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Ivey attends ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Invention to Innovation Center at UAH

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Invention to Innovation Center (I²C) on the campus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

“Today, we are celebrating a new era of innovation in the city of Huntsville and the entire state of Alabama,” Gov. Ivey said. “The Invention to Innovation Center creates the ideal environment to foster STEM-focused learning opportunities, collaboration and new business development. I look forward to seeing the many bright ideas produced at this remarkable facility for generations to come!”

UAH President Robert Altenkirch said that the goal of the I²C is to increase the number of inventions that are developed into successful innovations, startup firms, and growth initiatives spurring both the economy and technological progress.

“Success will be measured by one increased numbers of high-tech startups, two expansion opportunities for existing high-tech companies, and three diversification of the employment base to include more private sector jobs,” President Altenkirch said.

Economic Developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Thank you to all who collaborated to form the Invention to Innovation Center (I²C), a regional initiative on the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus that accelerates commercialization of technology-based ventures through incubation, co-working, mentorship, funding, and strategic support. As an alumna of UAH, it is wonderful to witness another expansion that fosters creativity and incubation of ventures that support all of Alabama’s dominant industries.”

The I²C is a regional initiative that fosters, promotes, and accelerates the commercialization of technology-based ventures through incubation, co-working, mentorship, funding, and strategic support.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said, “The UAH I2C is now open. This will be a great asset for Huntsville, UAH, faculty, and entrepreneurs.”

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Attendees included Governor Kay Ivey, UAH President Dr. Robert Altenkirch, UAH I2C Director Rigved Joshi, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, Economic Developer Dr. Nicole Jones, State Representative Howard Sanderford, State Representative Andy Whitt, Carrie Suggs with US Senator Richard Shelby’s office, Tiffany Noel with Congressman Mo Brooks’ office, and representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority, the City of Huntsville, City of Madison, UAH Foundation, UAH Lancers, and many additional leaders from the public and private sector.

The three-story, 46,650-square-foot building is adjacent to UAH’s College of Business building with direct access provided on the second and third floors. It will also be within walking distance of the M. Louis Salmon Library, the Shelby Center for Science and Technology, and the Engineering Building.

“The I²C space combines three interconnected elements: shared workspace, co-working community, and collaborative co-creation,” said I²C director Rigved Joshi. “The I²C facility and programs will support entrepreneurs on building scalable, investable, high growth, technology focused businesses that will serve as catalysts for economic development and regional innovation.”

UAH says that the three-pronged mission of the I²C is to focus on: Stimulating growth of new and existing science and engineering high-tech companies; catalyzing formation of a resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem in the northern Alabama and south central Tennessee regions; and building partnerships with various entrepreneurial ecosystems and hubs to create pathways that empower, ignite, and motivate the community to make ideas happen.

The I²C is intended to serve as the focal point for incubation, education and support for entrepreneurs across the 15-county region in northern Alabama and south central Tennessee.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Courts

Lawsuit claims governor ignored nomination process to appoint probate judge

Micah Danney

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James "Jim" Naftel II

A lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

The suit, filed the day Ivey announced the appointment, alleges she circumvented the Jefferson County Judicial Commission’s nominating process. She should have selected an appointee from a list of three nominees provided by the commission as the state’s Constitution requires, the suit says.

“Because Judge Naftel was not lawfully or properly appointed as Probate Judge of Jefferson County, he is currently usurping, intruding, and unlawfully holding that office,” the suit alleges.

Ivey’s office said she disagrees with the suit’s interpretation of the law. 

“The state constitution gives the governor the authority to fill this vacancy,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary. “Judge Naftel is highly qualified to serve as probate judge, and the governor looks forward to his many years of excellent public service to the people of Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney with the firm Sirote & Permutt, P.C., said that he has no issue with who Ivey chose, only how she did it.

“I frankly have nothing but respect for Judge Naftel,” Ragsdale said. “I think he’ll make a great probate judge. I think he’s going to end up being the probate judge, but it’s about protecting a process that we’ve had in Jefferson County for 70 years.”

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Jefferson County was the first of six counties to create such a commission. It originally applied only to Jefferson County Circuit Court, but that was expanded in 1973 to include any judicial office, the suit says — including probate judges. 

Ragsdale said it is important because the process is meant to provide local input into whom potential judges are. Commissioners are local citizens who likely know the people they nominate, whereas a governor probably doesn’t. 

“That takes most of the politics out of it,” Ragsdale said. He noted that before the first commission was created in 1950, George Wallace appointed his relatives to the bench when vacancies opened. A local screening process prevents that, Ragsdale said.

“We have that, we fought for it, and we fought governors for decades to follow the process,” he said.

Ragsdale believes this is a case of a governor simply wanting to exercise power, he said.

“She’s absolutely wrong about what the law says, and we intend to prove that,” Ragsdale said.

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Economy

Ivey announces SiO2’s $163 million expansion in Auburn

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that SiO2 Materials Science plans to invest $163 million in an expansion at its Auburn facility.

The announcement came just after securing a major contract to supply the federal government with vials to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort if and when an effective vaccine is developed. The project will create 220 jobs.

“It is exciting to know that SiO2 will be directly involved in providing a product essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, which will impact not only Alabamians but the entire country,” Ivey said. “This is a testament to the ingenuity of this great company and its growing Alabama workforce.”

Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Vials produced by SiO2 Materials Science may be the critical component needed to ensure safety in the vaccine distribution process. The breakthrough technology developed by the Auburn-based company provides a glimmer of hope amidst challenging times and showcases how Alabamians are working diligently to craft solutions that will assist our nation and the world in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, the 220 new, high-skilled jobs housed in Auburn Technology Park West will bring economic benefits to Lee County as well as the entire state of Alabama.”

The expansion will allow SiO2 to increase its production capacity so that it can meet the expected demand for vials and syringes when a coronavirus vaccine is finally approved for mass use.

In June, SiO2 announced an $143 million contract with federal government agencies for a production scale-up of the company’s state-of-the-art packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics.

Bobby Abrams is the CEO of SiO2.

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“The pandemic presents an enormous challenge for all people,” Abrams said. “We are extremely grateful for Senator Shelby’s steadfast support and assistance, and we’re honored to collaborate with our government so a COVID-19 vaccine can be safely and quickly distributed. The State of Alabama and the City of Auburn for many years have been very supportive of SiO2 Materials Science during its research, development, commercialization, and now scale-up phases of the company.”

Over the last 10 years, SiO2 has developed its patented vial platform, which combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for biological drugs and vaccines. The product, developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions, combines the benefits of both glass and plastic without drawbacks.

“There are problems with plastic, and there are problems with glass, and we resolve all of them,” Abrams said.

SiO2 will expand its existing facility at 2250 Riley Street and will invest in a new molding facility at 2425 Innovation Drive, both located in the Auburn Technology Park West.

Construction is already under way to expand the facility on Innovation Drive. The completed approximately 70,000-square-foot facility will increase the production capacity of SiO2’s injection molding operation.

“We’re proud to have some of the world’s leading scientists and product developers working in our community,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “With the presence of these companies and Auburn University’s outstanding medical and engineering programs, we believe we’ll see significant growth in the biotech industry right here in Auburn. On top of that, the well-paying jobs created through this project will result in significant economic opportunities for our local businesses.”

Greg Canfield, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said that SiO2’s expansion project in Auburn will help ensure that the nation’s health authorities have an ample supply of vials and syringes to administer a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as it is developed.

“Having a steady supply of SiO2’s innovative vials will represent a key strategic advantage for federal agencies wanting to act rapidly once a vaccine is available to counter the coronavirus,” Canfield said.

Robert S. Langer is a professor at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT and a company adviser.

A key element of SiO2’s product is enhanced safety for healthcare providers and for patients, who are at a lower risk of adverse side effects. A combination of plastic and a microscopic layer of glass also means vials and syringes won’t break, shatter or crack. SiO2 ships its products worldwide.

“Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes,” Langer said. “The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”

SiO2 is a privately-owned company based in Auburn, where it has around 200 employees. The Retirement Systems of Alabama provided early financial support for the company.

517,464 people have already died from the COVID-19 global pandemic, including 130,602 Americans.

 

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Governor

Governor appoints Barbara Cooper as secretary of Department of Early Childhood Education

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the appointment of Barbara Cooper as secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

“Dr. Barbara Cooper has spent her professional career dedicated to helping students achieve their greatest potential. She and I share the same goal, and that is to make Alabama a better place, which begins with our youngest citizens,” Ivey said. “With her vast experience in various administrative positions, Dr. Cooper is more than qualified, and I have no doubt that she will continue the impressive work of the Department of Early Childhood Education. I am confident that Alabama will continue leading the nation with the best early childhood education system.”

Cooper has over 30 years of education experience and most recently served in DECE since 2018. She previously served as the department’s director of the Office of School Readiness and the Birth to Grade 12 advisor for the Alabama Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation.

She was appointed by the Alabama State Board of Education to serve as the chief administrative officer during the Montgomery Public Schools Intervention where she worked to improve leadership and governance.

Cooper is currently in the process of earning a certificate in Early Education Leadership from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

She also received a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Innovation and a Master of Science in Administration, Supervision & Curriculum Development from the University of Colorado at Denver and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Illinois University.

“Education is the greatest profession and the work we do in our calling as educators will last beyond our lifetime,” Cooper said. “I look forward to serving Alabama’s children and families for many years to come. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s confidence in selecting me to serve in this new capacity and I look forward to hitting the ground running.”

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Cooper’s administrative experience is vast as she has served as Deputy State Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer of the Alabama State Department of Education, Deputy Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, Chief Equity and Engagement Officer of Aurora Public Schools (Colorado) and a Principal with Denver Public Schools. She has teaching experience ranging from elementary to teacher instruction.

The governor’s appointment is effective immediately.

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Governor

Governor appoints Jim Naftel as Jefferson County probate judge

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday appointed Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

Ivey spoke to Naftel Wednesday afternoon to inform him of her decision, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama. I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama,” Ivey wrote in a letter to Naftel on Wednesday. 

Naftel will replace Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King, who was first elected to the judgeship in November 2000, and who retired in May after 19 years of service. King’s wife was killed just more than a year before his retirement in a hit-and-run in Denver. 

Naftel has been an attorney with the law firm Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. since 1998, and is a 1998 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.

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