A Food Hall of Kitchens, Breweries and Food Trucks Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — At his State of the City Address in March, Madison Mayor Paul Finley told the audience to buckle up for some big announcements coming out of the new Town Madison development this spring. Today, the Breland Companies delivered a big one!

Rendering shows layout of Town Madison around the baseball stadium and Food Hall

The latest addition is a sprawling Food Hall of 18 kitchens curated by local and regional chefs, two breweries, and several stationary food trucks in an outdoor dining area. A central bar with indoor/outdoor seating will serve as an anchor, and developers are talking to several local and regional restaurants about joining the unique dining lineup. 

The Food Hall can be seen to the right in this rendering.

Designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, an international design firm based in Atlanta, the Food Hall will feature a large outdoor event space and covered stage area for a variety of events including a showcase for songwriters, concerts and big screen showings of various sporting events.

“Town Madison is taking another step toward our goal to provide a new experience in North Alabama living,” said Louis Breland. “We toured some of the finest food halls in the country looking for the right concept. A great food hall becomes a central gathering spot and brings unique energy to a community.

“Along with the (Rocket City) Trash Pandas stadium, the Food Hall and plaza area will become the place to be before a game or any time people want to meet with friends and share new experiences.”

The Food Hall, a partnership between Breland and Fuqua Development of Atlanta, joins the growing roster of tenants at Town Madison including the baseball stadium; several hotels including the avid Hotel, Home2 Suites and Margaritaville Resort Hotel; restaurants; national retailers such as Duluth Trading Co.; luxury apartments and residential communities.

Construction on the Food Hall begins this summer and tenants will be announced by the end of the year.

It is slated to open next spring – in time for the first pitch.

Auto Supplier DaikyoNishikawa to Locate First U.S. Plant in Huntsville, Creating 380 Jobs

Japan-based DaikyoNishikawa US will build a $110 million auto parts manufacturing facility in Huntsville, the company announced Tuesday.

“Huntsville welcomes DaikyoNishikawa to our growing regional network of automotive suppliers,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “They’re joining an outstanding partnership with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., and we’re collectively witnessing the birth of a major automotive hub for the U.S. and the world.”

The company will be on-site at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. assembly plant under construction. DNUS will create approximately 380 jobs and produce plastic automotive parts. Construction is expected to start in July and production slated for 2021.

DNUS is the first on-site partner announced for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., a $1.6 billion joint-venture assembly plant being built on a 2,500-acre site in the Limestone County portion of Huntsville.

“With this being DaikyoNishikawa’s first U.S. manufacturing facility, we welcome them home to Limestone County and look forward to being a key partner in their future success,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “This $110 million investment that will bring 380 new jobs is a testament to the strong workforce in our region that has earned global recognition.”

DNUS has established a temporary office in Huntsville and a human resources director to prepare for hiring. Jobs are listed at joblink.alabama.gov.

Limestone, Madison Counties Lead State in Capital Investment, Job Creation

Limestone and Madison counties topped all other counties in Alabama for new capital investment (CAPEX) and job creation, according to the 2018 New & Expanding Industry Report just released by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Limestone County led the state with CAPEX of $1.7 billion, followed by Madison County with $1.1 billion in new capital investment. The Limestone County figures are heavily driven by the $1.6 billion Mazda  Toyota Manufacturing USA plant under construction in Huntsville-Limestone County.

Furthermore, according to the report, Limestone County ranked first in job creation at 4,172 jobs. Madison County ranked No. 3 at 1,043 jobs.

However, Harrison Diamond, Business Relations officer for the City of Huntsville, said the report contains a caveat.

“The numbers for our area are even better when you realize that Huntsville is now comprised of Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties,” said Diamond, “Limestone’s numbers included some investment not in Huntsville, but when you pull it all together, Huntsville’s CAPEX is $2.7 billion with 5,189 jobs created in 2018.”

Growth in automotive and aerospace remained strong in 2018, boding well for North Alabama, which has momentum for the rest of 2019.

The report outlines 357 economic development projects totaling a record-breaking $8.7 billion in CAPEX statewide with 17,062 jobs from new and expanding industries. That is the highest increase since 2015 at $7.1 billion.

“This success solidifies my belief that we are building a more dynamic economy in Alabama and creating a pathway to greater prosperity for its citizens,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Projects in the City of Huntsville

Company                                                                  Year     Jobs                 Investment ($)

BAE Systems Inc. 2018 200 45,500,000
BWXT 2018 5 0
Custom Assembly inc. 2018 75 0
DC Blox 2018 5 10,867,600
Dynetics 2018 130 24,455,643
EOS 2018 100 2,500,000
Facebook 2018 100 750,000,000
Kohler 2018 149 175,470,698
LG Electronics 2018 159 28,100,000
Mitchell Plastics 2018 95 18,315,000
Mynaric USA 2018 2 0
Novocol Healthcare 2018 7 1,000,000
Radiance Technologies, Inc. 2018 60 18,990,000
Redline Steel 2018 50 11,111,454
St. Gobain 2018 2 13,000,000
Torch Technologies 2018 40 6,325,000
Toyota/Mazda JV 2018 4000 1,600,000,000
VT Miltope 2018 10 0

Total                                                                                                5,189               2,700,000,000

Rain Delays Opening Multi-Sports Venue at Site of Former Becky Peirce Golf Course

Huntsvillians hoping to check out the new multi-sports complex at the old Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course before summer turns to fall might need to do a reverse rain dance.

Ongoing rain that left the city soaked for much of last fall and this past spring has delayed progress at the venue. While some contractors have reported they still plan to meet target dates, the massive amount of dirt being moved at the old course at the corner of Airport Road and South Memorial Parkway has left a quagmire of sorts that has substantially slowed development.

“If we didn’t have any rain, we’d be through,’’ said Steve Ivey, director of the City of Huntsville Parks and Recreation. “As it is, we’re about six weeks behind, and that’s being kind to the contractors. If we got out there with heavy trucks, we’d tear things up and have to start over.’’

Ivey said a target opening date is somewhere in the middle of summer.

“If you can promise me it won’t rain, I could give you a date,’’ he said.

The landmark rocket stands guard over the work at the new multisports complex

Plans are for the complex to feature a cross-country course, paved walking trail, dirt bike trail, disc golf courses, sand volleyball courts, golf driving range and a dog park.

For now, William Bell, the facility project coordinator, said the focus is on getting the grass-covered cross-country course and the walking trail ready for use. Next on his priority list is the dirt bike circuit, which is still in designing stages.

He said the cross-country course and walking trails are 75 to 80 percent complete.

“The biggest thing right now is getting a retaining wall around pond No. 1, and we’ve got three ponds,” he said. “The Lord has taken care of us pretty well up to this point. It could have been worse. We’re doing all we can.”

The cross-country course sod was placed late last month.

The Huntsville Sports Commission is charged with bringing events to the city.

“We’re going to schedule a lot of things there,’’ said Commission Director Ralph Stone. “Our role will be to identify and recruit events to pay for the thing.’’

A main attraction the sports commission will focus on right away is the cross-country course, which Stone said will be “world class.’’

“There will be opportunities for several sports there once it gets rolling,’’ he said.

Huntsville’s Magic Number for Downtown Hotel Rooms is 1,000

The newest edition to Huntsville’s skyline is only one of many new hotels planned for downtown.

City planners don’t plan to stop until they reach 1,000. Not the number of hotels, obviously, but the number of hotel rooms available in the center of the city for highly-attended events.

The AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, a Marriott property, is open for business and joins the Embassy Suites as two hotels overlooking Big Spring Park. AC Hotel is on the corner of Williams Avenue and Monroe Street and will anchor the mixed-use City Centre development.

The six-story building, which has 120 rooms, will eventually be joined by other hotels as part of the vast growth of business in the downtown area.

“It’s been a goal to get to 1,000 rooms,” Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson said. “It’s not necessarily about the number of hotels but the number of rooms.”

Construction will begin in the fall for a seven-floor Hampton Inn and Suites at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street. The site is next to the garage that serves the Von Braun Center and is used for event parking.

One more hotel is in the planning stages and, like the Embassy Suites, AC Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites, will be within a one-mile radius of the VBC. Curio by Hilton is slated for Jefferson Street near the Courthouse Square and an Autograph Collection boutique hotel by Marriott adjacent to Big Spring Park and PNC bank is planned.

And city planners aren’t stopping with the addition of these hotels.

“There have been three new hotels announced,” Emerson said, “and there are some that have not been announced.”

As the makeover of downtown Huntsville continues and expands, two new franchises are getting ready to open.

The Poppy is a traditional English pub on the North Side Square and held its grand opening Monday.

The Mercantile, in space formerly occupied by Crossroads Music Hall at 115 Clinton Avenue, is an entertainment and private party venue. The Mercantile will host its first musical acts July 3 with local rockers Rob Aldridge and the Proponents opening.

“We’re actively engaged in in the booking process,’’ co-owner David Clarke said of The Mercantile. “We’ve got quite a few bands booked.’’

Clarke said he and his partners at PBG Holdings want to provide a unique experience with the two new sites. They’re also bringing Arsenal Coffee food truck to the exploding downtown scene.

“We’re paying attention to details and trying to create a destination at The Mercantile,’’ Clarke said. “We want the people of Huntsville to come but also have people coming from Nashville, Birmingham.’’

Emerson is confident the new businesses will attract visitors.

“The Mercantile and The Poppy will bring unique new retail options to downtown Huntsville,’’ he said. “Both add another interesting and creative destination to our city center.’’

The AC Hotel by Marriott recently opened as part of the CityCentre development in downtown Huntsville. It’s the first of its kind in Alabama by Marriott and features 120 rooms and six levels. The hotel is one of two planned for CityCentre and another two have been proposed within the vicinity of the Von Braun Center.

Hays Farm Multi-use Development Planned for South Huntsville

The answer to the long-asked question “What is going to happen with Haysland Square?” is finally provided.

Hays Farm, an 850-acre development, will soon be raised in South Huntsville after the 55-year-old shopping center is razed.

John Hays and Jeff Enfinger check out the plans for Hays Farm (Photo by Steve Babin)

Jim Hays, John Hays and Jeff Enfinger announced plans for the project which will include an entertainment district, nature preserve, homes, retail, restaurants, a dog park, sports fields and nearly 6 1/2 miles of walking trails.

“This land has meant so much to our family, generation after generation,” Enfinger said. “It has been a place where we’ve worked, played and grown as a family.”

The family has created communities around the county for decades and Enfinger said this is the “best and last” of the large communities they are planning.

“Our best and last large, master-planned community, … Hays Farm and its hundreds of acres of green space will now belong to our friends and neighbors in South Huntsville,” he told the Huntsville Business Journal during a tour of the project.

The project, which is currently under construction, will have about 110 acres of commercial development and 200 acres of residential, leaving about 540 acres for protected land. The development is estimated to provide a $450 million boost to the area.

“The Hays Farm project has the potential to transform the face of South Huntsville and bring vitality and excitement to South Parkway,” said Huntsville City Councilwoman Jennie Robinson, whose district includes the development.  “It will add hundreds of acres of green space to the city as well as miles of trails and recreational amenities while preserving the natural beauty of the area. 

“We applaud the Hays family for their vision and hope it will encourage others to reinvest in South Huntsville and improve the quality of life for the city as a whole.” 

A centerpiece will be the 12-acre “city park” which will have a Town Center on Haysland Road featuring entertainment, restaurants and small shops. Enfinger said the park is similar in size to Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville.

“It will be a Providence-type (development) between Hamilton Square and Grissom,” Enfinger said, referencing the west Huntsville development. “The park has a village green like Providence.”

Hays Farm will have three components, Enfinger said. There will be the community park, nature preserve and ballfields – a 20-acre recreation baseball/soccer complex operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

More than 1 million yards of dirt has been moved for the Hays Farm project. (Photo by Steve Babin)

Some 1,000 housing units will include single-family detached, townhouses and rental units. More than 500 single-family homes will range from $300,000 to $700,000. There are plans for 150 townhouse units and 350 multifamily rentals. Each neighborhood within Hays Farm will offer access to trails and an open space network that connects the community to all of Huntsville.

Haysland Road will also extend from South Memorial Parkway through the development to Hobbs Road, a couple hundred yards east of Redstone Arsenal’s Gate 3.

“The Haysland Road extension should be finished by September,” Enfinger said. “It goes through the series of lakes – wonderful scenery.”

Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick, whose district includes south Huntsville, said Hays Farm is an exciting change and addition to the area.

“South Huntsville has not seen new development on this scale in decades.  Not only is it substantial in size with greenways, new retail, restaurants and hundreds of new residences, but it will change the face of the community,” he said. “This will be something new and exciting, and will add a lifestyle flavor that we have not seen before in South Huntsville.  It will foster further new development and will create a new demand for living in our area. 

“We are so thrilled that the Hays Family has embarked on this development and are looking forward to it being completed.”

The developers and South Huntsville Business Association have scheduled a community meeting for 6 p.m. May 30 in the Grissom High School Auditorium.

First avid Hotel in Alabama Breaks Ground at Town Madison

MADISON — Shovels in hand, the Breland Companies, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the leadership team for avid Hotels to break ground on their first hotel in Alabama.

“We are excited about this great location in the City of Madison and to be a part of Town Madison’s success,” said Pritesh Patel of Jalasai Hospitality. “This new and thrilling brand will bring a tremendous new option for both business and leisure guests.”

Located at the western end of Town Madison off I-565 at Wall Triana Highway, the four-story, 87-room midscale avid Hotel is the first of its kind in the Southeast. It is also the newest addition to the 563-acre Town Madison development., which is home to the new Madison baseball stadium and dozens of retail stores, restaurants, residences, and Pro Player Park.

“Another hotel here is desperately needed,” said Finley. “Minor league baseball (Rocket City Trash Pandas) will be here in less than a year, housed in our multi-use venue at Town Madison. The way we fund that multi-use venue is a deal with Ballcorps LLC who owns the Trash Pandas, to rent it from us, but also through lodging tax.

“Town Madison has always been a regional destination location,” said Louis Breland, founder of Breland Cos. who is building the hotel and working to bring more businesses to the multi-use venue. “We are in negotiations with many retailers, many restaurants, and numerous other hotels about coming to Town Madison, so today’s groundbreaking will be the first of many businesses coming this spring and summer.”

The newest mainstream brand from IHG, avid hotels was designed for travelers and meets their expectations for the type of hospitality they value most: the basics done exceptionally well at a fair price. The location at Town Madison will feature modern, comfortable design, guest rooms designed for a sound-sleep, a focused, high-quality breakfast consisting of name-brand options, and will deliver the latest technology for a seamless guest experience

“So this is one more thing that makes a difference in our Master Plan of bringing something of quality to this area that helps the overall Tennessee Valley and makes a major difference in the City of Madison,” Finley said.

He went on to explain that the 12 baseball fields that make up Pro Player Park, located between the Madison baseball stadium and the new Avid Hotel, is a huge draw for travel baseball. 

“What do they need? They need places to stay,” said Finley. “So, they will be right here close by, and the restaurants will follow.”

“As our newest partner, avid provides not only Town Madison residents a new way to connect, relax and work, but our constantly-expanding business community yet another option to show out-of-town clients, customers, and employees everything we have to offer in Madison County,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

While Residents are Goin’ ‘Round Huntsville Mountain, Businesses are Assessing the Fallout

Huntsville residents are used to going around things.

Most people have skirted around Redstone Arsenal for 65 years to get where they are going.

And, after all, when you live in a valley, there are going to be some mountains to traverse, but the priority $18 million Cecil Ashburn Drive road improvement project has been challenging for a lot of people since it was closed in January for a widening project.

Cecil Ashburn connects commuters from east Huntsville, Marshall and Jackson counties to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

While the through pass is closed, there are three routes connecting Big Cove/Hampton Cove to Huntsville and destinations to the west and all three require going around Huntsville. U.S. 431 via Governors Drive; South Memorial Parkway via Hobbs Island Road; and U.S. 72 via Eastern Bypass/Rock Cut Road are all viable, if not the shortest, routes.

Construction on Cecil Ashburn Drive is progressing. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Almost since it opened in 2000, the winding two-lane shortcut through Huntsville Mountain from Jones Valley to Hampton Cove has been over-capacity. More than 17,000 vehicles travel it every day and, in the past 11 years, there have been 782 vehicle wrecks and 11 fatalities recorded along that 3.4-mile stretch of road.

The City of Huntsville knew it was going to be a bitter pill, but officials tried to alleviate as much pain as possible to improve traffic flow, increase capacity, and improve safety. The project will widen the road from two to four lanes between Old Big Cove Road and Four Mile Post Road, and safety improvements include eight-foot shoulders along each side of the roadway.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

The Effects on Local Business

“The closure occurred just after the first of the year and, for us in the health and exercise business, January and February are our busiest months,” said Kim Edmunds, manager of Hot Yoga of Huntsville, at 326 Sutton Road on the east side of the construction. “We were outwardly worried people would have difficulty getting here for their appointments, but we have been surprised it is not any worse than it is.”

She said there has been a fall-off in attendance at the popular late-afternoon class, the one that attracts people on their way home from work between 4 and 6 p.m.

“We also see what we believe is a hesitation from our short term and trial members to make a long-term commitment while travel is limited,” she said. “We believe this will change when at least a couple of lanes are reopened this fall.”

Carl Stanfield, interim store manager for Alabama Outdoors, said during the week foot traffic to his store at 2030 Cecil Ashburn Drive in Jones Valley, seems to have slowed down, but weekends are still very busy.

“Checking with our corporate headquarters, we have seen a 25 percent drop in headcounts since the first of the year, so we think there may be some negative effects from the construction,” he said. “But the closure came the second week of January just as the holidays came to an end and school started back. That could also account for a natural drop-off after the holidays.”

Tropical Smoothie Café manager Tyisha Burt said her business at 2075 Cecil Ashburn Drive opened in September, so there isn’t any history to compare.

“We have been very busy the past few months I think because of the warmer weather,” she said. “But we believe, once the pass is opened again, things will be even better than they are now.”

Donna Denson, patient concierge at Austin Physical Therapy, drives in to the Jones Valley location from Scottsboro every day.

“The day before the road closed, I decided to try the Green Mountain route using Old Big Cove Road,” she said. “But it was foggy that day and it was too unfamiliar, so I started taking Hobbs Island Road to Bailey Cove. It is an hour drive, but not a bad drive at all.

“It takes a little extra time, but they say 17,000 cars travel Cecil Ashburn every day. That means a lot of people are taking some extra time and I see it as only a temporary lapse.

Denson said there has been a “significant” in appointments between 4 and 6 p.m. and 7 a.m..

“Lucky for us though, we have another location at the foot of Monte Sano when you come on Governors Drive,” she said. “So, rather than losing patients, they seem to just be booking the other location.”

Business seems to be more negatively affected on the Jones Valley side than the Hampton Cove side and the restaurant business seems to be the most negatively affected.

Heavy equipment breaks through the rocks to create extra lanes on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Moe’s Barbecue closed its doors due to a lack of business, according to neighboring tenants, but will be opening a location downtown.

Ben Patterson, manager of the Jones Valley Mellow Mushroom, said there is no escaping the reality that dinner has fallen off since the closing. But his customers are so loyal, they have expressed their commitment to making it in whenever they can.

“It was sort of like ripping off the Band-aid,” he said. “We had hoped they would not have to close down Cecil Ashburn completely, but we also know that the improvements will lead to a smoother, safer thoroughfare that will hopefully, when it opens again in October, lead to more traffic coming across from Hampton Cove.”

For Anaheim Chili, the lunch crowd still shows up but the dinner crowd has dwindled.

“People are certainly not comin’ ‘round the mountain’ as far as we can tell,” said manager Scott Harriman. “We have definitely seen a fall-off in dinner customers, but lunch is pretty steady.

“Where we see the biggest drop-off is Monday through Wednesday for dinner. A lot of people stop to eat on their way home or to grab take out, but they are not doing that right now, probably because it takes people off their route and it takes longer to get home.”

Tough Decisions

While no one likes to hear that the main access from one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain is closing down for 10 months, the City of Huntsville and the contractor, Carcel & G Construction, have taken steps to ease some of the pain.

Originally, the project came in at $25 million with a timeline of nearly three years. The proposal had a caveat – one lane would stay open open during peak traffic times, something that sounded good to retailers and businesses in Jones Valley and Hampton Cove.

However, city planners said that plan would have been a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers came back with a new schedule and an adjusted $18 million budget they felt best addressed the needs and concerns of the community.

Crews work on the drainage system for the Cecil Ashburn Drive project. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Those adjustments called for a complete shutdown of the roadway for 10 months beginning in January. In order to keep the project on track, the contractor has been offered financial performance bonuses of up to $2 million for each day work is ahead of schedule or meets the abbreviated construction timeline. Alternately, the contractor will be penalized up to $2 million for scheduled delays.

They are also incentivized to make sure at least two lanes of traffic will reopen within the first 10-month period, which takes us into October.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, the city’s director of economic and urban development.

Currently …

Clearing operations are complete and the highly unpopular blasting operations that have disturbed residents of the area are approximately 80 percent complete. The storm drainage installation is close to 70 percent complete. The contractor is coordinating with utility companies to begin relocation efforts.

Huntsville Utilities has completed the electrical relocation and others are scheduled to begin their work. The contractor will also begin installing water lines soon to complete the utility work.

They will begin to construct the roadway subgrade shortly thereafter.

“This schedule provides the least disruption course and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season,” Battle said.

Aerial photo provides and overview of the construction work on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by EQB)

Mazda Toyota Plant Reaches New Heights with Milestone

With the first steel column now in place, construction is well underway for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. (MTMUS). Team members celebrated the milestone with a small gathering at the plant site Tuesday.

Despite a heavy rain season, construction of the $1.6 billion advanced manufacturing facility in Limestone County remains on schedule.

MTMUS President Masashi Aihara

“Today marks an exciting milestone for the MTMUS team and the state of Alabama,” said Masashi Aihara, president of MTMUS. “We are fully committed to this project and we can now see the beginning of our new campus taking shape.

“Soon, we will be proud to say ‘built in Alabama with pride.’”

Construction highlights include:
 * 3.0 million cubic yards of dirt graded for site preparation. This is enough dirt to fill the Empire
State Building twice!
 * 150,000 cubic yards of gravel poured to create the plant foundation, equal to filling 46 Olympic‐size swimming pools.
 * 2,500 construction workers projected to be on site by late summer 2019.

MTMUS is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and is currently in the process of hiring professional staff and skilled maintenance positions. Additional job postings will be added throughout the summer, with production hiring starting later this year. Interested candidates can learn more at www.mazdatoyota.com.

Women in Hardhats are a Growing Trend in the Construction Industry

MADISON, Ala. — Nationally, women make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry – 9.1 percent according to the National Association of Women in Construction.

That number has been steadily increasing over the past decade, so much that the NAWIC started a Women in Construction Week, held annually in March. It highlights women as viable components of the construction industry and raises awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry.

Hoar Construction, headquartered in Birmingham and contracted to build the new Rocket City Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium in Madison, has long since broken through.

When it comes to women wearing hardhats on a construction site, Hoar Construction says women are beginning to dominate in engineering and project management positions within their company. Hoar’s female workforce is up to 20 percent, but what kind of challenges do women face on a construction site and how do so many find their way into the business?

Meet Amanda Black, Safety Manager

Amanda Black

Amanda Black is a safety manager for Hoar Construction and is with the crew at the baseball stadium. Amanda is 29 years old and her parents have worked for Hoar for over 32 years.

“I grew up on a construction site,” said Black. “As a child, I picked things apart to see how they were built. Even with toys, I wasn’t interested in the thing itself.

“I was more interested in how it was put together and what was inside that made it work.”

Black went to college on a scholarship, but the school didn’t offer academics in engineering or construction.

She came back to what she knew. Eleven years later, she is working for Hoar and is back in school for construction management.

“No one should be limited in what they want to be, if they have the heart for it,” Black said. “You have to have a thick skin to be a woman among so many men, but you need a thick skin in life anyway, right?”

As a safety manager, Amanda notes that everyone on a construction site has a very important job and the more skills sets you have, the more it benefits you.

“I started out as a laborer trying my hands at carpentry work, concrete, and I know how to operate some of the equipment,” she said. “I also help with the shell work on empty buildings and cross over to quality control when they need help.

“It’s what you do – you work your way up.”

Meet Jessica Yarbrough, Assistant Superintendent

Jessica Yarbrough

Jessica Yarbrough grew up learning the cabinetry trade from her father who worked as a boat captain three days on and three days off. Cabinetry was a hobby he excelled in and still does.

Jessica can build cabinets, but she chose not to pursue the craftsmanship side of construction. Instead, she has spent the past 7½ years traveling from project to project with her husband who is a superintendent for Hoar Construction.

Yarbrough has worked on a Disney World project in Orlando; built a physical fitness facility for the Army in Clarksville, Tenn.; built an outdoor shopping center in Baton Rouge, La.; and a commissary at Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Fla.)

Now she is in Arlington, Va., working for the first time without her husband on a 12-story midrise apartment building.

“I am an exterior scan superintendent,” said Yarbrough. “I am responsible for the brick, metal panel, glass storefront, and glass curtain wall that makes up the exterior on this project. Every day, I oversee the work of our trade partners, including brick masons, a metal panel guy, our window installer, and ironworkers.

“I work a little bit with the exterior framers and with our air barrier system, and I handle all the scheduling, coordination, and I manage workflow to ensure the project gets built on time.”

Yarbrough started college in premed but, while in the process of switching to nursing, an advisor noticed she was taking extra math classes. She asked Jessica if she was good at math and when she answered “Yes,” they encouraged her to pursue engineering rather than the medical field.

“I feel I have grown into the job,” she said. “There were opportunities for workers to pull a fast one on me or to get by with stuff but, instead, we worked through some teachable moments that made us all better at our jobs.”

Since then, there have been only a handful of times when she felt being a woman negatively impacted what she was trying to do.

“I find the day-to-day challenges – getting the job done on time and on budget – is harder than any challenges I face as a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Meet Donna Strange, Assistant Superintendent

Donna Strange

Donna Strange, like Jessica Yarbrough, is an assistant superintendent for Hoar Construction and she coordinates among multiple trade partners, documenting and making notification of field changes in real time on any project.

“I am the boots in the field,” she said. “I communicate with the project superintendent the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed with schedule and cost impacts. I listen to the concerns of our trade partners, always keeping one eye open for safety; and I have to make on-the-spot executive decisions to keep the project moving – not just the daily progress – but I have to be prepared to make the calls needed to keep the wheels on the bus during the challenging days ahead.”

Donna said she bounced around a few different professions, all of which left her feeling stuck, without a chance to get out and learn and explore.

“I found myself on a construction project as it was nearing the final stages and I fell head over heels in love with all aspects of the experience,” she said. “I found a profession where everyday there was potential for learning something new.” 

She said her biggest challenge at being a woman in a predominantly male industry is her 5-foot-2, 110-pound stature. It can be hard to show authority when you are petite, but she gets around it by being knowledgeable.

“I keep my eye on the big picture – giving our client a facility that meets expectations and I don’t let my size hinder my authority and responsibilities,” she said. “I focus on always staying calm, listening, and sharing my experience in a situation, before making decisions that affect others.”

Meet Sarah Horton, Project Engineer

Sarah Horton

Sarah Horton joined Hoar Construction officially this past year as a project engineer, but she worked for Hoar throughout college and was a co-op student with them in 2014. Sarah has a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Alabama but, from a general contractor’s perspective, she is at the management level of the job cost perspective.

Most of the work Sarah is involved with is renovated buildings rather than new construction, and she has been assigned to the Samford University campus in Birmingham. Her most current project is the University Center.

“We went in and took everything out including the slabs used to create two floors,” said Horton. “Now we have a shell of a building all on one floor, so we can start over.”

Structural and procedural changes are commonplace in renovations and Sarah’s architectural engineering background allows her to run software programs that a typical project manager ordinarily wouldn’t, such as the popular Building Information Modeling software.

“Typically, when we get a set of documents, they are printed on paper, but obviously building construction is seen much better in 3-dimension,” Horton said. “I use BIM and my architectural engineering background in HVAC design, power distribution and design, and structural concepts of building to get that into a 3-D space and coordinate changes from a general contractor’s perspective.

“Being able to run BIM gives us some control over the original designs using Virtual Design & Construction (VDC), so we can say, ‘You designed this, but we have a sprinkler system that must fit in this space too and it has certain code requirements. Let’s work together to make it all fit in this space with 25-foot high ceilings.’ ”

Sarah was exploring scholarship options while enrolled at the University of Alabama studying dentistry when she was approached by the engineering department, who had her test scores in math and science.

“Because I was a female, I was going to receive a nice engineering scholarship to declare general engineering as my major,” she said. “After one engineering foundations class, I was hooked!

“I agree with Amanda that you have to have thick skin, know who you are, and from a professional standpoint, be confident and understand the depth of your experience,” she said. “Now when I sit down at the table, I may be the only woman at that table, but I feel confident enough to give my opinion.

The Male Perspective

Horton said a lot of older men in the construction industry are against having women on the construction site because they believe it to be too dangerous from a safety standpoint. Unanimously, all four Hoar Women in Hardhats say, “No! We belong here just as much as you do!”

“It puts more pressure on me to make sure I know what I’m talking about,” said Horton. “I don’t get a free pass because I’m a girl. I have to know my stuff and back up what I say because they will go toe-to-toe with me on some things.”

“Construction is an amazing business to be in,” said Black. “For me, construction isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle. Construction provided for me when I was growing up, and now it provides for me as a mother.”

Although she did not pursue the craftsmanship side of construction, Yarbrough admits building cabinets is still in her cards.

“My dad still has a shop and all the tools and equipment, so it’s always been sort of like … if all else fails … I can always build cabinets!”

If she does, she will be an even rarer phenomenon since women make up less than 2 percent of carpenters nationwide!