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How a Black journalist from Alabama and a White journalist from Maine are helping unite their communities

Tuskegee, Alabama — Alabama's Tuskegee News has never had a journalist like Amy Miller. She lives more than 1,000 miles from Tuskegee, and from fellow journalist Guy Trammell — with whom she shares a twice-monthly column called "Color Us Connected."

"I had this idea … about doing a column from a White perspective and trying to match it with somebody doing it from a Black perspective," Miller said.

Their column also runs in the newspaper covering Miller's community in South Berwick, Maine.

The idea came to her after her mostly White New England town became sister cities with the predominately Black Southern city where Trammell lives. Tuskegee welcomed South Berwick residents to visit as part of the exchange and the hospitality was returned in Maine, with dinners of coastal delicacies and town tours.

"This is one opportunity to actually bring people together. Instead of a divided States, we're really the United States," Trammell said.

They don't write about politics. Instead, they share a slice of life from their unique perspectives as a Black man in the South and a White woman in the North.

"Now we feel like we're walking together toward the progress we want to make in this country," Miller said.

"Once you move from communication to relationships, something real can take place and that's what's happening here," Trammell added.

View on CBS News

Special COVID-19 Funding

USDA is making available up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses meet their working capital needs during the coronavirus pandemic. Business & Industry CARES Act Program

One RD Guarantee

Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, this program will be streamlined under the OneRD Guarantee Loan Initiative. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/onerdguarantee

What does this program do?

This program offers loan guarantees to rural businesses.

What lenders may apply for this program?

Lenders need the legal authority, financial strength and sufficient experience to operate a successful lending program. This includes:

  • Federal or state-chartered banks.
  • Savings and loans.
  • Farm credit banks.
  • Credit unions.

Who may qualify for these guaranteed loans?

  • For-profit businesses.
  • Nonprofits.
  • Cooperatives.
  • Federally-recognized Tribes.
  • Public bodies.

What are the borrowing restrictions?

  • Individual borrowers must be citizens of the United States or reside in the U.S. after being legally admitted for permanent residence.
  • Private-entity borrowers must demonstrate that loan funds will remain in the U.S. and the facility being financed will primarily create new or save existing jobs for rural U.S. residents.

What is considered an eligible area?

  • Rural areas outside of a city or town with a population of fewer than 50,000 people.
  • The borrower’s headquarters may be based within a larger city as long as the project is located in an eligible rural area.
  • The lender may be located anywhere in the United States.
  • Projects may be funded in rural and urban areas under the Local and Regional Food System Initiative. Check eligible addresses for Business Programs.

How may guaranteed loan funds be used?

Eligible uses include (but are not limited to):
  • Business conversion, enlargement, repair, modernization or development.
  • The purchase and development of land, easements, rights-of-way, buildings or facilities.
  • The purchase of equipment, leasehold improvements, machinery, supplies or inventory.
  • Debt refinancing when refinancing improves cash flow and creates jobs.
  • Business and industrial acquisitions when the loan will maintain business operations and create or save jobs.

What guaranteed loan funds may NOT be used for?

  • Lines of credit.
  • Owner-occupied and rental housing.
  • Golf courses.
  • Racetracks or gambling facilities.
  • Churches, church-controlled organizations or charitable organizations.
  • Fraternal organizations.
  • Lending, investment and insurance companies.
  • Projects involving more than $1 million and the relocation of 50 or more jobs.
  • Agricultural production, with certain exceptions (1).
  • Distribution or payment to a beneficiary of the borrower or an individual or entity that will retain an ownership interest in the borrower.

What Collateral Is Required?

Collateral must have documented value sufficient to protect the interest of the lender and the Agency. The discounted collateral value must be at least equal to the loan amount. Lenders will discount collateral consistent with sound loan-to-value policy. Hazard insurance is required on collateral (equal to the loan amount or depreciated replacement value, whichever is less).

  • Maximum Discounted Value
  • Real Estate: 80 percent of fair market value.
  • Equipment: 70 percent of fair market value.
  • Inventory: 60 percent of book value (raw inventory and finished goods only).
  • Accounts Receivable: 60 percent of book value (less than 90 days).

What is the maximum amount of a loan guarantee?

  • 80 percent for loans up to $5 million.
  • 70 percent for loans between $5 and $10 million.
  • 60 percent for loans exceeding $10 million, up to $25 million maximum.

What are the loan terms?

  • Maximum term on real estate is 30 years.
  • Maximum term on machinery and equipment is for its useful life or 15 years, whichever is less.
  • Maximum term on working capital is not to exceed 7 years. Loans must be fully amortized; balloon payments are not permitted.
  • Interest-only payments may be scheduled in the first 3 years.

What are the interest rates?

  • Interest rates are negotiated between the lender and borrower, subject to Agency review.
  • Rates may be fixed or variable.
  • Variable interest rates may not be adjusted more often than quarterly.

What are the applicable fees?

  • There is an initial guarantee fee, currently 3 percent of the guaranteed amount.
  • There is an annual renewal fee, currently 0.5 percent of outstanding principal (2).
  • Reasonable and customary fees are negotiated between the borrower and lender.

What are the underwriting and security requirements?

  • The proposed operation must have a realistic repayment ability.
  • New enterprises may be asked to obtain a feasibility study by a recognized independent consultant.
  • The business and its owners must have a good credit history.
  • At loan closing or project completion, the business must have a tangible balance sheet equity position of:
    • 10 percent or more for existing businesses, or
    • 20 percent or more for new businesses.
  • Key person life insurance may be required and the amount negotiated. A decreasing term life insurance is acceptable.
  • Personal and corporate guarantees are normally required from all proprietors, partners (except limited partners) and major shareholders (all those with a 20 percent or greater interest).

How do we get started?

  • Applications are accepted from lenders through USDA local offices year-round.
  • Interested borrowers should inquire about the program with their lender.
  • Lenders interested in participating in this program should contact the USDA Rural Development Business Programs Director in the state where the project is located.

Who can answer my questions?

Contact the local office that serves your area.

What law governs this program?

  • Loan Processing – Code of Federal Regulations, 7 CFR 4279-A and B.
  • Loan Servicing – Code of Federal Regulations, 7 CFR 4287-B.
  • This program is authorized by the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act.

Why does USDA Rural Development do this?

This program improves the economic health of rural communities by increasing access to business capital through loan guarantees. This enables commercial lenders to provide affordable financing for rural businesses.

NOTE: Because information on this page may change, please always consult the program instructions listed in the section above titled “What law governs this program?” You may also contact your local office for assistance.

(1) Production agriculture is eligible only if the project is vertically integrated, ineligible for USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm loan guarantees and agricultural production as part of the loan is both secondary (less than 50 percent of the business) and less than $1 million. Nursery, forestry and aquaculture operations are eligible without these restrictions.

(2) The annual renewal fee is currently one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the outstanding principal loan balance as of December 31st. The renewal fee rate is set annually by Rural Development in a notice published in the Federal Register. The rate in effect at the time the loan is made will remain in effect for the life of the loan. Annual renewal fees are due on January 31. Payments not received by April 1 are considered delinquent and, at the Agency’s discretion, may result in cancellation of the guarantee to the lender.

Holders’ rights will continue in effect as specified in the loan note guarantee and assignment guarantee agreement. Any delinquent annual renewal fees will bear interest at the note rate and will be deducted from any loss payment due the lender. For loans where the loan note guarantee is issued between October 1 and December 31, the first annual renewal fee payment will be due January 31 of the second year following the date the loan note guarantee was issued.

Macon County organic farmer cultivates ambitions with ag startup

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – A startup, minority-owned organic farm in Macon County is expanding its crops and customer base, fueled by an ambitious vision to carry on the region’s rich history of agricultural innovation.

Lifetime Natural Organic Farm, which includes about 25 acres of raised-bed bio-intensive organic vegetables, this year invested an additional $500,000 to increase plantings and seek new business.

The move, which brought the farm’s total capital investment to $1 million, is paying off in a big way. Lifetime, already a supplier to Whole Foods stores in Alabama, recently began selling to the grocery chain’s Braselton, Georgia, distribution center that serves 400 locations.

The farm also is now selling to Albert’s Organics, one of the largest organic produce wholesale distributors in the U.S. It also supplies Publix stores and has begun supplying Alabama schools, with orders for nearly 30,000 heads of organic lettuce for Elmore County Schools’ summer feeding program over the next two weeks.

Lifetime is believed to be the largest USDA-certified organic farm in Alabama, and owner Nelson Wells wants to grow it even more, to the largest in the Southeast.

At the same time, he wants to deepen its roots in Tuskegee and Macon County. Wells was drawn to the area after one of his advisors invited him to Tuskegee University to watch a video about the institution’s history, its founder Booker T. Washington and the work of George Washington Carver.

Learning more about the famous African American scientist and inventor Carver – who developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and transformed U.S. farming practices during his tenure at Tuskegee – struck a chord with Wells and his own biracial heritage.

“That changed my heart,” he said. “It made me want to be a part of the rich history of Macon County and Tuskegee, Alabama. I’m half black and half white, and I saw how important it was to continue the legacy of what George Washington Carver was to the world. He was at the forefront of modern agriculture.”

Growing Relationships

Wells isn’t your typical Alabama farmer. The 6-foot-6-inch California native is a vegetarian and former surfer who played football for the University of Southern California before he moved to Alabama to be closer to his family.

Promoting healthy living through clean eating has been a lifelong passion for Wells. He and his family have been involved in running another organic farm in Verbena, and he and his partners courted Tuskegee for several years with their plans for a commercial organic farm.

Carver’s imprint on the region was a big draw, as was the opportunity to collaborate with agricultural researchers at Tuskegee University. Wells has begun building relationships with professors and students.

Lifetime started last year as a joint venture with the Macon County Economic Development Authority. The MCEDA provided the land, a former hayfield purchased and owned by MCEDA as a potential industrial site, as a “proof of concept” farm.

That growing season went well, and this year, Lifetime expanded its farming area from 10 to 25 acres and tweaked its crop mix to match the demand of its existing and targeted customers. Products include all types of bell peppers, sweet peppers, watermelon, tomatoes and leafy greens.

Gaining Access

Across Alabama, there are 20 to 25 certified organic farms and possibly another 100 or so that follow organic practices but are not certified organic, said Don Wambles, director of Agriculture Promotion for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

To his knowledge, Lifetime is the largest USDA-certified organic farm in the state, he said.

Wambles and his office assisted Lifetime with gaining access to markets and also provided direction on applicable USDA programs.

The state offers many advantages for all types of farmers, he said.

“Alabama has a great climate and abundant water resources to allow agriculture to be bountiful. We are a very diverse state, which allows producers to choose whether they want to grow organically or conventionally. We have an abundance of customers for either production system the farmer chooses and we support all farmers.

“With Lifetime’s commitment to grow even larger, they will be able to meet the demand for locally grown organic produce while creating jobs and assisting the economic health of their community and surrounding communities,” he said.

New Growth Sector

An organic farm isn’t a typical economic development project, but it’s one that is well-suited for rural areas, said Joe Turnham, director of the MCEDA.

“As economic developers, we’re all so programmed to go out and get industrial sites, and we should, but very rarely do we think about going out and getting a tract for an ag startup,” he said.

Lifetime has provided new jobs for 20 to 30 people in the community, and it represents new business for utilities and other local services, Turnham said.

Another notable benefit is that the type of products and processes involved in organic farming are not common in the South, so Lifetime is helping to forge a new growth sector.

“Our strategic plan has always called for an agricultural component of economic development in Macon County,” Turnham said. “We’re the home of George Washington Carver, and we really wanted to have a purposeful, high-value project for that agricultural vision. This fits perfectly.”

In addition to the farm’s land, MCEDA has provided in-kind services and also helped the farm’s operators make valuable connections, such as those with state agriculture officials and others at Tuskegee University.

“Last year, they hit every milestone and had beautiful crops. It wasn’t quite what buyers wanted, but they proved they could do it. This year, they are growing to meet the demand profiles of Whole Foods and Publix,” he said.

Turnham said he is excited about the farm’s growth potential.

“We have a gentleman’s agreement that once they’re really profitable, maybe there will be a small rent or royalty that comes back to MCEDA that we can put toward helping the next company.”

Building on a Legacy

Along with expanding its existing customer base, Lifetime aims to do more in promoting organic farming from its home base in Macon County.

The farm is participating in Sweet Grown Alabama, a new marketing effort by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to promote farmers and products across the state.

“Our goal is to have a vegetarian restaurant here in Tuskegee, and we would also like to do farming and cooking demos here,” Wells said. “We want to increase the understanding of the importance of healthy eating and its effects on the body and mind.”

Beyond that, Wells wants to continue growing ties with Tuskegee University and collaborate on research involving organic farming.

“My dream is to continue the legacy of George Washington Carver and Tuskegee University that was the forefront of modern agriculture at one time,” he said.

“This could change the world in organics.”

Click here to read the original article on madeinalabama.com.

PPP Update - Over $100 Billion Still Available!

There is still a large amount of money in the Paycheck Protection Program fund. If you need assistance, contact your lending institutions to make applications for these funds. Recipients will have until December 30th to expend the funds.

The President signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act which made the following changes:

  • Increased the loan forgiveness period from 8 weeks to 24 weeks
  • Decreased the 75/25 rule (payroll/other expenses) to 60/40
  • Provided safe harbor provisions for attempts by employers to re-employ
  • Increases maturity on payback from 2 to 5 years
  • Affirms that the last day to apply for a PPP loan is June 30, 2020.

Since its inception, over 5,400 participating lenders in America have made over 4.5 million PPP loans totaling $511.3 Billion. Overall, the average loan size is $113K.

In Alabama, our lenders have made 61,576 PPP loans totaling more than $6.1 Billion. The PPP fund still has a bit more than $100 Billion remaining.

Auburn engineers repurpose CPAP machines into emergency ventilators

By Dawn Azok | April 02, 2020

Auburn University engineers have developed a way to convert CPAP machines into emergency ventilators, a valuable tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The design, called RE-INVENT, is one of several efforts at Auburn to aid healthcare workers in Alabama and beyond. Faculty and staff also have produced hand sanitizer and 3D-printed protective face shields to boost a critical shortage of medical supplies.

RE-INVENT is an accessory that would create a functional ventilator from a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine. Such machines are used to help people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily while they sleep.

Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty members in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, initiated the project. They received help from other faculty members, alumni and medical professionals.

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” Zabala said. “We wanted to know if we could design a solution to solve the ventilator shortage problem.”

Making An Impact

RE-INVENT is efficient and economical, two key considerations for the development team.

The device can be assembled in four hours using about $700 worth of parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine, compared to the typical hospital ventilator price tag of $25,000 or more.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided guidance to health care providers that may allow them to use RE-INVENT to help increase the availability of ventilators and other respiratory devices during the pandemic.

The Auburn team is continuing to work on the project and exploring options to share the design with healthcare providers and manufacturers. More info is available here.

“These are difficult times,” Burch said. “Everybody who understands the gravity of the situation wants to do something to help, so it feels good to think you’ve helped with something that may have an impact.”

Auburn engineering faculty and staff also have donated personal protective equipment and supplies to East Alabama Medical Center, including 10 gallons of hand sanitizer mixed in a campus lab and 400 3D-printed protective face shields.

A group of volunteers from engineering, the College of Agriculture and the College of Architecture, Design and Construction has been producing the face shields using a network of on-campus 3D printers.

They plan to keep running the printers around the clock, with the ability to produce about 150 face shields per day.

Click here to read the original article on madeinalabama.com.

Contact us

Joe Turnham
608 Dibble Street, Suite 7
Tuskegee, AL 36083