Sit Down with Success: Bob Baron ‘in Motion’ with Baron Critical Weather Intelligence

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal on entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s subject is Bob Baron, founder/president/CEO of Baron Critical Weather Intelligence.

Many Huntsville residents will recognize Bob Baron from local TV weather and his famous “weather in motion,” but immediately following one of Huntsville’s largest, most destructive, and unexpected tornadoes hit the city in 1989, Bob Baron formed Baron Services to try and find ways to keep people all over the world, safer in dangerous weather events.

 

You were an on-air celebrity here and in Tampa as Chief Meteorologist in the 1970s and 1980s. Why did you take a more behind-the-scenes stance by starting your own company?

When the F-4 tornado struck Huntsville in November 1989, I was Chief Meteorologist at Channel 48. It came without warning and I realized that what I thought were weather tools were just weather gadgets.

I thought the community was well prepared for severe weather, but in analyzing the disaster, we determined that we needed to find a way to detect dangerous events; disseminate very specific advisories to those in harm’s way; and to effect immediate response. That detection, dissemination, and response had to occur within 10 minutes, or you started losing lives.

That has been our focus for 30 years.

 

What attracted you to the technical aspects of the weather?

I transitioned from radio to TV and then to TV weather around 1977. It was a glorious time as the first “big data”, satellites, and modern radar were launching at the same time as computerization. I loved working with both, and interfacing with the public on a daily basis; and every day we were either creating or introducing new technology to the public.

 

What are some of the technologies you have created and implemented since you started the company?

Our first product facilitated live radar and strike-by-strike lightning and allowed the user to zoom in on a storm, instantly draw out a direction and (area of threat), and then pull the communities at risk, as well as the estimated time of storm arrival.

Then we got into storm tracking. Over time we patented the ability to send alerts to cell phones of those only in harm’s way.

In the wake of the 2011 Super Outbreak of tornadoes, the Governor’s task force determined a need to have a statewide alerting system focused exclusively on those directly in harm’s way. Only our company could provide it, and it would take forever to have all state entities sign off on the system; so, we decided to provide it for free.

Over the last eight years, Baron has been providing the free Safety Net alerting service statewide. We have launched millions of alerts and anyone can still download the Alabama Safety Net free and receive not only the most precise alerting, but also a wide variety of other weather information like live radar and tropical weather data.

 

Why did you change the name from Baron Services to Baron Critical Weather Intelligence?

Baron is a national and international player not only in weather data but also Doppler weather radars. The company was chosen by the National Weather Service to upgrade all 171 of their Nexrad radar to next generation Dual Polarity.

Our official name remains Baron Services, Inc.  but over the years we adopted uses of “Baron Weather, home of Critical Weather Intelligence”, which speaks more directly to what we do.

 

What has been the hardest parts about developing weather technology?

If things were easy, everyone would be doing them.

Our development of early Doppler radars and more recently, building out the technology and hardware for Dual Polarity, which is sending out simultaneous horizontal and vertical signals that are then analyzed when those signals bounce back, may be the most challenging work we have done.

But we also felt a great sense of accomplishment developing the data stream, the hardware, firmware, and software to send over very narrow bandwidth to provide weather to the cockpit as displayed in real-time on all major avionics. For the past 17 years, that has been one of my favorite successes.

 

What vision do you have for your business in the future?

Our company has three major verticals: broadcast, international weather services, and what we call enterprise, which provides weather data in various formats to assist other developers.

This later effort is becoming quite successful as we add insurance and fleet customers, among others; and I see great opportunities for advancement as we are able to reach out to the marketplace.

We have developed a next generation TV broadcast system that also includes the ability to do traffic programs, and all of this is being extremely well received.

We recently finished development of a brand new next-gen processor for our radar market that allows us to provide a highly competitive product around the world that I’m looking to add to our marketing going forward.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into weather technology or the development of weather-related equipment, research, or work?

For me, most of my experience has been applied science – power user, if you will. But you also need the researcher. It is a team effort with room for success for everyone. I believe weather, the big umbrella, is a rapidly growing area both in applied meteorology and meteorological research.

Rhythm of the Air: VBC Partners with TVA and Huntsville Utilities to Improve Air Quality

The Von Braun Center has teamed with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Huntsville Utilities on a project to improve the air quality for one of the VBC’s newest additions, Rhythm on Monroe.

By implementing germicidal technology, the project includes replacing the current air filters with higher efficiency filters and installing UV-C germicidal lighting inside the venue’s HVAC systems.

“We’re always looking for different ways to enhance our facility,” said Johnny Hunkapiller, VBC director of Operations. “This installation adds an extra layer of safety and allows our guests and staff to feel more comfortable while inside our building.”

UV-C lighting is an ultraviolet light that renders microorganisms inactive. Commonly used in hospitals and laboratories, it also has been used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water purification systems.

UV-C technology is ideal for restaurants and other public facilities where maintaining a high level of air quality is essential.

“Although everyone has their minds on the current pandemic, this technology will remove myriad contagions for a long time to come,” said Joe Gehrdes, director of Community Relations for Huntsville Utilities. “We are grateful for our relationship with the VBC and TVA, and this opportunity through EnergyRight.”

TVA provides incentives to businesses and schools to install the UV-C germicidal lights and the agency provides financial incentives for approved UV technologies.

“The pandemic increased the awareness of cleanliness and hygiene around the world and TVA is pleased that we can assist, through a partnership with Huntsville Utilities, by offering an incentive for this technology,” said Brent May, TVA EnergyRight Business & Industry Program Manager, Alabama District. “UVGI systems are helpful to a wide range of businesses, including facilities like the VBC, where numerous public events take place.”

“The health and safety of our staff and guests are always our top priority,” said Samantha Nielsen, manager of Marketing and Public Relations for the VBC. “We’re proud to partner with TVA and Huntsville Utilities in our continued effort to provide a safe and clean facility to our guests, and we’re excited to incorporate this lighting technology into our systems.”

Buffalo Rock Moving Operations with $20M Facility

The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Plant “neighborhood” is about to get a new resident.

Buffalo Rock announced it will be moving its distribution operations from Old Madison Pike to a $20 million facility next year in Limestone County near the massive auto plant north of I-565.

The new distribution center for Pepsi-Cola beverages and food products will employ 130 full-time workers and be operational by the end of the year. The current facility has 108 employees and there is no room for expansion.

“The operations on Old Madison Pike will be moving to this new facility by the end of 2021,” Buffalo Rock President/COO Matthew Dent said in a statement. “As with other projects, the overall goals are to improve the employee-partner experience, increase efficiency and productivity, and expand our ability to handle the strategic growth we have envisioned.”

According to plans, the city is purchasing about 85 acres for some $3.2 million and will then sell 55 acres to Buffalo Rock for $2.75 million.

“The capital investment they’re doing in the area means we’ll have more building and the amount of money they’ll add to the economy will be $5 million a year in payroll,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.

Huntsville will use the other 30 acres for flood mitigation and infrastructure, Battle said.

Dent said that was the option that helped his company choose Huntsville over other locations.

“With the city’s commitment to invest in the property’s road access, retention and utilities, it became an attractive option that allows us to stay in Huntsville as we expand,” he said.

Battle said the commitment is a “win-win” for Huntsville.

“There are no real abatements on this project,” he said. “They are promising jobs; they are promising capital investment.

“So, it’s a win-win for community.”

According to the agreement, the city will make road improvements and Huntsville Utilities will provide – at no cost to Buffalo Rock – electrical, natural gas, water and sewer connections. The agreement also states the plant must be operational by the end of next year with 130 full-time employees no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

How to Fly Right During This Holiday Season

If you have not traveled much this year due to the pandemic, Huntsville International Airport is sharing its “Tips for Air Travel” during the holidays. Vacationers and business travelers will find this advice helpful as well, for cruising through security, passing through the ticketing process, and securely boarding the aircraft.

According to representatives from the Transportation Safety Administration and HSV, travelers can expect to see security officers throughout the terminal wearing face masks and disposable gloves they can discard after pat-downs, while many will also wear eye protection or face shields. 

Travelers can expect less physical contact at each step of the process.

Acrylic barriers have been installed at the terminal to limit exposure between airport personnel, security officers, and travelers during the issuance of your boarding pass and showing an ID. You will notice social distancing leading up to and into the security checkpoint environment; and surfaces in the security checkpoint area are frequently and intensely cleaned and disinfected.

The following procedures will make air travel much faster and less invasive as you travel this holiday season:

  1. Pack Smart! Pack only essential items and avoid packing prohibited items in carry-on bags. Pack liquids, gels and aerosols in small containers and place them in a plastic bag. Pack keys, loose change, wallets, lip balm, tissues, and cellphones into carry-on bags before entering security checkpoints to avoid having to put them into bins.
  2. Follow Universal CDC Guidelines. Wear a mask. Always keep a supply of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Bring a photo ID.
  3. Enroll in TSA PreCheck. TSA Precheck expedites the screening process and reduces touchpoints. Enrollees do not have to remove their shoes, belts, lightweight jackets, electronics, or their bag of travel-size liquids and gels. Click here to Apply for TSA Precheck.
  4. Do Not Wrap Christmas Gifts. Pack gifts without giftwrapping them so that if they trigger an alarm, they will not have to be unwrapped for examination. Gift bags, gift boxes or decorative bows are easy alternatives.
  5. Download the FREE myTSA app. It is the traveler’s best friend and a trusted source for last-minute travel questions. It provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most frequently asked airport security information, and has a helpful tip for preparing for security, including a searchable “Can I Bring” database. The app also keeps travelers up to date on flight delays and provides directions to TSA PreCheck lanes at any airport terminal. The app is available on iTunes or Google Play. 
  6. Properly Prepare Food Items for Travel. As a rule, if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it, or pour it – pack it in a checked bag. Cakes, pies, cookies, and casseroles can travel in carry-on luggage.

If you need to know what items should go in a carry-on bag, or if you have last-minute questions, send them to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger

Helpful travel tips are posted regularly at @TSA and @TSA_Gulf on Twitter. For localized travel information, visit FlyHuntsville.com.

(Photos courtesy of Huntsville International and the TSA)

Dr. Kimberly Robinson Named U.S. Space & Rocket Center Executive Director and CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, a 31-year NASA veteran, has been named the executive director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. She will assume her role Feb. 15.

“I look forward to joining the remarkable team at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to inspire our next generation of explorers,” Robinson said. “The Rocket Center is a vital part of our community that honors the Rocket City’s storied accomplishments and helps shape tomorrow’s space industry.

“I am excited to bring my knowledge and experience from three decades in the field of space exploration to the Rocket Center and help plan for our vibrant future.”

Robinson is NASA’s Utilization Manager for Advanced Exploration Systems and was previously the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis I, the first integrated flight test of the NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System rocket and the Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center.

She also served as the SLS Strategic Communications manager and has received several NASA performance awards including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and a Silver Snoopy.

Robinson received her Ph.D. and master’s degrees in engineering management and systems engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University.

“Along with her vast experience with NASA, Dr. Robinson brings an innovative spirit and the leadership skills needed to guide the Rocket Center as we plan for the future,” said Joe Newberry, chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission board. “Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and brought her to the top of a rigorous and exhaustive search for our new executive director and CEO.”

Louie Ramirez, who has served as executive director and CEO since January, will remain in a part-time capacity as chief operations officer to assist Robinson in her transition.

Robinson is married to Keith Robinson and has three sons. She is an avid community volunteer and serves as vice president for A New Leash on Life animal rescue organization and has taught at Oakwood University and UAH.

Not Traveling Is Working for Now, But Can Virtual Business Sustain Test of Time?

While questions remain about when life in general will return to normal after nearly a year of pandemic, some of the more pressing questions surround the sustainability of businesses if they continue to operate in a virtual vacuum.

Certainly, for the time being, both small and large businesses in Huntsville are adjusting well to the circumstances. Telework and working from home, Zoom conferences and virtual events have made their way into the mainstream, and everyday life from online learning to groundbreakings, tradeshows, and award ceremonies are relying on virtual technology to carry them through. 

While some people, particularly in the educational field, are reporting “Zoom fatigue”, others are already seeing it as an opportunity to get creative, scale back office space, and streamline procedures and operations well into the future if not permanently.

But how sustainable is it really?

Air travel at Huntsville International Airport is ordinarily 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure. Currently combined, HSV is operating at about 30 percent of what it was this time in 2019. 

According to Jana Kuner, airport public relations and customer service manager, air travel is slowly improving, but business travel will be the real indicator for how long it will take to get back to normal, and when it does – assuming it will eventually, just how much will business have changed?

“Do people prefer Zoom to in-person meetings and are the savings in travel costs justifiable when compared to face-to-face meetings to ‘close a deal’ or meeting new people to build relationships?” she asks. “These are questions businesses everywhere are asking and the airport is interested in their perspective.”

Bevilacqua Research Corp. CEO Larry Burger said employees are losing, and missing, the personal connection with people.

“Those little conversations you have waiting for a meeting to start, or at the end of the meeting when you extend the conversation beyond the meeting,” he said. “You lose that sense of belonging, that feel of family in an organization when you haven’t seen someone in a month or so who works within your company.

“I think there are a lot of general update meetings for established customers that may continue to be virtual after everything returns to normal,” said Robert Conger, senior vice president of Technology and Strategy at Adtran. “However, when it comes to competing for new business and establishing key relationships, companies will still want to be in-person once they are able to safely do so.

“I do think web meetings and remote work will continue to play a much larger role in business than they did prior to this year, but each company will have to make their own decisions about when they may return to normal based on the type of work and roles within each company.”

For example, Conger said it will depend on the type of work a company is doing, the individual roles within those companies, and the experience level of the employees as to how effective remote working will be in the long run.

“For a lot of jobs like software development, remote work is fairly efficient and effective as long as the employees have a good environment at home to limit distractions. However, for employees that are new to a company or are earlier in their careers, there is a lot of value in those face-to-face work environments where you can collaborate more frequently and easily.”

Kuner uses the AUSA 2020 Annual Meeting going virtual this year as an example of a travel-related event that had a big impact on HSV because so many people in Huntsville travel to that conference by air. 

“Some things just can’t be done in the same way virtually,” she said. “While a simple meeting or conference call can accomplish some tasks, it can’t replace the in-person networking, relationship building, and deal making that in person accomplishes.”

Burger agrees.

“Virtual conferences are much less effective because you don’t get that synergy of a face-to-face,” he said. “We just had a live event in Huntsville for the Redstone Small Business Contracting Conference & Expo and we got more than a dozen leads that were unexpected because we were there. We could have discussions face-to-face with people wandering around the exhibit hall. None of it would have occurred virtually.

“We get almost nothing from a virtual event. We are still following up with several opportunities to work together with companies we met at the Redstone event. That’s the value of the conference … being in person, able to combine everybody’s good ideas to come up with a much better solution.”

How about the costs incurred in by having to have IT teams and creative departments develop virtual “booths”, Kuner said. Do other businesses stop by those booths like they do when the conference is in person?

“We hosted our first virtual customer summit a couple of months ago,” said Congers. “We had to invest in a platform that nearly cost as much as what it would have cost to host customers on site, at least for the first use. With that said, we can continue to use the platform at a lesser expense moving forward, so it will reduce our cost over time. 

“In the case of the virtual customer meeting with Adtran as the host, it was a great success in terms of how many customers we were able to reach versus on-site but you certainly lose some of the focused customer attention and relationship-building opportunities in a virtual environment. 

“As for the larger virtual conferences with booths, these are much less effective than the typical in-person conferences.”

But Burger said in-person meetings hold an advantage over online meetings.

“We attended another live event where we rolled out a new product and more than 10 percent of the people we talked to were very interested in following up or purchasing, whereas we can’t get any traction with just online stuff,” said Burger. “For a new product, if you let me explain it to people and talk to them about it, they tend so say, ‘Oh, okay, that makes sense’ or ‘That’s a good idea’.”

Burger said Bevilacqua has made allowances for some of his employees so they can still travel.

“We’re doing very limited travel, but we have several folks who are traveling by automobile,” he said. “One of our older employees who is high risk, bought a recreational vehicle so he and his wife can travel together. Of course, what used to be a half-day trip takes them two or three days, but they feel safer and they don’t have to stop at restaurants along the way.”

Roger Rhodes, Business Development director at Qualis, said nothing replaces the human face-to-face interaction for building relationships and making deals but he believes virtual meetings are here to stay.

“We completely cut out travel since May,” said Rhodes. “I think virtual meetings will continue to play a major role in business for the foreseeable future, but companies will reassess travel costs versus the benefits in the near future but the way of marketing and business travel has definitely changed. We will look to others to determine that balance of travel for the new norm.” 

Congers agrees.

“Virtual meetings will continue to be a vital component in day-to-day engagements where maybe face-to-face meetings are not as critical or as a complement to less-frequent on-site meetings,” he said. “However, when it comes to relationship-building and pursuing new customer opportunities, each vendor will want to have an edge of their competition and being in front of the customer more often is one way to achieve that.”

Kuner said it is important for people to know HSV is clean and safe and they have all of the appropriate procedures in place to keep people safe. 

“We encourage our region to get back to the sky for business and leisure,” she said. “Our airport is so heavy with business travel, if Huntsville gets back to traveling sooner, it could positively impact the airport since the airlines will be making decisions for adding back flights and routes based on demand. It could give them an opportunity to re-evaluate what worked before the pandemic, and where needs are for travel after.

“If we show that we are back to the sky and we need the service, then chances are that they will provide it. This could be an opportunity for us to shake things up.”

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Chamber Hosts Virtual Automotive Hiring Event

Ready for some good news/bad news?

The bad news first: Yes, there are a lot of people out of work, some people who are not sure their jobs are coming back post-COVID, and others facing instability in their current jobs and careers.

But there is a lot of good news for these people: Huntsville has jobs available, and lots of them – particularly in the automotive industry.

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a virtual North Huntsville Automotive Hiring
Event Wednesday with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, as well as other automotive industry-related companies.

The companies will do virtual presentations about the work they do and what their jobs entail. They will meet with job seekers to discuss the jobs they have available (entry-level and above); and talk about the companies’ culture and expectations.

According to Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development at the Chamber, they will be using a platform called Remo, an interactive online recruitment environment.

“Ideally, we would do this in an auditorium where we could get people in the room talking to each other face-to-face,” Cape said. “But this is the closest thing we could find with COVID still a threat.

“There will also be a presentation from AIDT, Alabama’s statewide industrial training and recruitment group which does most of the hiring for production jobs.”

Cape said there are openings now with great opportunities to make a career change.

“If you know someone who is out of work, or concerned about their job or their career, given the changes in our economy, encourage them to check this out,” Cape said. “We are experiencing a lot of growth – we have never had this kind of OEM activity before … we are always looking for ways to support these companies, while making sure the community benefits from these great job projects.”

There are two sessions Wednesday: 4-5 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. with spots for 200 people per event.

Cape said if they max these two sessions out, they will host another one. She said there will likely be similar events well into the first quarter of 2021.

“Remember, the Chamber’s job site at https://asmartplace.com/work/find-a-job has jobs posted from other industries and other employers all the time,” she said. “But we had a particular push right now with Mazda Toyota and Toyota Alabama for specific positions that are available now.”

To register in advance for the 4 p.m. event, go to bit.ly/NorthHSVautojobs1.

To register in advance for the 5 p.m. event, go to bit.ly/NorthHSVautojobs2.

Automotive companies that would like to join the job fair should contact Cape at lcape@hsvchamber.org.

 

Huntsville Hospital to Receive Coronavirus Vaccine; Cases Continue to Rise

As the initial doses of the coronavirus vaccine are being delivered around the country, the song remains the same regarding – wear face masks, sanitize hands and practice social distancing.

“It’s a record that just keeps spinning,’’ Madison Mayor Paul Finley said at the weekly coronavirus update.

And with the holiday season here and virus cases rising, Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson urges one more thing.

“Avoid gatherings’’ of more than five to 10 people, she said.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital will receive doses of the new vaccine since it has the refrigeration system capable of storing the sensitive treatment.

“Huntsville Hospital will help take a leadership role in trying to get this out and this is not community-wide vaccination,’’ Hudson said. “It’s prioritized for frontline health care workers.”

The general public might not have vaccines available until the summer.

While the number of positive cases continue to rise around the nation, state and Madison County, Hudson couldn’t pinpoint Thanksgiving gatherings as a reason for the ongoing rise in numbers.

Instead, she said, the uptick in hospitalizations for COVID-19 can be attributed to, not only Thanksgiving but, the increase in people attending such things as sporting events as the country has opened up.

“Since fall break in October, there’s been a gradual increase,’’ Hudson said.

In North Alabama hospitals, 30 to 50 percent of people hospitalized are due to COVID-19. At the peak of positive cases in the summer, there were about 1,500 people hospitalized because of the virus. The current number is more than 2,000.

As of Dec. 9, there were 234 county in-patients with 37 in ICUs and 29 on ventilators.

As of Dec. 12, the county has confirmed 17,030 cases of the virus with 162 deaths. Statewide, those numbers are 295,631 and 4,102.

Hudson said the growing number of virus patients is straining personnel resources. At least 200 health care workers in the area are out with coronavirus or seasonal flu-related issues.

“Hospitals are responding to all-time highs,’’ she said. “It’s safe to say across the entire state we are struggling with hospitalizations due to COVID.’’

Elective surgeries have been reduced or stopped at many facilities because of staff shortages.

Also, Gov. Kay Ivey extended a mask-wearing mandate until Jan. 22, but has indicated she won’t place further restrictions on businesses or the community.

In the meantime, Finley joined Hudson in advising people to avoid large holiday parties.

“The less opportunity we have of all getting together,’’ he said, “the better off we’ll be.’’

 

HudsonAlpha Tracking COVID-19’s Transmission through Alabama

The state of Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Diatherix-Eurofins are teaming up to trace and identify COVID-19’s transmission throughout the state.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology recently announced its ongoing efforts in support of Gov. Kay Ivey’s work to respond to and mitigate COVID-19. Through Alabama’s Coronavirus Relief Fund and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $600,000 has been allocated to HudsonAlpha to perform genomic sequencing on positive SARS-CoV-2 samples from people across the state.

“All of us at HudsonAlpha are grateful to the state of Alabama for this support to help strengthen our state’s response and planning for this pandemic,” said Dr. Rick Myers, HudsonAlpha president and science director.

Dr. Jane Grimwood: “You can track the transmission of the virus from the original source all the way through to an infection …”

Leading the project is Dr. Jane Grimwood, the co-director of HudsonAlpha’s Genome Sequencing Center.

“Through this initiative with the state, HudsonAlpha aims to provide actionable information to help the collective efforts of policymakers and frontline workers in the fight against the pandemic,” she said.

When the pandemic started, HudsonAlpha was looking for ways to help, particularly in Alabama. Working in collaboration with Diatherix-Eurofins, the genomics team secured funding to sequence the virus. With Diatherix on the HudsonAlpha campus, obtaining samples is an efficient, as well as convenient, process.

“We are getting positive Alabama samples from them,” said Grimwood. “And then, we are sequencing them, using technology we use every day for other projects.”

The goal of the project is to sequence up to 2,000 virus samples – ideally from all of the counties.  The information will be provided to the Alabama Department of Public Health and other parties having critical roles in response to the pandemic.

Along with plans to identify the different strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus from across the state, the COVID-19 initiative will generate longitudinal data to track changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the pandemic, as well as uncovering possible sources of new hot spots of infection.

“When the virus replicates, it makes errors, and these errors are what we call mutations,” said Grimwood. “Using these mutations, you can track the transmission of the virus from the original source all the way to through to an infection today, based on those errors.

“And you can potentially see how the virus is transmitting around Alabama.”

Other components of the initiative include surveying for possible emerging strains of virus which could have implications for vaccine development and vaccine efficiency, as well as adding an Alabama perspective to national and global COVID-19 initiatives through statewide genomic sequencing.

“Essentially, it’s surveillance,” Grimwood said. “To better understand the virus better and to try to be ahead of any changes. On one hand, the transmission side; on the other hand, to look at any differences or any errors or mutations that would cause the vaccine to behave differently.”

Myers said, “HudsonAlpha’s genomic research scientists are fully committed to combating this deadly virus.”

 

See Rocket City: Huntsville Botanical Garden Introduces Tweetsville

“See Rocket City” birdhouse greets visitors to Tweetsville. (Photo/Steve Babin)

As you enter, there’s a giant bird house, reminiscent of the iconic “See Rock City” ad campaigns, only with a twist: “See Rocket City” is painted in bold white letters on its big red roof. This is the majestic entryway to Tweetsville, Huntsville Botanical Garden’s newest endeavor.

The plans for Tweetsville were recently unveiled at a kick-off ceremony hosted in the Children’s Garden. Phase 1 is scheduled to open to the public in February 2021.

The Tweetsville experience is designed to inspire children and adults alike. It will provide an opportunity where guests of all ages can observe birds, explore their natural habitat, and discover new ways to connect with nature.

Tweetsville will feature elements to further explore the role that birds play in the regional ecosystem of North Alabama.

One main piece of the birding puzzle will be the bird watch station, where guests can look out on an enclosed landscape designed to attract local and migrating bird species. The station will allow guests to observe the birds in their natural environment from behind a one-way glass. Other interactive components will include giant bird nests to teach guests about bird behaviors. There will also be model tiny homes to demonstrate how guests can attract birds in their very own backyards.

“Tweetsville is an opportunity the guests of all ages to foster a deeper understanding of how plants, animals, and people rely on each other to create a healthy environment,” said CEO Sue Wagner. “By sparking curiosity about birds in their native habitat, we can inspire guests to deepen their personal connection to the natural world and become stewards of the green spaces around them.

“Tweetsville represents an exciting future for the garden. It is a future in which guests continue to be surprised and delighted by experiences that catalyze them to take action in their own backyard to support healthy ecosystems.”

Featuring guided learning resources and areas for free play, Tweetsville will offer a hands-on educational experience that will encourage discovery. The experience also presents opportunities for public engagement through field trips, classes, youth camps, and special events.

Rendering shows the bird watch station where visitors can observe the birds in their natural environment from behind a one-way glass. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The garden has the Lewis Birding Trail, which is recognized as a birding hot spot by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The addition of Tweetsville makes for a welcome addition.

“We are expanding our Children’s Garden by an additional 18,000 square feet and adding this whole new immersive experience for our guests,” said Annette Alexander, vice president of Institutional Advancement. “We have the butterfly house. Kids love the butterflies and the turtles. Butterflies are charismatic creatures and so are birds.

“We really feel like it’s just a natural fit, to have something like this.”

The Botanical Garden partnered with Schoel Engineering and Redmond Construction on this new endeavor. The contributions of Herb and Terry Lewis, John and Tine Purdy, Loretta Spencer, Jean Lee, Iron Mountain Solutions, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama have helped to make the completion of Phase 1 a reality.

At the kick-off presentation, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle emphasized how making an investment in the garden is making an investment in the community.

“Thank you to the donors who have donated money to make this a better place,” he said. “That donation is going to turn in to something that’s going to be very special in our community.”

For more info: hsvbg.org/Tweetsville.