U.S. Space & Rocket Center Reopening to Public

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is reopening to museum members Friday and to the general public Saturday. The Rocket Center has been closed since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To maintain social distancing, visitors will enter at the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Davidson Center, Rocket Park and Shuttle Park will be open, but some exhibits and all simulators will remain closed.

The traveling exhibit, “Playing with Light,” in the original museum building will be open.

Enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other safety measures include:

  • Timed tickets are required for admission.
  • One-directional paths are laid out through exhibits.
  • Plexiglass shields are in place at visitor service and ticketing desks.
  • Masks are strongly recommended for visitors and required for staff.

Reopening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed Mondays for cleaning.

To purchase tickets, visit rocketcenter.com.

Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Ardent Preschool & Daycare Breaks Ground at Redstone Gateway

Ardent Preschool & Daycare recently broke ground for its facility at Redstone Gateway.

Redstone Gateway is a mixed-use office and technology park outside Redstone Arsenal‘s Gate 9. Redstone Arsenal is the nation’s preeminent center for logistics services, space operations and missile defense, intelligence and homeland defense, and R&D testing and development.

The school will serve community families and those commuting to the office park or the Arsenal. The 22,000-square-foot facility will be the seventh location opened by the “2019 Best of Birmingham — Preschool and Daycare” award recipient.

We are excited to work once again with TurnerBatson on the innovative new model for Ardent Preschool that will be built outside of Redstone Arsenal,” said Ardent CEO John LaBreche. “The two new locations recently built in the Hoover area have been well-received by parents seeking the highest quality of care for their children.

“Our goal is to offer parents in the Huntsville area a childcare experience that will be a delight for the entire family.”

The Redstone Gateway school will house 18 classrooms for children ages six weeks through kindergarten allowing teachers ample room to educate, lead Bible lessons, and plan arts and crafts activities. Classrooms will be equipped with interactive smart boards to encourage student involvement and allow teachers one-on-one training with their students.

The campus will provide secure entrances with high definition cameras and a state-of -the-art security system. Other amenities include a splash pad, four age-appropriate outdoor play areas with sunshades, and multicolored rubberized play surfaces.

The general contractor is Murray Building Company and TJ Lee with Leeland Ventures will be the local developer bringing more than 25 years of experience to the industry.

School of Cyber Technology & Engineering Announces Funding

The Alabama School of Cyber Technology & Engineering has received $250,000 in new funds, according to an announcement Thursday.

To date, the school’s foundation has raised close to $11 million locally. The goal is to raise $35 million from throughout the state.

Facebook and a pair of Huntsville-based companies made the most-recent contributions.

Facebook, which is building a data center in Huntsville, donated $100,000; Sentar, with owners Peter and Karen Kiss, will contribute $100,000; and DESE Research President Michael Kirkpatrick announced a $50,000 contribution.

ASCTE President Matt Massey recognized Oakwood University and its President Dr. Leslie Pollard, who was in attendance at the announcement.

The school will open this fall at Oakwood, which is serving as the interim site for the first two years while the permanent location is built at the intersection of Bradford Drive and Wynn Drive in Cummings Research Park.

Construction is expected to be finished in the summer of 2022. Initial enrollment is approximately 100 students, with plans to expand to 300 in grades 9-12, with approximately half living on campus in dormitories.

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.”