Layoffs for Alabama Workers, Solar Sail Set to Launch

May 19, 2015

A Walter Energy mine in Tuscaloosa County

Alabama workers are facing layoffs at the state’s Blue Bell Creameries facilities and at Walter Energy.

Blue Bell is trimming its workforce nationally due to the temporary closure over listeria concerns. Over 250 Blue Bell employees in the state will be temporarily furloughed, with another 45 losing their jobs entirely. Blue Bell recently stated that they’ll be cutting a third of their workforce nationwide.

The Walter Energy coal mine in Brookwood is also facing layoffs due to a surprisingly weak steel industry. Three facilities including the Jim Walter Resources Mine #7 will be affected.

The company says 370 employees could be laid off starting around mid-July. Nearly 40 workers were already laid off from that facility just two months ago. Company vice president Bill Stanhouse says a weak steel industry has lowered demand for coal, and that cuts will be necessary if market conditions don’t improve soon.

An Alabama-built rocket could help NASA design a new way of propulsion for spacecraft. APR’s Pat Duggins reports on the experiment that may set sail tomorrow.

An Atlas-Five rocket built at the United Launch Alliance Factory in Decatur will carry the small test satellite called LightSail. It’s as big as a loaf of bread and it carries a thin sail that’s supposed to unfurl to the size of a boxing ring. The sail is supposed to catch particles streaming from the sun like a sailboat catching a breeze.

Jason Davis is with the Planetary Society which designed LightSail. He says this is just a test run.

“Packaging up this gigantic sail to fit into such a small space and then deploying it in zero gravity—that was attempted only once, and that was by NASA. And that was using a sail that’s smaller than this.”

If it works, solar sails could be used to propel spacecraft to other planets.

Small business owners in the Muscle Shoals area can get tips on handling their taxes today.

The Alabama Department of Revenue is hosting a free tax workshop in north Alabama. The goal is to clarify all the mandatory paperwork with free business tax advice. The workshop will cover what specific forms to fill out and what deadlines to watch out for.

Agency spokeswoman Amanda Collier says these workshops can be useful for the business owners.

“We know that people want to follow the law and be in compliance with a lot of the tax laws, so we find that this is just very helpful to get information to them. And they’re free, and we have our tax professionals there that will give the information to them.”

The Department of Revenue’s free tax advice workshops will start today at 10 AM at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.

People in Montgomery will soon have a new way to travel around downtown.

The Montgomery Area Convention and Visitor Bureau is starting a bicycle rental program that's available to both tourists and residents.

Bright green bikes will be available for rental at the Montgomery Visitor Center. It's located in a part of downtown that's drawing more tourists than in the past.

Visitor Bureau Vice President Dawn Hathcock says planners are always looking for new ways to show off the city. They're making a point to begin the new program during National Bike Month.

Rental prices will start at $14 for two hours.