Burgeoning Regional Economy Ensures Everyone a More Valuable Slice of the Pie

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

Standing at city center, look outward in all directions toward the far edges of the pie crust – north toward the state line where visitors from Tennessee get their first glimpse of the city. South where many Huntsville businesses draw daily commuters. East across the mountain, west from neighboring communities and all points in between.

For Huntsville and Madison city leaders, this vision of the pie’s edge does not represent boundaries but, instead, corridors of growth.

“That’s always been our vision for Huntsville’s future and the basis for our regional economic strategy,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The first part of revitalizing your city is to take the center point, known as the living room of your city, and revitalize it to make it economically viable. Get one area going and stretch it out to other areas.

“Year after year, we have pinpointed growth corridors that help us grow both economically and residentially. The result is an economic revival like what you have been seeing in Huntsville and Madison the past 10 years.”

Private investment land developers have that vision too. During the 1990s, brothers Jim and John Hays and their nephew Jeff Enfinger of Enfinger Development opened a growth corridor to the southeast in Hampton Cove and the Hays Nature Preserve.

In 2000, that development led to the expansion of a residential growth corridor along Taylor Lane in Big Cove, and, by 2010, it had extended into the Goldsmith-Schiffman community.

Also during the 1990s, Huntsville opened a residential growth corridor off Zierdt Road in the Edgewater and Mountain Brook communities southwest of the city. In 2010, it expanded into the Williams community further south.

Battle said that by looking at the local economy like a pie, you will see their strategy unfolding.

“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 Western Corridor

The Town Madison development along I-565 between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway in Madison will open a gateway to the city.

Anchored by the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium, the development is surrounded by residential, retail, commercial, and entertainment components that have thrown open a west side growth corridor that never existed.

“The location off I-565 is perfect catchment for a broad audience across the Southeast,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “As the interchanges off the highway are completed, you can expect ease of traffic getting to and from the area.

“If people come for a game or event, we hope they stay and experience all that Madison has to offer, including our historic downtown that offers livability with local boutique shopping and dining.”

Finley also believes Madison’s central geography in North Alabama positions it perfectly to feel the positive impact from economic development in the whole state as well as southern Tennessee.

“Madison benefits from Huntsville’s growth with the FBI and other tech development workforce to our east, as well as from the Mazda-Toyota plant to our west. We look to collaborate with Limestone, Morgan and Marshall counties,” said Finley.

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

“Right on the interstate, convenient if you are coming from Cullman or Decatur, and where everybody who passes by can see it,” said Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison. “We are creating a regional destination with baseball, a food hall, and resort style hotels, similar to, but more diverse than Chattanooga.”

Open Southern Border

Recently, Enfinger and his uncles who are also developing McMullen Cove, announced the development of a multi-use Hays Farm development in South Huntsville that will replace the old Haysland Square and turn a 500-plus acre swath of undeveloped land into a new growth corridor to the south that will draw retailers and residents from Airport Road south to the river and beyond.

“There will be a commercial center all the way up to the Enfinger Building on South Parkway with a Village of Providence-type entertainment district surrounded by a city park, a ballfield, and 500-acre Hays Green with a passive walking park,” said Enfinger. “We’d like to maintain the natural green spaces. The Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove has been a regional draw for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Ceci believes that with population growth and so many people commuting here to work every day from other counties, we already have an active regional economy at work.

“You see workers buying groceries, going out to eat and shopping during the workweek, even if they live outside the city,” he said. “I think there is some pent-up demand for some of the development that is occurring.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who has developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre and developing MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, has been watching those employee migration patterns into Huntsville for more than a decade.

“We see the regional trade area as about 50 miles and incorporates the 14-county commuter hubs from which Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park draw its employment,” said Grelier. “As a result, Huntsville has become the region’s primary center for healthcare, civic, cultural, shopping, and dining activity.”

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

Add to all this, the annexation of a small portion of Morgan County to the southwest and a huge chunk of Limestone County due west of city center, and you can see the pie expanding!

“Yes, this annexation is a game-changer because it results in the ability to get infrastructure to certain areas and thus create major employment opportunities,” said Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty. His company has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue in downtown Huntsville, and is building a sister community, The Avenue Madison. “These new jobs will be an economic driver for the economy and create an incredible multiplier effect.”

The annexation is a precursor to the economic development that follows it, said Grelier.

“Annexing was necessary for the economic development of the Mazda-Toyota plant and other larger manufacturers,” he said. “It’s also helpful in attracting investment into commercial real estate projects across the metro area.”

“We’ve only made a foray into Morgan County,” said Battle, “The annexation of Limestone County where Mazda Toyota made a $2 billion land investment has seriously expanded our metro and opened an industrial growth corridor that is a win-win for both parties.”

City funds, thanks to Huntsville’s AAA credit rating from the S&P and Moody’s Investment Services, have pulled their share of the weight. With the power to borrow $85 million for city and countywide projects, of that, Huntsville will allot $25 million for the Mazda Toyota project infrastructure; and another $55 million for capital plans and schools.

Northern Exposure

Included is the revitalization of North Memorial Parkway. Since widening the well-worn highway into a viable parkway traffic corridor, it has encroached on many properties there, making them less viable.

“They don’t have enough depth to sustain retail, so we’ve taken them out and we’re turning that area into a park with greenways and walking trails,” said Battle. “Perception becomes reality.

“Instead of seeing boarded-up buildings when you enter from the north, you see it more as an entryway into North Huntsville – an economically viable area to move into and to be a part of.”

Among the projects is the upgrading of parks that will be instrumental in bringing in sports teams from all over the Southeast, including recreational rugby fields and soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse.

“We are putting money into the tennis center and into the golf course, which now has cross-country running and mountain bike trails. All of these things tie back to what we call ‘quality of life’ for our residents and activities for our guests,” said Battle. “Travel sports bring people and their families to our area from all over, where they compete, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in our stores.”

Quality of Life

Town Madison’s $12 million Pro Player Park project with 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields, the $22 million Huntsville Aquatic Center, and the expanding Huntsville Tennis Center are already national attractions for travel sports competitions and events.

“To have a viable and growing economy, we have to offer a ‘quality-of-life’ that attracts people to the area, and quite frankly, we have a lot of jobs on the table too,” Battle said. “To recruit highly-skilled, higher income workers requires a quality of life that is equal to or higher than where they are moving from.”

Battle said “quality-of-life” is found in Lowe Mill, in craft beer, in a vast array of recreation facilities, disc golf, pickleball, art museums and public parks.

“But we still have work to do because people are coming from around the world to work for companies like Blue Origin, Facebook, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Mazda Toyotas,” said Battle.

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

“As Madison grows our focus is making sure we are responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars by improving infrastructure and providing a good quality of life in every district of our community,” said Finley. “While areas to the West are experiencing booming growth and increased traffic, we need to not only keep pace with growth but foresee areas that will need improvements down the line.”

Huntsville is also adding hotels, apartments, and homesites as more people move into the city. With a goal of adding 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Von Braun Center, Battle said it will help draw larger conventions and business meetings.

“Part of the strategy for building smaller hotels instead of one big convention center hotel is to prevent people from living inside the hotel the whole time they are here,” said the mayor. “We want people to experience our city, eat in our restaurants, visit our museums, and shop in our stores.”

Enfinger believes that as we become a more affluent society, people’s wants, and expectations become more demanding.

“It looks like we are evolving in unison with the rest of the country as far as the type shopping we do and the kind of developments we build,” said Enfinger. “Our growth rate is higher than most cities, but I think we follow a national trend in the type developments we can sustain.”

Private Investment is Leading the Way

Private investment must still lead the way and developers such as Breland, RCP, Sealy, and Enfinger are leading the charge.

“When the City can support infrastructure needs or improvements, private investment can take those dollars further,” said Mayor Finley. “This is a win/win for both the City and for the investors. Ultimately, our citizens also reap the benefits of this growth and development.”

“Buy-in is good so far, but much harder than it may seem,” said Grelier. “Huntsville has a great story to tell, but many larger institutional investors are not aware of it or view the market as too small.

“Our team spends most of our time discussing and selling the regional market rather than the immediate project. A big part of Huntsville’s growth moving forward will be how the region is branded to compete for private investment and workforce internationally. It’s a regional story that should include our sister communities.”

He would also like to see the Gen Y & Z workforce move to the area because it’s a cool, fun place to live, and then find a job once they get here rather than moving here for the great job.

“Once this trend reverses, larger private investment and more economic development will follow quickly,” Grelier said.

From the city’s perspective though, Huntsville’s first mixed-use/multi-purpose development at Twickenham Square in 2014 has been a driver in enlarging the pie.

Join us for Part 2 of our series on Huntsville’s growing regional economy in the September issue of the Huntsville Business Journal as we investigate how multi-purpose/mixed-use developments are helping build Huntsville’s regional economy.

 

When Rubber Chickens Fly, You Know the Madison Business Expo & Kids Day Was a Success

MADISON — Madison celebrated its 150th anniversary mixing business with food, history, kids and rubber chickens on parachutes.

The calendar was turned back to 1869 for the annual Madison Business Expo & Kids Day.

Kids scramble to scoop up the rubber chickens. (Photo by Kimberly Ballard)

The Hogan YMCA was transformed into the Madison Station Depot as 65 Madison businesses demonstrated products, provided information and, of course, had treats for the kids.

Food trucks served up anything from barbecue to ice cream, coffee and pizza. A moving garden train choo-chooed its way along the tracks … all in preparation for the great “Chicken Caper.”

According to the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s version of the legend, business would get slow for shopkeepers in Madison Station during the dog days of summer.

To stimulate business, shopkeepers would tie coupons around the feet of dozens of chickens and toss the live chickens off the roof to the shoppers below. Those who caught the chickens to retrieve the coupon, got to keep the chicken, too – sort of a free chicken dinner!

“Chickens are birds and can fly a little, so no chickens were hurt while throwing them off the roof in 1869,” said Pam Honeycutt, the Chamber’s executive director. “It was a very innovative and effective advertising tactic back then but, probably not a good idea today.”

After putting their collective heads together, event organizers decided a more contemporary re-enactment was needed.

With cooperation from the Madison Fire Department, businesses attached coupons to the spindly legs of five dozen rubber chickens. Firefighters then dropped them from their aerial ladder to the crowd.

“We still managed to have fun, give away thousands of dollars in products and services, while creating a contemporary ‘Chicken Caper’ of our own,” said Honeycutt. “All the feedback, so far, has been very positive and the participation and support from our Chamber members is outstanding.

“That is what makes the Madison Business Expo & Kids Day so popular every year – we have a growing and thriving business community in Madison and we are here to celebrate it!”

Huntsville Receives Commerce Dept. Rail Infrastructure Grant

The city has been awarded a $4.1 million grant to help build a bridge to serve the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing plant.

In a statement, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the Department’s Economic Development Administration‘s grant to the city will also provide opportunities for further industrial and commercial development adjacent to the site. The grant will be matched with $4.1 million in local funds and is expected to help create 320 jobs and generate $128 million in private investment.

“This bridge will help provide Huntsville’s thriving auto manufacturing industry with the critical infrastructure needed to ensure its future success,” Ross said.

“EDA’s recent announcement is excellent news for Alabama’s automotive industry,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The $4.1 million grant will continue to boost economic development and improve rail infrastructure throughout North Alabama. I am grateful that the Department of Commerce and EDA continue to invest in our state, bringing jobs and long term economic benefits to the region.”

The bridge is needed to accommodate increased commercial vehicle traffic for the plant, which is slated to go on line in 2021 and employ some 4,000 people to produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments.

“Reliable infrastructure is crucial to Alabama’s economic success,” said Sen. Doug Jones. “This grant will be welcome news for the Huntsville community as it prepares for the arrival of our state’s newest state-of-the-art auto manufacturing facility. Investments like these are critical to Alabama as we continue to grow and attract new businesses.”

Huntsville International Airport Awarded $10.4M Grant

Huntsville International Airport has been awarded a $10.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for infrastructure improvements, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby announced.

Huntsville is one of six state airports to receive $14,344,107 in grants through the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund and federal appropriations. Shelby is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which authors and advances FAA and DOT funding legislation and the money is distributed based on entitlement and discretionary awards.

Huntsville will receive $10,426,057 to rehabilitate a runway and an apron (tarmac and ramp), to reconstruct taxiway lighting and airfield guidance signs, and to rehabilitate and construct a taxiway.

“We are grateful to Senator Shelby for his continued contributions to our industry and, specifically, for his support of this funding which will be used for needed improvements to Taxiway E that is parallel to our 10,000 foot east runway,” said Airport CEO Rick Tucker. “The east runway is the second longest runway in the Southeast and impacts not only our passenger and cargo operation in Huntsville, but this entire region of the country since we often receive diversions from other airports.”

Tucker said the improvements are necessary to ensure both runways remain operational to help continue economic development in North Alabama.

“Huntsville was recognized as the fastest-growing metro area in Alabama and is on track to become the state’s largest city in the next five years” said Dr. Carl J. Gessler Jr., chairman of the airport board. “In the past decade, more than half of the jobs in the state have been created in Huntsville so, as our city grows, it is imperative for the airport’s infrastructure to be able to keep up.”

The work is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.

 

Region Mayors Come Together for History-Making Agreement

It looked like a gathering of Knights of the Round Table.

 

But it was mayors from Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties gathered
around a circular high-tech table for a history-making pact.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; Triana Mayor Mary
Caudle; Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks; Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling; and Mooresville
City Councilwoman Leeann Barr, sitting in for Mayor Margaret-Anne Crumlish,
were in a boardroom at Huntsville International Airport to sign a regional
agreement of collaboration and cooperation.

“The signing of this document signals to our community, to the state, and to
area businesses that North Alabama is committed to ensuring that our region
functions at the highest levels of collaboration for years to come,” said Bill
Marks, chair of Launch 2035, a regional partnership that rethinks and imagines
the North Alabama economy over the next 20 years. The agreement is the work of
the Regional Collaboration Initiative-North Alabama, a group formed from Launch
2035 to encourage collaboration and communication across the region.

They were surrounded by business advocacy leaders John Allen of Huntsville
Committee of 100, Ability Plus President/CEO Karockas Watkins and BizTech CEO
Larry Lewis, as well as Limestone, Madison and Morgan County municipal
councils, state legislative delegations, chamber presidents and chamber board
chairs.

The agreement was also signed by Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly; Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long signed it after the event. 

According to a statement from Launch 2035, the region’s prosperity depends
on the three counties working and planning together. Launch 2035 is made up of
key stakeholders committed to fostering regional economic growth and quality of
life.

“Back in 2014, someone suggested bringing everyone together over hush
puppies and catfish and that would be the best way to draw a crowd at night to
discuss how we can collaborate better,” said Marks who orchestrated the signing.
“It was from this group of stakeholders that we launched Launch 2035 – to unite
Limestone, Madison and Morgan counties into a spirit of working together with
the belief we bring more to our region united, than in competition with each
other.

“Launch 2035 has three areas of focus including workforce development,
entrepreneurship, and land use planning. Each represents opportunities for
regional action where working together can benefit the entire region.”

 

 

New Manufacturing Technologies Helping Create the ‘Smart’ Factory

Manufacturing innovations such as Blockchain, Additive Manufacturing, and Augmented Reality are a few of the hot new technologies that were discussed at the recent Society of Manufacturing Engineers-National Defense Industrial Association Technology Interchange Symposium.

Blockchain and Digital Thread

According to Forbes, Blockchain offers manufacturing great potential to deliver business value through increasing operational transparency across every area of manufacturing. From shop floor operations to the suppliers, manufacturers will be able to meet delivery dates, improve product quality, and boost sales by improving supplier order accuracy, product quality, and effective track-and-tracing technology.

“Companies generally lose $500 milllion a year in the counterfeit parts market,” said Chris Adkins, CSO at Identify 3D. “With cybersecurity, there’s always a level of vulnerability you’re going to have to live with.”

Adkins said although risks cannot be fully eliminated, there are ways to minimize risk.  Blockchain technology promises to tighten those gaps while delivering operational transparency.

However, not all supply chain partners are open to adopting blockchain technology.

“Think of this as recording data, sharing data across the supply chain,” Adkins said. “Information sharing poses one of the biggest obstacles. How do you convince suppliers to share core data?”

“Every process step should have traceable data, which allows you to have analytics. Although you might not be able to stop hacking, the information will allow you to find who stole it.”

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is the official industry standard term for all applications of the technology. It is defined as the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data.

Essentially, it is printing 3D copies of replacement parts. The ability to produce manufacturing aids, such as jigs or fixtures increases efficiencies and reduces costly traditional machining.

When properly implemented, additive manufacturing can significantly reduce material waste, streamline production steps, and reduce the amount of inventory and specific parts needed for an assembly.

Augmented Reality

According to the Franklin Institute, augmented reality is one of the biggest technology trends and it’s only going to get bigger as AR-ready smartphones and other devices become more accessible. A popular example of AR technology is the “Pokémon Go” mobile phone app.

All fun and games aside, there are many everyday applications for AR. Enhanced navigation systems use AR to superimpose a route over the live view of the road. A helmet visor AR that projects altitude, speed, and other data allows fighter pilots to keep their focus without the need to glance down at the instrument panel.

Smart glasses are a great example of Augmented Reality technology. Lightweight and durable, smart glasses fit easily over regular prescription glasses, or they can be worn alone.

Tech support calls can be made directly from the glasses using a voice command feature, which keeps both hands-on equipment repair or calibration, without taking one’s hands off the machinery.

For the factory floor, the peer-to-peer calling features enables the repair tech to see exactly what the shop floor specialist is seeing. Precise, effective repairs and shorter equipment downtime easily translates into dollars and cents.

Enhancements in the manufacturing technology landscape promise to deliver first time quality, the kind of quality that’s crucial for the warfighter.

Governor: ‘State of Opportunity’ is Competitive and Thriving

Gov. Kay Ivey was in Huntsville Wednesday to tout her administration’s accomplishments over the past year and work to garner support for an upcoming amendment to the state’s constitution that will replace the Alabama Board of Education.

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Alabama Update.

A packed North Hall audience hears Gov. Kay Ivey during the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber’s annual Alabama Update. (Steve Babin/Huntsville Business Journal)

The governor kicked things off by commenting on Alabama’s addition of 34,000 jobs and more than $14 billion in business-related investments during her time in office.

The state has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, which is the second-lowest in the Southeast, but slightly higher than the nation’s rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

“In May, we also announced that every county in the state dropped their unemployment rate,” Ivey said. “Not only is Alabama open for business, but we are competitive and thriving and a state of opportunity.”

Also in May, Ivey signed two bills designed to boost broadband access for rural and underserved communities and commented, Wednesday, on why those were important.  She said there are currently more than 480,000 Alabamians without access to broadband services.

One bill, Ivey said, allows the use of electrical easements for broadband purposes and the other creates grants for various broadband projects.

“Delivering high-speed broadband access is critical to the education that we provide our students, to our economy, it’s essential to our health care and overall quality of life,” she said.

Then the governor spoke about the recent 10 cents per gallon increase in Alabama’s gas tax, referring to it only as “an investment in Alabama’s infrastructure.”

“About three decades have gone by without making an investment in our infrastructure – until now,” Ivey said. “This investment will translate into projects that will tackle the problems of roadway congestion, aging roads and bridges, and unsafe conditions for drivers on their way to work and school.”

Specifically related to Huntsville, the governor highlighted the first project of the “Rebuild Alabama Plan,” which was the widening of I-565 to eventually allow the expansion of the I-65 interchange.

Ivey then transitioned from talking about roads and bridges to the state’s prison system. She said the first step in bettering the prison system was to better recruit and retain the prison’s correction officers.

“Earlier this year I proposed adding $31 million to the general fund to hire 500 new correctional officers to ensure the safety of our personnel and the general public,” she said. “Today, I’m happy to announce… that we signed HB 468 into law that provides a two-step pay raise for the department of correction employees and extends an incentive program to include bonuses.”

Ivey also addressed the state’s education system and her education initiative called Strong Start, Strong Finish.

This initiative included adding $26.8 million to Alabama’s Pre-K budget, improving the computer science curriculum throughout the state and putting programs in place to help students get a job through various apprenticeships and certifications.

Citing Alabama’s current position at the bottom of “almost every ranking that measures education in our states,” Ivy asked for the support a constitutional amendment that would replace the state’s board of education with a governor-appointed commission called the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

 The amendment is expected to be on the March 2020 ballot.

“It’s simply time for Alabama to take the lead.  That’s the name of my new effort,” Ivey said. “Our current system simply is not working. And, if the system is not working then we can’t continue to operate with the system that we have and expect different results.

“We must have leadership that sets high, but obtainable, goals that prepare our students for 21st century jobs.”

Technology Changing the Way Factories Are Operated

It’s a great time to be in manufacturing and Huntsville is quickly becoming the pre-eminent manufacturing hub of the South.

Advancements in technology promise to deliver solid returns on investment while realizing cost savings over the long haul. 

As technology continues its rapid growth and development trajectory, the shop floors are becoming “smart factories” to meet demands for high quality, low cost, and speed.

Modern-day production facilities bear little resemblance to the factories of our parents or grandparents.

For a manufacturing plant embracing new technology, the highest costs are faced on the front end: acquisition, transition, training, and implementing. This is usually the sticking point when it comes to adopting new technology, especially when companies have been working with Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, with some measure of success.

“Innovation matters and it has a big impact,” said James Crean, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Crean Innovation. “Hoping that it doesn’t happen is not a solution.”

Speaking at the recent Technology Interchange Symposium hosted by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the National Defense Industrial Association Manufacturing Division, Crean said several former industry giants, such as Sears’ and Kodak’s “failure to capitalize on the online revolution, combined with the inability to innovate processes and service offerings caused them to fail.”

Some, like the United States Postal Service, he said, “literally need an act of Congress to innovate.”

Crean discussed the business life cycle and need for innovation and continuous improvement.

“Company mortality is accelerating the growth-peak-decline cycle; the average business lifecycle is now 7 to 10 years,” said Crean. “This negatively impacts the supply chain, such as acquiring parts, for example. If a business doesn’t make innovation a part of their business plan, they risk extinction.

“Are they even going to be in business in five years?

“Continuous improvement must continuously evolve,” said Crean. “Digital transformation cannot be ignored; companies and their suppliers must not fall behind. Lean programs are no longer sufficient. Six Sigma can only take us so far. In fact, we’re getting left behind.”

And it’s not just companies, it’s countries, as well.

“Back in the ‘70s, Japan started eating our lunch in the auto and electronics industries,” said Crean. “Then, the Chinese entered the electronics market with faster and cheaper products. Japan failed to adopt driver assist, now the Chinese are the industry leaders.”

He said, “Product is good, but process is just as important. Smart factory goes beyond the factory floor. You can’t focus on the factory floor alone. Digital transformation cannot be ignored; companies and their suppliers must not fall behind. America must lead the Smart Factory transformation. We have to disrupt ourselves. If we don’t do it, China or another country will.

“As a national security imperative, it is critical that the U.S. lead the global industrial base. The countries with a smart factory base will dominate the defense markets.”

Despite Remington Money Woes and Furloughs, Incentives are Protected

It’s too early to tell how or if Remington’s recent furloughs will affect its agreement with the city of Huntsville, according to city officials.

June 3 marked the first day of about a two-month furlough for about 200 workers at the Remington plant in Huntsville. Workers are expected to return in mid-August.

Following the company’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which saw $775 million in debt converted to equity and the company receive $193 million in a new lending package funded by seven banks, the city of Huntsville renegotiated the original incentive package that was put in place when Remington decided to move here.

Last November, the city council approved a new deal that gave Remington an extra three years to meet its objective of employing 1,868 employees or the company forfeits its $12.5 million incentive package provided by the city of Huntsville, the Madison County Commission and the Industrial Development Board.

“Part of the revised agreement gives the company flexibility to respond to market shifts, as long as they fulfill long-term obligations,” Kelly Schrimsher, director of communications for the city of Huntsville, said. “There are benchmarks where the company’s performance is analyzed. These include performance numbers for wages and employees. The next reporting period will be Dec. 31, 2019. Compliance reports, however, will not be delivered until spring of 2020.

“Until the city and state see that report, it would be premature to speculate on Remington’s performance.”

According to reports, Remington has already lost $3 million from a withheld cash incentive payment from the state and repaid more than $500,000 for failing to meet various job and payroll targets, which was part of an overall $70 million incentive package.

Remington did not respond to requests for information by deadline.

Huntsville officials still believe Remington is committed to meeting its goals and to the city.

“This is a 200-year old company in the process of restructuring and reshaping its future to meet a changing marketplace,” Schrimsher said. “The CEO’s office is now in Huntsville. We believe the company is committed to having a strong presence here, and our agreement gives them time to work through their reorganization.

“Conversations to date have reflected this continued commitment.”

Schrimsher also said the city is well protected under the agreement it has with Remington.

“The city still has 100 percent control of the Remington campus,” she said. “To date, Remington has not earned any percentage of the facility. Should Remington ultimately be found in default of its contract, the company would owe the city $12.5 million, which was the city’s investment in the project or surrender the campus. The campus market value far exceeds the $12.5 million mortgage.

“Huntsville’s investment was relatively small considering the hundreds of millions of dollars Remington has invested in the plant and payroll to date. If Remington walked away tomorrow, Huntsville would be made whole.”

Schrimsher cited the positive impact Remington had after locating in the city from a jobs standpoint, regardless of what happens in the future.

“To put this in further perspective, the Huntsville marketplace is in an entirely different position when Remington entered in 2014,” she said. “At that time, Huntsville was heavily dependent upon federal employment dollars, and Mayor Tommy Battle and the Chamber (of Commerce) were working hard to diversify and expand our employment base beyond federal contracting. Advanced manufacturing was a target market, but it’s also highly competitive, and every state in the country is fighting for good-paying jobs for skilled workers.

“Landing the Remington plant put Huntsville on the map for advanced manufacturing. After the Remington announcement, the city caught the eye of Polaris, then GE Aviation, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, and now Mazda-Toyota. Remington was a catalytic project for Huntsville. At present, there are thousands of jobs available for highly skilled workers in Huntsville.”

Razing Buildings to Raise Opportunities in North Huntsville

Devyn Keith ran to represent District 1 on the Huntsville City Council in 2016 vowing to make north Huntsville a destination.

He wasn’t making empty promises.

Devyn Keith helping bring redevelopment and opportunity to North Huntsville.(Photo by Eric Schultz)

With Keith leading the way, eyesore buildings bought by the city have been razed along North Parkway. There have been eight reduced to rubble so far and, if Keith gets his way, more will follow.

Blight isn’t welcome in Keith’s district where he grew up in the Northwoods development.

“We’ll be going after the rest of them shortly,’’ he said of privately owned buildings that have seen better days. “I’m not sure of the time frame.’’

Keith has been a mover and shaker since he unseated longtime District 1 Councilman Richard Showers. Just two years into the job, he was voted council president by his colleagues.

Meanwhile, he created the North Huntsville Business Association, which will soon move into office space near the corner of Oakwood Avenue and the Parkway in a strip mall that has been renovated.

Keith, who holds degrees from Samford and the University of Massachusetts, ran on the platform of reducing crime, increasing property values, investing in infrastructure and enhancing a vibrant quality of life for all of the district.

Some of his initiatives have already taken shape.

Along with the city, the Neighborhood Resource Center, a program that brings city government to the neighborhood, was launched. The Johnson HIgh School campus will soon become the Johnson Legacy Complex complete with indoor volleyball courts, soccer fields, a rock-climbing wall and even a sauna.

Those are just two of the projects Keith is overseeing.

There have been neighborhood block parties and ice cream socials. Streets are being repaved. The public library serving north Huntsville will move from a trailer into the new Berachah Park. There’s also the Council High Park planned for the site where the old building no longer exists.

One of the many empty buildings along North Parkway, the former Gander Mountain store, will soon be filled by Rural King, a farm/home department store slated to open in August/September.

For Keith, nothing is more important at the moment than erasing the blight that corrupts his streets.

“That was the first policy — start tearing things downs,’’ he said. “That was one of the things I ran on. Tearing down blight is a positive to let people know the city is serious about this.

“It’s, ‘What can we bring to north Huntsville?’ There hasn’t been a new subdivision in north Huntsville in a very long time.’’

Keith has his battle lines drawn. Imagine an area encompassing Oakwood Avenue, Pulaski Pike, University Drive, Jordan Lane and the Parkway.

“We’ll work from the outside in,’’ he said.

Drive past the intersection of the Parkway and Lantana these days and there’s an empty lot where dilapidated buildings once stood. It’ll soon be home to Lantana Way, a green space with a planned public art wall.

“We’re just trying to make it clean,’’ said Harrison Diamond, business relations officer for the city. “We’re tearing them down to make green space.

“We’ll work with the private sector to help make it better. We’ve got projects in the hopper.’’

That’s music to Keith’s ears.

“The city is making it advantageous (for businesses and homeowners) to come to north Huntsville,’’ he said. “For us it’s, ‘What can we do to make it easier?’ ‘’