November 2020

Entrepreneurial and small business development is vital ingredient in renewing and rebuilding rural communities. Vibrant businesses create jobs, wealth and a tax bases that are essential to the prosperity of small rural economies. 

You can now be an involved partner in this entrepreneurial movement. 

Thanks to a new partnership with Regions Foundation and an ongoing partnership with Co.Starters of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the University of West Alabama's Division of Economic and Workforce Development is launching BELIEVE. 

BELIEVE, which is an acronym for "Building Entrepreneurs Leads to Innovative, Energetic and Versatile Economies," funded by a grant from the Regions Foundation, will begin implementation in January 2021. The initiative will include small business and entrepreneurial training, virtual entrepreneurial summits, "train the trainer" programs and other support elements to enhance and expand startups, emerging businesses, and grow small businesses, all leading to the creation of entrepreneurial communities. 

The kick-off will be held Jan. 28, Feb. 2 and 4, 2021 with a three-part series in partnership with Co.Starters to train local business and community leaders. This critical step will directly contribute to preparing communities to expand entrepreneurial development opportunities at the grassroots level. Through this initial training, local leaders will be prepared, equipped, provided tested tools, and inspired to rebuild small businesses in rural areas. 

Complete details will be forthcoming including registration information. The cost of this exciting training will be covered through support of Regions and Co.Starters. 

If you need more information, you can contact the UWA Division of Economic & Workforce Development at 1.833.UWA.WORK or go to our website at .


The University of West Alabama has received a $1.7 million grant by the US Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to improve barge access at the Port of Epes Industrial Park.

"We are immensely appreciative of this grant award from the U.S. Department of Commerce that will allow UWA the opportunity to expand our economic and workforce development efforts for a 10-county rural area that we serve," said UWA President Ken Tucker. "In 2018, UWA shifted its outreach focus to economic and workforce development, and in a very short time, this division has helped secure nearly $5 million in external funding for the Port of Epes, plus nearly $5 million for other economic and workforce development initiatives in our region." 
 The EDA grant - to be allocated in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone - will be matched with $540,000 in local funds and is expected to create 85 jobs and generate $175 million in private investment.

"This project will fund improvements to transportation infrastructure at the Port of Epes Industrial Park to help a major wood pellet company increase their operational capacity, attract new businesses, and advance efforts to capitalize on the project's Opportunity Zone designation."

"The EDA is pleased to support local strategies to spur additional development at the Port of Epes Industrial Park," said Dana Gartzke, performing the delegated duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. "This project will provide Sumter County with expanded industrial transportation infrastructure to support businesses and drive development. The project's location in an Opportunity Zone will further transform the community."

The Opportunity Zones across Alabama are helping to boost the chance for economic prosperity, and this $1.7 million investment "adds to that effort," according to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey.

"It is critical that we continue to work together with organizations and agencies at every level to provide a foundation for the Black Belt by showcasing all that it has to offer to the rest of the world," said Allison T. Brantley, director of economic development at UWA. "We want to do far more than merely sustain our economy. We want to match assets, resources, and opportunities in such a way that says to industries and developers not only are we a viable option, but we are the best option."

Pellets and jar

Funded by a major grant from the U. S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Commission, the UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development has launched our new "Skills on Wheels" mobile training labs to serve the needs of rural citizens in ten Alabama Black Belt counties.

The Skills on Wheels mobile labs are self-contained, technology-driven, fully-functional training units capable of providing on site instruction in a wide variety of advanced manufacturing skills development.

In a ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 7, officials of the University of West Alabama along with the Co-Chair of the Delta Regional Commission, Mr. Chris Caldwell, unveiled two high-tech mobile training units that will directly impact workforce development in Sumter, Hale, Greene, Pickens, Marengo, Perry, Wilcox, Choctaw, Clarke and Washington counties. During the event, it was announced that the units would immediately be deployed to Choctaw and Pickens Counties.

The first deployment in Butler, Alabama is a partnership with Coastal Community College, the City of Butler and the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council. The second unit is expected to be deployed to Pickens County in the next few days in partnership with Alabama Pellets, which is UWA's first apprenticeship site.

In Butler, the mobile lab will be in place for four weeks, training students in primarily safety and basic manufacturing skills.  To date, participants have received 17 certifications that include OSHA-10 manufacturing, construction automotive and general industry. By course completion, they will also take their WorkKeys Career Readiness Exam to earn a National Career Readiness Certificate through ACT.   
   "In only three weeks, we have seen the positive outcome that partnerships create to meet the workforce training needs of our region," said Dr. Tina Naremore Jones, Vice-President for Economic & Workforce Development at UWA. 

Stuart Lee, Instructional Coordinator in Workforce Development for Coastal Community College said, "The class incorporates a combination of job-hunting methods, interviewing skills, time management, work ethic, and improved math/reading skills. The portability of the unit will allow us deliver the class to remote locations throughout the Black Belt/Southwest Alabama corridor."

The first two individuals to be awarded certificates in OSHA-10 through the Skills on Wheels mobile training labs were  Markeria Davis and Lakyn Gibson

To learn more about Skills on Wheels, go to

CNA grad, Moore starts radiology program in Mobile
Mary Alice Moore, a native of Linden, Alabama, and a recent graduate of UWA's Certified Nursing Assistant program, is now pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.
"I loved my time with the CNA program! We had lots of hands on experience with great teachers. This program has helped me be prepared for the patient care part of the radiology world."
Moore joined the UWA CNA Program to gain real-world, hands-on patient care experience in preparation to become a radiology technician. After completing the UWA CNA Program, she immediately began work as a CNA while applying to the radiology program. After she earns her degree, she plans to return home and put her newly earned skills to use serving West Alabama. 
According to Jordan Mahaffey, WIOA Program Director for the CNA Program, "Mary Alice was a highly-motivated and very responsible student. Her goal was always to transition into radiology training, and we are excited to see her begin the work to fulfill this goal. We wish her the best of luck in her career path and know that she is an excellent radiologist in the making." 
The CNA program is now in its fifth year at UWA and receives funding through the federal WIOA program managed by the Alabama Department of Commerce and its Workforce Division and Region 3 Workforce Development Council.  
For information about the program or to submit an application, contact Jordan Mahaffey, WIOA Program Director, at 205-652-5494 or


With COVID-19's continued impact, Black Belt Museum staff has used the time to broaden its "museum without walls" strategy.
Alabama's Black Belt literally stretches the width of the state, meaning of the Museum's audience may live at some distance from the university/museum, making it necessary to implement alternate means to reach this geographically dispersed community. In years past, achieving this goal has involved leading paleontology, archeology, and natural history field trips at sites across the state, staff members participating in living history activities and cultural festivals, setting up temporary exhibits at other venues, and staff delivering invited lectures across Alabama and neighboring states. But with COVID-19, the majority of these in-person activities were not possible.
An obstacle became an opportunity to achieve a goal museum staff have hoped to achieve for the past decade - funding for equipment to digitize museum collections.
This fall the Black Belt Museum partnered with the UWA's Julia Tutwiler College of Education to be one of 319 institutions in the country to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
According to Museum Director, James Lamb, "This grant, in addition to allowing us to find new ways to reach our wider audience, has also allowed us to transition to virtual programming at a time when the coronavirus has led many museums to shut down. The grant made it possible to purchase high quality 3D scanning equipment to create digital 3D models of items from the museum collections, making them accessible to anyone with an internet connection."
Objects in the Museum and Fort Tombecbe Collections are being scanned and posted on the Museum's website with additions each week.
"These scans are available to educators to use in their classrooms (either in-person or virtual) 24/7," said Public Historian and Educator, Brian Mast.  "We can also use the museum 3D printer to create physical copies of items from the collections that might be too fragile to take into classrooms, or that do not lend themselves to traditional molding and casting techniques. There is, for example, a pair of leather women's shoes that are nearly 100 years old in our collection from the Cedars, which we digitized but that would have been destroyed had a traditional mold been attempted."
To view the models, go to To date there are 56 models scanned, spanning paleontology, archeology, and history. This is but a tiny fraction of our collections, so keep checking back for additions. Future updates include adding text information about the objects.
In addition to digitization efforts, museum staff have released a dinosaur dig kit. These kits are designed to educate students in and out of the classroom about prehistoric creatures found in the Black Belt.
There are two versions of the kit. The first is designed for individuals grade 6 and below. These include a dinosaur encased in matrix with a card detailing one of three types of dinosaur found in the Black Belt. The second kit is a little more involved. Inside a larger matrix is a 3D printed dinosaur skeleton that each student must excavate. Also, inside the kit is a booklet detailing the different type of fossils, why fossils are found in Alabama and more information about the Appalachiosaurus (the skeleton found in the matrix) along with a link to a video describing how to reconstruct it. Everything is contained inside a compostable container to help prevent waste. 
Chelsea Cub Scout Pack become paleontologists with Black Belt Museum Dino Dig Kits.

According to Mast, "The kits have been a great success so far with almost 400 being distributed to classrooms all over Alabama and even into south central Tennessee."
Support for this program is provided by the Tombigbee RC&D Council.  More information about the kits can be found at the Museum's website, under the programs tab and complete the information form.
The next addition to the website will be videos of recent metal cast pours that create 3-dimensional casts of Fire Ant ( Solenopsis invicta) nests. The videos allow staff to discuss process and work with teachers on lessons around the pours. Once in-person travel returns, museum staff can take a new portable forge to on the road to do demonstration pours.

Black Belt Museum melt aluminum to create Fire Ant Nest cast to demonstrate what lies just beneath our feet in Alabama's Black Belt.

To stay tuned to the happenings at the Black Belt Museum, like their Facebook page.


Project Bluejay Students 

LIVINGSTON, Ala. - University students have launched a project to aid high school students in West Alabama. Dubbed Project Bluejay, the program has two primary goals: (1) to help high school students explore career opportunities through virtual workshops and (2) to conduct research for rural education leaders across Alabama. 
"I graduated four years ago from a rural Alabama high school, and there simply aren't enough resources out there for students to know what to do after graduation," said Nic Noland, project lead and senior at The University of West Alabama. "It's a problem I felt equipped to approach, so I figured why not try and solve it?" 
According to U.S. Census Data, many rural schools in Alabama lack the resources necessary to educate students about their career options. Studies from the University of Michigan have shown that innovators often focus their efforts on urban areas with larger populations, exacerbating the need in rural areas and leaving them underserved.
The project began in August to address a gap between rural education and economic success. The project will last until the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, leaving room for compiled data to be given to interested innovators afterward. The team will begin conducting virtual workshops in 2021, aimed at helping students at schools in West Alabama explore career options and gain practical advice about pursuing these careers. Options will include opportunities such as technical education, four-year universities, and apprenticeships.
Surrounding areas comprise a considerable portion of underserved rural schools on the team's radar. For places such as Sumter County, Project Bluejay could have an enormous impact, helping innovators develop a deeper understanding of students' needs. 
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of the project even more, making access to resources more difficult. In response, the team will use digital platforms such as Klaxoon to their advantage in reaching students, allowing them to be more flexible in their approach.
"[We] should capitalize upon the opportunity to operate during a time where advances in virtual learning are needed and are becoming increasingly legitimized," noted Dr. Tina Jones, faculty advisor, and vice president of UWA's Division of Economic and Workforce Development. 
Age also sets this team apart. Each core member is a college student, not far removed from high school. They hope this will help high students feel more comfortable with discussing their futures. 
"We're truly excited to work with our partners to make a difference in the communities we all care so much about," said Noland. 
For more information, contact Nic Noland at or view Project Bluejay's LinkedIn profile:
Project Bluejay is a one-year nonprofit project aimed at educating high schoolers in rural Alabama about career opportunities. Through virtual workshops, Project Bluejay provides speedy, scalable, and adaptable training for career readiness during pivotal times for students and conducts research for rural education leaders. Supporters of the initiative include The University of West Alabama, Klaxoon, and Design for America - Alabama.

Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge Sign

Congratulations, Sumter County Bicentennial Audio Tour partners -- City of York, City of Livingston, Town of Gainesville,  Sumter County Commission & the University of West Alabama. The Sumter County Bicentennial Audio Tour was selected by the Alabama Bicentennial Committee as an Alabama Bicentennial Project.
According to local leaders the project would not have been possible without the combining of grant funds for recording, signage and installation. A commemorative plaque will be placed in downtown Livingston by the Black Belt Museum in recognition of the project.   


Click here to download the Certified Nursing Assistant Flyer

Sumter County is a certified Work Ready Community with 100% of county goals completed. A complete report description is available at the link below. 

Click here to view the report.

During COVID-19 our regularly scheduled ACT Workkeys testing has been suspended. However, we are still available to assist individuals in preparing for testing and to schedule test post COVID-19 restrictions. For information, call (205)652-3828 or email


In-person visits have resumed at the Livingston office of the Alabama Career Center on the University of West Alabama campus. Masks are required for entry.  Individuals must also have temperature check before entering Land Hall.


UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development
(205) 652-3828