Innovation and technology: Conserv cofounders bring tech to art ecosystem

Austin Senseman and Nathan McMinn, cofounders of Birmingham tech startup Conserv, have ambitious goals for their business.

In five years, they’d like Conserv, which sells sensors and software to preservationists to monitor and manage objects, to be worth $100 million and be the default for conservation professionals at museums, galleries, libraries and the like.

Best practices: New certificate program hopes to secure a highly-skilled future workforce for MBUSI

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) is continuing its role as an innovator in the workforce development space.

Already home to a two-part apprenticeship program, this fall MBUSI, in partnership with Lawson State Community College, will launch the new Mercedes Tech Certificate Program as MBUSI continually looks to find ways to fill its workforce pipeline. Lawson State, with campuses in Birmingham and Bessemer, is the most recent community college MBUSI has partnered with.

Birmingham’s Incysus receives FDA clearance, is expanding team

It has been a busy month for Birmingham-based Incysus, which announced recently it received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test its brain cancer therapy in humans.

This announcement came after the company’s presentation at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, where the company’s cofounder and chief scientific officer Dr. Lawrence Lamb presented new data on the company’s drug-resistant immunotherapy research that showed its brain cancer therapy works in animals.

Accolades abound for Birmingham in April

Birmingham has much to celebrate. Only halfway through the month of April, the Magic City has racked up a lot of accolades – positive mentions in national articles and positive rankings among our peers – from everywhere from The New York Times to Travel + Leisure to the BBC. Here’s what publications are saying about everything from our tech scene to our style to our beloved ballpark, Regions Field.

Innovation and technology: Two decades in, Birmingham home for TheraNest’s Otulana – and his muse

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Shegun Otulana has lived in Birmingham for 21 years. And he has packed a lot into those two decades.

He graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was the CEO of software company Zertis Software. In 2013, he founded TheraNest, software geared at practice management for therapists, psychologists, social workers and counselors to help manage and grow their practices.

Since then, TheraNest has experienced significant growth, starting with one employee – Otulana himself – and now topping 320, securing a lead investor for the company last year and garnering Otulana a Jemison Award from the Birmingham Venture Club.

Intermark Group’s McKenzie melds psychology with business

Do you think of yourself as a rational consumer?

Think again, says Intermark Group CEO Jake McKenzie, who this week spoke at the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Birmingham Regional Enterprise Council (BREC) meeting about “The Psychology Behind Buying Power.”

“It all starts with one simple premise,” he said. “You’re not rational.”

We as consumers think we are in control of our buying decisions, but, thanks to many factors, we’re not, he said. McKenzie’s background is in psychology, giving him an unmatched view of changing customer beliefs and behavior. Some of his insights were published recently in Inc. magazine.

EDAA: Protect Alabama's economic development efforts

The Birmingham Business Alliance supports reauthorizing legislation that exempts site selectors and full-time economic developers from registering as lobbyists in Alabama. HB317, also known as the Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act, was signed into law in 2018 and was crucial to guaranteeing that economic development organizations in Alabama can continue their work to attract new business to the state. The act has a sunset of one year and will expire on April 1, 2019 unless the legislature renews the legislation or passes new legislation during the 2019 Alabama Legislative Session. Jobs, economic prosperity and continued success for the Birmingham region and Alabama are at risk if the legislation is not renewed.

By JIM SEARCY, Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama

The Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act was passed last year to provide clarity to an issue that could have crippled Alabama’s economic development efforts. The bill was necessary to provide clarity regarding a requirement for economic developers and site selectors to register as lobbyists to engage in the economic development process. Thankfully, the bill was passed and signed into law, allowing economic development professionals the opportunity to continue to grow Alabama’s economy.

During the session last year, there was a concerted effort to mischaracterize the bill as having a negative impact on the ethics law. That assertion was patently untrue, and, regardless of how much hyperbole and misinformation was presented last year, the Legislature passed the bill. The Jobs Enhancement Act has been in effect for a year and none of the dire predictions have come to pass. They haven’t come to pass simply because none of the assertions we heard in the last legislative session were based in fact.

The act contained a sunset provision that ends the exemption of site selectors and economic development professionals. If that provision is not removed, Alabama’s economic development efforts will again be mired in ambiguity and uncertainty. Site selectors will not consider Alabama as a location if they must violate their client’s confidentiality agreement in order to even consider an Alabama location.

Confidentiality is critical in the economic development process. Companies and site selection professionals involved in a search for a potential site or companies considering expanding an existing operation must be able to rely on economic developers to maintain that confidentiality until it is appropriate for the company’s identity to be revealed. Should the provisions of the act end as a result of sunset, economic developers and site selectors would be required to register as lobbyists and disclose the identity of their clients (principals). This requirement alone would make Alabama unattractive for not only new investment, but hamper expansion of Alabama’s existing companies as well.

This law doesn’t impact the ethics law. The provisions of the existing law simply exempt site selectors and economic developers from the requirement to register as lobbyists. The economic developers that work to grow Alabama’s economy and the site selectors that represent their clients in the process are not lobbyists.

The sunset provision must be removed to allow economic development professionals to compete for projects and ensure Alabama’s continued economic success.

BBA’s Elizabeth Paul selected for U.S. Chamber Foundation Education and Workforce Fellowship Program

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has announced that Elizabeth Paul, Manager of Public Policy at the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), was selected to participate in the second cohort of its premiere business leadership program. The Business Leads Fellowship Program trains and equips leaders from state and local chambers of commerce with resources, access to experts and a network of peers to build their capacity to address the most pressing education and workforce challenges.

BBA thanks legislators for support in passing Rebuild Alabama Act

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed her landmark Rebuild Alabama infrastructure bill into law yesterday after the State Senate passed it on a 28-6 vote.

The Rebuild Alabama Act will give Alabama an additional $310 million annually to improve infrastructure across the state, providing money to all of Alabama’s 67 counties to begin roadwork improvements as early as next year.

Innovation and technology: Clutch! looks to solve gameday parking problems

One of the first things you need to know about Hunter Strickler is that he’s an avid sports fan. He’s also a visionary, and one of Birmingham’s newest CEOs.

It all started with a problem that college football fans know all too well – trying to find parking on gameday. Strickler circled the perimeter of stadiums countless times, looking at homeowners near the stadium holding cardboard signs offering parking on their lawn for $30 and thought “There has to be a better way.” And while the experience of the game was always positive – well, at least if his team won – the pre-game fan experience usually was not.

The business community can help solve opioid crisis, says U.S. Chamber

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched a new website, Sharing Solutions, as a one-stop resource to help the business community combat the opioid crisis. The Chamber shares on the site best practices of companies taking action to address the epidemic through changes in business processes, employee engagement, applying core competencies and community engagement. The interactive site includes engagement functionality so that users can share solutions, as the website’s name suggests, and build on available resources as a business community.

Rebuild Alabama: Key facts on electric vehicles and expanding charging infrastructure

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The lack of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Alabama is a major impediment to the expanded use of EVs. Under the proposed Rebuild Alabama plan, owners of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) pay fees that will accelerate the deployment of EV charging station infrastructure across Alabama and alleviate consumer “range anxiety” about access to charging facilities.

In addition to accelerating the development of EV charging infrastructure, the legislation will ensure that BEVs and PHEVs will also contribute to improving the roads and bridges that we all use.

  • EV owners will be charged an annual registration fee - $200 for BEVs and $100 for PHEVs.

  • The funds collected will be distributed through the Rebuild Alabama Fund for use in construction and maintenance of a modern-day public road and highway system.

  • The State will dedicate 25 percent of the collected EV funds to support an EV infrastructure grant program that will provide funding to municipalities, counties, universities and other public institutions to pay for a portion of the costs of developing EV charging station infrastructure.

  • Collection of the funds for the grant program by the State will stop when BEVs and PHEVs reach a 4 percent market share of motor vehicle registrations in Alabama.

  • A standard EV charging station costs approximately $10,000 with installation, and fast-charging EV stations cost approximately $125,000. Through this innovative grant program, Alabama will accelerate the expansion of EV charging stations across the State and will sit at the forefront of EV expansion.

  • Given the strong focus on EVs from Alabama-based automakers, expanding charging infrastructure statewide will pay dividends going forward for all of Alabama.

Big 5 Chambers and CCAA Join The BCA in Support of The Rebuild Alabama Act

The “Big 5 Chambers” of Alabama and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama (CCAA) have united with the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) to urge their support for Governor Kay Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama bill. The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama support the legislation to strengthen Alabama’s infrastructure. 

“The BBA supports the Rebuild Alabama Act and its intended purpose of increasing Alabama’s public investment in transportation infrastructure, promoting economic growth and increasing public safety on Alabama’s roads,” said Greg Curran, Chairman of the Firm, Maynard Cooper & Gale PC and Vice Chairman of the BBA’s Public Policy Committee.

Increasing Alabama’s public investment in infrastructure is a top priority critical to the economic development community. The Rebuild Alabama legislation will help fund projects across the state, ultimately spurring job growth and ensuring that Alabama is able to successfully compete for new business. The Governor’s plan will provide a long-term solution to improve transportation infrastructure throughout Alabama.

Click here to read more.

New and expanding: Dread River Distilling will offer new taste on a longstanding industry

Dread River Distilling Co., billed as the first distilling company of its kind in Alabama, is slated to open its doors this summer, the company said.

Dread River will manufacture several different spirits, including bourbon, blended whiskey, vodka, rum and gin. It will also have several beers on tap that are brewed in-house and is working on a wine it will offer. Eventually, there will be a tasting room, lounges, a VIP room and a private event space on the second floor of its 24,500-square-foot location at 2400 7th Avenue South, where all three types of beverages will be served.

Technology park with $85 million impact in the works

Governor Kay Ivey announced recently that a new technology park is coming to the Birmingham region, and that its impact will be substantial.

The Grand River Technology Park is slated to create 1,200 jobs, Ivey said, and will have an $85 million impact on the Birmingham region. The project is a partnership with the Alabama Department of Labor’s Abandoned Mine Land Program (ADOL AML), United States Steel Corp., the City of Birmingham, the Southern Museum of Flight, Jefferson County and the City of Leeds.