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Roby: 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled last year

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said Monday in an email to constituents that in “2018, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled, largely because STEM education is not readily available for many students.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM is the fastest growing sector of the job market; but according to the U.S. Department of Education only 16 percent of American high school students say that they are interested in STEM and test proficient in math. STEM jobs require a firm grasp of mathematics and that is an area that many American children do not perform well in.

“Last week, I participated in a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing where I asked experts from the National Science Foundation and NASA how we can generate increased interest in STEM jobs for the next generation’s workforce,” Roby said. “I also asked the witnesses about programs currently in place to target rural areas across our country.”

“Between the years 2000 and 2010, STEM-based jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs,” Roby continued. “But, at the end of 2018, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled, largely because STEM education is not readily available for many students. This is a critical problem we must resolve, and I appreciated discussing the matter during our hearing last week.”

“The STEM fields provide fantastic career opportunities, but according to the National Math and Science Initiative, only 36 percent of all American high school graduates are ready to take a collegiate science course,” Roby said in her weekly column. “According to the Department of Labor, universities in the United States are only expected to produce 29 percent of the number of graduates necessary to fill the 1.4 million vacant computer specialist job openings. The demand isn’t going to disappear, so it is our responsibility to expose the next generation of workers to STEM education so they will be equipped to fill these important jobs that will lead us further into the future we envision.”

In the most recent round of testing, Alabama public school students ranked 48th in the country in proficiency for Math.

It has gotten so bad that State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey is leading a delegation of education and government leaders to South Korea to attempt to recruit math and science teachers, among other critical needs for the struggling Alabama schools. State Senators Tim Melson (R-Florence) and Donnie Chesteen (R-Dothan) are both accompanying Mackey on the recruiting trip. Melson and Chesteen are the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee. State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) and St. Clair County School Superintendent Mike Howard as well as other superintendents and members of the Alabama House of Representatives are going on the mission.

The House will reconvene today and the government is rapidly approaching the September 30th funding deadline and it appears that a budget is not going to be ready by that point so their likely will need to be a continuing resolution to keep the government open.

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Congresswoman Martha Roby is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s Second Congressional District. Roby has announced that she will not seek re-election.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Daily News’ Mary Sells and the St. Clair Times contributed to this report.)

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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.

“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.”

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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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Economy

ADOL announces extended benefits program to begin

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The Alabama Department of Labor announced today that the state will begin offering Extended Benefits (EB) for those who qualify and have exhausted previous benefits.

This is a separate program from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program that was enacted under the CARES Act.

The EB program is a federal program that is triggered when a state’s insured unemployment rate exceeds 5.9 percent. Alabama’s weekly insured unemployment rate* of 6.11 percent triggered the state onto a 13-week EB period beginning the week of May 31. It is usually available during times of adverse economic conditions. The last time Alabama offered the EB program was during the Great Recession of 2008.

While EB is available for UP TO 13 weeks, not all claimants will be eligible to receive all weeks.  Alabamians can begin claiming these benefits on July 5, 2020.

Claimants must first exhaust all regular UC and PEUC benefits before they will be eligible for EB benefits.  Claimants must not be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits in another state or Canada, must have no disqualifications, have qualifying wages, and must have at least one week in the benefit year that begins in an EB eligibility period. Specific eligibility criteria can be found at: https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_24-20.pdf.

Individuals are only entitled to benefits if they are no longer working through no fault of their own and they MUST be able and available for work.  The EB program has more stringent work search requirements and requires claimants to engage in a “systematic and sustained” effort to obtain work during each week and to provide evidence of efforts.  Due to the pandemic, the submission of required work search contacts has been TEMPORARILY waived due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, claimants should continue to look for work where possible, and maintain a record of their efforts on a weekly basis.  This waiver may end at any time.  Once this waiver ends, claimants will be required to provide a minimum of three (3) work search contacts each week during the weekly certification process. 

ADOL will notify those eligible for EB benefits via the UI Claims Tracker and by mail. Claimants will not have to apply for these benefits, but should continue to file weekly certifications.

 

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Economy

Doug Jones urges Alabama small businesses to apply for COVID-19 aid

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday encouraged Alabama’s small businesses to apply for COVID-19 relief funds through the Paycheck Protection Program before the June 30 deadline. 

“All small businesses in Alabama should reach out to their bank or credit union to check to see if they’re eligible to benefit from PPP loans before the program closes on Tuesday,” Jones said in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to help workers and small businesses in our state that have been hurt by the coronavirus. This program is a great opportunity to receive relief funds that could make a huge difference while they try to weather this pandemic.”

The Paycheck Protection Program provides loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 to keep workers on the payroll during the crisis. If all workers are kept on the payroll for twenty-four weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities, the loans can be forgiven. 

Businesses can apply through any existing Small Business Administration lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating, according to the press release. 

Jones has been a vocal supporter for more aid to small businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and  introduced legislation to cover wages and benefits of workers in affected businesses and non-profits. 

 More information about how to apply for a PPP loan can be found here.

 

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Economy

Deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program is near

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday both released statements to remind business owners impacted by the coronavirus crisis that the deadline to apply for a loan under the Payroll Protection Program is next week.

“Reminder: the deadline to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan is coming up next week, 6/30!” Palmer said. “This program has been a key part of saving jobs and small businesses over the past few months as our country works towards economic recovery. Learn how to apply below!”

“Businesses across Alabama still have an opportunity to apply for relief through the Paycheck Protection Program,” Ivey said. “Funds remain available, and I strongly urge any Alabama small business who has not yet taken advantage of this aid to do so by contacting their financial institution and applying today. The PPP application window is only open for one more week, so I encourage our small business owners to take this step as soon as possible, before it officially closes on June 30. COVID-19 has had unavoidable consequences on our economy, but thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program, more than 62,000 Alabama small businesses have received help. I am proud to stand behind our small businesses and continue offering my support for them.”

Recent changes have simplified the process for obtaining a PPP loan and having it forgiven and nearly $125 billion in funding remains available for allocation.

A PPP application is available here.

Also, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program reopened to all eligible applicants on June 15. Applications submitted prior to April 15 are now being processed, and new applications are being accepted. The EIDL Advance, which provides a $1,000 grant per employee (up to $10,000 total), has also been restarted. Loans through the EIDL program are capped at $150,000 and are obtained directly from the Small Business Administration. The deadline for applying for this long-term, low-interest loan is Dec. 31. An EIDL application is available here.

Through June 12, a total of $6.11 billion in PPP funding — out of $512 billion nationwide — has been provided to 62,054 small businesses in Alabama, and a total of $924 million in EIDL funding — out of $91 billion nationwide — has been provided to 15,141 small businesses in Alabama.

The PPP was created under the CARES Act, which was a stimulus package to blunt some impact of the coronavirus crisis and the forced economic shutdown and health orders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2.

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808 Americans, including 25 Alabamians, died from COVID-19 on Wednesday taking the nation’s death toll to 124,281. Another 38,386 Americans tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, including 954 Alabamians. There are now 1,297,668 known active cases of the coronavirus in this country. 485,573 people have died in the global pandemic.

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