walk to get to it. You ain’t gonna drive to it. Course, people around here, if I was to ask for permission, people around here would give me permission. But I don’t lie to ’em. Years ago when I took people who wanted to pan I would tell the landowners what I was getting their permission for and they would say, “Well you’re not going to find nothing and if you do you’re going to tell me.’”

One of the problems with doing mineral exploration in the South, according to Saunders, is property rights.

“If you own the surface rights, then you own the mineral rights and as a mining company you would have to deal with a lot of small property owners as opposed to out West where there is a lot of federal land where they can stake the claim, so that kind of tends to dampen exploration efforts in the South and East, ” Saunders says.

“Back in 1979, ’78, when gold started climbing, ” Powell says, “U.S. Borax mining company, they got interested, you know, this is one spot where if you own the land, you own the mineral rights. They contacted my dad, he was in charge of this property then, and several other landowners, and they wanted to lease the property.”

The landowners agreed and Powell says Borax “sent a young man down all the way from Pennsylvania and he — I call him a rock inspector — was pretty knowledgeable about rock. And my daddy had a well drilled out there and they drilled down through that blue granite.”

Powell says, “The young man looked all over the property at several mines and eventually Borax decided to sign the lease.

“They found out they was gonna have to go down deep to get it. The old miners took it from what I call above the ground, the tops of the rocks. They talked about how they was gonna have to go down about 120-30 feet to get the big stuff, you know. When they found out what was in the lease about strip mining, well, they just they come back in about four years, paid everybody the lease and left.”

ABOVE Pickax marks made almost two centuries ago are still clear today.

But Alabama still has some “gold districts, ” which begs the question: Could it be possible, given the $1, 300 per ounce of gold price, that there may be enough gold in those Alabama hills to revive gold production? Or could a “mother lode” still be hidden beneath the Alabama rocks?

“There is some exploration going on for some of these resources, and I guess the most advanced one would be where they are actually doing a lot of drilling, and that would be in northern Tallapoosa County, ” says Saunders.

The drilling is being done atop Hog Mountain, a former gold producing mining area dating back to the latter part of the 19th century, that still draws attention when gold is discussed.

Hog Mountain, according to Saunders, was the site of Alabama’s largest gold producing mine ever — “which really wasn’t that big.” Both Saunders and Harold Stowell, professor of geology at the University of Alabama, have visited the Hog Mountain operation and led geology student field trips to the site.

“They drilled a lot of drill holes, and they are doing it right. They are hiring consultants and they are getting assays done, so it is a viable resource, ” Saunders says. “I don’t know how much was really produced, but they did a lot of digging underground there when people didn’t have any jobs. But if there is a potential deposit in Alabama, that’s it. So they are spending money evaluating it.”

“They have drilled 200 drill holes on this property, so it is just a matter of them getting the data, putting it into computer models and having the experts look at all the data and then decide can this be mined for a profit or not, ” says Saunders. “It helps that the Wellborns own all the property so they don’t have to pay any royalties to any third parties.”

The “Wellborns” to whom Saunders refers, is Paul Wellborn, owner of Wellborn Cabinets in Ashland, a 2, 000, 000-square-foot facility that makes cabinets. Wellborn was not available to talk about the Hog Mountain mine.

“This is diamond core drilling, ” says Stowell, “and it is all being done by one person which is the landowner.  He owns the property, and he is maintaining and operating his own drilling operation, which means that he currently owns two drill rigs, and these are diamond core rigs, fairly expensive operations. They have a large, two-and-a-half-inch diameter pipe at one end, which has a bit, and the drill rotates quickly and grinds down through the rock, and they remove a core, which is a cylindrical piece of rock.”

Saunders says, “They have these drill bits that just crush the rock and that is what washes up, and some of the smart paleontologists and geologists can look at the chips and tell what the rocks are.

“The drill goes down to maybe 300 feet, and then they look at the rock and photograph it, they split that core in half, keep half of it for future reference and then send the other half of that core to the assay lab, who breaks it up, digests it and does the determination of how much gold is in it.”

“It is kind of like sticking a straw through a potato.”

So, back to the question of whether there is enough gold left in Alabama to pursue it.

“To my knowledge, no, on production, ” Stowell says.  “If you want to take it a step further and say exploration, I would say yes.”

His Auburn colleague agrees. “In terms of a world-class operation, I would say the likelihood is extremely low, ” says Saunders. “In terms of there being a find large enough for an individual such as Paul Wellborn or any small company, I would say fairly high.”

Bill Gerdes and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Gerdes is based in Hoover and Norton in Birmingham.

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