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Head of the International Travel Writers Alliance on tour in Alabama

Ashley Gibbins, Chief Executive of the International Travel Writers Alliance is in Alabama for almost two weeks to research the state’s tourism destinations. The Alliance, based in the UK, is the world’s largest association of professional travel writers, editors, broadcasters and photographers. The alliance provides 9,050 travel journalists with key tourism information.

Gibbins is joined on the Alabama trip by photographer Ann Mealor. Both Gibbins and Mealor supply information for AllWays traveller an online travel site that provides independent travelers with information from travel experts.

Gibbins and Mealor will visit Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Gulf Shores, Huntsville, Muscle Shoals, Florence and Fort Payne on their journey across the state that started on Sept. 16, and will end Oct. 1.

Grey Brennan and Della Tully met with Gibbins at WTM London, a tourism trade show, where he was invited to visit Alabama.

For more information on the Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts to promote the state as a tourism destination to the UK market, contact or

Female Factor celebrates ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

“Sweet Home, Alabama.”

Marilyn Stamps said it.

Shelia Jackson sang it.

The packed audience applauded it.

“Sweet home, Alabama” was the main topic at the Female Factor Wednesday at The Studio in downtown Troy.

Stamps, a semi-retired publications manager for the Alabama Department of Tourism and 2012 Employee of the Year, was the guest speaker. And, Stamps did what she does best, cheer for the home state.

Having 30 years experience with the state tourism department, Stamps knows Alabama like the back of her hand. She now takes advantage of every opportunity to share her stories about “Sweet Home, Alabama” and to encourage residents to take “stay-cations” and see what Alabama has to offer.

“When the Alabama Department of Tourism wrote its bylaws, it mandated that the department could not advertise within the state,” Stamps said. “That makes it rather difficult to let residents know what we have right here in our own backyard.

“With the downturn in the economy, fewer of our residents were traveling outside the state so it became even more important to let Alabama residents know about all Alabama has to offer.”

The Tourism Department found a way to highlight Alabama through its “Year of …” promotions.
In 2004, the tourism department unveiled its statewide promotion, “The Year of the Garden.”

“The idea behind the promotion was that you could go to Callaway Gardens in Georgia but why not go to the beautiful Bellingrath Gardens or Jasmine Hills Gardens right here at home,” Stamps said.

“The Year of the Garden” was an incentive for people to see Alabama first and the “Year of … ” became an annual promotion.

“We’ve had the ‘Year of’ the Great Outdoors, Alabama Art, Alabama Sports, History, Small Towns/Downtowns among others but the Year of Food in 2005 really took off so we had it back in 2012,” Stamps said. “The brochure, ‘100 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die’ received a huge response and is still very popular. People continue to use it as a guide to great places to eat when they travel around the state.”

Alabama’s next promotion will be the “Year of Barbecue” and it should be extremely popular, too, Stamps said.
Troy Tourism Director Shelia Jackson told the all-female audience that Troy and Pike County should also be considered as stay-cation destinations for travelers around the state.

“And, we also should look in our own backyard for entertainment,” she said. “We have a variety of entertainment events offered by the Troy Arts Council, the Johnson Center for the Arts, the Pioneer Museum of Alabama, the Troy Recreation Department and Troy University and the We Piddle Around Theater and Studio 116 in Brundidge,” she said. “There’s no place like home and Troy and Pike County are great places to call home … and for stay-cations.”

Female Factor is sponsored monthly by Troy Regional Medical Center.

To read the entire article, go to:

Site selection experts rank Alabama fourth-best state for doing business

For the second consecutive year, Alabama ranks fourth overall among national economic development publication Area Development’s “Top States for Doing Business” and placed first in the sub-category of competitive labor costs.

“These high rankings mean that site selection consultants recognize that Alabama possesses the advantages that make the state attractive for companies looking to open new facilities or to expand their existing operations,” Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said in a prepared statement.

The state also placed fourth nationally in the survey’s key categories of both business environment and labor climate.

“We have the skilled workers, training programs and the business climate that companies need to compete and succeed,” Canfield said said.

The annual rankings survey site selection consultants, and Alabama’s strongest showings came in the automotive manufacturing and aerospace sectors, with a nod given by the publication to the state’s “long-term economic development plan known as Accelerate Alabama” and the “strength of its significant and growing accomplishments in transportation manufacturing.”

Launched in 2012, Accelerate Alabama targets 11 key industry sectors for growth and focuses on attracting new investment and high-paying jobs associated with those sectors.

Specifically, the report singles out Alabama’s automotive industry for achieving the following milestones:

The state’s three assembly plants – Mercedes-Benz in Vance, Honda in Lincoln and Hyundai in Montgomery – combined in 2013 to produce a record 915,000 vehicles.
Mercedes in recent months launched mass production of its C-Class sedan in Vance.
Toyota moved forward with a $150 million expansion of its engine plant in Huntsville.
The state’s auto-supplier sector added some 2,300 new jobs in the year ended June 30.
“They’ve done a nice job in Alabama for Mercedes,” Sean McAlinden, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told Area Development.

Meanwhile, the growth of Alabama’s aerospace sector has not gone unnoticed by economic developers and recruiters with Area Development crediting the state as both “the traditional home of Saturn rocket manufacture during moon-shot days” and the future home of Airbus’ first A320 final assembly line on U.S. soil.

Specifically, the publication singled out Decatur’s United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin formed because the American satellite launching market wasn’t big enough to support both companies. It builds its launch vehicles – the Atlas and Delta families — at a facility employing 1,800 on the Tennessee River.

And although Airbus’ $600 million aircraft assembly plant, still under construction at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, won’t come online until summer 2015, Area Development said the project will serve to bolster an already strong engineering presence in the state.

“It will also prompt development of a supplier infrastructure, joining Boeing’s operations in the state to make Alabama one of America’s air-transportation manufacturing leaders,” the report states.

The 2014 survey results mark the fifth consecutive year Alabama has scored among Area Development’s top five states for doing business.

To read the article online, go to:

Mercedes to bring 26,000 employees to Birmingham, spend $30 million

Over the next four years, a steady stream of Mercedes-Benz employees from around the world will visit Birmingham to participate in Mercedes new “Brand Immersion Experience.”

The two-day three-night experience will take employees to the Tuscaloosa County plant where they will visit the Mercedes museum, tourist center and manufacturing space. The employees will have an opportunity to drive the cars and see “where the cars are born,” said Gareth Joyce, vice president of customer service for Mercedes Benz USA at a plant tour on Friday.
Mercedes-Benz 2015 C-Class test drive and plant tour

VANCE, Alabama — Mercedes-Benz C-Class by by MBUSI in Vance Alabama. Media from around the world were invited to the Vance assembly plant for a test drive, tour of the assembly line and panel discussion with Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. (Joe Songer/

Approximately 26,000 Mercedes employees will fly into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for the experience and will be bussed to the plant daily. The employees will be staying in Birmingham hotels and dining in Birmingham restaurants as part of the program, Joyce explained.

“We are excited to work with Mercedes to host these employees over the next few years,” said Birmingham Mayor William Bell. “Our efforts to attract visitors and tourists from around the world to give them an opportunity to learn about Birmingham’s historic legacy and spend time and money in the city is starting to pay off. We look forward to this being the first of many large groups and conventions to frequent the city.”

The program, which will start pilot testing at the end of September, is estimated to cost approximately $30 million over the course of the next four years. The program will begin in earnest before the end of 2014. Two groups of employees will come through the program each week, and approximately 70 groups will go through the program each year.

“The only time we’ll pause is during the big football matches,” Joyce said.

The Brand Immersion Program was announced on Friday along with expansion plans for the facility. Mercedes-Benz will have the capacity to manufacture 300,000 cars per year at its Tuscaloosa County plant by 2015, up from a record 185,000 in 2013. In July, Mercedes announced the manufacture of its 2 millionth vehicle.

Mercedes also announced that an SUV similar to the Concept Coupe SUV announced in April will be manufactured at the Tuscaloosa plant starting in 2015 and will be called the “ML Coupe.” The car will be the fifth model built at the Tuscaloosa plant, along with the new C-Class Coupe, the M-Class, the GL-Class SUV and the R-Class crossover.

Although right now the Brand Immersion Experience is only budgeted for the next few years, Joyce said the program could be extended indefinitely if all goes well.

“I see the potential to make this an evergreen program,” Joyce said. “With the rate at which the brand is growing, I can see continuing to use this as a development platform into the future.”

Joyce said that Mercedes is always looking for creative ways to give both employees and customers a more complete experience.

“We are always in pursuit of the complete package,” he said, adding that an immersion at the Tuscaloosa facility would enable employees to get a better feel for the Mercedes brand, thus enabling them to serve Mercedes customers better in future.

Employees who attend the Brand Immersion Experience will be on a “journey” through Mercedes history (via the museum) and future (via the plant), Joyce explained.

“They’re going to learn about performance, safety, heritage, and what we’re doing in Alabama. It’s exciting,” he said. See

NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules

NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules for its top three national touring series Tuesday – the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck – and Talladega Superspeedway’s slate will resemble 2014. The tradition of the first weekend in May will continue May, 1-3, at NASCAR’s Most Competitive ribbon of asphalt with a triple header consisting of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as the ARCA Racing Series. On October 23-25, the Biggest and Baddest race track on the planet will play host two pivotal races in title chases for both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola and GEICO 500, respectively.

It’s National Senior Citizens Day

On August 19, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5847 declaring August 21 as National Senior Citizens Day. In his Presidential Proclamation, President Reagan said:

“For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older — places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”

It’s a day where we call up our grandparents, parents, relatives, friends, old professors, or anyone who reached that AARP age, and let them know how much we care about them.

It’s also a good excuse to volunteer at a retirement home and visit someone who may not receive many visitors. Or take a trip to the local V.F.W. and listen to war stories from our military veterans.

United States Congressman Bradley Byrne hosts a Senior Citizens Roundtable today from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the James P. Nix Center in Fairhope, Alabama. Representatives from key federal and state organizations will highlight services and benefits of special interest to senior citizens. Free blood-pressure checks and an ice cream social will be provided.

If you happen to a senior citizen, take advantage of your earned perks by checking out these discounts available year-round courtesy of LifeCareFunding:
•Arby’s: 10% off
•Ben & Jerry’s: 10% off
•Burger King: 10% off
•Chick-Fil-A: 10% off or free small drink or coffee
•CiCi’s Pizza: 10% off
•Denny’s: 10% off, 20% off for AARP members
•Dunkin’ Donuts: 10% off or free donut with coffee
•Hardee’s: $0.33 beverages everyday
•IHOP: 10% off
•KFC: free small drink with any meal
•Krispy Kreme: 10% off
•McDonald’s: discounts on coffee everyday
•Shoney’s: 10% off
•Sonic: 10% off or free beverage
•Subways: 10% off
•Taco Bell : 5% off; free beverages for seniors
•Wendy’s: 10% off
•Waffle House: 10% off every Monday
Also, Treasure Island Bed and Breakfast: 10% off

Birmingham Restaurant Week and more; here’s your food beat roundup

More frozen pops, an Uptown celebration, and a sneak peek at Birmingham Restaurant Week.

If you missed any of those stories from the Birmingham food beat this past week, here’s your Sunday roundup.

— 80 Pops, a small Irondale business with big plans to grow nationwide, has dipped into the frozen pops market, with a fleet of 10 push carts and a couple of trucks now out on the streets of Birmingham.

Go here to find out more about some of those 80 flavors – from sweet corn to mango-habanero cheesecake.

— Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 doesn’t begin until Aug. 15, but on Wednesday night, guests may get a taste of what to expect at a preview party at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Go here to find out which restaurants will be there, and how you may get tickets.

— Bonefish Grill at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover has added 20 new items to its menu, from lobster grilled cheese to ahi tuna steak.

Go here to check out the new appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts.

— Birmingham’s Uptown entertainment district celebrated its official grand opening with a street festival featuring dishes from all seven of its restaurants.

Go here to read more about Eat Up: A Taste of Uptown.

More food news from this past week:

— Blackwell’s Pub in Cahaba Heights reopened Thursday after being closed since late May because of damage caused by a kitchen fire that started in the adjoining Ashley Mac’s bakery and café.

Blackwell’s, which is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, also has added a few new dishes to its menu.

The address is 3151 Green Valley Road, and hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

— Wasabi Juan’s – whose menu features sushi burritos, ceviche tacos and spicy tuna nachos – is now open for lunch and dinner in Avondale.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Wasabi Juan’s is at 4120 Third Ave. South, behind Saw’s Soul Kitchen and adjacent to the Avondale Brewing Company outdoor stage.

To read more stories by Bob Carlton, go here. For more Birmingham entertainment news, go here.

Applebee’s opening new Chelsea restaurant

After hosting invitation-only guests the past few days, the new Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurant in Chelsea is making its official debut to the general public on Monday morning.

The restaurant located off U.S Highway 280 across from Walgreens on Chesser Drive is opening for business at 11 a.m. on Monday following construction on the new eatery that has occurred over the past few months.

The Alabama Tourism Department presents Alabama Road Trip giveaway

The Alabama Tourism Department announces a six-week Road Trip Giveaway with chances to win travel packages to Gulf Shores, Mobile, Huntsville, the Shoals, Birmingham and Montgomery. The winner of the grand prize will get to plan their own customized Alabama Road Trip.

“This road trip promotion is designed to highlight the variety of travel experiences available in Alabama,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell. “There is something for everyone, from a gulf coast beach vacation, to playing on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, to fine dining in Birmingham, to trips to North Alabama for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and tours of the recording studios in Muscle Shoals.”

Prize package descriptions, complete rules and instructions on entering are available at To learn more about Alabama Road Trips, visit or download the Alabama Road Trips app, available on iTunes or the Google Play Store.

CNN features Little River Canyon in North Alabama on list of America’s natural wonders

In a country covering nearly 3.8 million square miles, there’s no shortage of natural wonders. Here are our favorite spots.

Alabama- Wild River
Rafters and kayakers will find some of the best white water in the South in the Little River Canyon National Preserve. But beware: They don’t call the most harrowing stretch “the Suicide Section” for nothing. These are expert-level rapids. To witness nature’s force from terra firma, soak in views of Little River Falls while picnicking nearby.

The Little River’s diminutive name is deceiving. It’s taken thousands of years for the river to carve out one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River. The various creeks and tributaries that make up the Little River have the unusual distinction of flowing on top of a mountain. The river meanders atop Lookout Mountain from Georgia into Alabama. At its highest point, the river is 1,900 feet above sea level. It eventually plunges off the Cumberland Plateau at the head of the canyon.

For the complete article and list of natural wonders see

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