Women in Hardhats are a Growing Trend in the Construction Industry

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

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

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

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

Meet Amanda Black, Safety Manager

Amanda Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Jessica Yarbrough, Assistant Superintendent

Jessica Yarbrough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Donna Strange, Assistant Superintendent

Donna Strange

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Sarah Horton, Project Engineer

Sarah Horton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Male Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamber Chair Kim Lewis: ‘We Need to Create a Trained Workforce’

One of the Huntsville-Madison County’s key business influencers has been recently named as the 2019 Board Chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Kim Caudle Lewis, the first African-American woman to hold the board position said her top goal for the year-long volunteer job is helping workers gain the skills they need to match the many jobs available locally.

“I’m pretty excited!” said Lewis.

“We’ve done a great job as far as economic development goes, but we’ve got to work on our workforce,” she said, adding that the unemployed, the under-employed, and those looking for new careers are the chamber’s focus.

With an upbeat, can-do work ethic, Lewis epitomizes hard work, soft-skills, and solid business savvy, an ideal combination for a board chair. Lewis has keen insight of the big picture, as well as understanding the future industry needs of North Alabama.

Lewis’ primary focus is job skills and workforce development, and the need to create a trained, work-ready job force in anticipation of the exciting new industry coming to Northeast Alabama.

“We need to create a trained workforce to meet the needs of the new industries and jobs that are coming to Huntsville, Madison, and North Alabama,” said Lewis. “The training required is not currently available in the two- and four-year systems, not even in the high schools. We also need to provide education that’s affordable and accessible.”

Even though Huntsville is a high-tech driven city, Lewis said there is a renewed demand for the skilled labor, blue-collar types of jobs.

“With economic growth comes demand,” she said. “Not all jobs are high-tech, there’s a lot of skilled labor jobs. There are jobs in every industry. A lot of them are new industries for this area.

“The Chamber has done a really good job of bringing new industry to Huntsville-North Alabama. There’s more concentration on the workforce now. We’ve promised the companies the workforce. Now, we need to make sure to educate workers to fill those jobs.”

“With the coming of the Toyota plant,” says Lewis, “we’ve never had a full production plant here. This makes it more exciting. You can come to Huntsville and be a part of something that’s done – all in one location.”

And there’s the advancements in aerospace.

“We’ve always had NASA here, but with the arrival of Blue Origin, we will be taking space to a whole new level,” she said.

“Many simply don’t know what skills are required to fill local open jobs,” said Lewis. “We want to show people the path to get there.

“The biggest mistake is that people generalize a lot of jobs, such as engineering. There are so many types of engineers, in various industries. We need to do a better job of explaining.  Asmartplace.com is a site linked to the Chamber’s website which shows a “Day in the Life” of a variety of industry jobs. It’s a sample. A good, brief overview of what they can anticipate in that job.”

Recently, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber hosted the Second Chance Job Fair in collaboration with the Alabama Career Center, the Alabama Community College System, and several local nonprofits, and community agencies. The event was developed to help bridge the gap between under-resourced job seekers and employers.

“Workforce development is just a small part of what the Chamber does,” said Lewis “There are a lot of activities going on. We help support businesses already here. We provide the resources to help them grow and continue to grow.”

Lewis is no stranger to service work. Growing up in Triana the youngest of 10 children, her parents Charley D. Caudle of Triana and the late Lela Mae Caudle, always instilled the virtues of civic duty and community participation.

Her father set a good example for his children. First serving in the military, he then worked for Tennessee Valley Authority, and was also a volunteer fireman. In retirement, he worked for the town of Triana. One of her sisters, Mary Caudle, is the mayor of Triana.

Lewis has also held several volunteer board leadership roles, including the Chamber Foundation, Public Affairs Research Council of North Alabama, Huntsville Botanical Garden, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, HEALS (Health Establishments at Local Schools), the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, Huntsville Committee of 100, and her alma mater, Calhoun Community College.

As the owner and president of Project XYZ, an award-winning Huntsville company, Kim and her husband Larry provide engineering, logistics, information technology, and alternative energy services, in addition to health care IT.

Comprised of 100 employees, Project XYZ has been honored as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Woman-Owned Business of the year and won the 2016 “Blue Ribbon Award,” and the 2015 Business of the Year by the local chamber. Project XYZ was also on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s top entrepreneurs in 2014-17. 

Huntsville West: Repurposing a Former School into a Coworking Community

Passions run high when neighborhood schools face retirement.

Residents and alumni get emotional reminiscing about passing notes in science class, sneaking their first kiss behind the bleachers, gossiping with friends around the lockers, and cramming for pop quizzes in the library.

Unlike an old warehouse or aging office building, most schools face an uncertain future. Their unique layout makes gutting the building and converting it into a retail store or apartment building impractical.

As an alternative to demolition, old schools usually sell for pennies on the dollar and sit useless and abandoned for many years.

Huntsville, however, is not like most cities.

When Huntsville City Schools retired more 700,000 square feet of school space a few years ago, Huntsville’s serial entrepreneurs used their tenaciously innovative spirit and ingenuity to find pragmatic solutions for this otherwise wasteful real estate.

Several successful projects have been born from repurposing abandoned schools.

Huntsville developer Randy Schrimsher converted the Butler High School/Stone Middle School built in 1951 into downtown Huntsville’s premier brewery and entertainment center, Campus 805.

The Huntsville Madison County Public Library Foundation (HMCPL) bought the original Virgil I. Grissom High School on Bailey Cove Road and is currently repurposing it into the Sandra Moon Community Complex and new Huntsville Library.

Twenty-nine-year-old Brandon Kruse is a technological magnate.

By the age of 24, he had already built and sold a successful telecommunications company. In 2014, he used $500,000 of those proceeds to buy a shuttered West Huntsville Elementary School on 9th Avenue.

He planned to convert it into a low overhead small business incubator he refers to as “a flophouse for entrepreneurs” called the Huntsville West Coworking Community. Almost a year later, Kruse purchased the vacant Westlawn Middle School,  just down the street from West Huntsville, for $650,000 for similar repurposing.

While Westlawn is currently home to the Huntsville Achievement Academy, it is only 20 percent completed, and will have a big agenda in 2019.

Huntsville West on the other hand is proving to be very successful and, if not for the variety of memberships and leasing options available, on any given day it sits at 100 percent occupancy.

According to Community Manager Demetrius Malone, Huntsville West caters to startup technology companies, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creative professionals who have limited resources and need flexibility. Among the current tenants you will find a diverse community of software developers, Google Fiber technicians, Disney engineers, data security firms, nonprofit organizations, and mentoring and consulting services.

“One of the ways we offer flexibility is through a variety of affordable memberships and low-cost all-inclusive month-to-month leasing options,” Malone said. “Research shows that among start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, there is a real fear of sustainability on a long-term office space lease. This undue stress becomes a distraction when the focus should be on growing the business or getting a product or service to market.”

Although Huntsville West has a waiting list for the 35 or 40 redesigned “classrooms” acting as individual offices and studios along the hallways, there is much more to Huntsville West than private offices.

“We have many ways for you to benefit from joining our community,” said Malone.

In fact, a large segment of the Huntsville West Coworking Community doesn’t have private offices at all. The community’s basic membership starts at $150 and gives the member access to all the common areas, coworking lounge, conference rooms, and break rooms with vending machines and hot coffee.

If someone does not have an office but needs privacy, there are comfortable nooks and corners where to work in private, or large open areas where people can gather around a table with others to socialize and collaborate.

Office space starts at $550 a month and go up to $950 a month for a large studio. Utilities, Internet and 24/7 access are included.

One level of membership includes one of Huntsville West’s larger shared offices where two or three people can work. It isn’t quite a private office but allows you a private desk and the ability to leave your work and personal belongings overnight without having to carry them back and forth from home.

Huntsville West also offers day passes for potential members to try out the facilities; as well as a 5-day pass for $50 a month to use those five days anytime during a 30-day period. Membership comes with an app for your smartphone that tracks your time.

The concept for coworking space is less than 20 years old, but in many ways, it has saved much of the nation’s job force, said Malone.

“Corporations have saved a lot of overhead by downsizing office facilities and allowing their employees to work at remote locations,” he said. “It is also ideal for start-ups because we offer them all types of professional guidance and advice, as well as resources to give them a boost and help them step-by-step achieve their dreams.”

Sometimes coffee shops and restaurants are too loud; many places have limited Internet access; and working at home can be distracting, said Malone.

“You have none of that here,” he said. “You can grow at your own pace, and what excites me is seeing someone start out with a basic membership but in time, upgrade to a private office or go from a small office to a larger office.

“That means they are growing and accomplishing goals, which is what Brandon designed Huntsville West to do.”

Add to that an overall culture and environment that promotes collaboration, diversity, an exchange of ideas, and that has management that keeps people engaged and inspired to reach for their dreams. They offer free lunches that bring members of the community together, and provide classes and seminars on a wide variety of business topics like leadership skills; how to create a business plan; how to recognize it is time to get a business license; when to take certain steps, and when not to; even workshops to improve business skills and find solutions to challenges.

One such upcoming program Malone calls Working Women’s Wednesday aims to show working moms how to balance a career, kids, and marriage so they do not have to wait for the kids to leave home before she can pursue her dreams.

“We work to make Huntsville West a casual, friendly environment where you do not have to whisper as if you are in a library, and yet a place where everyone is working towards something big and takes their time here seriously,” said Malone. “We have experienced business people in their 60s and 70s working on starting up a new venture, sitting and sometimes even collaborating with a 19- or 20- year-old who doesn’t have a clue about business, but knows technology like the back their hand.

“To see that combination come together without a hierarchy of experience that says, ‘I am here and you are there’, is just amazing.”

Kruse, who is a software engineer and all-around techie, can be found hoverboarding through the halls of Huntsville West on any given day. He is creative in addition to his technological and business savvy and has the support from his father and grandfather who are successful Huntsville real estate executives. His mother, Penny Kruse, and her company, Interiors by Pennel, designed all of the contemporary interior space with its clean techie style and appealing colors.

Because West Huntsville Elementary opened in 1955, bringing its infrastructure up to technological standards that support fast Internet and Voice-over IP (VoIP) would be a problem for some, but when Google Fiber leases office space in your building, that problem is easily solved.

“We have a very creative team who works together to capitalize and get the most out of every inch of space so that it is comfortable, functional, and efficient,” said Malone. “We want Huntsville West to look like it was built as a coworking center that just happened to be used as a school for 50 years, rather than the other way around.”

Love by The Numbers: This Business of Valentine’s Day

If you were shopping for Christmas swag in hopes of scoring big post-season discounts, you might have taken notice.

In almost a blink of an eye, retailers moved quickly in preparation for Valentine’s Day. By the end of the first week of the new year, inventory on the shelves had magically transformed from tinsel and tree lights to pink and red hearts.

Valentine’s Day is a BIG deal in the United States. From all walks of retail, customers are faced with an endless array of love-inspired offerings to suit every taste and budget.

Each year, Valentine’s Day spending in the U.S. for sweethearts, kids, friends, coworkers, and even the family pet translates into billions of dollars. BILLIONS.

According to the National Retail Federation, last year’s Valentine’s Day spending contributed roughly $19.6 billion to the U.S. economy. Those numbers were the second-highest since 2013; topped only by a record $19.7 billion spent in 2016.  Given a stable economy, Valentine’s Day 2019 spending could easily match or exceed $20 billion.

Who’s Buying?

There’s nothing like the blush of young love. Whether it’s to impress a mate or to woo a potential one, 60 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and 67 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 34 celebrate Valentine’s Day with gusto, spending more than the older folks. In fact, just half of those between ages 55 and 64 and only 44.7 percent of those 65 and older celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Most Valentine’s Day gift purchases are for a spouse or significant other. The other top gifting categories include family members, kids’ classmates and teachers, coworkers, and pets.

The $19.6 billion spent in 2018 translated into an average of $143.56 per person.  All Valentine’s Day gifting is not created equal, however. Men spend almost twice as much as women do. On average, guys spend $196.39 on their beloved, while the ladies spend only $99.87.

Where Are They Buying it?

As the first gift-centric holiday of the new year, big spending on Valentine’s Day provides a hefty boost to the economy. Despite the ease and convenience of the Internet, only 29 percent of shoppers order Valentine’s Day gifts online.

For Valentine’s Day in particular, shoppers seem to prefer the in-store “brick and mortar” approach to gift buying: 35 percent visit department stores, 32 percent shop at discount stores, 19 percent prefer browsing specialty stores, and 17 percent will stop by the florist’s shop on their way home from work. Even if it means waiting in a line that circles the building.

What Are They Buying?

The top five categories of Valentine’s Day gifts are candy, greeting cards, dining out, flowers, and jewelry.

Candy

More than 80 percent of consumers love their chocolate and it’s not surprising that candy is the No. 1 Valentine’s Day gift of choice.

The great thing about candy is that it can be purchased practically anywhere, at any price point – from grocery stores to high quality confectioneries – yet it’s still inexpensive when compared to flowers, fine dining, or jewelry.

For the past six years, sisters Caitlin Lyon and Michelle Novosel Pennell have owned and operated Pizzelle’s Confections at Lowe Mill.

“Valentine’s Day is literally a line of guys, lined up at the door,” said Lyon. “It’s also the one time of year where we can pre-box a variety of candy and it will sell.”

Pennell said, “Valentine’s Day is one week of craziness! We hope that people will come out and enjoy.”

Cards

Valentine’s Day cards are still popular and represent close to 45 percent of sales. Greeting card purchases include fancy romantic cards for one’s sweetie, as well as those packs of cards parents often buy for their kids’ teachers and classmates.

Despite being a high-volume item, Valentine’s Day cards are very inexpensive, thus generating a mere $1 billion in revenue.

A Night on the Town

Valentine’s Day dining translates into 35 percent of purchases and approximately $4 billion in generated revenue.

Tastes and budgets may vary, but most couples will spend a romantic evening out on Valentine’s Day, whether it be savoring fine wine and a fancy meal at an upscale restaurant or a sit-down meal without the kids at a fast food establishment.

Flowers

With close to $2 billion in revenue generated from domestically cut flowers, bouquets represent 38 percent of Valentine’s Day sales in the U.S.

“Valentine’s day is probably the busiest single day of the year for us. Men buying for their wives or girlfriends; if there’s a child, they buy a valentine for them, too,” said Karen Bowers, longtime sales clerk at Albert’s Florist in Huntsville. “People often wait until the last minute, so it gets pretty hectic.”

Co-worker Carol Moore said, “The phones ring off the hook, there’s a line out to the street. If Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend, it’s even busier.”

Jewelry

Despite representing only 19 percent of Valentine’s Day purchases, jewelry generated nearly $5 billion in revenue in 2018.

“Valentine’s Day is a big day for us,” says Karen Boehme, co-owner of Meyer and Lee Fine Jewelry. “But it’s not an anniversary gift purchase, where thousands might be spent on a special piece of jewelry, like a diamond necklace or ring. It’s usually less expensive, like a pair of earrings, a bracelet, or a necklace.”

Jewelry remains mostly a traditional, gender-based purchase –a man buying jewelry for his lady love.

“Men will often tell us that their wife doesn’t like jewelry,” Boehme said. “This is where we might suggest more traditional ‘staples,’ pieces that have timeless appeal and can be worn as part of an everyday look or for special occasions, such as a strand of pearls or diamond studs.”

To dispel the bad rap of husbands being last minute shoppers, she said there is a strategy to their purchase habits.

“Wives often manage the household budget so, to avoid suspicion, men will come in beforehand to place the order, then make the actual purchase closer to the date.”

Don’t Forget Fifi or Fido

In 2018, Valentine’s Day statistics show that man’s best friend is getting even more love over the past decade. According to a recent NRF survey, about 20 percent of US consumers plan to give their pets a Valentine’s Day gift.

It’s no secret that pets are already a big business 364 days of the year. Add $6 million in heart-shaped squeakies and dog treat sales on Feb. 14 and that’s a significant heart-shaped boost to the economy.

History and Future Merge with Blue Origin Engine Plant in the Rocket City

Looking back on history with an eye to the future, elected officials joined the CEOs of Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance in a ground-breaking ceremony Friday for a $200 million rocket engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville.

“We’re here to celebrate history with a vision to the future,” said Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield at the event. Canfield was joined on the speakers’ platform by Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin; Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance; Gov. Kay Ivey; U.S. Sen. Doug Jones; U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

The plant, when its doors open in 2020, is a milestone achievement in helping the United States return to space by building America’s next rocket engine.

“It’s a great day here in the Rocket City,” said Smith. “Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.”

Blue Origin was selected by ULA last September of last year to supply its next generation Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, for the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket

“It is a true marvel of engineering,” Smith said. “We will be able to end our dependence on Russian engines,” Smith said.

Calling it a “day of destiny,” Brooks said Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was inspired to build rockets when he saw the movie “October Sky” in 1999. The movie was based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Huntsville resident Homer Hickam. “Blue Origin is coming to the home of the man who inspired him.”

Smith also linked Huntsville’s history of building the giant engines that took Americans to the moon to building the BE-4 engines.

“We’re in final negotiations with the Marshall Space Flight Center to test the BE-4 on Test Stand 4670, the historic site of engine tests for the Saturn V and the space shuttle,” he said.

A pair of BE-4 engines will lift the new Vulcan rockets, which are made at ULA’s plant in Decatur.

“Our rockets are going to take Americans on American soil into space,” said Bruno. “And it’s about damn time!”

Blue Origin has a launch services agreement partnership with the Air Force to use its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions. New Glenn will be powered by seven BE-4 engines.

“This gives us a chance to design, make and test a rocket engine,” said Battle. “We will produce the greatest rocket engine in the world right here in Huntsville.”

Blue Origin’s engine production facility is the latest addition to Cummings Research Park, which is the second largest research park in the United States and fourth largest in the world.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome Blue Origin to Cummings Research Park,” said Erin Koshut, the park’s executive director. “As we like to say, the research and development happening here is driven by science and powered by people.”

The plant, which is expected to employ 300 people, is on a 46-acre site at the corner of Explorer Boulevard and Pegasus Drive.

Citing this area’s importance in U.S. space history, Strong said it’s no coincidence Blue Origin chose Huntsville.

“We have got the right people in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Welcome to the ‘Propulsion Capital of the World.’”

Multi-use development planned for former Coca-Cola plant site

For some time, there have been questions and rumors about the site of the former Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue.

Now, the questions have been answered and rumors dispelled.

Rocket Development Partners of New York City owns the 13-acre property and have a vision for its use.

“There’s going to be a mixed-use development on the site,” said Mitch Rutter, a principal with Rocket Development. “It will be heavily residential with some office components. We’re not going to overload with retail.

“It will be a live-work facility … modeled after The Gulch area of Nashville.”

He said some of the residential units will be “geared toward artists’ and musicians’ housing” because of its proximity to the Von Braun Center and Museum of Art.

Rutter suggested that some companies with their main offices in Cummings Research Park may opt to also open an office in the project “to help with their recruiting.”

He did not dismiss the possibility of a hotel also being built at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, “if the right hotel came along. We’re not going to be building or operating it.”

Rutter credited Mayor Tommy Battle and city officials for being “very practical” and said the city’s team was a major factor in developing the project here.

“It’s not by chance; we have a process (on project decisions) … and study econometrics,” he said. “Huntsville is blessed with triangulating factors: job growth with good wages; population growth; and the leadership team.

“They have a long-term Huntsville vision. That long-term plan, which includes the Von Braun Center expansion, renovation of Pinhook Creek, greenways and bikeways, is geared to accelerate the growth of downtown.”

Rutter said his company has retained Huntsville architect Paul Matheny and Urban Design Associates, who developed the city’s long-term plan.

“We’re very focused to create the density to bring people who want to live and work here,” he said. “It’s really very exciting.” 

Large Turnout for Airport Planning Presentation

There was a solid, enthusiastic turnout Tuesday when the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority presented its long-range master plan.

Business leaders and the public reviewed the colorful architectural renderings and learned more about the components of facility’s plans for future expansion. 

The audience was encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions. As an incentive, everyone who submitted an idea for airport enhancements, upgrades, or improvements qualified for entry in a random drawing for a $500 flight voucher.

The overarching goal of the airport master plan is to present a long-range strategic direction that’s consistent with the airport’s mission: To provide quality multimodal transportation services to its diverse regional customer base and to stimulate economic growth and development of the Tennessee Valley Region.

In October 2016, the airport authority began developing the master plan. The initial input was solicited included suggestions, such as the introduction of light rail, developing a “more open” concourse plan, providing a low-cost carrier, and making the hotel and airport terminal more “user friendly.”

One stand-out comment was, “Huntsville is more than just rockets and military, we have a strong arts presence here, too. There should be more public art and changing exhibits.”

As a collaborative venture, the components of the master plan are scheduled to run concurrently with regional planning efforts. Timing is crucial, as these initiatives will mutually support one another.  This comprehensive endeavor will allow for an integrated development of the airport as well as the surrounding area.

To find out more information about the Huntsville International Airport Master Plan, visit: http://hsvmasterplan.mbakerintl.com/ . 

Toyota Marks Successful Year in Huntsville

With a historic groundbreaking and producing more than a half-million engines, Huntsville’s Toyota officials are marking 2018 as a landmark year.

In November, the automaker and Mazda broke ground on the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, a jointly owned-and-operated automotive production plant that will have the capacity to build 300,000 vehicles a year, beginning in 2021. Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A., is expected to create 4,000 jobs, with a $1.6 billion investment split by the two companies.

The plant, in western Huntsville in Limestone County,will build Toyota’s Corolla, whose all-new 2020 model was unveiled in November in California, and Mazda’s yet-to-be revealed crossover model.

Also last year, the Toyota engine plant in north Huntsville poduced approximately 630,000 engines for RAV4, Highlander, Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia vehicles.  These engines powered one-third of Toyota vehicles built in the U.S. 

Currently the 1,400-employee facility is building about 2,600 engines per day – five times as many engines since starting production in 2003.  The plant’s 6 millionth engine was built in August.

Toyota Alabama continues to be the only Toyota plant globally to build 4-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines under one roof. 

In September, the plant launched an advanced 4-cylinder engine line to produce next-generation engines as part of the Toyota New Global Architecture platform. TNGA will increase fuel efficiency while providing responsive handling and a more stable and comfortable feel while driving.  It also provides a more flexible production environment that allows Toyota to better respond to changing market demands.  

The $106 million TNGA project increased total plant investment to $1 billion.  

In 2018, Toyota Alabama supported more than 40 local non-profit organizations by investing more than $700,000 in the areas of education, mobility, environmental, human services and diversity.  In addition, engine and vehicle donations were made to local technical schools to support workforce development efforts and promote careers in manufacturing. 

To date, $10 million has been donated to support local non-profits and education programs in North Alabama.

Irons One Whiskey: A Personal Touch Every Step of the Way

In a small, second floor suite at Lowe Mill, there’s a highly personal, downright magical process taking place daily – the distillation of Irons One Whiskey.

Distiller Jeff Irons and his wife Vicki work together to create a preciously delightful adult beverage – one that’s meant to be savored slowly.

For over 40 years now, Irons has cultivated his love affair with whiskey, starting as a New Jersey teen crossing the state line with his buddies into New York state, because of the lower legal drinking age. Once over the border, drinks were pricey, and New York and New Jersey’s finest had a keen eye for drunken teens on the road.

As the group’s official designated driver, Irons selected whiskey because it could be savored, as well as it being cost-efficient.

While an engineering student at Virginia Tech, Irons had his first taste of “homemade” whiskey, later followed by samples obtained from his brother-in-law’s dad, who was a physician in West Virginia. When the good doctor’s patients couldn’t pay him with cash, they paid him with home-distilled whiskey.

Despite the long romance, the NASA engineer became interested in opening his own distillery only within the past few years.

“It has been a long and difficult process and it is expensive,” he said. “Regardless, my love of whiskey and my sincere desire to be able to offer a superior bourbon and bourbon mash whiskey to my friends and to our community will be well-worth all of the effort.”

Irons’ business model is to remain small and personally involved in the distillation process. 

“I love making whiskey,” he said. “From mashing to fermenting, to distilling, to aging and bottling – I love this process. The only way I know how to make the best whiskey is to be totally involved in every step of the process.

“I can only do that if I stay small enough in size to manage each step.” 

The love, patience, and commitment are evident in the final product. Irons One was recently judged as the Double-Gold winner by “The Fifty Best” in the category of bourbon whiskey, which is quite an honor.

In the selection, strict tasting rules are applied to the “blind” tasting of 46 bourbon whiskeys; all ranked by members of “The Fifty Best” spirits judging panel. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are also awarded, based on the final point scores received from the judges.

“Irons One is the small batch, single-hand crafted whiskey for those who savor a rich, smooth flavor –served neat, with a little water or over ice,” Irons said. “This is truly a whiskey from my hands to yours.”

For more information, visit  www.ironsone.com or email ironsonewhiskey@gmail.com

Make holiday shopping a local adventure

Don’t dread holiday shopping this year. Make it an adventure by seeing what you can find from handcrafted to carefully curated designer merchandise at locally owned businesses.

With gifts ranging in cost from 10 cents to more than $12,000, local shops have it all.

Why not start out at the historic Harrison Brothers Hardware in downtown Huntsville? It’s the city’s oldest operating business, since 1897.  If you’ve never been there, this time of year the brightly colored holiday decorations in the storefront windows will draw you inside just to look around. And if it’s been a while since you’ve visited the store, take the time to go.

Why?

A trip to Harrison Brothers is about more than just shopping. It’s an experience. The store is also a museum, capturing an important piece of history. You won’t find any self-service kiosk here. They still use a 1907 National Cash Register to ring up sales if you find something you want.

If you buy something, it will be made in the USA with many products handcrafted by Huntsville area or North Alabama residents.  The most popular item sold in the store are 10-cent marbles.

“People buy them by the hundreds,” says Fran McFall, who has volunteered and worked at the store for eight years. She also points out larger, hand blown marbles, which sell for $3.75 a piece.

The first table you come to upon entering is filled with “Gifts Made Locally.”

There and throughout the store you’ll find old-fashioned candy and treats like Hammond’s chocolate bars, including a popular Pigs N’ Taters chocolate bar with bacon flavored bits and potato chips.

There are angel ornaments made of cotton, specialty soy candles, paintings by local artists and pottery, greeting cards, and books by local authors, classic toys – even an astronaut suit. There’s jewelry, knitting gift sets, dog food bowls, novelty socks, lotions and soaps, a large selection of gourmet foods and so much more.

The nonprofit Historic Huntsville Foundation keeps the store open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Sales support the store’s operation, with employees and volunteers, as well as other community events.

After you’ve perused Harrison Brothers, you’re bound to be ready to seek out what else local shop owners have to offer for holiday gift giving. Here’s a small sampling of what’s available in the area.

Greene Street Market

Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Just a short walk from the downtown square, on the same side of the street, you’ll find the Greene Street Market at Nativity, a shop that offers limited produce and farm fresh eggs. You’ll also find a variety of gifts, mostly from local artists and crafters at a variety of prices.

Marilyn Evans, the shop manager, says a sidewalk holiday market will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16 with locally grown produce, farm fresh foods, fresh baked goods, and offerings by local artisans.

Clinton Row

Jefferson Street and Clinton Avenue, hours vary

From the historic to the new and trendy, a few streets away one of the area’s most unique shopping areas awaits at Clinton Row.  This is the place where ground level storage units have been turned into a downtown shopping destination.

Dee Dee Crawford, manager of the Downtown Storage Huntsville, says you can spend anywhere between  $10 and $500 or more at one of the featured shops like The Little Green Store, Clinton Row Gifts, Maxwell Music, the Carole Foray Art studio, In Bloom gift shop, SassyFrazz Boutique, Clachic Boutique and 81 Home Gifts and Glam.

At the shops you’ll find photographs, frames, candles, personalized monogramming, old and new music, unique and trendy clothes, jewelry, handbags, cotton towels with fun sayings and much more.

“There are many nice and fun gifts to be found here,” Crawford says.

Railroad Station Antiques, Gifts & More

315 N. Jefferson St., Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m.

A few blocks away from Clinton Row you’ll find another treasure trove.

From $1 to $12,000, Railroad Station has an eclectic mix of old, vintage and new.

“We have everything from fashion accessories to fine antique furniture,” says Suzanne Conway. “It’s really an emporium, unlike any other shop in our area. Our historic building and diverse merchandise make us a destination shop unlike any other.”

You’ll find gifts for everyone from kids to seniors. Vintage toys, fabulous jewelry, furs, candles, a book shop, and even local honey and cheese straws from the Shoals.

“With 24,000 square feet and a limited word count, I can only touch the surface of what we have!”

Lewter’s Hardware

222 Washington Street, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m. to noon.

Another downtown fixture for 90 years, Lewter’s is a true hardware store with hand and power tools and any manner of home building or repair supplies.

This time of year, you will find a variety of Flexible Flyer red wagons and other vintage toys like cap guns, model airplanes and whirly gigs. Other gift ideas for this time of year include the collection of Lodge cast iron skillets.

Shoe Fly

974 Airport Road, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

8213 U.S. 72, Madison, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What started 11 years ago primarily as an overstock shoe store has transitioned into two area trendy clothing boutiques for teens to women in their 70s.

“Many think we’re just for high school and college age and while we do sell a lot to that age group, we have customers of all ages,” says owner Amy Word. “Our idea is to have trendy clothes at a reasonable price so 90 percent of what we offer is $49 or less.”

The stores get new shipments every week so the inventory is always fresh.

“We carry a lot of unique pieces, and sometimes you’ll find the same looks here that you’ll find in larger department stores, at lower pricing,” Word says. “I know people are spending more time shopping online but there is something to be said about the experience of going into a store and trying something on, whether it’s a mother and daughter or friends.”

Mint Julep Market

7540 S. Memorial Parkway (next to Rosie’s Cantina), Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you have a person on your gift list who has everything or is hard to buy for, then Hillary Dunham says she’ll help you find the perfect present at Mint Julep Market.

“We have become the place to go to for something different. We have everything from paint supplies and classes, local artists who create pieces special for our shop, custom-made pottery from local and Alabama potters, clothing, luggage, custom embroidery, candles, jewelry, just all kinds of things,” Dunham says. “And if you find something we have in pink and you need it in another color, we’ll find it for you.”

Dunham says keeping collections easy to browse and a wide variety keeps customers coming back.

Topiary Tree 

1801 University Drive, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 22.

This little shop is packed with gift ideas. Their best selling item this season is the PJ Harlow Pajamas. There are more than 15 styles in eight colors. The shop is known for its embossed graphics stationary, raised ink and embossed stationary, which is made in house.

You’ll also find everyday and holiday collections of handmade pottery from Etta, Miss. With many serving pieces to choose from, they are dishwasher, microwave and oven safe. The store also features Earthborn pottery from Birmingham, jewelry at every price point, fur capes and jackets, leather goods for men and luxurious lotions and soaps for women.