Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's our last full day in Camden, and what better way to spend it than visiting and working at Black Belt Treasures. We began our experience at Black Belt Treasures with Ms. Sulynn, the Director, who gave us a brief tour of the shop while educating us on the artwork. After the tour, we headed to the building in the back where we were briefed on what she was looking for from us. After we were briefed, half of the group stayed to brainstorm on ideas on how to use the space to meet organizational goals while the rest of the group headed to the Chamber to finish up our final report.

At the Chamber, the rest of the group worked on finishing the final report which included economic development suggestions for the county as well as feedback from the high school students.

Later in the afternoon, we, the team at Black Belt Treasures, presented and discussed the various options with Ms. Sulynn. She was very pleased and said that we had come up with several ideas that she had not thought of.

We are looking forward to going back to Birmingham, presenting our final paper, and keeping in touch with all the high school students.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today we met again at the Chamber of Commerce. Today's goal has been to complete our final report. Needless to say, it has been a day spent in front of our computers. While that may sound depressing, the scene today was one of deep discussion, layered with jokes, teasing, and paper wad fights.

A few hours later, we had a meeting about finalizing our report for the final presentation. We plan on working very hard until Friday in order to have everything prepared before leaving for Birmingham.

The evening hours were spent in leisure, work, and of course a hearty dinner at Hunter's Run.

Lunch With Kahlil

After working all morning at the Chamber of Commerce, we headed  to midtown, Camden and ate at a familiar establishment called Larry’s Drive-In. It was one of those retro-styled restaurants where you drive in and sit down at the tables outside under an awning. It took a while for me to get my order though, but it was worth it in the end. I ordered a Double Cheeseburger combo with crinkle-cut, or French fries. The burger was pretty big considering the patties weren’t your usual thin and flat cuts of meat. The sandwich was so packed, I couldn’t hold it together. Lost a good bit of condiment and lettuce out of it. Of course, a packed sandwich gives you more for what you paid for anyway, so I’m not complaining there. Alas, I digress, for now I must give a brief history about the establishment. It is owned by Larry Gaston, who started the restaurant because at the time there was not a burger stand in Camden, Alabama. It was started in 1994. The food’s fairly decent. You just had better have a good chunk of cash when you decide to eat there. For more information about the eatery, you can go to their Facebook page here:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 9- July 24th

We have worked hard for days in effort to perfect our presentation. Today, we were happy to be joined by the UAB School of Business department head as well as a few other guests. Our presentation went well and we were very excited to share our results and findings with members of the Black Belt community as well as those on our UAB School of Business team.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 8-July 23rd

Today was a very busy day for the students, interns, and professors. We worked hard on finalizing our project and went through a few dry runs. Late morning leaders from the UAB Media Team cam to visit us in order to learn about our project and conduct interviews. Our final presentation will be tomorrow.

                                  Lunch with Kahlil

After a late morning of hard work, we had lunch at 12:30 P.M. Apparently, the food at Joe's BBQ was so delightfully tasty, we went there to eat again. I basically ordered the same meal as last time. Unfortunately there were no French Fries. Not to worry though, for there were the sweet potato fries to devour. I had never had sweet potato fries before, so I didn't know what to expect. Nevertheless, the sweet potato fries tasted exactly like french fries, only the potato innards were softer and sweeter. I'll definitely be eating some more of those soon, I hope. Such a delectable cannot be ignored. Again, for more information on Joe's BBQ, you can check out their Facebook page here:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 7- July 22nd

Sunday in Camden, Alabama. The morning greeted us with sunshine and promises of rejuvenation. While half the Camden Gang slept in, the other half headed out to join the community at the local churches. While Camden may  be tiny when compared to Birmingham, it comes second to none in the diversity of churches and abundance of service times. Some went to the Cottage Church of Christ while the others went to Christian Way Baptist as a guest of Mr. Mathews. Mr. Mathews is a local community hero who has been an invaluable asset to our team both this year and last year.

After experiencing the love of the Fellowship in Camden we headed to Dallas Soul Food where we were once again amazed at how good southern food can be. One member could not believe how good a the yams were and even went as far as to say that they were the best he ever had.

 The rest of the day we spent relaxing at the lake, playing basketball and preparing for the week ahead.

Day 6-July21st

The weekend has landed! We had a traditional southern brunch at Jackson's Fried Chicken, where the biscuits are at least 6 inches in diameter. Today, we have been able to get a little  R&R as we continued to pull together everything that we have worked on so far.

During the evening hours, some of us went for a run in the countryside, while others went fishing with some of the local high school students who are involved in our project.

For dinner, we ate at The East Pearl; a Chinese restaurant. Though the rain was pouring outside, we still managed to enjoy our delicious meals.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 5-July 20th

We got up early today to head to Tuskegee University. It was amazing to see such an important part of history. We were met by Dr. Desmond G. Mortley who has farming experience with the Moso Bamboo. It was very interesting to see the various plants and learn of the different qualities of the plants and experiments being conducted at Tuskeegee. Perharps the biggest benefit was that Dr. Mortley was  able to confirm some assumptions and answer all the questions we had about the Moso Bamboo.

 Dr. Desmond G. Mortley 
The Moso bamboo was at an early stage in life, waiting to mature and be transplanted into a field. It was interesting to see the process used to maintain the bamboo.

 Dr. Desmond G. Mortley  explaining the root system of sweet potato plants

For lunch, we ate at Golden Corral in Montgomery. The food was amazing, however, many of us had eyes bigger than our stomachs.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 4- July 19th

Today the primary focus has been on compiling the information and ideas that we have found so far. After our morning pow-wow we headed to the Chamber and split up in our various groups to work.


The fulfillment group visited Mr. Glenn Robinson, President of Polymer Concrete, Inc. (PCI), who is located here in Camden. He explained the rubber polymer product that he and his team have developed for railroad ties.  After discussing with him the pros and cons of the currently available products for railroad ties, we quickly concluded that a combination of bamboo and his rubber polymer has the potential to be better than all currently available solutions. The bamboo would add strength and durability while the rubber polymer would add its absorbency of friction made by the incredibly fast speed and weight of the trains to make an optimal solution. We learned that the rubber used in the rubber polymer is recycled from old tires that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill; therefore, helping the environment. We believe this would be a great endeavor for someone interested in growing and producing bamboo products.


We went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We spoke with John Lewis, a NCRS technician. He discussed with us, in detail, what he does on a daily basis at USDA. He talked about the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) which works with area farmers to restore unused farmland back to wetlands. Another useful piece of information that he gave us was which shows soil information for just about any piece of land in the country.


                                                       Lunch With  Kahlil

Today we had lunch at a local restaurant aptly named “Joe's BBQ.”  We all had rather engaging conversations as we consumed a healthy amount of flavory flesh and vegetables. After stuffing our small-capacity stomachs, we decided to interview one of the workers. The owner, Joseph Connell, was absent to answer our queries, so we interviewed a worker, Kristen. According to her answers, Joe's BBQ was originally a self-service fuel station that sold fuel in Unleaded, Premium, Super, and Diesel variations. Once it was closed down, the building was redesigned into a barbecue restaurant that also did catering for anyone who wanted barbecue at a gathering. The site itself is unique, as you have the option of sitting inside or enjoying the fresh air outside with friends and family. The food prices are reasonable for such a delectable product. It's well worth the price. Don't take our word for it,  you can go and have a bite to eat. For more information about Joe's BBQ, you can go to their Facebook page here: 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 3- July 18th

After another hearty breakfast we headed to the Chamber of Commerce where we met the high school students and Mr. Holliman,who is the director of the Black Belt Research and Extension Center. He took us to a location where as many as fifty species of bamboo have been planted for the sake of research. Above the interesting facts that we learned about the various bamboo, a key take away that related directly to our project was how easily the bamboo has been kept from spreading. While the bamboo has been growing in the designated areas since the 1960’s, it has been kept at bay by simply cutting the new growth  2-3 times a year with equipment similar to that of a lawn mower; only on a much larger scale. 

Afterwards we headed back to the Chamber where we were joined by Jim Bonner, a data expert and mathematician.He informed us of the importance of being able to accurately identify  how profitable or not bamboo growing and exporting could be for the Bamboo Company and Wilcox County.

Around 12 PM, the research group, left for lunch at a local eatery in downtown Camden, Alabama. The dinner was called K-John's Catering. According to Kahlil Marshall, a student of Wilcox Central, the dinner has an admirable assortment of meals.The owner, Kerri Helmers, recommended the COB. Kahlil claims that the meal was quite delicious. If you wish to know more about K-Johns, go to their Facebook page here:

 K-John's Catering
After visiting the bamboo field with Jimmy Holiman of AU National Resources Education Center, the Factory Team met with Mrs. Joyce Walls of the Wilcox County Reappraisal Office. Mrs. Joyce was very resourceful. She provided us with a map of Wilcox County which will allow us to "pin" commercial lots and industrial sites throughout Wilcox County; shared information about the zoning process for each city within the county; encouraged us to visit their website at; suggested that we visit Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission office to obtain information on available property throughout Alabama's BlackBelt region; and thanked us for what we are going in Wilcox County.

From the county courthouse, we went to the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission office and talked with Commissioner Max Curl. Commisioner Curl allowed us to see the poster outline of Golden Dragon, the new copper tubing plant that will be opening soon. As a community leader, Commissioner Curl shared two benefits of Wilcox County: natural resources and residential living along the river. He also shared plans of new workforce development centers for this area which will prepare residents in this county for opportunities such as the bamboo manufacturing facility. One of the downfalls that Commissioner Curl, like others, see is transportation. He stated that if there could be funding placed back into the "dredging" of the river, it will be a cost effective way to transport the goods. Commissioner Curl also shared information about the tax abatement incentive and allowed us to speak with Brandon Wilkerson, who is the Grant Writer for AL-TOM Reg. Commission. Brandon provided us with a copy of the Wilcox County Comprehensive plan. What was most interesting about our meeting with Commissioner Curl is the learning of the partnerships that is being created. As we are learning of this project,teamwork is the key to our success. It is great seeing that the local municipalities are working together for the good of the Alabama Black Belt region.

Learning about fifty species of bamboo
From the AL-Tom Reg.Commission, we went to the Camden City Hall where we met with the Zoning Manager, Randolph Wilkerson. Mr.Wilkerson has a lot of experience under his belt and shared with us, using a city map, a number of locations that is suitable for a facility. During our conversation, he confirmed Mrs. Walls comment on the flexibility of the city when it comes to zoning. While sharing other helpful information, he encouraged us to look at neighboring cities such as Catherine, Pine Hill, Linden, and Sardis. One of the "red flags" that Mr.Wilkerson sees with the available property in Camden is the cutting down of the timber which will increase the initial budget if not included in the initial one.  Like everyone else, Mr. Wilkerson offered himself as a future resource to us.

Before we left the the City Hall we were given the opportunity and the honor of speaking with the Mayor of Camden, Max Baggett, Jr. The Mayor was very supportive of the project and pleased that we had returned to Camden and Wilcox County

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 2- July 17th

This morning we had our first breakfast in Camden at the local Subway shop. We were delighted to see our favorite sandwich artist. We then proceeded to the Chamber of Commerce where we met up with our team members from the local high schools. First was a long anticipated video conference call with the executives from the bamboo company we are working with. Leading up to our trip to Camden we had researched a lot of information and many questions arose that only members from the Company could answer. Discussing the company and the project with the executives gave us a much better understanding of the process in which the company will produce and manufacture bamboo, we were very impressed  with the level of commitment that the Company has for the well-being of the community in which it will conduct its operations.

Later in the evening, we  were once again invited to have dinner with Lathrop and Garland Smith at their historic, Antebellum home. Dinner consisted of Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce as the main course and ice cream as dessert. We had a long and interesting conversation about potential bamboo planting in Camden.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer 2012-Day 1

The team arrived in Camden around 11:00 AM.
We were greeted by the high school students; a few from the year before and a few new students.
After a brief meeting at the Chamber, we went to have lunch at Ms. Kitty’s Restaurant.
The location has changed and the new venue was welcoming and even more beautiful than the year before.
Ms. Kitty's 

Inside the New Venue
Later in the evening Mr. John Lewis, a local of Wilcox County, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service came by to answer a few questions we had. With his expertise, he shared  his knowledge as it pertained to our project. Mr. Lewis gave us insight into some of the dynamics of the community and helped us to see the various viewpoints of different stakeholders in the area.After lunch, we went back to the motel to discuss our plans for the next day.

The primary focus of this project is to provide meaningful, hands-on, service and learning experiences for our UAB students and
 engage members of Camden and the Wilcox County community in discussions that could help to improve economic development in Wilcox County community by providing training to high school students and by assisting businesses with some planning expertise. 

UAB School of Business participants will include 2 instructors plus 8 students. Local Camden participants will include 8 high school students and 2 teachers (1 teacher and 4 students from each of the 2 high schools in Camden).

Areas of Focus

1. Farming
Cultivation and the general scope of the agriculture scenario in Wilcox County. Determining feasibility of growing bamboo in Wilcox County.

2. Factory
Moving fiber to factory, manufacturing infrastructure required and the costs of labor.
Some considerations: Identification of sites in Wilcox County suitable for building a multi-functional bamboo manufacturing and educational facility.

3. Fulfillment
Logistics and marketing.
Some Considerations: Reveal what ways the product(s) would be attractive to the consumer audiences, and what is the competition? How would you address the small (local), medium (regional), and large (southeastern and national) markets? Help frame the value proposition.

4. Internal Coordination, Public Relations and Social Media
Responsible for creating the final deliverable by combining the research efforts of the other groups into one written report and PowerPoint presentation, engaging in public relations and communication efforts with members of the Wilcox County community, utilizing Facebook and a blog to document our contributions by posting daily photos and written updates of the activities being performed on the ground, and coordinating a mid-project PowerPoint presentation to a UAB visiting group.