The Catalyst Receives Grant for Small Business Training Program

As Huntsville and Madison County continue to grow, there’s been an exponential surge in small business development over the past several years.

Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims: “More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.” (Photo/Lori Connors)

Here in North Alabama, small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures have been welcomed with open arms.

Economic development is essential for community growth and stability. To that end, the U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded The Catalyst Center for Business and Entrepreneurship a $350,000 Management & Technical Assistance Program grant.

“I’m delighted to come here and participate,” said SBA Deputy District Director L.D. Ralph at the announcement hosted at Drake State Community and Technical College.

“We are excited about this endeavor,” said Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims. “The overall, overarching goal is to meet the workforce needs and those needs are growing. We are part of the workforce solution.

“More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.”

Over the past 21 years, Ralph has enjoyed a strong affiliation with the Catalyst Center, then known as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama.

“It’s been a long-term, beneficial relationship,” he said.

The program’s assistance encompasses a wide spectrum of services to include one-to-one customized coaching, business training, and networking/matchmaking opportunities. A key goal of the program is to help firms compete for federal, state and local contracts as a prime contractor or subcontractor.

To participate in the free training program, small businesses must be:

  • Owned and managed by economically and/or socially disadvantaged individuals
  • Located in areas of high unemployment or low-income
  • Certified 8(a) participant or HUBZone small business
  • Economically disadvantaged and woman-owned

Resources are provided through SBA’s network of strategic partners, including The Catalyst, Drake State Community and Technical College, Neighborhood Concepts, Regions Bank, Redstone Federal Credit Union, and Live Oak Bank.

Drake State will provide a certificate program in Entrepreneurship. Neighborhood Concepts and Redstone Federal Credit Union are partnered to provide loans through the Business Assistance Microloan Program.

Live Oak Bank will provide support to 7(j) companies relative to mergers and acquisitions and growth through contract mobilization. Regions Bank will provide facilities, coaches and assistance designed to reach low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs within North Alabama.

For information, visit catalystcenter.org

Turner Grads Help Fill Void in Construction Labor Shortage

With all the construction in Huntsville and the surrounding counties, the construction industry’s well-publicized skilled labor shortage got a boost from Turner Construction Company’s School of Construction Management.

The company recently graduated 17 students in its first class in Huntsville to help fill that void.

Designed to train students from disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses in a variety of good-paying, construction-related jobs, Turner’s eight-week training program covers everything from construction management and administration, to site safety, bidding, estimating and procurement. It also teaches students how to develop technical skills, learn about field operations, and lean building processes.

The students also learn how to build strategic relationships and partnerships within the wide-ranging building industry.

Turner has built partnerships with businesses across North Alabama to help improve the economic viability of these graduates who might not otherwise have been exposed to these opportunities.

The class of 2019 members are Verrick Green, Project Teamwork & Development; Brenda Perryman, Transit Management Oversite & Solutions; Tamisha Atkins, Atkins Lawn Care; Ben Freeman, Thomas Electric; Leah Taylor, Taylor’s Victory Garden Center; Arthur Terrell Vaughn, MMI Inc.; Jimmy Morris Jr., Morris Builders; Fredrika Atkins, Atkins and Goolsby Inc.; Angela Dunn and Dale Jones, Ultimate Roofing; John Carroll, International Construction Project Management; Marsau Scott, Scholt Industries; Deborah Holt and Barbara Gillum, Always Available Services; Terrence Rudolph and Tamika Randolph, Trinity Construction Group; and Esteban Guadarrama, an Alabama A&M student.

Turner has been offering skills-based training in more than 30 Turner Construction offices nationwide since 1969.

The Time is Right to Start a Small Business in Alabama

What a great time to start a business in Huntsville.

Bolstered by a welcoming atmosphere and supported by a conducive business ecosystem, Northern Alabama is, by far, an entrepreneurial mecca.

The Small Business Development Center at UAH recently presented a “Starting a Business in Alabama” workshop. Hosted at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the workshop presented a comprehensive overview of the steps required for starting a small business in Alabama.

Led by Hilary Claybourne, SBDC director and senior consultant, the two-hour workshop focused on the important things a potential entrepreneur needs to consider before starting that new business venture.

A business often comes into being as a solution to a problem. Would-be entrepreneurs need to make sure that their solution is the right one. And if it is the right solution, will people embrace it? What is the unique value proposition? Are there alternatives? How much are customers willing to pay?

“Who is your customer? Where do your potential customers hang out? Go talk to the customer, don’t just talk to your best friends about your business idea,” said Claybourne. “Just because you think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is.

“Do your primary and secondary market research, evaluate the competition. Find out about things that have failed and why they failed. There’s a plethora of secondary research available; it will arm you to be better at primary research.”

It’s also important for potential entrepreneurs to familiarize themselves with the various legal entities and determine which ones are best for their business.

“I encourage to clients to incorporate,” said Claybourne. “You’re at risk as a small business; you can get sued as a sole proprietor. As a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or S Corp, you can define your business. You will have to be able to track the finances. If you’re a sole proprietor, your business is more likely to be audited by the IRS. If you incorporate as an S-Corp or an LLC, the IRS expects you to have business expenses.”

“Partnerships aren’t my favorite business form. Partnerships have twice the liability and half the profits. A (LLC) gives you much more flexibility; it’s easier to modify structures.”

For those seeking financial resources to fund their ventures, “You’ve got to start a business first before you can get a loan,” said Claybourne. She also recommends that startups “do it as cheaply as you can using your own resources first.”

“An exception to that would be planning for the unexpected,” said Claybourne. “To set up a line of credit, just in case something happens. Banks will lend money when your credit is good. So, it’s a good idea to have that line of credit when things are good.

“Realize that you can’t be an expert at everything. Get acquainted with your business ‘Core Four’: You will need a good accountant, business lawyer, banker, and business advisors.”

Business Community Raises $180,000 For Local Teachers

Nothing inspires a business community like a clear-cut mission and a high return on investment.

In a celebration at Burritt on the Mountain, the Huntsville Committee of 100 and more than 200 area business owners, elected officials, local school boards and superintendents, and state representatives, celebrated raising more than $180,000 to fund new National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) within the Huntsville, Madison, and Madison County school systems.

Believing there is a direct link between quality education and a skilled workforce, the Huntsville Committee of 100 revealed statistics six months ago showing that for every $1 invested in National Board Certified Teachers there is a $31 return on that investment.

From left: Linda Akenhead, Leah Gradl, John Allen, Elizabeth Fleming, Stephanie Lowe. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“Research shows that National Board Certification for teachers is the key to driving academic achievement in our local schools,” said Committee of 100 CEO John Allen. “The Committee’s philanthropic arm, the Creative Cities Fund, teamed up the Schools Foundation to fund certification for 100 teachers from the three local school systems, and tonight we applaud that achievement.”

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards said this initiative is the first and largest effort nationwide by the business community to fund board-certified teachers in public schools.

On average, students taught by National Board Certified teachers show gains of one to two months of learning over students in other classrooms.

Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey honored the efforts by video while the Huntsville Youth Orchestra entertained guests and culinary students prepared the cuisine.

Burritt on the Mountain hosted a celebration of investing in education. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“This is just the beginning,” said Stephanie Lowe, director of engagement with the Huntsville Committee of 100. “While driving to hit the $200,000 goal, both organizations will continue conversations to make this a focus across our state, as achievement in education continues to be a priority in all parts of Alabama.”

The Creative Cities Fund focuses on creative ideas that stimulate economic growth. Over the last five years, the fund has helped initiatives including Launch 2035 regional visioning; land-use planning such as the Singing River Trail; Downtown Huntsville BlueBikes; and peer-to-peer counseling in local high schools.

The NBCT Campaign is the fund’s largest campaign to date.

Tying Education to Business, Huntsville Committee of 100 Funds National Board-Certified Teachers

A leading Huntsville business advocacy organization is seeing its investments paying off.

Though, the group did not invest in financial markets, it invested in education.

Last May, the Huntsville Committee of 100 launched an exclusive initiative in May to fund 100 nationally board-certified teachers throughout the Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County School systems.

It is the first time an Alabama business community has made an impactful investment in education in order to make Madison County more attractive to employees and employers.

According to John Allen, CEO of the Committee of 100, there are three tenets to its mission: promoting cooperative local government to ensure local business leaders are elected to positions that help make the community better; to advocate for long-term economic development; and to push for higher quality public education.

“We have 55,000 students in our schools every day and about 90 percent of them are in public education, so we know the value of a public education,” said Allen. “We were looking for a way to impact, support and encourage high quality public education.

“I asked former superintendent of Huntsville City Schools Matt Akin what a business organization like ours could do to change the conversation around achievement in our schools. His response was to nationally board-certify 100 teachers.”

In 2014, the Committee of 100 established the Creative Cities Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. It focused on conversations around creating high achievement in the local school system and setting a culture of high expectations.

The project was intended to drive innovation, education and economic development by raising funds year after year for that purpose and putting those funds back into community ideas quickly.

“We reached out to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and learned the national board certification process was a very vigorous, performance-based, peer-reviewed and critiqued, one to three year process a teacher has to go through,” said Allen. “One teacher compared it to writing a master’s thesis for each of the four modules of the process.”

“The certification process costs $475 per component with a registration fee, so teachers are looking at $2,000 per teacher to go through the process, money many teachers do not have,” said Michelle Accardi, director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Board certification is one of the levers we use to elevate student outcomes and research shows that all other factors being equal, a kindergarten student with a board-certified teacher is 31 percent more likely to be on grade level at the end of the year. Those are spectacular outcomes.”

When they are certified, teachers receive a $5,000 stipend from the state and, in some schools, they get an additional $5,000.

“Students learn more from board certified teachers,” said Accardi. “Early childhood literacy has ties to efforts and outcomes at high school graduation and beyond.”

The Committee of 100 began collaborating heavily with the schools foundation, a convenient partner because they work with all three school systems and are engaged in the national board certification process.

Allen said, on average, there is a one- to two-month achievement gain in board-certified classroom students and classrooms of board-certified teachers.

Furthermore, a recent study shows that for every $1 invested in national board certified teachers, there is a $31 return on investment.

When the Committee of 100 started the program, Alabama had 2,700 board certified teachers, which is about 6.3 percent of all teachers in Alabama.

To put it into perspective, about 90 percent of physicians are board-certified nationwide but only about 3 percent of teachers nationwide are board certified.

“Our organization, community business leaders, and elected leaders have bought into this process and all the dollars go straight to funding a teacher,” said Allen. “Prior to May, Madison had 58 teachers who are board certified; Huntsville City had about 30; and the county had about 35. In Huntsville, there are currently 70 additional teachers going through process, and in Madison there is another 35 with 25 now participating from Madison County Schools.

“We are now working on conversations surrounding how do we grow the conversation to a statewide level and how do we make it sustainable. We found that having a board-certified teacher in the school, they become a magnet, a mentor and a leader in the school.”

Accardi said student outcomes improve with certification.

“We currently have 25 different certificates a teacher can elect to certify in,” said Accardi. “Across all the certificate areas, every time someone does research on it, you see an increase in student outcomes.”

She also said the Committee of 100 initiative is unique because, as a business community, they understand not just the increase in outcomes, but they see a significant return on investment on board certification when talking purely dollars and cents.

“You see huge savings in teacher retention with a national board-certified teacher almost four times as likely to stay in a school setting than those teachers who are not certified,” said Accardi. “It helps elevate your game as a teacher, and if you have a group of NBCTs working together in a school, it gives you someone to consult with on issues.”

Going through the certification process enables teachers to see improvement in their own practice, as well.

“The National Board Certification process has improved my teaching practice by helping to change the way I interpret and use student data,” said Aimee Thomas Scrivner, a second-grade teacher at Huntsville’s Academy for Academics and Arts. “It has not only helped me gauge (and thus improve) my effectiveness as a teacher through measuring student impact of specific lessons and strategies, but helped me to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents, and colleagues that ultimately benefit student development and learning.”

‘Career Signing Day’ Helps Aim Students Toward Building Sciences

National Signing Day is a big event in the lives of high school student-athletes and their families.

The kids announce where they plan to continue their education and take their athletic talents to the next level.

Well, in Huntsville, there is another kind of “signing day.”

For the second time, Huntsville City Schools is hosting a “Career Signing Day,” when students are recognized for continuing their career paths within the fields of building science.

Just look around and you’ll see the demand for builders and tradesmen.

Construction zones and caution tape continue to speckle the city, as developers race to keep up with the demands required to complete projects.

Developments designed to enhance the growing infrastructure of Madison County seem to be popping up everywhere, and with no signs of a slow-down, the need for skilled workers and tradesmen is greater than ever.

“We are partnering with people to create more opportunity for internships and practical experience,” said Todd Watkins, director of Career Tech Education for Huntsville City Schools. “We are going to have interviews prior to the event. We are really excited because it gives our students a chance to do interview sessions.

“Then they can actually graduate high school and go straight to work.”

Turner Construction’s Director of Business Development Tyce Hudson said his company is working closely with area schools to ensure that upcoming graduates are aware of their options, whether they choose to pursue a four-year degree or opt for going directly into the workforce from high school.

“We are trying to get the message out that there are very bright careers in the trade industry right now,” he said. “We see shortages in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing so the demand for those is probably the highest.”

Through the efforts of companies such as Turner Construction, Huntsville City Schools students enrolled in the Career Tech Education Department are able to get practical work experience outside of the classroom by working on actual workplace projects.

Watkins also lauds the district’s newest career tech center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The initial program will allow students to work in the hospitality and culinary industries shadowing staff, giving them the opportunity to leave the school campus and report directly to Space & Rocket Center CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart.

Watkins said the increased employment opportunities coupled with the area’s demand for progress equals many more options in the building science arena, whether individuals choose to seek a 4 year degree or not.

“What kids are seeing,” he said, “is that they can be employable right out of school or they can also go to (a four-year college) or a junior college.

“Kids are starting to realize that career tech is not a one-way path.”

 

Career-prep: Madison Construction Academy, Turner Construction Prepare Students for Skills-based Trades

MADISON — To discover local construction career opportunities, students from James Clemons and Bob Jones high schools took a walking tour of the new Rocket City Trash Pandas stadium at Town Madison.

The tour was part of a workforce development effort by Turner Construction Co., which is building the stadium.

Turner Construction officials give the students an up-close look at the work on the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Students dressed in full site safety gear including bright yellow vests, hardhats and goggles got an up-close look at the entire construction site followed by lunch and a 15-minute presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry and its many related skills-based trades.

Students in their schools’ Construction Academy are taking classes in planning, design and construction. They were selected for the trip by their building sciences instructors for showing the most interest in, or curiosity about a career in building engineering and the many skills-based careers related to the construction industry. These can be carpentry, welding, electrical, heating and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, cabinetry, and the like.

“We are recognizing industrywide that the construction industry can’t build at the pace of growth due to a shortage in skilled labor,” said Dani Latham, human resources generalist for Turner Construction. “This skills gap means we are not replacing the aging workforce with young workers, a problem that seems to stem from the old stigma attached to the business as being dangerous and abrasive.

“That is no longer so today where safety is a top priority. Workers themselves are skilled craftsmen making very good money, and we are seeing more women in the business, often in supervisory positions that has helped to change the culture.”

Latham is implementing a workforce development strategy for Turner Construction designed to bring together educators and partners such as North Alabama Works!; Associated Builders and Contractors; and the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation. The goal is to help kids develop the skills needed for a career in construction while introducing them to the many advantages of the construction industry.

“We find that many high school juniors and seniors are just not college-ready,” said Latham. “They aren’t yet sure what they want to do, some have no interest in going to college, while others can’t afford it, but that shouldn’t take them out of the workforce or leave them without opportunities.

“Our goal is to get them career-ready, rather than college-ready by introducing them to a skills-based trade where they can learn a skill that will stay with them forever, even if they pursue other professions.”

After the tour, the students were shown a presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry. (Photo/Steve Babin)

She said a job in construction doesn’t have to lead to a career in construction, but it can provide a living wage while they are going to school or deciding what they want to do. Latham said some people find their calling, while others branch off into other areas such as carpentry or welding.

“The great thing about it is that many of them can make a good living working construction while pursuing something else altogether; and it can help pay for a higher education like law school or medical school,” she said.

Similar to the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program for manufacturing, Madison Construction Academy offers a four-year apprenticeship program where students go to school a couple of nights a week, but work full or part-time in the same field they are studying. This allows them to apply what they learn at night in a real-world setting.

This connection between a classroom curriculum and tangible careers in the workforce exposes students to a variety of career opportunities that will ultimately meet the future needs of business and industry.

“In many ways, the construction industry is behind manufacturing in implementing a recruitment strategy for skills-based training,” Latham said. “We found that the old model of holding career fairs with a lot of written literature and an industry recruiter behind a table no longer works.

“There is very little engagement from young people in that process, so we are getting more targeted by going into classrooms and getting in front of students who are taking construction and building trades classes. We make sure they understand their options and, by bringing them out to the stadium site, they can experience it firsthand.”

TVA Offering STEM Grants for K-12 Educators

The TVA STEM Classroom Grant Program sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bicentennial Volunteers Inc., a TVA retiree organization, is now open for applications. The program funds Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning projects in classrooms and schools in the TVA service areas throughout the Tennessee Valley.

The 2019-2020 application closes Oct. 20. Grants may be requested in amounts up to $5,000. Eligible applicants are teachers or school administrators in public schools, grades K-12. Schools must be in the TVA service area and receive power from a TVA distributor.

“TVA recognizes that excellence in education is the key to our future workforce in the Valley,” said TVA STEM Education Program Manager Rachel Crickmar. “We want to work directly with teachers to support initiatives that advance STEM activities in the classroom to develop a talent pipeline for TVA and its customers.”

Last year’s program awarded $580,000 in grants to schools across the Tennessee Valley. The competitive grant program provides teachers the opportunity to apply for funding up to $5,000 on STEM projects with preference given to grant applications that explore TVA’s primary area of focus: environment, energy, economic and career development and community problem solving.

Visit the tsin.org  to learn more about grant requirements, see examples of previously funded projects, and apply for funding.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Signs Presidential Pledge to America’s Workers

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. recently signed the “Pledge to America’s Workers” affirming its commitment to creating workforce opportunities to American students and workers.

The pledge-signing ceremony included 14 Alabama F.A.M.E. (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing) students who will work in the plant and White House Advisor Ivanka Trump.

“Signing the ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ demonstrates our dedication to the community. We aim to hire locally whenever possible,” said MTMUS Vice President Janette Hostettler. “At full production, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will employ up to 4,000 individuals.

“That is 4,000 training and career opportunities and 4,000 reasons we are proud to call North Alabama home.”

The pledge was created by the National Council for the American Worker, a group established by an Executive Order signed by President Trump in July 2018. By signing, companies and trade groups commit to creating opportunities over the next five years for American students and workers, whether through apprenticeships and work-based learning, continuing education, on-the-job training, and re-skilling.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and is hiring staff and skilled maintenance positions. For information, visit www.mazdatoyota.com.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. is a jointly owned-and-operated automotive production plant. The $1.6 billion facility is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and will have the capacity to assemble up to 300,000 vehicles a year, beginning in 2021.

Apartments.com: Huntsville Ranked No. 5 Among America’s Top Affordable College Towns

The Rocket City found itself near the top of another list and this one concerns the area’s future workforce.
According to Apartments.com, the nation’s most visited apartment site, Huntsville is ranked No. 5 among the nation’s top affordable college towns.
A city with no shortage of southern charm and intellectual values, Huntsville’s local schools are among the best in the state. Students interested in attending the historic Alabama A&M University, the University of Alabama in Huntsville or Oakwood University are able to choose from more than 2,000 apartments at an average unit price of $826.
Apartments.com is sharing the top budget-friendly college cities ranked by average rent per unit and the amount of affordable housing options available based on a recent analysis from Apartments.com and parent company, CoStar Group.
The top four towns are:

1. Wichita, Kan.
Topping the list is a thriving cultural and economic hub full of energy and excitement. Students thinking of attending the flagship institution of Kansas’ biggest city – Wichita State University – have more than 1,115 rental options near campus with most of the popular dining, entertainment, and nightlife hotspots just a few miles down the road. With the average rent per unit at just $671, residents won’t have to break the bank. Faculty and other community members supporting the university can expect to pay 16% of their income on rent.

2. Tulsa, Okla.
With eight four-year colleges within 40 miles of Tulsa and nearly 3,000 apartment rentals available, students have a variety of options for not only where to attend school but also where to live. Less than three miles from Downtown Tulsa, the University of Tulsa is surrounded by a wide range of apartments, condos, and houses available for rent. With the average unit price at $694, students are able to find the perfect home at an affordable price with money left over for tuition, textbooks, and more.

3. Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City, one of the least expensive metropolitan areas in the nation with residents spending just 18% of their income on rent, has been expanding in recent years. With the average rent per unit at just $756 and 1,533 rentals near Oklahoma State University, the neighborhoods that surround the campus are full of rental houses, apartments, and condos to fit any budget and within a short walk of the university.

4. Fargo, N.D.
The largest city in North Dakota ranks in the top four affordable college towns, with the average rent per unit averaging at $775 and residents spending 18% of income on rent. Students looking for somewhere unique and artistic with no shortage of things to do should consider North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead, or Concordia College at Moorhead. With 1,720 rentals available near North Dakota State University, students looking to become part of the Thundering Herd will have plenty of options to find the perfect apartment.