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October 2018

Flashback: Balky Bellefonte

TVA’s Quixotic Bellefonte Quest. By Charles Ahrens

The towers of the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant, in the foothills north of Scottsboro, could nearly qualify as a historic landmark — as one of the longest running construction projects in the U.S.

The Tennessee Valley Authority initiated the on-again, off-again project back in 1974 — the year Richard Nixon resigned the presidency.

Construction seemed imminent again this year, but may fall victim to the bedlam surrounding another president. The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the Chattanooga developer who was relaunching Bellefonte as a private project had offered $10 million to President Donald Trump’s former attorney, looking for help in landing a $5 billion Department of Energy loan to complete construction.

If this bid falls through, it won’t be the first flip-flop in Bellefonte history.

Not long after the project originated back in Nixon’s day, construction halted for the first time — in 1985 on Unit 2 and in 1988 on Unit 1.

Flopping back into forward motion, engineering work started again in 1992 as a prelude to resuming construction. But just two years later, work ground to a halt again.

Also in 1994, TVA started considering other options, including an offer from Chattanooga developer Franklin Haney to finish the project, which TVA turned down.

In 2006, TVA started to dismantle the plant and sell off parts, but here comes another flip — the agency started construction once again in 2008.

Business Alabama reviewed the flip-flop history in July 2012. TVA had announced in February that construction would start again soon, but in April, just a few months later, the agency put the project on hold until at least 2014, citing falling demands for power.

In 2013, even before the wait-and-see period elapsed, TVA put the plant up for auction.

And in 2016, upholding Bellefonte’s great flip-flop tradition, TVA accepted a $111 million offer from developer Haney — the same person they turned down in 1994. That deal is set to close next month, Nov. 4.

But there’s still time for another flip. After the Wall Street Journal revelations in August, an attorney for Michael Cohen says there is no contract between his client and Haney but refused to comment further.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

Movers & Shapers, October 2018

Marty Abroms

Marty Abroms
Abroms, a CPA, is president and managing shareholder of Abroms & Associates PC, a CPA firm based in the Shoals area. The firm provides accounting, tax, and consulting services for clients, with operations throughout the United States and globally. Abroms also is a certified valuation analyst. During his career, he has taken an active advisory role in more than 200 acquisitions and divestitures. He began his career at KPMG in 1981. In 1985, he moved to private industry as a corporate officer for the Anderson Companies. He founded his own company in 1995. He is on the board of directors for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and holds ownership positions and serves on the boards for several privately held companies, leadership positions in several nonprofit and trade associations including the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of Alabama (chair 2015) and the University of North Alabama Board of Trustees and is chair of CPA-PAC for the Alabama Society of Certified Public Accountants. He is a graduate of the University of North Alabama, receiving the Turis Fidelas, the top university service award, and the Keller Key, for the highest grade point average. Abroms also received the AICPA Elijah Watt Sells Award, presented to those candidates that take all sections of the CPA exam at one time and receive the highest grades.

Glenda Colagross
In April 2018, Colagross was named the president of Northwest-Shoals Community College (NW-SCC). She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Alabama and a doctorate of education from the University of Alabama. Long affiliated with NW-SCC as a teacher and administrator, she came to the presidency after a term as interim president at Southern Union State Community College. In 2013, she was elected to the board of trustees for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. She has served as president-elect of the Greater Shoals Rotary Club, president of the Alabama Community College System Instructional Officers Association and on the boards of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and Easter Seals in the Shoals Area. She has been recognized for outstanding leadership by Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges; is a past Chancellor’s Award nominee, and is active in the Alabama Community College Association.   

Caitlin Holland
Holland has been president of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce since June 2017, after leading the group’s investor relations and public policy units. Prior to joining the Shoals Chamber, Holland served as the director of resource development for United Way of Northwest Alabama and as a corporate attorney. She is a member of the Business Council of Alabama board of directors and the regional advisory committee of ProgressPAC, and she was selected to Alabama Leadership Initiative’s inaugural, expanded class. She is a member of the Florence Rotary Club and the University of North Alabama Executive Business Council. She is a former president of the Colbert County Bar Association and also served on the Sheffield Housing Authority board. She is a 2008 graduate of Auburn University and a 2011 graduate of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.

Steve Holt
Holt was elected mayor of Florence in 2016 after serving 22 years as president of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. Prior to his position with the Shoals chamber, Holt was the CEO of chambers of commerce in North Carolina and Tennessee. He is past president and board member of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives and former board member of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce Executives. He is a past president of the East Tennessee Industrial Council and the Northeast Tennessee Industrial Development Association. He also is a past chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama. Holt is a native of Morristown and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee. He is a certified chamber executive and a certified economic developer.

Judy Hood

Judy Hood
Hood is a marketing and communications professional whose career spans four decades and includes leadership positions at the Florence TimesDaily newspaper, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Coffee Health Group and International Paper Co. Six years ago, she retired from her regional corporate communications position at IP to start Judy Hood Consulting LLC. For the past five years, she has been heavily involved in supporting the uptick of music tourism related to the critically acclaimed “Muscle Shoals” documentary that celebrates the history of the Muscle Shoals music industry, which became known as “the hit recording capital of the world.” She owns and operates Swampette Music Tours and has led thousands of national and international visitors on tours of Muscle Shoals recording studios and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Hood works closely with the Alabama Tourism Department, the Business Council of Alabama and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce to capitalize on economic growth opportunities associated with the film. She serves on the board of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Business Council of Alabama. She is chairman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation Board, the nonprofit organization that owns and manages 3614 Jackson Highway, which was the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. She also serves on the Student Media Board at the University of North Alabama.

Andy Mann
A Florence native and a graduate of the University of North Alabama, Mann is president of Progress Bank in the Shoals area. In 2011, Mann led the de novo expansion for Progress Bank in the Shoals. He has been actively involved in the North Alabama community, serving on past boards for Shoals Chamber of Commerce (chairman, 2016), Shoals Economic Development Authority, Scottsboro Industrial Development Board, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce (chairman), Scottsboro Rotary Club (president) and Downtown Florence Unlimited (past president). He is a graduate of Leadership Jackson County, Leadership Shoals and Leadership Alabama Class XXV. Mann is a member of the Florence Rotary Club, chairman of the University of North Alabama Business Advisory Council, a board member of the Tennessee Valley Art Association and an advisory board member for Helen Keller Hospital.

Giles McDaniel
McDaniel is executive director of the Shoals Business Incubator (SBI) based in Florence. Since 1992, the SBI has served businesses operating in technology/digital sectors, niche manufacturing, business-to-business services and the food production industry. Previously he served as executive director of business incubation networks in east Alabama and northeast Mississippi. McDaniel has been a featured presenter for the National Business Incubation Association, Appalachian Regional Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority conferences, as well as serving on the advisory council for the University of North Alabama School of Business. In recent years, McDaniel served as a member of the ARC Business Incubation Steering Committee and is a charter member of the core team for Shoals Shift, an effort to attract, nurture and promote the area’s creative and tech economy. A graduate of Leadership Alabama, McDaniel also is the general manager of the Mane Capital Fund, an angel capital fund for equity investing in local growth companies. He is a member and former president of Greater Shoals Rotary and has served on the board of the E. Stanley Robbins YMCA of the Shoals. 

Lisa Patterson

Lisa Patterson
A graduate of Central High School and the University of North Alabama, Patterson is a Certified Public Accountant and a partner of Patterson, Prince and Associates PC. In 1993, UNA Alumni Association named her Alumna of the Year. In 1998, Shoals Chamber of Commerce named her Small Business Person of the Year, and in 1999, the State of Alabama Small Business Administration named her Accountant Advocate of the Year. She is past chairman of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and past president of the UNA Alumni Association. In October 2014, she was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to represent North Alabama on the Alabama Small Business Committee. She currently serves on the boards of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, Riverhill School Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Shoals Scholar Dollar Foundation Inc. She is a member of the Florence Rotary Club, UNA President’s Cabinet, UNA College of Business Advisory Council and North Alabama Chapter of CPAs. She is a 1993 graduate of Leadership Shoals and a 2008 graduate of Leadership Alabama. In 2017, she was named Shoals Citizen of the Year.

Russell Pigg
Pigg is market president and CEO of ECM Hospital. Pigg joined ECM in April 2012 and has been responsible for directing the facility’s growth and development into a regional provider of heart and stroke services. Under his guidance, ECM has received first silver then gold recognition for stroke services from The American Heart/Stroke organization, along with Stroke Center recognition by the Joint Commission. In addition, he led the drive for the hospital’s Chest Pain accreditation in 2014. Pigg is now overseeing construction of a new regional medical center for northwest Alabama, set to open in December. He oversaw a similar project while serving as the COO in Clarksville, Tennessee. Pigg received his MSHA and MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is active in the community, holding several board positions and working with the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.

Jimmy Shaw

Jimmy Shaw
Shaw is superintendent of Florence City Schools. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of North Alabama and his doctorate at Samford University and has 18 years of experience as a teacher and school administrator. He led the Florence district to start the first early college program in the region, and led the district to the highest recorded Index of Education Quality score, 360, on the district’s AdvancED accreditation visit in 2018. He is a member of the XXIX class of Leadership Alabama. He has earned numerous awards as an educator and has spearheaded many programs for the school system. He helped establish EdStock, an event that brings high quality national and international professional learning to the region, as well as establishing the Florence system as a leader for professional learning and instruction in the state.

Forrest Wright
Wright is president and secretary to the board of the Shoals Economic Development Authority (SEDA). He has accumulated more than 40 years of service in the economic development profession. Before coming to SEDA as president in 1991, Wright served as executive director of the 27-county Southern Kentucky Economic Development Corp. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Kentucky University, and he is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute and is a certified economic developer. Wright is past president of the statewide Economic Development Associations in Alabama and Kentucky and now serves on numerous boards including the North Alabama International Trade Association and the Japan America Society of Alabama.

Spotlight on Lauderdale & Colbert Counties

The Tennessee River plays an integral part in the Shoals’ economy, providing recreation and commerce opportunities. Photo by Chris Granger/Florence-Lauderdale Tourism

The Shoals — Lauderdale and Colbert counties in northwest Alabama — are located on the Tennessee River and include the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia.

It’s a desirable area on many lists for quality of life, education, tourism and economic development. Job opportunities are healthy, and it’s also adjacent to the Huntsville area, which means that job creation there or at home is a plus for all.

Not content to rest on those laurels, regional cooperation, partnership and collaboration is very important here. Economic development officials are partnering with higher education, industries and other entities to bring opportunities to the Shoals so that residents do not have to leave the counties for work.

The Shoals, which already has a successful business incubator and an active chamber of commerce, is looking to further foster collaboration and partner with students, entrepreneurs and existing business owners, especially in technology and innovation. Shoals Shift is one of those efforts seeking to attract digital technology companies and build a tech hub. In short, the area wants to be known as a tech community.

Another effort that will benefit existing workers, as well as high school students seeking careers, is a workforce development center that is in the planning stages with the Shoals Economic Development Authority (SEDA), University of North Alabama and Northwest-Shoals Community College, among others, says Forrest Wright, president and secretary to the board of SEDA. “We’ve made significant investments in many areas, and one of the most recent is to support a new workforce development center that will serve not only current workers but K-12 students of any public or private school.” It will be built in Lauderdale County, near a county agricultural center that’s also in the planning stages.

Local school systems are known for excellence on a national and state level, and some have their own career technical centers, sharing programs with other systems. Some employ the simulated workplace for students to learn what a typical workday looks like, and another has partnered with Southwire Co. for students to work there while going to school.

SEDA owns all of the industrial parks in the two counties. A half-cent sales tax supports the Shoals Economic Development Fund, which helps pay for speculative buildings, incentives and other assistance. SEDA expects to have two more spec buildings available this year.

In the two counties combined, larger industrial employers include North American Lighting, Constellium, FreightCar America, Essity, Southwire Co. and Tarkett Alabama. Those represent some of the larger economic sectors including automotive suppliers, metals, transportation, paper/wood products and flooring products. The Shoals has a diverse mix of industries that provide opportunities for workers of all skill levels.

Supporting the Shoals’ varied industry is another major engine — the Florence-Lauderdale County Port Authority, handling tons of material, storing and shipping products locally and beyond. The port and the North Alabama Regional Airport continue to grow.

While industry is strong, hospitals, higher education and distribution centers account for the largest overall employers. North Alabama Medical Center is slated to open this year in Florence, replacing the old ECM Hospital. Meanwhile, Helen Keller and Shoals hospitals have been working on improvements, expansions and more.

Cities are busy with downtown projects, with new hotels, retail and streetscape improvements. The city of Sheffield is working on a $160 million development called Inspiration Landing, which will include a marina, riverfront homes, restaurants, amphitheater, a town center and more. It will focus on the Shoals’ musical legacy and cultural history.

In Florence, where the city is celebrating its 200th year, two new hotels have opened in historic buildings, spurring more development. Other cities also have seen new retail and other improvements.

All the improvements help the Shoals celebrate and share its musical legacy that ranges from Muscle Shoals Sound to W.C. Handy, its historical legacies of Helen Keller and the Trail of Tears, and its remarkable features such as a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for  Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

Disaster Graduate School

First Ebola, then an earthquake, a compromised chemical plant and a collapsed building — and then the woman shows up in labor. All the while victims cry out in pain and fear and cell phones ring incessantly. First-responders from across the country gather at the Center for Disaster Preparedness to learn how to cope, if the worst happens on their watch. Photos by Cary Norton

Nearly every week, golfers enjoy a leisurely day on the links at Cane Creek Golf Course in Anniston, while some sort of life-threatening disaster unfolds just a few hundred yards away. This week it’s an Ebola outbreak. Next week an earthquake hits. That is followed by a chemical attack, a bombing and a hurricane.

This cluster of calamities takes place at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, which, on the surface, sounds like the unhappiest place on Earth. Actually, it is one of the most important places, realistically recreating a variety of potentially deadly events to train emergency responders, medical personnel and law enforcement officials from throughout the country.

“We’re teaching people how to deal with the worst day of their life,” says Chuck Medley, CDP assistant director of training delivery.

Operating as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the umbrella of Homeland Security, the CDP occupies 182 acres of what used to be the Fort McClellan military base, a few miles north of downtown Anniston. In fact, McClellan’s role as a chemical training facility in the latter half of the 20th century helped lead to the creation of the CDP.

It was announced in 1995 that Fort McClellan would be shut down in 1999, but two events occurred before then which made officials reconsider abandoning the facility entirely. First was the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 1,000, followed by the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building that resulted in 168 deaths.

Suddenly, the need was amplified for a facility where emergency responders and others could learn how to handle chemical and biological attacks, along with a variety of mass-casualty events. So in 1998, Fort McClellan was transitioned from a military base to a civilian training center. Since then, more than 1 million people have gone through some form of CDP training — either on site or from traveling instructors — an average of approximately 50,000 each year.

“We save lives here every day, even though we may not know it,” says Medley. “The tasks that we teach here resonate out through the country and save lives.”

The facility has more than 1,000 employees (approximately 100 federal workers and the rest contract), and all the instructors have disaster-response experience. Using an annual operating budget of $64 million, the CDP pays all expenses to bring and house trainees at the Anniston complex for sessions that usually last a week. During that time, a Philadelphia police officer might work alongside an ER nurse from Wyoming, with the common goal of learning how to better operate under extremely stressful conditions.

“It’s one thing to see it in a textbook. It’s another thing to do it in real life,” says CDP Superintendent Tony Russell, a former Marine from Georgia and longtime FEMA official. “People who come here can really experience what these types of events are like. We want to train them to make sure that if something happens on their watch, they can go out and make a difference and save lives.”

The CDP offers approximately 50 courses covering 17 different response disciplines. The individual scenarios range from man-made (terrorist attack, mass shooting) to natural disasters (wildfires, tornadoes) to less dramatic but still volatile situations, such as dealing with protesters or handling multiple drug overdoses.

Only about 25 percent of a course takes place in a traditional classroom. The majority of the week is spent doing experiential learning at some of the mock sets that have been created within the complex, including a small town and a four-car subway. In addition, the Noble Training Facility at the CDP is the only hospital in the United States dedicated solely to training healthcare professionals in disaster preparedness and response.

The week is capped by a four-hour exercise during which the trainees are thrust into the chaos and emotions of a realistic disaster-response simulation. How realistic? In addition to using high-tech mannequins that can appear to breath and bleed, the CDP also brings in live actors who scream and cry and add to the tension. Amputees volunteer to simulate patients who have just lost a limb in an incident.

There might be smoke and fire to deal with, along with dim lights and loud noises. Even smaller details are included in a simulation, such as having a victim’s cellphone ring continuously, a sign that a loved one is repeatedly calling.

“We try to make the environment as realistic and immersive as possible,” says Medley, a native of Huntsville who spent 24 years in the Army before joining the CDP in 2010. “It can be sensory overload for responders, but they have to get organized and triage these patients and deal with all that at one time. We intentionally give them more than they can handle, because we want it to be extremely challenging.”

Brandon Whitman, the CDP exercise program manager, is responsible for creating and overseeing many of the simulations. He said a new problem is introduced every few minutes throughout the exercise, forcing the trainees to adjust quickly.

“So they’re dealing with an Ebola outbreak at a hospital, and suddenly there is an earthquake in the area,” says Whitman, a native of Anniston who worked for the Department of Defense for 12 years before joining the CDP in 2015. “Then you find out because of the earthquake, a chemical plant was compromised. Now they have to deal with that. Then a building collapses, which further complicates the scenario.

“If you don’t address each problem right away, it’s all going to pile up on you quickly. And then in the middle of it we’ll have a woman show up who is going into labor. Because the world doesn’t stop turning. Babies still need to be delivered.”

Along with teaching emergency-response techniques to the trainees, these simulations also might make some of them realize they are not cut out for such emotionally stressful work. Medley says he has seen people burst into tears over the death of a simulated baby.

“Some people come to training and they realize that maybe it’s a little too intense for them,” Russell says, something it’s better to find out before a crisis.

Medley says the CDP is constantly studying real events to improve its training. For example, he says the pressure-cooker explosive device used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing had not been seen before that attack. By the following week, the CDP had already incorporated the device into its training sessions.

“It speaks well of our state that we have the talent and capability here to deliver this kind of training from Alabama,” Medley says. “This facility is a national asset. Nobody else in the country can do the mass-casualty exercises that we deliver.

“Bottom line is, we’re trying to create a more resilient country. We know bad things are going to happen. We want communities to be able to respond to these events as quickly as possible, so they can deal with these incidents and save lives. That’s our ultimate goal.”

Cary Estes and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

Career Notes, October 2018

Accounting & Auditing

Rob Shirley has joined Aprio LLP as a partner in the Birmingham office.

Springhouse Compliance has named Rex Yarborough executive vice president of sales.

Mauldin & Jenkins has promoted Hanson Borders to managing partner. In addition, Nicole Cunningham, Heather Batson, Derrick Cowart, Michael Gordon and Tim Lyons have been named partners of the firm.

Warren Averett Chief Information Officer Chris Morrow has been honored with the Bridging the Gap Firm Management award from Boomer Consulting Inc. In addition, the firm has hired Elizabeth Powell and Jennifer Williams.

Ben Murray, Mitchell Wolfe, Kate Welch, Jamie Carag and Mackensie Coarsey have joined Wilkins Miller LLC.

Architects

Shannon Lambert

Shannon Lambert has been promoted to chief operating officer at Barge Design Solutions Inc.

Automotive

Tony Croy has been promoted to vice president of quality and Tanya Hunt to project manager in the commercial division at BBB Industries, in Daphne.

Randy Crump, president of Friendly Auto Sales in Jasper, has been named the 2018 National Quality Dealer of the Year by the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.

Banking & Finance

Linda Cinader has been hired as business development officer of ServisFirst Bank in Huntsville and Hunter Lyons has joined the bank’s Mobile board.

S. Wesley Carpenter has been promoted to senior vice president of Merrill Lynch. He is based in the firm’s Fairhope office.

Biotechnology

Elaine Lyon has been named director of the HudsonAlpha Clinical Services Lab at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Construction

Turner Burton was named president of Hoar Construction, while Rob Burton will remain chairman and CEO. In addition, Randall Curtis has been named COO and Will Watson as vice president of the Alabama Division.

Cybersecurity

Jason Asbury has been named president of ThreatAdvice. Steve Hines, former ThreatAdvice president, will assume the role of president of ThreatAdvice’s holding company, NXTsoft.

Distribution

Pamela Sims

Motion Industries Inc. has promoted Pamela Sims to vice president of marketing.

Economic Development

Jeff Traywick has been promoted to vice president of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance.

Education

Former instructor/coach at Calhoun Community College Myra King has been inducted into the Alabama Community College Conference Athletic Hall of Fame

Lt. Col. Perry Bolding has been named chair of the Military Science Department at the University of North Alabama. In addition, Professor of Geography Michael Pretes has received the 2018 Higher Education Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

Lance Self, founder and CEO of Zero RPM, has earned the 2018 Most Outstanding Wallace State Community College Alumni award.

Employment Training

Karen McGraw has been promoted to the position of business office manager for AIDT.

Golf

PGA professional Shane Allen has been named head golf pro at One Club Gulf Shores, and Laurie Farris has joined One Club as director of property operations.

Legal

Armbrecht Jackson LLP had Scott Brown and Tamela Esham selected as 2019 Lawyers of the Year by The Best Lawyers of America.

Rick Dearborn, a former White House deputy chief of staff, will serve Adams and Reese as a senior policy advisor. In addition, Randall Scott Hetrick, W. David Johnson and John Lyle III, of the Mobile office, were chosen as Lawyers of the Year by The Best Lawyers in America.

Baker Donelson has added Alan Enslen to its Birmingham office as a member of the firm’s Global Business Team.

Christopher Friedman, Marcus Augustine, Justin Brown and Andrew Shaver have joined Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP’s Birmingham office.

Kurt Rademacher, of Butler Snow, has been listed in Legal Week’s Private Client Global Elite 2018 listing.

Jordan Loper

Jordan Loper has joined Christian & Small LLP as an associate. In addition, Edgar Elliott IV, Richard Smith and Michael Vercher were recognized as Lawyers of the Year by The Best Lawyers in America.

Melody Eagan, of Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, has been selected as a member of Leadership Alabama’s Class XXIX. In addition, Jack Sharman and William Brooks were named Lawyers of the Year by The Best Lawyers of America.

Bob Loftin has been named a partner at Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt LLC.

Manufacturing

Swift Industrial Power recently presented their Impact Award to Jason Morrison, Richard Cobb and Gene Tabachuk.

Marketing

Marianne Beard has been promoted to vice president, marketing partnerships/creative director of Vertical Solutions Media.

Media

EWTN Global Catholic Network has named Daniel Burke as president and chief operating officer of EWTN News Inc.

Medical

Bruce Korf, chief genomics officer at UAB, has been named chair of the new Alabama Rare Disease Council. Other members are David Bick of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Matthew Alexander, Sam Perna and Martina Bebin of UAB, Kristin Anthony of PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome Foundation, Katelyn Englert of Children’s of Alabama, Mark Gillespie of the University of South Alabama, Scott Griffin of Hope for Gabe Foundation, Matt Might of the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute at UAB and Stephen Sodeke of Tuskegee University.

Mike Neuendorf was named chief executive officer of Princeton Baptist Medical Center.

Spine surgeon Charles Gordon Jr. has joined Baldwin Bone & Joint.

St. Vincent’s Primary Care welcomed family medical physician Jason Clemons, MD to the Morgan Road location in Bessemer. In addition, Carrie Black Huner, MD and Kimberly Beasley Cornelison, CRNP were added to the staff at Patchwork Farms location in Vestavia Hills.

Oil & Gas

Dale Jolley has been named SPOC Automation‘s supply chain specialist.

Organizations

Jason Crager, director of Lockheed Martin Pike County Operations, has been named to the Manufacture Alabama board of directors.

Bob Copus has been named the interim executive director of Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama.

Felicia Smith, Caddell Construction Co.’s contract insurance supervisor, has been installed as the president of the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.

Jim Page, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, has been named the Chamber Professional of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.

Kevin Ball, Chris Curry, W. Edward Dismukes Jr., Monica Garsed, Patrick Lynch, Marcus Neto, Nathaniel Patterson Jr., D. Scott Posey, Nick Sellers and Glenda Snodgrass have been nominated to serve three-year terms on the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

The NFIB has presented the Guardian of Small Business Award to U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (2nd District, Alabama) and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (5th District, Alabama).

Racing

Mike McWilliams is being promoted to owner’s superintendent of International Speedway Corp.’s Design & Development team in anticipation of Talladega Superspeedway’s Infield Project, known as Transformation.

Tim James Jr.

Real Estate

Aimee Allison has joined ARC Realty Wetumpka office.

Tim James Jr. has joined Jon Kohler & Associates, a plantation and land market brokerage.

Judy Horton, of Ray & Poyner Properties, has completed the final course of the Alabama Graduate REALTOR Institute.

Workforce Development

Sherry DeLoach has been named the Regional Workforce Council of South Alabama liaison.

Josh Duplantis has been named the executive director of South Alabama Workforce Development Council AlabamaWorks.

Catfish Farmers See Tariffs As Fair Trade

Townsend Kyser on his Hale County catfish farm. Photos by Art Meripol

The U.S. is involved in a number of free trade agreements in an effort to spread our exports abroad without tariffs or other obstructions. However, American catfish farmers have found that free trade has introduced free radicals into their domestic market, from other species masquerading as catfish to a massive influx of underpriced competition. For nearly 20 years, domestic farmers have fought to overcome what they believe is a government-sanctioned disadvantage.

The South handles the majority of all U.S. catfish farming, with 96 percent of the production located in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, domestic catfish growers saw sales of $380 million last year. Sales totaled $386 million in 2016 and $364 million in 2015.

However, after the U.S. and Vietnam entered a bilateral trade agreement in 2001, domestic producers have labored hard — both on the farm and in Washington — to hold on to their share of the market.

“We’re a small industry, and we have lost farmers since imports hit the market,” says Townsend Kyser, third-generation catfish farmer from Hale County and president of Catfish Farmers of America.

U.S. demand for catfish has climbed steadily since 1990, starting at just above 50,000 pounds of frozen fillet, almost entirely of American origin. Imported fillets began noticeably eating into the U.S. margin around 2005, and by 2016, imported frozen fillets outperformed U.S. product by a nearly five-to-one ratio out of 350,000 plus pounds.

“Since the early 2000s, the U.S. industry has been reduced by around 50 percent,” says Chad Causey, a spokesman for Catfish Farmers of America.

According to an industry assessment by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, there were around 250 catfish farms operating in west Alabama in the early 2000s. By 2016, that number had dropped to 77. Beyond imports glutting the market, Alabama farmers faced an onslaught of challenges over the last decade. Recession and low demand, oversized fish, persistent disease and the cost of doing business have all eaten into the industry’s profitability. Feed prices leaped from $201 per ton in 2000 to $482 in 2014.

“Agriculture and aquaculture are a big part of Alabama business,” says Kyser. “We have wonderful resources here. We have good soil, good water and the right climate and environment to raise catfish.”

The process begins in his acres of tranquil ponds where catfish grow to maturity. When it’s time to harvest, a truck sprays fish food, attracting the fish; nets are lowered, coming back up filled with fish, which are taken to market in specialty trucks.

In Alabama, there are more than 17,000 water acres devoted to catfish farming, and the industry provides much-needed jobs to the surrounding communities — more than 2,600 jobs in 2016.

“A lot of small towns in the Black Belt are driven by catfish,” says Kyser. “There are farmers, but there are also stores that stock us, feed mills and other jobs tied to the farming. Looking around town, you can tell when the catfish business is doing well or not.”

The U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam ended in 1994, and by 2001, U.S. ports were open to ships bearing Vietnamese goods, including the pangasius, a relative of the U.S. catfish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that over 80 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. Vietnam emerged as the largest source of catfish imports in 1999, yielding 83 percent of 217,000 pounds of fish shipped in. Live weight of food-size fish totaled from the four largest U.S. farming states was 355 million pounds. The gap between domestic and imported numbers tightened each year, however, and in 2007, 40.3 million pounds of U.S.-produced catfish were processed, the lowest round weight since 1997. Imports totaled 7.11 million pounds.

Advocates for domestic farmers feared that an inferior product flooding the market would degrade the public perception of all catfish products. “A different kind of fish was being dumped into the markets we built,” says Chad Causey. “The U.S. industry is at a disadvantage due to poor regulation and artificially low prices. Consumers didn’t discriminate on the location the food originated from. It wasn’t the domestic industry that posed risks, but a bad image hurt our market value. They shouldn’t be marketed as the same fish we raise. It’s burdensome and costly for us.”

Health and safety take precedence among quality concerns, and the CFA takes issue with the environment where imported fish are raised. “They grow in the Mekong River Delta, one of the most polluted waterways in the world,” says Kyser. According to the Vietnam Environmental Administration, the delta has been used as a wastewater outlet for industrial parks. The CFA also cites a study, funded by the European Union, which says Vietnamese farmers use antibiotics and pesticides that aren’t authorized for aquaculture in the U.S.

Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce announced new trade tariffs on imports, including record-high taxes on Chinese and Vietnamese fish. “The administration’s working to create a more level playing field for U.S. farmers,” says Causey. “We continue to see tariffs placed on those products because it’s apparent and factual that they have been dumping product in the market.”

For a decade, the CFA and advocates like Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran lobbied for tighter regulation of imported fish. In response, lawmakers included provisions in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills, which transferred catfish import inspection duties from the FDA to the USDA, which already inspects domestic catfish.

“It’s not at full enforcement yet,” says Causey. “We want to see all 100 percent of catfish consumed in the U.S. inspected first. Whatever product you choose, it should be a safe product.”

In April 2016, the USDA began laboratory testing of catfish imports. As part of its Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA lab testing includes chemical and microbiological analyses. Chemical testing is used to determine food composition and detect food additives, nutrients and residues from veterinary drugs and pesticides. Microbiological testing is used to identify fish species and detect pathogens, toxins and antimicrobial residues.

The USDA laboratory guidelines categorize all catfish and related species under the order of siluriformes. From May 2016 to March 2018, a USDA record of import refusals indicates that around 14 shipments of Vietnamese siluriformes were turned away specifically for failed laboratory analyses. Nine shipments were refused from China on the same grounds, with one additional shipment testing positive for pathogens. Around 12 shipments from Thailand were refused based on failed lab analyses.

So far this year, shipping damage and improper shipping marks have made up the bulk of Vietnamese siluriforme refusals. According to an April through July USDA dataset of import refusals, two shipments of siluriformes were turned away this April for failed laboratory analysis or inspection. In May, there was one instance of refusal based on a failed lab analysis.

The transfer of responsibility has met substantial resistance in Washington. Some critics cite a Government Accountability Office study, which concludes that the change will be costly and result in duplication of effort. Groups like the National Fisheries Institute consider the move unnecessary. “Importers don’t want to pay more to bring in a cheap product,” says Causey, “so they wave off concerns.”

Proponents of free trade see the situation as a two-way street and warn that imposing tariffs on imports would impede U.S. exports as a result. While it never went into effect, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have cut tariffs and other trade barriers among participating nations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was among the parties touting its potential economic benefits, dismissing domestic producers’ fears of a wider floodgate for imports.

While the larger economic impact is more complex, American farmers hope that continued import regulations will allow them to regain footing in the market. “It’s too soon to tell here on Chinese tariffs,” says Causey. “The tariffs on Vietnamese pangasius certainly helped some. It slowed the downward trend in domestic production, but we haven’t seen any growth as a result.”     

In spite of how foreign markets may respond, farmers working on American soil believe that more tariffs would ultimately help their business more than free trade could. “There had been some unfavorable balance with Vietnam, but raising tariffs has leveled the playing field,” says Kyser. “We’ll need to get the old markets back. We’ve seen cycles before. The fish take time to grow, so it will take time for the results to get back to us. All the pieces are in place to get better, but it takes time.”

Tom Little and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

Plugging the Hypersonic Missile Gap — The First $1.4 Billion

Russia’s new Sarmat intercontinental missile is shown in a video grab at an undisclosed location in Russia. It is one of the hypersonic nuclear weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin says his military has successfully tested and is ready to deploy. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

By the time you finish reading this sentence, a hypersonic weapon could have flown from Mobile to Huntsville, where Lockheed Martin Space is researching and developing just such a device.

The company has a $928 million contract to develop the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon, known as HCSW, which Air Force officials say is pronounced “Hacksaw.”

In addition to the initial contract, this past August Lockheed Martin received another contract to develop the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), a hypersonic weapon prototype expected to cost “no more than $480 million” to design, according to an Air Force press release.

All of this comes after China and Russia announced the successful testing of hypersonic weapons.

A hypersonic weapon travels at Mach 5 or higher — at least five times faster than the speed of sound. This means hypersonic weapons can travel about one mile per second. Its speed makes it very difficult to detect, track and destroy.

In April, Mike Griffin, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities that “China has fielded or can field…hypersonic delivery systems for conventional prompt strikes that can reach out thousands of kilometers from the Chinese shore, and hold our carrier battle groups or our forward deployed forces…at risk.”

Griffin, former administrator of NASA and later an engineering professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, added that the U.S. does not have a weapon that can similarly threaten the Chinese, and that the U.S. has no defenses against China’s hypersonic missiles.

“We, today, do not have systems which can hold them at risk in a corresponding manner, and we don’t have defenses against those systems,” Griffin says. “Should they choose to deploy them we would be, today, at a disadvantage.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said that Russia successfully tested an “invincible” hypersonic cruise missile.

According to multiple reports, Russia is expected to begin production soon of its 3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic missile that will travel 4,600 miles per hour — five times the speed of sound — and will have a range of 250 miles. That’s just three minutes and 15 seconds from launch to impact.

The Lockheed Martin contracts appear to be aimed at getting the U.S. back into the game.

According to a company news release, “Under the indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract, Lockheed Martin will develop the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), a new air-launched weapon system. The company is working closely with the Air Force to finalize system requirements under the contract’s initial task order.

“This is the first phase of a development program, with future phases progressing through design, flight test, initial production and deployment of the weapon system at early operational capability. The contract ceiling through early operational capability is $928 million.”

“Our goal is rapid development and fielding of the HCSW system, and this contract is the first step in achieving that goal,” says John Snyder, vice president of Air Force Strategic Programs on the Lockheed Martin website. “Design, development, production, integration and test experts from across Lockheed Martin will partner with the Air Force to achieve early operational capability and deliver the system to our warfighters. We are incredibly proud to be leading this effort.”

The company says the HCSW team will primarily work in Huntsville; Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and Orlando, Florida, with additional expertise in Denver, Colorado, and Sunnyvale, California.

As might be expected, at this stage Lockheed Martin and the Air Force have gone silent.

According to CNBC, a Lockheed Martin representative noted that the company will “not be able to host any interviews on this program” due to its sensitive nature.

Similarly, a U.S. Air Force spokesman said the service will not be making any announcements in the near future regarding its work on hypersonics.

Xiaowen Wang, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama, studies the behavior of hypersonic craft and offers insight into the nature of hypersonic flight.

“I am focusing on how air flows around the vehicle,” Wang says. “A lot of friction is generated at high speeds so the surface temperature can be very high, as high as 10,000 degrees Kelvin.” The Kelvin Scale is a thermometric scale used in physical science to describe the absolute temperature of an object, substance or area. While Fahrenheit and Celsius scales measure temperature, the Kelvin Scale defines temperatures relative to an object’s thermodynamic movement. Wang says the high temperature is one of the main differences between hypersonic and supersonic and subsonic.

Hypersonic craft generally have a sharp, needle-like nose, a slender fuselage, thin wings and tail surfaces and very sharp leading edges, Wang says.

An article on Thedrive.com last year says hypersonic weapon design generally “involves a booster of some sort, often a rocket motor, which gets the craft going fast enough for an air-breathing high-speed jet engine to take over. Once at its cruising speed, these power plants become highly efficient.

“But more importantly, this air- breathing engine generates a very different signature from a rocket motor, meaning space-based surveillance assets might not be able to spot one as quickly or keep tracking of it during flight, or even spot it at all for that matter. On top of that, prototype designs look much more like super-fast flying cruise missiles or drones, able to fly in more erratic ways well within the atmosphere, maybe even changing course in mid-flight relatively rapidly. This could make any such weapon more accurate, since it could make more corrections before impact, as well. A projectile flying at a mile a second would be too much to process in general for even the most fast-scanning surface- and airborne-radars that exist at present, and even if they could be tracked, engaging something going that speed within the atmosphere represents a huge set of problems of its own.”

Another component is the “SCRAMJET,” or supersonic combustion ramjet, which relies on high vehicle speed to compress incoming air forcefully before combustion and the airflow is supersonic throughout the entire engine. The engines can be used to power hypersonic missiles.

Wang says the engines are “very, very efficient so they can develop a very high thrust.”

“The weapons are so fast that if there is any sort of air disturbance they may fly away from the target,” he says.

Wang says there are only a few places in the U.S. where hypersonic vehicles can be tested. “Computers can mimic the airflow, but it is very expensive,” he says.

Has Wang ever seen one?

“No, no. There is no chance of seeing any of them,” he says.

Bill Gerdes is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He is based in Hoover.

Rocket City’s Planning Propulsion

It was only two years ago that Councilman Will Culver invited young professionals to a private event to introduce a new “city within a city” in the Huntsville community.

That vision was MidCity Huntsville, a live, work, play development surrounded by parks, plazas and walkable streets. The project — executed by Huntsville real estate firm RCP Companies — would supplant Madison Square Mall, a nearly 1 million-square-foot enclosed shopping center that had fallen on hard times after years of neglect along University Drive.

Today, MidCity is one of the largest active commercial real estate developments in the United States, according to research firm CoStar. RCP co-founder Max Grelier says the title confirms his company’s original vision, which was to make MidCity a destination that goes beyond retail to embrace both community and commerce.

“Huntsville has always been a town that punches above its weight,” he says. “We, as a city, simply expect to be relevant globally, and these accolades are small ways to be a small part of the bigger picture for our community.”

The $500 million, mixed-use project is well underway where Madison Square stood for more than 30 years, at the edge of the city near Cummings Research Park. With Topgolf as its first tenant, MidCity is changing Huntsville’s commercial landscape in a big way.

At full capacity, MidCity is planned to comprise 350,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment, as well as 200,000 square feet of office space, 400 hotel rooms and 900 residential units. Grelier says the project also will include a 1,500-seat performing arts venue, an 8,500-seat amphitheater, an outdoor Adrenaline Zone, a tech and digital arts accelerator.

To date, announced tenants include REI Co-op, Topgolf, Dave & Buster’s, High Point Climbing & Fitness, Aloft Hotels, Wahlburgers, Rascal Flatts Restaurant and Pies & Pints. Grelier says they are currently targeting Trader Joe’s or a similar organic grocery store, as well as a regional brewery/distillery.

“We continue to look for businesses and uses that complement the current lineup and sync with our overall mission, which includes health and wellness, recreation, entertainment and unique culinary offerings,” he says. “The next phase of retail will begin focusing on boutiques, home furnishings and accessories and technology retailers.”

The process of revitalizing the 110-acre former Madison Square site began in 2014, when the City of Huntsville developed an urban renewal plan for the property and 300 additional acres in and around Research Park East. After RCP acquired CBL Associates’ portion of the mall a year later, Urban Design Associates (UDA) began crafting a master plan for the site.

Given the national climate for brick-and-mortar retail, Huntsville Director of Urban and Economic Development Shane Davis says the city’s goal was to create an urban development that was long-lasting and would balance the retail-heavy University Drive corridor.

“In order to stabilize and maintain the relevance of this part of Huntsville, the city had to take bold action in order to prevent decay of the area,” he says.

Since the project broke ground in 2017, Davis says the city has installed about 60 percent of the public infrastructure, which includes new underground utilities, block-style streets and 15 acres of the proposed 38-acre public park within MidCity. Final infrastructure work should be complete in 2019.

MidCity will include four to six total phases over the course of seven years, starting with the installation of city infrastructure and the front block of retail space set to go vertical this year. Grelier says Phase II is in design and will include Aloft Hotels, 40,000 square feet of technology offices, 270 residential units and more retail.

Before MidCity, UDA Chairman Rob Robinson says the Pennsylvania firm had collaborated with RCP on The Ledges, a private club and golf community in Huntsville. When the opportunity to develop MidCity came along, he says RCP knew it needed to approach the project in a unique way.

“It’s a whole different animal to do something that’s coordinated as a walkable place rather than a regional shopping center,” Robinson says. “We do a lot of this work around the country. The idea of both a walkable, connected community versus a single-use retail center was at the core of our involvement with RCP.”

Finding a balance between creating a new anchor for the University Drive corridor and positioning it so surrounding businesses and neighborhoods could thrive was a challenge. RCP, UDA and the city also considered how other nearby developments, such as Village of Providence and Bridge Street Town Centre, would fit with the MidCity model.

Robinson says it was clear early on that the city was interested in a regional destination that would make the property appealing to a broader population beyond Madison County.

“This partnership with the city really required us to think about how the west end of the city was evolving from Research Park to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and downtown,” he says. “How can they all be better connected, more flexible and more diverse in what they can accommodate? It was an interesting issue, particularly in an area that wasn’t used to a lot of urbanism.”

While MidCity reigns as one of the top commercial developments in the country, Grelier says it hasn’t always been easy. Early challenges included establishing a common vision among key investors and assembling the site to execute the MidCity concept.

More recently, the firm has tackled rising construction costs and interest rates coupled with decreasing retail demand nationally and Huntsville’s market size. Grelier says these challenges are typical when developing large-scale, multi-phase projects like MidCity.

RCP must also maintain the public’s long-term interest while meeting project deadlines from both the city and MidCity stakeholders.

“As with all construction, building buildings takes some time,” he says. “So anticipation builds between announcing our newest tenants or concepts and opening the doors.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says momentum is building where Madison Square was once a leading regional retail destination in Huntsville. Since the demolition of the mall and start of new construction in 2017, he says confidence is growing among national retailers and new investments are occurring along the University Drive corridor.

With major economic development announcements from Toyota, Boeing, Facebook, Blue Origin and others, Battle says more people than ever are hearing the “Huntsville story.” The Birmingham native, who moved to the area in 1980, believes MidCity will capitalize on Huntsville’s strong aerospace, defense and technology base by bringing new life and tourism to the region.

“They’ve heard about Huntsville, they’ve heard about the per capita income and they’ve heard about the job opportunities here,” he says. “All of that pulls together to be the picture of a successful economy retailers and others want to be a part of.”

Lucy Berry DeButy is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Decatur.

Company Kudos, October 2018

The blue and gold crews of the USS Alabama, a ballistic missile submarine, were presented the Omaha Trophy, sponsored by the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the USSTRATCOM Consultation Committee. In 2017, the USS Alabama also received the 2017 Commander, Submarine Squadron 17 Battle Efficiency “E” Award. From left to right are Cmdr. Jeffrey Yackeren, Gen. John Hyten, Cmdr. William Filip and Steven Martin. Homeport for the submarine is Bangor, Washington.

Adams and Reese was recognized in The Best Lawyers in America 2019 with the greatest number of lawyers from a single firm listed in the Mergers and Acquisitions practice group for its Mobile office.

For a fourth consecutive year, Baker Donelson has been certified by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum as a Gold Standard Firm.

Bloomberg Government released its annual BGOV200 listing, ranking the top federal contractors based on prime contracts awarded in fiscal 2017. The Alabama companies making the list were  BL Harbert International at no. 40, Caddell Construction Co. Inc. at no. 56, Torch Technologies at no. 155, Redstone Defense Systems at no. 186 and Colsa Corp. at no. 196.

Blue Fish was named the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Small Business of the Year.

Foley Sports Tourism has been recognized by USA Volleyball Gulf Coast Region with the Robert L. Lindsay Meritorious Service Award.

The Land Trust of North Alabama has had its accreditation renewed by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

Maynard Cooper was recognized as a Band 1 Law Firm in the Chambers High Net Worth 2018 Guide: The World’s Leading High Net-Worth Advisors.

MotionMobs, of Birmingham, has been selected as a finalist for the Dream Big Small Business of the Year Awards, presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its 2018 Small Business Summit. It is one of three companies competing in the Women Owned Business Achievement Award category.

Road & Rail Services Inc. has received the Processor of the Year Performance Excellence Award for 2018 and the American Honda Award for Superior Quality 2018 from American Honda Motor Corp.

The UAB School of Dentistry has been named one of the world’s top 25 dental schools by ShanghaiRanking’s 2018 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Relief Donors Visit Rwandan Kids

Warren Averett LLC employees Clint Freeman of Montgomery, above, and Marissa Marshall, below, made some solid connections in June when they visited Rwanda youngsters being supported by monthly donations through Compassion International.

Lots of companies, when asked, will write a check for a good cause. Four employees of Warren Averett LLC, the nationally ranked accounting firm, went a step further last June, flying to Rwanda to meet children they’re sponsoring through an international charity.

The company has been a partner of Compassion International since 2008, allowing employees the opportunity to sponsor children in Rwanda. Compassion is a global organization that seeks to meet the physical and spiritual needs of children in impoverished areas across the world.

A monthly monetary donation covers a specific child’s education, nutrition and other needs. Warren Averett employees sponsor all of the children in two full Compassion villages and some of the children in a third village, accounting for more than 140 youngsters.

The company also offers sponsored trips to visit the children, which is what Clint Freeman, Marissa Marshall, Tiffany Johnson and Frances Boney signed up to do. The four represented Warren Averett offices in Montgomery and Birmingham, as well as Tampa and Atlanta. They visited four Compassion villages: two of which are those sponsored by Warren Averett, one that the company hopes to sponsor in the near future and one Compassion urban center.

As you might expect, people who work for an accounting company appreciated the chance to see what their dollars were accomplishing. Rwanda, a landlocked East African country, is among the smallest countries on the continent, with amazing landscapes and wildlife but also fierce poverty. Coffee and tea are the main cash exports; tourism is growing.

“This trip connected my heart to families that are over 4,000 miles from my residence,” says Marketing Supervisor Tiffany Johnson of Birmingham. “It is amazing to see the impact on an entire family just by me sponsoring one child. With Compassion, I trust that my sponsored child is receiving the best education, health services and common necessities.”

Warren Averett CEO Mary Elliot says the company looks forward to continued good works with Compassion villages and children in Rwanda.

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