Cecil Ashburn Drive project to begin Jan. 7

 

The City of Huntsville is set to begin critical roadwork in early January to improve safety and increase capacity on Cecil Ashburn Drive, one of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridors.

Listed as a priority improvement project in Huntsville’s “Restore Our Roads” agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation, contractors will widen Cecil Ashburn Drive from two to four lanes over an 18-month period.

To expedite construction and shorten the project’s timeline, Cecil Ashburn Drive will close Jan. 7, and the contractor will be incentivized to reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months. Remaining work is expected to be complete six to eight months later with all lanes open by May 2020.

To keep the project on track or ahead of schedule, the contractor may earn up to $2 million in performance bonuses. Conversely, the builder will be financially penalized up to $2 million for schedule delays. This is the same model the City and State used to fast-track overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway, another Restore Our Roads project.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This schedule provides the least disruption and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season.”

The base bid on the revised project came in at just under $18 million, nearly $7 million less than a previous round of bidding last May. At that time, the city was working on a construction plan to keep one lane of traffic partially open during peak weekday hours. The plan proved to be a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers went back to the drawing board and believe the new schedule best addresses the needs and concerns of the community.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, director of Economic and Urban Development.

To further minimize disruptions for commuters impacted by the road closure, City departments have been working closely with community organizations and businesses to address needs and concerns related to increased traffic and speeders on alternate routes, ride-sharing options, moving wrecks, accident alerts, and public safety.

“It will take everyone a few weeks to adjust to new routes and schedules, and we’ve found many businesses are pwilling to offer flex time to help their employees through the transition,” said Dennis Madsen, long-range planner. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries about carpools and ride-sharing programs, and the road closure presents an opportunity to explore these options and create some new healthy habits.”

A landmark groundbreaking for Madison, Duluth Trading Co.

Duluth Trading Co. will open its first Alabama retail store in Town Madison next year.

 

MADISON — It was a “less than perfect weather day but a perfect day for a groundbreaking.”

With those remarks, Madison Chamber of Commerce Board President Carmelita Palmer opened a landmark groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The Duluth Trading Co., an innovative apparel retailer noted for its unique TV commercials (the store has a link to the commercials on is website – https://www.duluthtrading.com/TV+Ads.html) will open a 15,000-square-foot retail store in the city’s Town Madison development.

“We are so excited,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “To have Duluth come here … when people heard Duluth Trading was coming here, there is so much excitement.”

The store, Duluth Trading’s first in the state, will join Home2 Suites Hilton, convenience store Twice Daily and other offices and retailers in West End at Town Madison, which adjoins the Intergraph/Hexagon campus along Interstate-565. Duluth Trading is slated to open around the middle of next year.

“This is an exciting day for Town Madison,” said Joey Ceci, representing developer Louis Breland. “You couldn’t pick a better retailer” to join the project’s lineup.

Town Madison is a 563-acre modern, walkable, urban community which will also be the home of the minor league baseball Rocket City Trash Pandas and a Margaritaville Hotel.

Minnesota-based Oppidan Investment Co., a national property development firm, is the project developer.

Like everyone else at the ceremony, the 40-degree, rainy weather was on the mind of Oppidan’s Jay Moore – but in a different way.

“This is nice weather; it’s a switch for us,” he said.

Moore said Duluth was looking around the area for its first Alabama retail store before deciding on Madison.

“We approached Breland about a year ago,” he said. “We are super proud to be one of the first retailers in this fine development.”

From left, Chamber Board President Carmelita Palmer, Mayor Paul Finley, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and Oppidan’s Jay Moore take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the store will enable the development to become an economic engine and a destination.

“This is the start of a destination location,” he said. “To Duluth, this is a great investment. You’ll never regret it.”

Despite the grey skies and gloomy weather, Finley reflected the optimism of the big event and the future it beckons.

“This is a sun shiny day for the city of Madison.”

Huntsville to Launch Mobile and Credit Card Downtown Parking Payments

The city has plans to make it easier to pay for parking in downtown Huntsville. (USNews.com)

Huntsville’s high-tech expertise takes a leap into downtown parking.

The city is adopting new technologies to make it easier for patrons to pay for parking with a smartphone and credit card. Early next year, about 400 parking spaces, including those with coin-operated meters, will be updated for easy pay by smartphone and credit card options.

This will enable users to:

  • Monitor their parking sessions
  • Extend time remotely
  • View payment history
  • Receive email receipts

“We want to make it easier for customers to pay for parking and to extend their time without the hassle of returning to a meter,” said Tommy Brown, director of Parking and Public Transit. “You can be in a meeting that is running late and add more time to your parking meter using your cell phone.”

While a coin/bill pay option will still be available when paying to park downtown, Mayor Tommy Battle said the new meter system will make it more convenient for residents and guests to enjoy Huntsville’s downtown.

“People expect to have the ease of mobile apps and credit card options when they purchase a good or service, and parking meters are no exception,” he said. “This is just one more step in the City’s effort to modernize our business practices and make us user friendly.”

Parking and Public Transit plans to begin installing the new meters around Big Spring Park and Lot H, which adjoins The Avenue.

IOS, Android and mobile web apps allow motorists to park at traditional meters without needing coins. Parkers establish a minimum $5 wallet on the app with their credit card and pay for parking from that wallet. They will enter their license plate when they park and enforcement will use the license plate to determine who has paid to park.

Drivers will receive reminder notifications, email receipts and remote session extensions that allow them to extend their parking without going back to the meter.

A single multispace meter will service parking spaces so there are fewer meters to maintain. Drivers will enter their license plate when they park and enforcement will use the license plate to determine who has paid to park. The meters allow for more flexible forms of payment such as coins, bills and credit cards.

Drivers will be able to receive parking expiry reminders and to extend time via mobile phone using the integrated Extend-by-Phone service. PassportParking is free to download through the App Store or Google Play. Users can also manage their parking at ppprk.com. The app is also available in many cities nationwide.

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.

 

 

Downtown Huntsville honored by international group

Downtown Huntsville was awarded a Certificate of Merit Award for the Spragins Street Greenway and Cycle Track Connector.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Downtown Huntsville Inc. was awarded a Certificate of Merit Award for the Spragins Street Greenway and Cycle Track Connector by the International Downtown Association.

The project was awarded a Certificate of Merit in the category of Planning during the IDA’s 64th annual conference and trade show.

This category features planning efforts that have established a strategic position for downtown, and that include elements of the plan that have already been approved, ratified, and implemented.

“The Spragins Connector creates an important bicycle link between two popular downtown parks – Big Spring Park East and Depot Park.  By making this connection, over 3 miles of pedestrian and bike infrastructure are linked,” said Chad Emerson, president/CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc. “We’re grateful that our partners at the city of Huntsville implemented this key first step of the Downtown Master Plan Update.”

Washington, D.C.-based IDA is the premier organization for urban place professionals who are shaping and activating dynamic city center districts. Downtown Huntsville, Inc is the urban place management organization representing the interests of property owners in Huntsville. 

“Downtown Huntsville’s project received the IDA Certificate of Merit for successfully employing best practice in urban place management,” said David Downey, IDA president/CEO. “The Spragins Greenway and Track Connector is a shining example of downtown management delivering real value to the city.”

Mayor: ‘No better time to live in Huntsville’

 

Calling it a “day of celebration,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle reeled off a list of successes the city accomplished over the last few years.

“What started 10 years ago began as a vision,” he said. “Then a plan.”

“You are the reason we are stronger then ever,” he told the audience of some 1,200 people at Tuesday’s annual State of the City Address in the Von Braun Center North Hall. It was the largest crowd at a Huntsville Chamber event.

The mayor cited the city’s population growth, which is twice the national rate; and some 25,000 jobs created since 2010 – “We lead the state in job creation.”

Not to mention, the domestic GDP is up 15 percent, fueled by major economic development. Included in the development are major companies moving here: Mazda-Toyota; Google; Facebook; General Electric; Blue Origin, among others.

“There’s no better time to live in Huntsville, Alabama,” Battle said.

Huntsville has had a Triple-A bond rating for 10 straight years; 91 percent of the children attend Huntsville City Schools; Cummings Research Park – “a shining example of public-private partnership”- has a 91 percent occupancy rate; Redstone Arsenal is continuing to grow as it adds more agencies and provides some $50 billion in spending.

“We’re not just growing as an economy,” Battle said. “We’re growing opportunity.”

And the city is not resting on the laurels of those successes.

Tapped to be the largest city in the state within the next decade, Huntsville needs to stay at the economic forefront to “stay relevant to the future,” Battle said.

“The next five to 10 years are taken care of,” he said. “Our job is to take care of the next 15, 20, 30 years.

“We are making sure we’re not the community left behind.”

The mayor said the city’s task is to find the new, emerging markets.

“Pushing the edge is what Huntsville does … we’ve always been the innovators and creators.”

And he closed on an optimistic note that was greeted with a standing ovation:

“Huntsville’s future as the ‘Star of Alabama’ is brighter than ever.”

 

FBI to expand presence on Redstone Arsenal

Pictured is the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School on Redstone Arsenal

 

Huntsville’s moniker as “the Federal City of the South” was further bolstered Thursday with the announcement of a planned FBI expansion.

The FBI, which has about 300 personnel stationed at Redstone Arsenal, will add another 1,350 employees, according to the agency’s senior executive at Redstone, Robert Hamilton. The personnel will come from the Washington area.

Hamilton made the announcement at the annual Redstone Update, hosted by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber.

“The FBI is extremely excited to announce today that we are moving forward with our first large-scale operations support building,” Hamilton said. “We expect that to be ready for occupancy in early 2021. This will move approximately 1,350 personnel and contractors from the national capital region.”
Hamilton said the personnel will include special agents and intelligence analysts.
“This is not a relocation of resources but rather a transformation of mission sets to one extremely powerful campus,” Hamilton said.

Local small businesses go global for defense sales

The theater at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center was filled with small, locally owned defense contracting firms eager to learn more about foreign military sales.

They were not disappointed as The North Alabama International Trade Association (NAITA) presented its industry networking event, “FMS Across the Globe.”

The keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Drushal, commanding general of USASAC, discussed the goals for shortening the time between Letters of Request and Letters of Acceptance, as well as the need to combat the perception that FMS is a detriment for Army readiness.

“Our international partners are relying on us to get it right, there are other choices out there; we need to collaborate to increase speed of execution,” Drushal said.

Drushal also emphasized the Total Package Approach and it is a win-win for the army as well as FMS partners. As a component of the “4 Ts”: Trust, Transparency, Teamwork, and Total Package Approach, TPA includes spare parts, equipment maintenance, training, documentation and non-standard equipment.

The first panel discussion, “FMS Around the Globe,” featured a trio of USASAC regional directors: Cols. Jason Crowe, Jose Valentin, and Michael Morton.

The discussion focused on eliminating the competition by providing expert training, maintaining a presence, and providing high-quality American equipment. The panel also touched on the importance of securing prime FMS market, responsiveness, unique regional requirements, and how industry can assist by providing compatible spare parts and training support.

Timothy Schimpp, security assistant specialist for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Defense Exports & Cooperation, presented the Export Control Update. Heiscussed Technology, Security, Foreign Disclosure, the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy Implementation Plan, and how export control reform is working to create “Higher Fences around Fewer Things,” while lowering “fences” for items, such as spare parts.

The second panel session, “Collaboration to Meet FMS Demand,” was Nancy Small, director of Small Business Programs for the Army Materiel Command. Panelists were Larry Lewis, president of Project XYZ, and Rob Willis, director of Aviation & International Programs for Integration Innovation Inc. (i3). They discussed how businesses must know their customers and what the business’s value proposition means to the customer, the importance of understanding the realities of cultural expectations, differences, and how business is conducted in other countries.

For more information on upcoming NAITA events, visit www.naita.org.

Black Patch Distillery Offers a Special Salute to the Military

Master distiller Gary Cooper developed a fascination for the distilling process during his days in Houston, working as a polymer chemist. (Photo by Steve Babin)

 

It takes a special kind of operation to be a successful distillery.

Or, in the case of Leslie Hinchman, it takes special ops.                     

Hinchman, who served with the Army’s special ops forces, is the CEO and president of Black Patch Distillery. The Black Patch recognizes those who have served – Special Ops uniforms do not display rank or personal identifiers, only two patches: the American flag and a black patch, which, on its underside provides key identification.

In 2008, after being severely injured in a night raid, Hinchman’s black patch was his sole means of identification.

Black Patch Distillery is a family-owned business endeavor: Clayton’s wife, Leslie, is company president; his sister, Kimberly Mendez is the general manager; and Clayton’s stepfather, Gary Cooper is the master distiller.

Cooper developed a fascination for the distilling process during his days in Houston, Texas, working as a polymer chemist. First, he began with brewing beer, then went on to perfect the art of distilling spirits.

Simply put: “I wanted to make something good, something that I’d like to drink.”

Black Patch has four spirits on the market. 

“The bourbon and rye whiskeys are very mellow. We use a two-year, accelerated aging process,” Cooper said. “These spirits start out in 53-gallon barrels, then are transferred into smaller, 10-gallon barrels.”

Black Patch has four spirits on the market. (Photo by Steve Babin)

There’s also the 100 percent blue agave, which is much smoother than your average Mexican tequila.

However, the best seller is Heat, a cinnamon-infused whiskey.

After perfecting his recipe for cinnamon candy, Cooper developed a process where the candy easily dissolves into the whiskey, providing a clear and spicy finish.

Although distribution beyond the distillery is still somewhat limited, both the bourbon and blue agave are carried in ABC stores.

The Black Patch logo design is significant. A warfighter helmet represents hardworking people who help shape the community—such as the military and first responders. Spears cross in the front to signify the fight against new challenges and obstacles.

At the bottom, is “08”, the year Hinchman lost his leg in combat.

The slogan, “Earn Every Drop,” is a testament to Cooper’s hard work.

“We have a good, steady product,” he said. “So, over the next  five years, I’m really hoping this takes off, grows regionally, and expands to the 50 states.”

 For information, visit www.blackpatchdistilling.com 

Huntsville’s Business Environment Embraces Veterans

Huntsville is a well-known destination for retiring veterans who want to do business with the government.

In 1992, Rosalyn Thompson-Blackwell and Roderick Herron met during 14 weeks of Officer’s Training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Thompson-Blackwell, president and CEO of Huntsville’s Mb Solutions, had worked as a project manager and acquisitions officer in the Army, stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo. She often came to Huntsville on Temporary Duty because her brother was stationed at Redstone Arsenal.

When she retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years of service, she wanted to start a business that supplied services to the Department of Defense. There was no hesitation about where she would go.

Herron, executive vice president of Mb Solutions, had his college business degree but was deeply in debt. Three years in the Army was the quickest means for paying it off. Twenty-six years later, he found his greater purpose.

When he retired, also as a lieutenant colonel, he made a career decision based on Redstone being the closest military installation to his hometown of Grenada, Miss.

Huntsville is the ‘Pentagon South’ 

“For Army veterans, Huntsville is known as the ‘Pentagon South,’” said Rich McAdams, president of Ignite, a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business government contractor headquartered in Huntsville. “So much Army acquisition work is done here, it is said that if an Army soldier writes it, shoots it, eats it, drinks it, or consumes it, the Army Materiel Command in Huntsville buys it.

“AMC has an annual budget of $147 billion a year, so you can see why Huntsville is so well-known and highly regarded among veterans, and especially those interested in doing business with the government or military.”

The Challenges of Starting a Veteran-owned Business

Initially, Thompson-Blackwell went to work for People-Tec, a Huntsville contractor which specializes in diversified engineering, modeling and simulation, cybersecurity, rapid prototyping, and program support.

“I had received programmatic and engineering services and knew the military structure and the acquisition process,” she says. “I did not know the business from the contractor’s perspective, so People-Tec mentored me even though they knew I wanted to go into business for myself. They showed me how to cost out contracts and how to manage contracts.”

In 2016, Thompson-Blackwell and Herron opened Mb Solutions together.

“It’s not as easy as it may seem,” says Herron. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of knowledge, the right connections, and many blessings. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is luck!”

“We call it procurement-ready,” says Mary Jane Fleming, Procurement Advisor and VA Certified Verification Advisor at the Small Business Development Center and Procurement Technical Assistance Center. “If you want to do business with the government or team up with large companies, we help you understand the business processes.”

“We went through a lot of growing pains, but we used it to our advantage,” says Thompson-Blackwell. “This is where a military background is important. We used that time to set up operating procedures, write policies, and set up an accounting system. We figured out how our company could be beneficial to veterans with benefits and policies that align with that philosophy. We didn’t waste any of that time.”

According to Foster Perry, director of the SBDC, “This is a military town; Veterans own a lot of businesses here and they hire a lot of veterans. The military has its own culture, so if they can bring someone in who knows that culture, it is a benefit.”

Veterans Make the Best Employees

“I admit I am biased when it comes to veterans,” says McAdams with Ignite. “I am biased for business reasons. Vets make great employees.

“At a young age in the Army, you are given a lot of responsibility. At 22 you might be a section leader in charge of five or six soldiers or a squad leader in charge of 10 or 11 soldiers. If you are in Afghanistan, you are going door-to-door looking for bad guys and making life or death decisions. At 26 years old, you can have 100 people working for you and be responsible for over $100 million worth of equipment. Veterans have maturity and judgement way beyond that of a civian peer.”

Herron and Thompson-Blackwell agree.

“We have been on the other side and have a passion for what we do,” said Thompson-Blackwell. “We know the needs of the kids – the soldiers who are still out there on the front lines.

“If I can provide something to make their life easier or that could save one American child’s life, it’s worthwhile.”

“I think once you have done 24 to 26 years of service, it becomes part of who you are,” said Herron. “That service spirit is embedded in you and you still want to be part of it in some way.

“Providing support to the government is like being a part of something bigger than you.”

McAdams said a key to hiring veterans is their strong work ethic.

“If I have two candidates, all things being equal, but one is a veteran,” he said. “I will hire the vet in a heartbeat because of their work ethic, maturity and judgement.”