Growing pains – Is the Madison County area growing too fast?

The overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway is slated to be completed this summer – ahead of schedule.

We’ve seen the announcements of big-time companies opening here over the past couple years.

Toyota-Mazda.

Remington.

Polaris.

Facebook.

Blue Origin.

GE Aviation.

Along with these companies and many others come thousands of jobs.

And those thousands of people will be getting back and forth to those thousands of jobs on highways that weren’t built to handle the extra capacity.

And our elected officials know that, as well. After all, several of them know what it’s like to be on Memorial Parkway or I-565 or Hughes Road or U.S. 72 now, let alone in the coming months.

So, when can we expect some relief?

Unfortunately, there’s no immediate relief in sight.

Officials say some work is in the 10-year plan so that makes it 10 years down the road or maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s in year 5 of the plan.

In fact, one study cited that an I-565 widening project, if it had the necessary money today, wouldn’t be ready for us until about 10 years from now.

A major issue – around here anyway – in the recent gubernatorial campaign was Gov. Kay Ivey’s declaration that widening I-565 was a priority of her administration and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

More than 60,000 cars a day travel the freeway between I-65 and Huntsville (although sometimes it seems more like 600,000 cars on our version of Talladega) and this is before Toyota-Mazda ramps up with its 4,000-plus jobs and several thousand more spinoff jobs at its Huntsville-Limestone County plant.

Though ALDOT and the governor say I-565 is on a front-burner, they didn’t say how many burners were on the stove.

And, there was this caveat from an ALDOT spokesman: “We are actively looking at options for I-565 within the scope of budget limitations and other projects across the entire state.”

Hughes Road

Until recently, Hughes Road was the primary north-south artery for Madison.

Fortunately for the fastest-growing city in the state, County Line Road was widened to four lanes and connects U.S. 72 with I-565. It is handling, so far, the traffic flow on the western edge of Madison County.

Unfortunately, Hughes Road, on the city’s eastern side, is still two lanes from U.S. 72 to Brownsferry Road/Old Madison Pike. And, unfortunately again, it doesn’t connect with the interstate.

But, there are plans – according to the city’s 2013-19 Capital Improvement Plan – to widen Hughes Road to five lanes.

Memorial Parkway

Needless to say, it seems that work on Memorial Parkway – basically Huntsville’s lone north-south artery – is never ending.

From the overpass work on North Parkway a few years ago to the current overpass work on South Parkway, it seems Huntsville is the orange barrel capital of the world.

Well, good news. There is an end in sight.

The South Parkway overpasses should be finished in the next few weeks thus bringing an end to what Mayor Tommy Battle called “disruptive construction.”

Cecil Ashburn Drive

The road – a much-needed relief thoroughfare for commuters to bypass Governors Drive and more easily reach south Huntsville – opened in 2002.

However, with homes opening on the south side of Monte Sano and those motorists coming into the city to work, it didn’t take long for the two-lane road to be at capacity.

In fact, nearly 18,000 motorists daily travel the winding road between U.S. 431 and Bailey Cove Road.

So, now it’s time for the road to be widened to four lanes – though some have said that city leaders should have anticipated the growth on the eastern side of town and the road should have been four lanes from the outset.

Construction was set for May but it was pushed back due budget and bidding problems. So, some time this year or next year, Cecil Ashburn Road may be closed for more than a year while the widening takes place.

And those 18,000 motorists? Oh, they’ll join the nearly 30,000 motorists who currently drive U.S. 431/Governors Drive.

Ten Years in the Making: The Shoppes at Redstone Square

The Shoppes at Redstone Square on Zierdt Road is scheduled to open July 11.

Timing. Luck. Vision.

Nearly a decade ago, two visionaries – Jim Gendreau, owner of Tailwinds Development in Lake Mary, Fla., and Colliers International Director David Garnett – stood on a desolate corner at Huntsville’s westernmost point outside Redstone Arsenal Gate 7.

Perhaps Redstone’s most discreet entry/exit point, Gate 7 sits at the corner of a narrow, winding two-lane street known as Zierdt Road; and Martin Road, which disappears for most drivers for eight miles across Redstone Arsenal, then reappears three miles from the Huntsville International Airport and the Jetplex Industrial Park.

Make no mistake, 10 years ago there was nothing for nearly two miles south, north, or west of that corner in either direction except a Mapco Mart on the south side, frequented primarily by boaters headed five more miles south to a bend in the Tennessee River to launch their boats.

Where most people see nothingness, real estate developers see potential, and Gendreau and Garnett plotted to build something big there one day.

Something Big This Way Comes

Jump ahead seven years and numerous residential developments had grown up south of that corner including the Willows at River Landing, Legacy Cove, Riverwoods, and The Preserve at Wheeler to name a few. All along Zierdt Road north, are upscale apartments and homes along Lady Anne Lake at Edgewater and along Martin Road west at Natures Walk and Lake Forest.

Three years ago, Gendreau and Garnett, working closely with the City of Huntsville, purchased that same plot of land on which they stood 10 years ago, and built a 101,000 square-foot Publix-anchored shopping center called the Shoppes at Redstone Square. It is expected to open July 11.

“Shane Davis, director of urban development and engineering for the City of Huntsville, was instrumental in helping us get this done,” said Gendreau. “We build in cities all across this country and we have never worked with a city more competent and organized than the people and city leaders in Huntsville – and I’ll tell you something else – Publix loves Huntsville!”

According to Tricor, the leasing agency for Tailwinds Development, the new 45,000 square-foot Publix grocery store at Redstone Square will serve a much-underserved residential area and provide a convenient shopping stop for employees exiting Redstone Arsenal heading home at the end of the day.

“Previously, people leaving the Arsenal have to cross over the busy intersection on Madison Boulevard to stop at the Publix there,” said a corporate spokesperson for Publix. “It is an awkward and out-of-the way route for people living in the Zierdt Road/Martin Road area, or people headed back into Huntsville or Madison.”

In fact, the Publix in the Shoppes at Redstone Square is one of three – two new and one existing – Publix stores within five miles of each other in Huntsville and Madison. The company is renovating space for an even larger, 54,000 square-foot Publix behind Applebee’s at 302 Hughes Road in Madison, scheduled to open in late October. The store at 8000 Madison Boulevard across the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road will remain open as well.

“Publix believes in serving customers wherever they are,” the spokesperson said. “If it takes three stores in a 10-mile area to serve the residents, that is what Publix is willing to build!”

Currently, Tricor has leased space to a yet unnamed nail salon, hair salon, and dentist’s office; however, John Ashby, owner of Madison’s Mangia Italian Restaurant on Hughes Road and U.S. 72, will open a second Mangia location in the north end of the Shoppes at Redstone Square. Known for its pasta, salads, pizza and calzone, the new restaurant is a good 10 miles from their first location.

“We are excited because the Shoppes at Redstone Square should bring in an entirely different clientele for us,” Ashby said. “Located right outside Gate 7 of the Arsenal, we hope to draw a large lunch clientele, as well as new families and customers who love Italian cuisine, but have not had a convenient place to sit down and enjoy a delicious Italian meal in that part of town.”

“Tailwinds owns six parcels of undeveloped land in front of and surrounding the Publix shopping center,” said Gendreau. “Anyone interested in those parcels or in leasing space in the shopping center can contact Deidre at Tricor (deirdre@tricor.net) for more information.

“I’m sure the residents of Huntsville already know this, But the people of North Alabama have a gem when it comes to Huntsville! Everyone we dealt with at the City of Huntsville really knows what they are doing!”

Zierdt Road Construction Updates

One can’t appreciate the extraordinary growth of this part of town without acknowledging the Zierdt Road improvements. Until two years ago, the 3.5-mile stretch of road between Madison Boulevard and Martin Road was one of the curviest two-lane backroads in Huntsville, sneaking underneath I-565 along Huntsville’s razor’s edge boundary with Madison.

The $26 million Zierdt Road improvement project is in Phase IV of four. The two northbound lanes are complete with a non-working red light installed at Nature’s Way. The southbound lanes are 90 percent complete; however, the city is looking at another 30 months of construction to create a 12-foot multiuse path on the west side; seven lanes at the intersection of Martin and Zierdt Road; and six lanes at the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road, which will give access to the new Town Madison project and the new yet-to-be-named baseball stadium at that corner.

That construction begins this fall but, due to traffic issues, is not expected to reach completion until 2021.

Drury Inn & Suites in Huntsville nears completion

For several weeks, motorists along I-565 and area residents have noticed a building going up along the freeway across the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and adjacent to Calhoun Community College.

Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Well, the answer is it is a Drury Inn & Suites and is slated to open in a few weeks.

The new hotel is the company’s first property in Huntsville and fifth in the state. In addition to its 187 guest rooms, the property features more than 2,180 square feet of flexible meeting and event space.

The Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville on I-565 is nearing completion.

As the hotel readies for guests, Kirk Taylor has been named its general manager. Taylor has been with Drury Hotels for seven years and was most recently the general manager of the Drury Inn & Suites in Montgomery.

“Kirk is a tremendous general manager with deep experience in the hotel and hospitality industry,” said Chuck Drury, president and CEO of Drury Hotels. “As we plan to open our fifth hotel in the state, we know we have the right leadership and team in place to provide the kind of friendly service, clean rooms and honest value our guests have come to expect.”

The hotel is at I-565 and Old Madison Pike. The location provides easy access to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Huntsville Botanical Garden. The new hotel’s free amenities include Wi-Fi, a 24-hour fitness center, hot breakfast, 5:30 reception including appetizers and beverages, 24-hour business center and indoor/outdoor pool and whirlpool.

For information, visit www.druryhotels.com.

 

 

 

Trump SBA appointee hosts area Small Business Roundtable

Bruce LeVell addresses the recent Huntsville Small Business Roundtable.

Dozens of Huntsville small business owners had an opportunity to take their concerns, ask questions and provide feedback on a wide variety of topics that affect their businesses directly to the White House, President Trump, federal agencies and Congress – and they did not hold back.

Bruce LeVell, Region 4 advocate for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, led a small business roundtable at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. Based in Atlanta, LeVell’s region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Mayor Tommy Battle opened the discussions by pointing out that small businesses make up 85 percent of the Huntsville business community.

“We have a very diversified small business community that represents every sector of business in this city, from the service industries to high tech,” he said. “In each of them we face our own separate challenges and those challenges end up being things that we can take nationally to our government.”

Among the topics discussed were deregulation; effects of the North American Industry Classification System codes have on small contractors bidding on large government contracts; federal acquisition regulations; realignment of government agencies; and availability of SBA 504 loans.

“I have experience in the day-to-day grind,” said LeVell, an Atlanta small business owner. “Meeting a quarterly payroll, paying quarterly payroll taxes and federal income taxes.

“I am one of you  – not someone from the government offering to help. I’m with you on this.”

LeVell also discussed what he went through in the 2008 crash.

“I understand what it’s like to have everything you have worked for wiped away because your loans are called for no reason,” he says. “I have a lot of experience in transportation, revitalization, and construction. That experience honestly, is what catapulted me into wanting to serve. I asked myself, what can I do to get out and help advocate for someone else, so it doesn’t happen to them? I wasn’t trying to get appointed to this position, it just happened this way.”

The roundtable attracted small government contractors focusing on IT, cyber, logistics, and engineering services such as Mb Solutions. Company President and CEO Rosalyn Blackwell and Executive Vice President Rod Herron are retired military with a company barely two years old.

“We’re just there to listen and to ask questions as opportunities arise,” Blackwell said.

Kim Lewis, CEO of ProjectXYZ, a woman-owned small business in the engineering, logistics, IT, and alternative energy field said, “I want to know exactly what the SBA’s plans are under this administration; what goals have they set and how are they going to accomplish them.”

Owners such as Greg Franks of Total Quality Systems said he attended the roundtable because he wanted more information and reassurances about expansion.

“Our company is out of Utah and I am a small satellite office here in Huntsville,” Franks said. “We are still a small business with 20 or so people but we have a counterpart in Hopkinsville, Ky., and we want to open in Clarksville, Tenn. I need to know that is sustainable.”

Allison Rand with MJLM Engineering & Technical Services said, “A lot of the time, small businesses run into issues with the NAICS codes small business size standards.

“A lot of times it is based on employee numbers versus revenue. So, you can have 1,500 employees and $1 billion in revenue. How are you still considered a small business? So, in talking about changes to regulation, are you looking at NAICS codes as well?”

Another small business owner asked about a plan to realign many of the government agencies.

“I’ve heard people say you have a chicken, an egg, and an omelet – which government agency oversees that? USDA? FDA? Going forward, is there a streamlining process for lessening regulations? Where do you see that going? Is there any traction or just a buzz saw in Congress to make those sorts of changes to improve efficiencies?”

“In the end, all the (company) president cares about is profits a losses,” said LeVell. “The balance sheet doesn’t have a party affiliation; only a bottom line. The banker wants to see profits. The mayor wants to see profits for the city.

“You are the guys on the battlefront trying to make payroll, trying to pay payroll taxes but you want to see profits. I’m very optimistic!”

 

The Cuban Cafe coming to Madison’s Promenade Point

Co-owners Jessi and Andy Ysalgue look forward to bringing Cuban cuisine to Madison. (Photo by Katie Shelton, Crunkleton Associates)

A  local eatery will soon bring the sights, sounds, and flavors of Cuba to the Madison/Huntsville area.

The Cuban Café is slated to open in August at Madison’s Promenade Point shopping center, near the Walmart and Target on U.S. 72.

Owned by the wife and husband team of Jesenia (Jessi) and Andy Ysalgue, the Cuban Café will be a spot where guests can experience authentic Cuban culture and cuisine.

There will be a decorated patio where patrons can smoke cigars and sip a craft cocktail while listening to the smooth sounds of drums, guitars, bongos, and trumpets playing in the background. Latin music will play an important role in the overall atmosphere.

“We want The Cuban Café to be more than a place you drop by for a good meal, although it will be that,”said Andy. “Our patio will be one of the most comfortable spots in the café. We want people to be able to close their eyes and feel like they are in Cuba or Miami.

“We keep using the word ‘authentic’, but that’s really what we are going for. Sharing these parts of the Cuban culture is something that’s special to us.”

The couple’s roots are in Miami but they have lived in Madison for the past 10 years.

“Our roots are in Miami, but we have made Madison our home,” Jessi said. “This is a way for us to invite our friends to experience something they may not have had the chance to experience.

“Whether you’re coming to grab a bite, hang out at the bar or relax on our patio, we want you to leave feeling refreshed, happy and, of course, full of comforting Cuban cooking.”

And Jessi is inviting others to discover the delight of Cuban cuisine.

“We will, of course, have a traditional Cuban sandwich made with roasted pork, sweet ham, pickles, and swiss,” she said. “It’s one of our favorites and we are thrilled to serve it alongside other types of sandwiches and many other menu items including ropa vieja, picadillo, and much more.”

The duo also mentioned the growth of the area and said they hope the new cafe will be a player in the continuing progress of the city.

“We wanted to create a place that brings the community together to enjoy great food and fun,” said Jessi. “Madison and Huntsville have some amazing restaurants—we eat at them frequently.

“We are honored to soon be a part of such a diverse, quality group of restaurateurs.”

‘Strong community partner’ LG Electronics expands in Huntsville with solar panel plant

Life’s good in Huntsville – literally and figuratively.

LG Electronics, a long-time player in Huntsville has business announced plans for a $28 million solar panel assembly plant.

The plant will create 160 jobs and workers will assemble LG’s “Neon 2” series 60-cell modules. The high-performance solar panels will generate more than 17 percent more power than most conventional panels. The factory is the first solar panel manufacturing plant in the state.

“LG has a long history as a leading corporate citizen in Alabama. Now, LG is launching our state’s first solar manufacturing plant, which represents a major milestone both for Alabama and for the company,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “We look forward to seeing where this great partnership takes us in the future.”

The panels will be produced on two production lines at a building on the company’s 48-acre campus in Huntsville, where the company has had operations for four decades. The new jobs will increase LG’s employment by 60 percent, to more than 400 workers.

Starting in early 2019, the new plant is expected to produce 500 megawatts of high-performance solar panels annually.

“That’s over a million solar panels a year,” said Soon Kwon, global president of the LG B2B (Business-to-Business) Company.“LG has long called Huntsville home, and the solar panel assembly factory will add a significant new dimension to our Alabama campus.

“Huntsville’s high-quality workforce and LG’s established presence in the Rocket City point to a bright future for LG in Alabama.”

The new solar panel assembly plant in Huntsville underscores the company’s commitment to investing in the U.S. and to driving environmental sustainability, Kwon said.

“LG has been a strong community partner in Huntsville for many decades – a relationship that has deepened through visits to the company’s headquarters in Korea and successful advancements in technological innovation,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “LG chose Huntsville as the place to do business in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, and they’ve chosen Huntsville again as a place to prosper with the new solar module plant.”

The company’s new solar module plant builds on LG’s legacy of leadership in Huntsville. After starting as the company’s first U.S. manufacturing subsidiary in 1981, Huntsville became the home of LG’s service division in 1987, which expanded over the years to support LG’s growing presence in the United States.

“With the expansion of LG in the Huntsville-Madison County region, LG will utilize the latest technology in a high-growth market to produce these solar panels,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “The diversity and worldwide recognition of the Madison County economy demonstrates we continue to thrive with our finest hours still ahead.”

As the headquarters location for North American service operations in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport, the facility includes the technical call center, service training center, field service operations and parts warehouse.

“The Jetplex continues to grow with this most recent announcement from LG, a global leader in home appliance, consumer electronics and mobile communications,” said Rick Tucker, executive director of the Port of Huntsville. “LG’s sole customer service division for the North American market is onsite already, so to see the company make a further investment in our community by expanding at our facility speaks volumes and is very exciting news for us to be able to share with other business partners who are considering making North Alabama and the Jetplex Industrial Park their home.”

BWX Technologies: Huntsville’s nuclear option


Huntsville has undergone several identities over the past century: From cotton capital to the Rocket City to the Silicon Valley of the South.

Now, there’s a new addition to the city’s monikers – The New Wave of Nuclear.

And leading that wave is BWX Technologies, a leading supplier of nuclear components and fuel to the U.S. government and commercial customers. The Virginia-based company held a ribbon-cutting Thursday for its office in Cummings Research Park.

“We are the nuclear manufacturing company that people never heard of,” said company President/CEO Rex Geveden.

Geveden, who spent 17 years at NASA, joined BWXT in 2015 as chief operating officer, responsible for all operating business units. Previously, he was executive vice president at Teledyne Technologies, leading two of the four Teledyne operating segments – including Teledyne Brown in Huntsville.

“I joined the company because I thought it had promise,” he said. “We manufacture all the fuel, nuclear core and systems for every carrier and sub in the Navy’s fleet.”

The company is also setting its sights on helping space travel – BWXT was awarded a contract by NASA to initiate conceptual designs for a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor in support of a possible future manned mission to Mars.

“That’s an exciting thing about having BWXT here,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “They do really cool things when you think of thermo-nuclear propulsion.

“This brings a new market to our area … makes us stronger, makes Huntsville a better place.”

Geveden said BWXT will eventually hire about 75 to 150 people in Huntsville. “The talent pool here is very important to us.”

BWXT has a vision for the future in Huntsville.

“We’re not here for market share,” Geveden said. “We’re here for market creation.”

 

 

Nostalgic Goodbye to Old Grissom High & Exciting Hello to New South Huntsville Library

Parents and alumni of Virgil I. Grissom High School gathered at the campus on Bailey Cove Road for a farewell to the building and fundraiser for the new South Huntsville Library.

The “Goodbye Grissom, Hello Library!” community gathering was nostalgic for many guests such as Jim Hillenbrand, a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1971; and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who played baseball for Grissom, graduating in 1972.

Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick; former Grissom principal and retired Huntsville City Schools administrator Tom Drake and Brooks unveiled the architectural renderings of the new South Huntsville Library, part of the Sandra Moon Community Complex to be built on the former high school campus.

Hosted by the Huntsville Library Foundation, the South Huntsville Library is projected to cost $8.4 million. The City of Huntsville and Madison County Commission District 5 have each pledged $2 million, leaving the community fundraising goal at $4.4 million.

The proceeds from the event’s prom-style dinner and dance, along with proceeds from selling school locker doors and brick pavers go toward that goal. An alum in Florida sent his parents to the event just to purchase his former school locker door.

The Sandra Moon Community Complex, named for the former city councilwoman who represented the district, will include the library, a reading garden, tennis courts, pickleball courts, a playground, walking and exercise space, and an outdoor performance space. Construction is expected to be completed by March 2020.

The new Grissom High School opened off Haysland Road last July.

Redstone Federal Credit Union named Credit Union of the Year by NAFCU

Redstone Federal Credit Union has been named Credit Union of the Year by the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU).

RFCU President/CEO Joe Newberry received the award during at the annual NAFCU Conference and Solutions Expo in Seattle, Wash.

“To be recognized by NAFCU as the Credit Union of the Year is such an honor,” said Newberry. “Each day we strive to be a model credit union by enthusiastically serving our members and offering the products and services that meet their needs.’’

Redstone, the largest member-owned financial institution in Alabama, was recognized by NAFCU for its successes in community give-back efforts; serving underbanked or low-to-modest income members; providing financial education to youth; and devising and implementing a cultural transformation process to better serve its members.

Longtime member Minnie Wheeler of Decatur said Redstone helped her to handle her business affairs after her husband died.

“I didn’t have any credit in my name,” she said. “I had to build my credit. I have learned so much and they helped me get to the point where I can take care of my business on my own.”

In addition to receiving the Credit Union of the Year, Redstone also recently won two Business Transformation & Operational Excellence Awards.

Redstone received the Best Achievement of Operational Excellence in Banking, Capital Markets & Insurance, as well as the highest honor in the award program, the Platinum Award for Best Achievement in Organizational Operational Excellence.

In October, Money magazine named Huntsville-based Redstone the “best bank” in Alabama.

CFDRC acquisition to speed discovery of new antibiotics

A pair of HudsonAlpha companies are combining to speed the discovery of new antibiotics.

CFD Research Corp. has acquired the drug discovery division of iXpressGenes; both are associate companies at Huntsville-based HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

As part of the acquisition, CFDRC obtained iXG’s high-throughput antimicrobial discovery platform called EMAD (Extremophilic Microbiome Antimicrobial Discovery) and all key personnel associated with the division including the director, AJ Singhal.

“We are excited about integrating the EMAD platform with CFDRC’s existing biomedical technologies to accelerate the discovery of new antibiotics against biowarfare agents and drug-resistant bacteria,” said CFDRC President/CEO Sameer Singhal. “The EMAD platform will allow efficient discoveries … and lead to the development of new antibacterial natural products.”