KTECH Helps Stem Rise of Juvenile Criminals; Opens Gateway to Jobs for Foster Kids

In 2003, while investigating a news story about a man on Death Row, then-television news anchor Lee Marshall discovered the man was a product of Alabama’s foster care system.

Marshall, who was herself adopted as an infant, hit on an alarming statistic from Pew Research: Between 75 and 80 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system come out of foster care.

Lee Marshall: “KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Having grown up in a loving family and having the benefit of a good education and a successful career, she was appalled at that statistic.

More than 16 years later, recent statistics from Foster Care 2.0, and confirmed in stats quoted in an article written for Teen Vogue in May 2018, that number is now solid at 80 percent.

Furthermore, by age 17, more than half of the youths in foster care have experienced an arrest, conviction, or overnight stay in a correctional facility. More alarming numbers:

  • 90 percent of youths with more than five foster placements will enter the justice system at some point in their lives;
  • 40 to 50 percent of formerly fostered youth become homeless within 18 months after leaving foster care; and
  • 25 percent will be in prison within two years of aging out of the system.

“I saw this happening, like a flood rushing the prison gates and pouring through it,” said Marshall. “I searched for somebody, somewhere, doing something to stop it, but came up empty.”

Shortly thereafter, Lee Marshall retired from television news after 20 years to start her Kids To Love foundation. Kids To Love seeks to wrap their arms around foster kids no matter what age or under what circumstances they enter the foster care system. They provide supportive programs, all with a hidden curriculum: to give them food if they don’t have it; to provide transportation if they need it; and help them find housing if they are on the streets. But no one was offering solutions to just “Stop it.”

“As a former journalist, I know what I don’t know, so I did some research,” Marshall said. “I needed an exit strategy for these kids, especially those aging out of the system.

“I created our KTECH workforce training initiative to stop it by getting them into jobs. Our overall catalyst is to invest in, educate, and sustain these kids. KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.”

Daily KTECH classes feature mechatronics in the mornings and robotics in the afternoon. (Photo/Steve Babin)

In 2014, a Kids To Love board member connected Marshall with Fred Rascoe, dean of Career and Technical Programs at Motlow State Community College. He runs the career readiness department which includes Bridgestone classes in mechatronics, a multidisciplinary form of electrical and mechanical engineering systems that trains people for the newest jobs in advanced manufacturing. Mechatronics rethinks traditional blue-collar manufacturing into a clean, skilled environment.

“Several community leaders and members of the Board of Directors went with me to see how their program worked,” said Marshall. “They were stating 100 percent job placement for graduates from the classes and, by all accounts, it looked good.”

Rascoe became her mentor and when she told him how she wanted KTECH to look, he showed her what they needed and how to set up the equipment to be successful.

“I had a vision of what I needed to make it work but I knew the mountain I would be climbing. All I needed now was a building and half a million dollars in equipment,” Marshall said.

Kids To Love was operating out of several locations with a warehouse in one place, her administrative offices in an old Intergraph building, and to make the classes work, she was praying for a way to bring everything under one roof.

Just a few months later, in November 2014, she met Louis and Patty Breland of Breland Properties. Patty was adopted and she shared Marshall’s vision for KTECH.

The Brelands donated a 13,000 square-foot investment property on Castle Drive in Madison to Kids To Love.

“It was formerly a Jump Zone painted in primary colors and smelled like dirty socks, but I have never been so excited about a building in my life,” said Marshall. “Nearly all the materials for renovations were donated and in April, Dorothy Davidson of Davidson Technologies bought all the required equipment.”

KTECH has two fulltime instructors and classes are daily with mechatronics in the mornings; robotics in the afternoon; and soldering and solid edge, a 3D CAD technology that provides solid modeling, assembly modelling and 2D orthographic view functionality for mechanical designers, taught several hours per week. Students leave KTECH with all four industry certifications.

Students attend an accelerated program of four college-level classes in 16 weeks. Classes are 40 percent lecture and 60 percent hands-on instruction.

KTECH has an articulation agreement, that is, their college level classes qualify as transferable college credits if a student wants to transfer to Calhoun Community College, Wallace State, or Motlow. Calhoun and Wallace State give 12 of the 16 hours credit, but Motlow gives the full 16 because the program is patterned after it.

“We want kids to have an easy transition into a job after we certify them, so we set up the labs just like they will be at a job, in fact, the robotic lab is exactly like the new labs at the new Mazda Toyota plant,” Marshall said. “Students can go straight to work making $30,000 a year.”

In 2018, KTECH expanded the mechatronics lab to include the largest robotics training classroom in the state of Alabama. There are four robots and a virtual computer robot just like the ones they will see at the Mazda Toyota plant.

KTECH runs completely debt free and accepts no state or federal funding because grant money has strings attached.

“I can’t help kids the way I want to help them if I accepted government funds,” she said.

While KTECH’s priority is on kids aging out of the foster care system, it is not limited to that. Marshall said it is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills.

“We have put veterans in there who are transitioning back into the workforce and they bring a tremendous synergy to the kids,” said Marshall. “My kids have a tendency to quit when it gets hard or to quit when they don’t want to do something.

“If I put a vet in here with one of my kids, that vet comes from a brotherhood. They will say, ‘I’ve got your back. We’re in this together and quitting or failure are not options.’”

The program also offers classes to the underserved or under-resourced people.

“We have great relationships with nonprofit organizations like the Downtown Rescue Mission and Christian Women’s Job Corps,” Marshall said. “We have trained six of the Downtown Rescue Mission’s program graduates.”

Students must have a high school diploma or GED to interview and Marshall said it is a tough love proposition.

“We have a strict interview process and only take about half of those that interview; however, we have a 100 percent completion rate,” said Marshall. “We give them an opportunity. What they do with it is up to them.

“For us, it is not about having butts in a seat – it is about completion. We kick them in the butt while they are here, but we are by their side at graduation.”

Kids To Love has awarded more than 700 college scholarships in its first 16 years, and KTECH has awarded more than 100 certifications in the first three years of its existence. KTECH is an alternative for foster children who are not cut out for college or don’t have the support to go to college, but they still need a skill set to be independent.

For 16 years, Kids To Love has implemented numerous programs in support of foster children of all ages throughout Alabama, in 60 counties in Tennessee, and with a growing presence in Mississippi and Georgia. Programs for young children like More Than a Backpack and Christmas For the Kids provide food, school supplies, and new clothing to wear. Life Lab teaches older kids, essential skills like how to create a budget, balance a budget, write a resume and dress appropriately for a job.

“I asked a judge in Montgomery, ‘What is the number one thing you see in my kids when they come before you?” said Marshall.

“He said, ‘Armed robbery with drugs a close number two. It may surprise you, drugs isn’t number one, but they get a gun because they need a gun to get into the drug business,’” Marshall said he told her.

According to Bennet Wright, Chair and Executive Director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, it costs $44 a day to house an inmate in Alabama. Armed robbery is a gateway crime with an automatic 20-year sentence if convicted in Alabama. A 20-year sentence costs the taxpayer over $321,000.

Right now, there are more than 1,500 kids over the age of 14, about to age out of the system. The cost of that many kids aging out of foster care and going into the juvenile justice system will cost taxpayers about $365 million if nothing is done to stop it.

KTECH is one step to help stop this trend.

Trash Pandas Inaugural Season Pushed to 2021

MADISON Fans who have waited for professional baseball to return to North Alabama will now have to wait a little longer.

Trash Pandas President & CEO Ralph Nelson: I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community. (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the 2020 season, which would have been the historic opening campaign for the Trash Pandas. Instead, 2021 will serve as the inaugural mission for the Double-A affiliate of the Angels.

“Obviously, this is an incredibly disappointing day for our fans, staff, and partners,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “But the health and safety of our families and community is paramount above all else. Baseball has always been part of the healing when our country has come back from tragic times, and I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community.”

The Trash Pandas will announce policies and procedures as they relate to tickets purchased for 2020 baseball games. Fans will not lose any value for the tickets they have already bought, the team said.

In fact, the team is switching from a baseball operation to an event/retail business to make up for the lost revenue from the baseball season being canceled.

The team has been setting merchandise sales records for Minor League Baseball and is approaching nearly $3 million in sales through the Emporium at Bridge Street Town Centre, the Junkyard at Toyota Field and its online store shoptrashpandas.com.

The Trash Pandas were the first MiLB team to process international online orders and have had merchandise shipped to Canada, England, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Obviously, merchandise has been our home run hitter since we unveiled our team name and logo in 2018,” Nelson said. “The opportunity … to welcome international orders will only help expand the Trash Panda name across the globe.”

The Trash Pandas have held “Block Parties” on Friday nights at Toyota Field, featuring bands, trivia contests on the videoboard and fireworks. They recently held a screening of the movie “Angels in the Outfield” and fans sat on the outfield grass to watch.

This weekend, they are hosting an Independence Eve Block Party and a massive Fourth of July celebration, featuring live entertainment, activities for kids of all ages and, of course, fireworks. For Friday’s event, admission is $10, kids 2 and under are free. The Fourth of July admission is $10 per person, kids 2 and under are free and parking is $6 per vehicle.

On July 10, the team will show “Field of Dreams” and fans can “have a catch” before the film. The Pepsi Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and showtime is set for 7. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 12 & under, kids 2 and under are admitted free. There is no charge for parking. Trash Pandas Nation full-season ticket holders will have the opportunity to gain early entry through the Trustmark VIP Lobby beginning at 5 p.m. 

The Trash Pandas have also hosted week-long kids’ camps, instructional baseball/softball camps and baseball travel-ball tournaments.

“We had events 26 of the 30 days in June,” Nelson said. “July will have even more.”

For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner. “This announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

County Commission Chairman: ‘We Don’t Have This Pandemic Under Control’

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sounded a resounding alarm during Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control, Strong said. “Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States.”

The comments came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, was quoted at a press briefing in Geneva saying the pandemic is speeding up globally and the “worst is yet to come.’’

“We all want this to be over,’’ he said. “We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that it’s not even close to being over.’’

Also Monday, Arizona joined Texas and Florida whose governors closed down such gathering spots as bars, gyms, and beaches to combat spikes of the novel coronavirus in those states.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a spike in Madison County and the region.

“As of (Monday), we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Spillers said local and area hospitals have enough beds to deal with virus surges that require hospitalization. What he fears right now is the exposure of health care workers.

Strong noted that 14 HEMSI workers were out Monday because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Spillers and Strong both continued to stress wearing face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” Spillers said. “It hasn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.’’

Strong said he’s heard from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“There are people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms,’’ Strong said. “If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one. There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.’’

The rising positive cases of COVID-19 locally and statewide, Strong said, should sway doubters into wearing face coverings. Face coverings are required within county offices.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made,’’ he said. “The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County.

“In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days, people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse.’’

The 115 inpatients Spillers alluded to include a 16-year old who is one of 11 coronavirus positive patients on a ventilator and among 16 total in ICUs. There are 44 inpatients in Madison County, including 38 at Huntsville main, six in Madison, and two in Crestwood Medical Center.

Other coronavirus numbers:

  • Decatur Morgan Hospital has 20 inpatients with coronavirus and Marshall County has 30.
  • There are 12 inpatients with coronavirus at Helen Keller Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital has nine.
  • The average age of hospitalization for the coronavirus is the mid-50s with the majority of those having pre-existing conditions.
  • There are nearly 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths statewide, while in Madison County the numbers are 996 and six.

Huntsville Hospital has the highest number of cases since its first positive patient was admitted. As businesses re-open and sports are coming back to life, Spillers cautioned that not going backward like Arizona, Texas and Florida is to practice safeguards.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

 

Booz Allen Bringing 21st Century Innovation Center to Historic Stovehouse

One hundred years ago, Rome and Martin Stoves were innovators of the kitchen stove. Today, Booz, Allen, Hamilton is bringing 21st century innovation to the repurposed historical Stovehouse complex.

Positioned in the center of the revitalized property with a view  into the large grassy courtyard, the new Booz Allen Innovation Center opening this winter will showcase Booz Allen engineering expertise in a customer and community collaborative environment. Highlighting technical talent from Booz Allen in Huntsville, the 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art center will have a reconfigurable layout based on client work and technology requirements, including additive manufacturing and 3D printing capabilities.

Convenient to restaurants less than 100 yards away and The Shed on the east side, the center seals BAH’s commitment to Huntsville and the firm’s ability to grow to meet customer needs.

“Booz Allen is dedicated to our customers and their missions in Huntsville,” said Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president at Booz Allen and leader of the Huntsville office. “The Innovation Center is the next step in our continued investment in the city. We’re growing together, and we want to further enable our engineers to be key drivers of that growth. They’re building extraordinary solutions and making a difference.”

Booz Allen opened offices in Huntsville in 2003 and employs more than 200 people locally. The Innovation Center is its second Huntsville location.

The center will host a number of current and future solutions that demonstrate Booz Allen’s expertise. The reconfigurable space is designed to support engineering teams and demonstrations, customer meetings and employee gatherings, with a goal of fostering innovation and interest among Huntsville’s future technology talent.

“We’re thrilled that Booz Allen chose to bring its new Innovation Center to Stovehouse,” said Danny Yancey, founder and CEO of Stovehouse. “The space they’re moving into was used for innovations in stove and furnace heating technologies beginning in the 1920s, so it’s only fitting that it will be alive again with creative engineers, this time pushing the limits of technology solutions in the defense industry,

“The fact that they will showcase their work in the space as well fits right in with this campus, where it’s all about discovering something new around every corner.”

Booz Allen supports a number of Army customers in Huntsville, including the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate, the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, the Prototype Integration Facility and PEO Aviation, in addition to work with the Missile Defense Agency, the Department of Justice’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, and NASA.

The Huntsville Innovation Center is slated to open this winter.

 

Huntsville Shows Resilience as New Economic Numbers Are Mixed Bag

New economic impact numbers have been released and according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Research Director Ken Smith, they provide a snapshot into exactly what kind of impact COVID-19 has had on our local economy, and how that information compares to the national numbers.

While there is some bad news in the data, albeit expected; there is quite a bit a good news going forward as Huntsville proves to be overwhelmingly resilient.

According to Smith’s presentation on a recent teleconference call with Chamber members, there was a big dip in employment coming off March into April with Huntsville employment at 226,000. The one-month change showed an 8.3 percent dip, which Smith said is a significant drop. However, compared to the U.S. employment numbers of -13.1 percent, Huntsville stayed well ahead of the national statistics.

Furthermore, according to early calculations for May, employment has already started ticking back up, showing a 2 percent increase in employment from April to May.

“We are looking at what analysts are saying is a two-year recovery for GDP and a possible three-year recovery for employment to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Smith. “We are about 7.5 percent below where we were this time last year, as compared to 13 percent for the U.S. economy. That translates into 10.6 percent unemployment locally, which is a big jump, but not bad when compared to the U.S., which was up to 14.4 percent.

“The Federal Reserve recently announced they are not likely to raise interest rates until after the year 2022. So this gives us hope and a sign it will be the same for the local Huntsville economy, and it will rebound, which falls in line with what the Federal Reserve has been predicting.”

Looking at the two-year picture, backing up to January 2018, the numbers show the precipitous drop in April wiped out any gains over the past few years, and the same can be said for the U.S. economy, which lost 20,000,000 workers over the past month. It added back 3 million in May.

“We at the Chamber use trends in our marketing to potential new clients interested in moving their business into the area,” said Smith. “They like to see that our economy is strong.

“If you look out over 20 years instead of two years, you can see Huntsville’s employment growth is about twice the rate of the U.S. and it has been trending that way since 2000.

Smith’s data charts show the dip in 2008, which was the recession. It took Huntsville about five years to recover and get employment back to pre-recession levels. It took the U.S. six years.

“But what they’re predicting now is a larger drop but a shorter recovery,” said Smith. “That is a three-year recovery in employment and four years for the U.S. to recover.”

Looking at employment by industry, there are no surprises.

The biggest local job loss was in the leisure and hospitality industry, losing 8,000 jobs from March to April. That includes all the arts, entertainment, and recreation, and hotel and food services.

The second biggest loss for Huntsville was in professional and business services.

Huntsville lost 4,100 jobs during that same time period, and where engineering and technology workers did not see a big job loss, the losses were in support services such as office and administrative, cleaning services, document preparation, and employment services. With companies closed or people working from home, there was a lot less need for some of that support.

The third largest drop was some 1,500 jobs in a sector that included repair and maintenance businesses, hair and nail salons, and nonprofit organizations.

Smith said Huntsville’s employment by industry matches up pretty well against the U.S. hospitality and leisure sector, which lost 7.2 million jobs.

“Huntsville dropped about 36 percent, so we see over one-third unemployment in leisure and hospitality, where the U.S. lost almost half in that sector at about 46 percent,” said Smith. “Huntsville expects to gain it back.”

In areas where Huntsville fared pretty well, the retail trade industries only lost about 5 percent, compared to the U.S. at about 14 percent.

Huntsville also did well in manufacturing, losing only about 4 percent compared to the U.S. losing about 10 percent overall.

In the areas of construction, wholesale trade, and transportation, Huntsville lost very few jobs compared to the national numbers, but transportation is not a very big industry in the local market.

Huntsville also did not lose many jobs in finance or in the government sector.

Looking at the good news, Moody’s Analytics did an analysis at the end of May showing a sharp drop with a continued recovery through the rest of this year 2020.

“A lot of people might think, ‘Well, all we did was put on the brakes. Why can’t we just start right back up and go back to where we were two months ago?’,” said Smith. “That’s typically not going to happen. We saw after the 2008 recession it took five years to get back to pre-recession levels.

“Here, they are expecting a recovery, but not an immediate one. Huntsville is looking at two years for GDP and three years for the employment to recover, which is one year earlier than the U.S.

Why is Huntsville’s recovery faster than the U.S.?

Moody’s points to some of the area’s key strengths.

“It’s interesting to see how the short-term and long-term statistics show us in expansion mode, which is pretty positive,” said Smith.

Some of those strengths are Huntsville’s extremely highly skilled and educated workforce in areas of advanced manufacturing at key companies like Mazda Toyota, for example; and research jobs such as those at Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Moody’s mentions all three specifically.

Huntsville’s robust population growth and favorable migration is part of it too. It comes on the heels of new population numbers recently released showing Huntsville’s population hitting over 200,000 for the very first time, so that is definitely something to note.

In terms of weaknesses, Smith said Huntsville still gets knocked down because of our dependence on the government sector with an underrepresented private sector.

Also wage growth is slow, due in part to a higher-educated workforce whose wages are already on the upper end, so there is less room to grow.

“Lastly, if we look into the Moody’s forecast a little more deeply, you can see the year-by-year percent growth, and you can see where we were trending before 2019,” said Smith. “We were outpacing the U.S. economy in growth and jobs so this is why we say Huntsville’s economic recovery and employment growth is better, and will be faster than the U.S.”

Smith also said the Chamber still has companies interested in locating their businesses in the Huntsville community and they are working on several projects on the commercial side.

“We are still seeing a lot of investment companies and private investors looking to continue their projects here, so from the Chamber perspective, we are primed and ready!

“It’s a very difficult time for many people, especially small business, but the balance of the skilled workforce and job growth makes Huntsville residents better able to support their families than some,” said Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry. “There’s a lot of job growth and information that shows companies are hiring, and there is a lot going on Redstone Arsenal too, so there are still a lot of opportunities in this market.

“We are not recession-proof, but we are a lot more resilient than some,” Cherry said.

 

Local COVID-19 Cases Increase; City, County on ‘Watch List’

Huntsville and Madison County enjoyed weeks as the poster child in the state for how to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

While other counties seemed to struggle in dealing with the virus, Madison County maintained low numbers of confirmed cases.

That’s no longer true.

At Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing in the Huntsville City Council chambers, state and local officials produced ominous numbers as well as comments.

“One thing that stands out, as of last Friday (June 12), we had 85 quarantined cases in Madison County,’’ said county Emergency Management Director Jeff Birdwell. “(June 19), we have 243.

“Also a word of warning: We have received word that the city of Huntsville and Madison County is actually on the government’s COVID-19 watch list, which represents any organizations or governments that have more than a 200 percent increase in confirmed cases.

“I think it’s important that the community know that.”

Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) said the trend not only in Madison County but statewide is “disturbing.’’

The numbers on ADHP’s dashboard revealed these numbers Sunday: 29,538 confirmed cases statewide with 829 deaths, and 701 confirmed cases and six deaths in Madison County.

“Our numbers statewide have continued to climb,’’ Landers said. “This is an extremely disturbing trend to the Alabama Department of Public Health and to me personally as a health official.’’

About half of the cases in Madison County have been confirmed in the last month.

“With these rising numbers,’’ Landers said, “if we don’t get this under control, it is going to overwhelm our health care system, which has been the worry we have had the whole time.”

Hospitalizations have also risen because of the virus across the state, particularly in the 24-49 age group.

“Early on, this community took a very strong stance providing a lot of messaging and a lot of information, and our numbers were low in this county compared to other parts of the state,” Landers said. “But our numbers in this county have started to climb.

“We know that without any level of social distancing or without any level of personal protective measures that a person with COVID-19 under the most optimal conditions will transmit COVID-19 to 2 1/2 people. But it can actually be higher than that.”

While health officials and local authorities continue to stress safeguards against the virus — wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizing — a trip to any reopened store reveals not everyone is taking any precautions.

“The hardest thing is enforcement,” Madison Mayor Paul Finley said. “How do you do that?”

Finley, Landers, and others at the bi-weekly COVID-19 briefings continue to persuade residents to take the virus seriously.

“We really have limited options in terms of prevention, and we really have limited options in terms of treatment,’’ Landers said. “However, the options we have in terms of prevention are actually not extremely noxious, if you will, and they’re not extremely difficult to carry out.’’

 

‘Best Places to Work’ Awarded Virtually

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of events and activities, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber went virtual this year for the annual Best Places To Work Awards,

The event, presented by Synovus, was originally scheduled for April 15 in the Von Braun Center North Hall, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The results are based on employee surveys. Results are tabulated by Quantum Workplace and were kept confidential prior to the event.

The winners are:

Micro Category (10-24 employees)
GOLD: Phased n Research, Inc.
SILVER: Cortina Solutions, LLC
BRONZE: River Tree Insurance Services, Inc.

Small Category (25-50 employees)
GOLD: KODA Technologies, Inc.
SILVER: Matt Curtis Real Estate, Inc.
BRONZE: Crossflow Technologies, Inc.

Medium Category (51-100 employees)
GOLD: Thompson Gray, Inc.
SILVER: Hill Technical Solutions, Inc.
BRONZE: Brockwell Technologies, Inc.

Large Category (101-250 employees)
GOLD: Avion Solutions
SILVER: IronMountain Solutions
BRONZE: Simulation Technologies, Inc.

X-Large Category (251-plus employees)
GOLD: Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation
SILVER: Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI)
BRONZE: PeopleTec, Inc.

I Scream. You Scream. We All Scream for … ButterBurgers! Culver’s Opens Madison Shop

MADISON — It began as a small family restaurant in Sauk City, Wis., famous for their ButterBurgers and fresh frozen custard made with Wisconsin’s renowned fresh dairy products.

Founder Craig Culver: “It’s all about putting smiles on people’s faces.” (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

This week, founder Craig Culver joined new franchise owner Mike Hinesh and Scoopie the Custard Cone for the grand opening of the Tennessee Valley’s first Culver’s ButterBurger location. It is at the corner of Wall Triana and Brown’s Ferry Road in the Kroger shopping center in Madison.

“People here in Madison, Alabama are probably asking, ‘What in the heck is a ButterBurger?’” said Culver before an enthusiastic audience waiting to be the restaurant’s first customers. “Our signature burger is made with 100 percent fresh, never frozen beef, and gets its name from its lightly buttered and toasted bun.”

And Scoopie the Custard Cone?

Culver’s is equally as famous for its fresh frozen custard, a legendary creamy decadence from high-quality, fresh Wisconsin dairy. Culver’s offers three flavors of these frozen treats daily – vanilla, chocolate and a Flavor of the Day – each that can be customized with more than 30 mix-ins and toppings.

New Culver’s franchise owner Mike Hinesh has been in the restaurant business since he was 15 years old. He is a graduate of the Walt Disney World Culinary apprenticeship program and is a former Walt Disney World chef and restaurant guest service manager.

Scoopie is a hit with the customers. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

“We’re excited to open and become an active member of the community,” said Hinesh. “When Madison residents are looking for handcrafted meals and tasty frozen treats, we’ll be ready to safely serve them with the warm hospitality Culver’s is known for.

Other guest favorites include chicken sandwiches and fresh garden salads. Side options include crinkle-cut fries and Wisconsin cheese curds, a Dairyland delicacy.

“We started with one restaurant 35 years ago, never dreaming we would even have two,” said Culver. “Now we have 859 and I am traveling to three states today to open this location and two more, so we have been blessed and very fortunate over the years.”

But Culver said his restaurants are not just about food.

“What we are really in is the people business,” he said. “It’s all about putting smiles on people’s faces, giving people our heart, being a good person, a nice person inside or outside the business.”

As they opened the doors to hungry guests for the first time, Hinesh said, “We’re excited to have team members from the surrounding Madison community as part of our team. They are ready to serve!”

Culver’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except for some holidays. They also offer a kid’s menu.

Crestwood CEO: Masks Help Protect Wearer Against COVID-19; ‘The Life You Save May be Your Own’

Cloth face masks, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to contain the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, are now considered to be protection for the wearer against contracting the disease.

According to Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, cloth masks are proving to act as a barrier to the virus. It was previously thought only specialized masks such as N95 would protect the wearer.

“Evidence now is even the cloth masks can protect the wearer from 80 percent of the (airborne) particles,’’ she said during Monday’s COVID-19 update at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Masks reduce the number of particles that get past that barrier and that means 80 percent can’t reach the nose and mouth, which is the way we catch this.

“Having a smaller viral attack rate means your body has a better chance of winning the battle and having a less severe illness. So wear your mask. The life you save may be your own.’’

Hudson’s comments come on the heels of an increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Madison County and statewide. There have been 22 states that have seen daily increases in cases in the past two weeks as the country reopens its economy. At least 12 of those states have reached their highest number of cases since the pandemic started.

As of Monday night, there were 25,892 reported confirmed virus cases with 769 deaths. Madison County has 566 confirmed cases with five deaths. The county has had an increase of 222 positive cases in the past 14 days with a majority in the 24-49 age group. Also, around 50 percent of the cases being confirmed are among blacks.

“Blacks are over-represented in testing positive,’’ Hudson said.

According to WHNT-TV, three Albertville High School football players have tested positive for the virus since students returned for voluntary workouts.

“We’ve had the largest three-day increase since the first case was announced,’’ Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said Monday. “It’s vital to remain mindful of the need to take personal responsibility for your safety as well as those around us.’’

While Hudson and Strong both stressed the tenants of fighting the virus – wearing masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing – Hudson condemned a recent fad: COVID parties. The theory behind these gatherings is to “get it over with’’ and to develop a herd immunity.

This, she said, was popular in the 1950-60s era when parents exposed their children to chicken pox. COVID-19 is not chicken pox, she warned.

“Very few children had serious effects from chicken pox,’’ she said. “COVID is not chickenpox. COVID is a serious illness.’’

Hudson said one of 10 people affected with COVID-19 require hospitalization, 20 percent of those end up on a ventilator and the mortality rate is 30 percent.

“Get it over with is not a good idea,’’ she said.

 

Downtown Huntsville Inc. Joins Effort to Move Confederate Monument from Courthouse Grounds

Downtown Huntsville Inc. has thrown its collective weight behind efforts to remove of a Confederate memorial statue that was placed on the Courthouse Square downtown by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905.

The letter from the organization said DHI advocated “the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.’’

The letter was in response to protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a since-arrested white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. During the protest in the downtown Huntsville area, there were chants of “take the statue down.’’

The Madison County Commission and the Huntsville City Council each unanimously approved moves to relocate the statue.

The county will submit an application to the state for a waiver to legislation prohibiting the removal of statues and monuments.

The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was signed into law in 2017 and prohibits the removal of any monument that’s stood 40 years or more. However, Birmingham and Mobile have removed statues without the state’s permission. Violating the law results in a $25,000 fine. Tennessee Valley Progressives, an organization that has pushed for the statue’s removal, reopened a GoFunMe account to raise money to pay the fine.

The City Council last week passed a resolution to work with the county on relocating the monument.

The base of the statue is inscribed with, “In memory of the heroes who fell in defence of the principles which gave birth to the Confederate cause.’’

Not surprisingly Chad Emerson, CEO of DHI, said there has been some negative feedback to his group’s support of moving the memorial. He said he’s also heard plenty of support.

“Nowadays in the world with the World Wide Web, there’ll always be someone expressing an opinion that’s contrary. But we’ve largely found that other entities and faith groups and individuals have supported this measure to remove and relocate.

“In fact both the County Commission and City Council have voted unanimously in support of that position. So it feels like there is a strong community-wide consensus to remove and relocate to a historically contextual location.’’

Emerson suggested one suitable site to relocate the statue, which is under the direction of the Madison County Commission, is the Confederate cemetery at Maple Hill Cemetery.

“We believe that that is an equitable decision for both all the people that visit downtown as well as go to the courts as well as for the business,” Emerson said. “We’ve had a lot of the downtown area businesses say they would like to have that removed to a historical location because it is viewed by some of the customers as devisive.”

Here is the text of the statement, which was signed by Emerson and DHI Board Chair William Stroud:

“The tragic killing of George Floyd has magnified the deep pain experienced by African American and other members of our community,” the DHI statement said. “We are heartbroken by this pain and believe a true path toward healing requires more than words of reconciliation or statements of empathy and support.

“Rather, this path toward understanding and healing requires specific actions to directly advance this critical process. Today, we advocate that one such step should be the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.

“We implore our government leaders on all levels to utilize all available means to take this step to promote the healing process. We understand that the removal and relocation of this artifact will not remove historical prejudices and pain by itself, but we hope it represents a sincere statement to our fellow community members that we are listening to their pain and seek to meaningfully further a process of healing together with them.”