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.

 

Huntsville’s Burgeoning Regional Economy Part 2: Right-sizing Lifestyle with Quality of Life

(This is the second and final installment of a two-part story on the area’s growing economy.)

Recently, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle shared his vision for Huntsville in terms of an average sized pie. He, along with business owners and civic officials, stood at city center – what Battle calls Huntsville’s “living room” – and looked out in every direction to the edges of the pie’s crust.

What they see are active growth corridors ushering in a significant expansion of the original Huntsville pie, which is accelerating economic growth throughout the North Alabama region.

“Instead of dividing the pie into fifteen different pieces that get smaller the more users you add, we made the whole pie bigger so we could divide it up differently with more restaurants, entertainment and activity venues, more places to spend retail dollars,” he said. “With a bigger pie, each slice is more valuable.”

The success of Twickenham Square, a multi-use development built right in the heart of downtown Huntsville’s medical district and anchored by The Artisan luxury apartments and a Publix, has spurred the development of four more multi-use (multi-purpose or mixed-use) sites in the downtown area.

These developments require the right balance of residential, retail, and commercial space, usually surrounded by a pedestrian-friendly traffic pattern, walking trails and/or parks, and plenty of amenities and activities.

Sealy Realty’s Avenue Huntsville (and the new Avenue Madison); CityCentre at Big Spring with the new AC Hotel by Marriott; the long-awaited Constellation, breaking ground this fall on the old Heart of Huntsville site at Clinton Avenue; and a new development by Rocket Development Partners on the former site of the Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue across from the VBC are either already established or coming soon to downtown Huntsville.

“People ask whether mixed-use/multi-use developments are replacing traditional malls and shopping centers,” said Battle. “But I think you have to look at each one individually. People are looking for more live, work, play types of environments, but I think what we are seeing today is a shift. Is it permanent? Probably some of it is, but I won’t be surprised to see it shift back.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre, as well as MidCity District on the old Madison Square Mall property, agrees.

“Retail centers are not dead. They’re just changing based on consumer behavior,” he said. “Old-style retail centers still play a role in our communities. A good ‘convenience’ style retail center is needed to support suburban neighborhoods.

“However, retailers across most retail center formats are shrinking their footprints and using technology and distribution to keep up with the trends and competition.”

But Battle points out that many online retailers, such as Duluth Trading Company who have been online-only retailers, are building mortar-and-brick stores like the one they opened at Town Madison in June.

And even online behemoth Amazon is now putting stores throughout the U.S.

“I just got back from Nagoya, Japan where they still have huge department stores that are very active because people want to look at what they’re going to buy, touch it, experience the kind of cloth it’s made of and see how it fits,” Battle said.

“When you look at Parkway Place, they are doing very well, and we recently added an apartment component to Bridge Street Town Centre to add a ‘live’ component to it and Research Park’s work and play.

“But when you look at the old Madison Square Mall, it could be found on a site called DeadMalls.com,” Battle said. “We built a lot of malls back in the 1960s and 1970s – probably too many. I think we are now right-sizing back to what we need. There’s still a place for pure shopping like Parkway Place, but I say you need both to succeed.”

Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue Huntsville, which also has a retail component in downtown Huntsville.

Sealy is also building Avenue Madison that will have a retail and parking component in downtown Madison. He said the trend for new developments will be weighted more towards multi-use developments in the future.

“However, the older style shopping centers and malls won’t be replaced anytime soon unless they are old, obsolete, and really in need of replacement anyway,” said Sealy. “These [mixed-use] developments are definitely what residents and consumers prefer now because of the experience they produce.”

Grelier said the mixed-use developments come in a variety of styles.

“These developments are a type of urban development strategy that blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and/or entertainment uses to initiate more consumer interactions by creating walkable, livable, and experiential communities,” said Grelier. “Mixed-use developments can take the form of a single building, a city block, or entire districts.

“Traditionally, human settlements have developed in mixed-use patterns; however, with industrialization of the U.S., as well as the invention of the skyscraper, governmental zoning regulations were introduced to separate different functions, such as manufacturing, from residential areas.”

Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison, sees it differently.

“I think we are seeing the death of the supercenter more than malls,” said Ceci. “Those centers with huge parking lots and a row of big box stores lined up next to each other – for one thing people just don’t like that huge parking field and, two, from a developer’s standpoint, if something happens and a business closes or moves out, it is very difficult to repurpose that huge space left behind by a store the size of Target or TJ Maxx. You can use a big box space for a trampoline center or an entertainment center, but you can’t put a restaurant in there.

“Multi-purpose developments are making that space work better by integrating residential into it via restaurants and everyday neighborhood retail like a dry cleaner or hair salon. The idea is to take the new urbanist movement that everyone is following and make smaller blocks of space so that if, in 20 years, that block is no longer viable, knock it down and put something else there. It’s a matter of making it more sustainable over time.”

Sustainability is the focus at Town Madison where Madison Mayor Paul Finley is looking to more than the casual Rocket City Trash Pandas fan to help build out that development.

He’s getting some help from travel sports and softball/baseball recruiters and scouts who will enjoy the regional draw of the new Pro Player Park, just off Wall-Triana Highway.

“The new Pro Player Park and everything Town Madison offers will definitely get foot traffic to our hotels; however, workforce development secures regional success which will also help us locally in aspects of infrastructure and schools,” said Finley.

Finley also points to the success of the Village at Providence, one of the area’s very first mixed-use developments built in 2003, as an example of how popular pedestrian-friendly mixed-use communities have become.

“A mixed-use development offers a live-work-play experience right outside of your front door,” said Finley. “This is appealing to young professionals, established mid-lifers, and retirees alike. These developments are multigenerational that attract businesses to the area.”

“Mixed-use developments are replacing declining malls because they are often well-located within a region that affords them premium access and site metrics,” said RCP’s Grelier who is striving to make the old mall property economically viable again. “When this is the case, there is typically strong demand for several multiple property types such as hospitality, residential, office, restaurants, and retail.

“Single-use commercial centers are becoming more difficult to sustain given changing consumer behavior related to online shopping, and demographic trends focusing on experiences rather than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping.”

However, Grelier said when they purchased the old mall property in 2015, they had a strategy ready for MidCity.

“We began working with the city and Urban Design Associates (UDA) to create a mixed-use project that would meet market demand and help reverse the decline of the West Huntsville commercial corridor,” he said. “We also had a broader, more aspirational strategy in collaboration with the city to use the MidCity District as regional economic growth tool by addressing the ‘next-generation’ workforce demand in Cummings Research Park.”

Grelier said they engaged nationally known market research consultants to perform third-party market studies to guide them in developing programming for a proper balance of uses.

“We used the information from the studies to collaborate with the City and UDA to produce a complete district business plan that would maximize regional draw by creating diverse layers of use and programming at the property,” Grelier said.

“Much of the emphasis is on highlighting our local cultural assets and identifying destination venues like TopGolf, public parks, and an amphitheater to establish a foundation around art and culture.”

He said this is now happening through connections with Huntsville’s and Muscle Shoals’ regional music legacy to bring a world-class 8,500-capacity amphitheater to the development.

“We believe the amphitheatre will be very successful and play a vital role in the elevation of the region as a place you want to live,” Grelier said. “There’s a strong demand for weekend entertainment so the music initiative happening in North Alabama will not only keep locals from traveling to spend in nearby markets, it will attract more weekend tourism to our region.”

Sealy said there is a strategy involved in where they build these mixed-use developments as well.

“These developments are really a long-term strategy in the sense that consumer preferences are shifting this way, so we are building for what is more popular now and appears will be more popular in the future,” he said. “… We are trying to draw certain people and jobs from other cities.  These developments are a recruiting tool and regional draw when we are competing against bigger cities for the same talent.

“Some people, particularly millennials, desire this type of environment for living or work, so we need them to attract that population …. They will spread through the regional area, but they need a certain density of people to work, so they will be concentrated in the growth corridors where the population and jobs are the largest.”

And, now, there is something for just about everyone.

“You hear people say, ‘Huntsville has some pretty cool breweries downtown, I can have some fun on Friday night, go see a baseball game, spend the night, go shop at Bridge Street, play some TopGolf, and get brunch at Stovehouse on Sunday’,” said Ceci. “It makes us a lot like Chattanooga – a kind of weekend destination where people say, ‘Wow! Huntsville is a great place to go for the weekend. There is always something to do.’”

Sealy said the mixed-use strategy is rewarding.

“I enjoy working on mixed-use projects because there is a huge emphasis on architecture, walk-ability, streetscape,” said Sealy. “The multi-use developments are a bigger challenge, but it is a rewarding creative process.”

Battle said the revitalization of one area pays benefits to the entire city.

“The Live, Work, Play strategy has always been our city plan,” said Battle. “Revitalize one area using the profits of another area we have revitalized and watch the spread of that revitalization until eventually the whole city is revitalized from one end to the other in every direction.”

Toyota Donation Helps Drive Advanced Manufacturing Program at Drake State

Toyota is putting its products on the assembly line for education.

The automaker is donating two Corollas and 12 engines to support the advanced manufacturing program at Drake State Community & Technical College in Huntsville.

“We believe it’s our responsibility to partner with educators to support career readiness programs that help develop our future workforce,” said Kim Ogle, Toyota Alabama corporate communications. “By donating these vehicles and engines, we are helping ensure students are trained on up-to-date equipment and receiving the highly technical skills needed for the thousands of manufacturing jobs in our area.”

The donated Corollas and engines – valued at approximately $200,000 – were originally used to provide onsite training for team members at the Huntsville Toyota engine plant.

Now, these products will serve a new training purpose as it supports hands-on learning at Drake State.

“This investment in the development of our workforce by Toyota is a great of example of how we – business and education – should and must work together to ensure that when potential employees arrive at the doorsteps of industry, they are ready to work,” said Patricia Sims, President of JF Drake State.

“We encourage other companies to directly engage with local schools and community colleges to help strengthen overall workforce readiness efforts.”

Lynne Berry Vallely to Receive Humanities Service Award

Lynne Berry Vallely has been honored for serving Alabama Humanities.

BIRMINGHAM — Lynne Berry Vallely has been named the recipient of the 2019 Wayne Greenhaw Service to the Humanities Award, the Alabama Humanities Foundation Board of Directors announced.

Vallely, former AHF chair and longtime member of the board, will be honored with the Greenhaw award Oct. 7 at The Colloquium at Birmingham’s The Club. The award, named in memory of the author and former board member, is given to a past or current AHF board member who has contributed significantly to serving Alabama Humanities.

“My long association with the Alabama Humanities Foundation has been one of the great joys of my life,” Vallely said. “It was a privilege to work with talented staff and board members to share Alabama’s rich heritage, particularly its fascinating literature and history.

“I am especially delighted to have been chosen for the award named for Wayne Greenhaw, who was a dear friend and mentor.”

A native of Huntsville, Vallely is a graduate of Lee High School and Vanderbilt University. She retired after serving as executive director of the HudsonAlpha Foundation.

She was the founding executive director of the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County. She has served in the offices of former U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.

“Lynne was an outstanding board member and chair, and she served our organization with great energy and enthusiasm,” said AHF Executive Director Armand DeKeyser. “Her leadership set the standard that will serve us well in years to come.”

Vallely was a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation Board for 20 years and served as board chair in 2016. She was a member of the board of directors of The Nature Conservancy, Alabama chapter, and served as board chair 2009-2010.

She was in Class 1 of Leadership Huntsville and is a past board chair, 1992-1993. Vallely proposed and established Huntsville Hospital’s Community Health Initiative in 1996. She received the 2018 Women’s Economic Development Council’s Women Honoring Women Award.

Playing leadership roles in service to the community, Vallely has worked in positions that promoted Huntsville’s tourist attractions, preserved its historic sites and protected the area’s natural environment.

Pruning Cummings Research Park Infuses Vibrancy, Marketability

Any good gardener knows a first-class park requires long-term planning and seasonal pruning to ensure its vibrancy.

In 1962, Teledyne Brown Engineering (then Brown Engineering) lay deep roots on 100 acres off a dirt road that later became Sparkman Drive.

IBM, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville quickly followed. Since then, Cummings Research Park’s 3,843 acres of prime Huntsville real estate has been a focal point of a 50-year master plan.

Cummings Research Park, with a 92 percent occupancy rate and 240 untouched acres to spare, is the second-largest research park in the nation and fourth largest in the world.

But to better understand the growth strategy at work in the park, it is best to differentiate between Research Park East and Research Park West.

“When we talk about current growth, we mean business growth from companies within the park, especially on the west side,” said Erin Koshut, the executive director of Cummings Research Park. “On the east side, market studies show we need to redevelop that area to create greater density and to replace 1960s and 1970s buildings with properties that align with today’s economy. That will infuse the older section with new vibrancy.

“By doing that, we won’t have to look at physical land expansion per se for a very long time.”

Within the master plan are five-year work plans. The city is currently working off a plan finalized in 2016; a new plan begins in 2021. The plan acknowledges that some of the original buildings and key properties in the oldest sections of Research Park East are no longer viable in the market.

“Without the revitalization, if a company wants to go in and invest in that part of the park, they wouldn’t get their return on investment,” said Koshut. “That is why the zoning ordinances were changed for Research Park East – to give back some of the land to the park and to reduce economic setbacks.”

Cummings Research Park East

Rendering of Bradford Crossing

One such property is at Bradford and Wynn drives on the former site of the St. John Paul II Catholic High School. Driven Capital Partners in California purchased the four-acre site and plans to redevelop it into a mixed-use site called Bradford Crossing.

“Article 55 of the new zoning ordinance is very specific and says if you have a retail element on the ground floor, there has to be two or more uses,” said Koshut. “We cannot build a standalone gas station or drop a superstore in there, but a multistory building with ground floor retail will create density on a small but efficient parcel of land.

“No decision has been made on what other uses will be included, but it could be office space, multi-family residences, a hotel, or a mixture of all three on upper floors.”

There are four big red circles marking areas of Cummings Research Park East targeted for potential mixed-use redevelopment. Currently, no groundbreaking date is set for Bradford Crossing.

“This is not just the (Huntsville-Madison County) Chamber or the city calling for these changes,” said Koshut. “We have landowners like the Olin King family at Crown Leasing who own property on Bradford Drive. They demolished the building that was on it and now have the land for sale. Business and landowners understand the flavor of changes happening in the older section of the park.”

Other planned redevelopments include converting Executive Plaza off Sparkman Drive into a multi-use facility, including an arena for the UAH hockey team and convocations; and Huntsville’s plans to donate up to $1.8 million in land to Alabama’s third magnet school, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. It has a temporary home at the Tom Bevill Center on UAH’s campus, but plans are to build a permanent location in Cummings Research Park East by 2022.

“This will give the whole park along the outskirts of UAH, a big infusion of vibrancy and marketability,” said Koshut.

Cummings Research Park West

The new Radiance Technologies facility will consolidate operations and employees.

Over in Cummings Research Park West, it is not about redevelopment but about taking what is there, making it better, and expanding the footprint. In fact, Cummings Research Park West will see three major projects and numerous moderate but significant business expansions this year.

By the end of the year, Radiance Technologies will be moving into a 100,000-square-foot facility at 310 Bob Heath Drive. The new facility will consolidate operations and employees, but with significant growth, Radiance will keep its 38,000-square-foot facility on Wynn Drive in Cummings Research Park East for a while.

The new $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is sprouting from a 20-acre site at Old Madison Pike and Jan Davis Drive. It is scheduled to open in 2020.

The $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is scheduled to open next year.

“BAE Systems has a long history with Huntsville dating back many years when they had only a couple of employees,” said Koshut. “We are proud to see them bringing in 200 employees, many new hires, and some recruited to Huntsville from the Northeast.”

Fifty-four-foot walls are up around the $200 million Blue Origin rocket engine production facility on Explorer Drive. Expected to open its doors in March 2020, Blue Origin is estimated to bring up to 300 jobs to the local economy.

Dynetics just expanded its footprint with the 78,000 square-foot Dr. Stephen M. Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility; and IronMountain Solutions found a new home on Voyager Way.

“We have the first apartments, Watermark at Bridge Street Town Centre, built in Research Park,” said Koshut. “They consist of two four-story buildings and 240 apartments. Over half already leased before they open and of course a majority of those people work in Research Park.”

She said they would like to see an extension of Bridge Street Town Centre or at least retail that is congruent to Bridge Street grow into the commercial retail corridor between Bridge Street’s outdoor shopping promenade and Lake 4.

It’s All for the Employees

“There is a key component of all this expansion and redevelopment,” said Koshut. “It is driven by the wants and needs of employees.

“These companies want to recruit top talent to Huntsville, and they want to retain them. They require conveniences, activities, and amenities that have been available to them in cities where they are recruited from, many bigger than Huntsville.”

This includes access luxury apartments and single-family homes in or surrounding the park; creating a sense of vibrancy and community with activities such as the Food Truck Fest that draws some 300 people a month; free monthly happy hours in the park; and free Suzy’s Pops or Steel City Pops during the summer.

Later this summer or early fall, Koshut said the city will launch a pilot Bike Share project in Cummings Research Park West with three bike-share stations.

“As the city continues to invest in that program, we hope to connect many bike-share systems across the city so, at any time, an employee can hop on a bike and ride out to lunch,” said Koshut. “Young people enjoy being outside and easily get tired of being stuck in an office all day. Huntsville companies are recruiting people from cities that offer a quality lifestyle amenity.”

So, as new buildings are sprouting up all over Cumming Research Park, it always helps to keep the park neatly clipped and pruned to inspire growth and opportunities among the older, well-established buildings alongside the new and flourishing.