Trash Pandas to Reveal Jerseys, Offer an Experience for Fans

MADISON — When it comes to baseball, particularly the Rocket City Trash Pandas, Ralph Nelson believes in going big.

In fact, there’s nothing minor about the baseball team that set all sorts of Minor League Baseball merchandise records and recently passed the $1 million mark in sales.

And the Trash Pandas don’t even play until next April.

In the meantime, the team will unveil its five – yes, five – inaugural season uniforms and offer fans the chance to take the field in official, personalized jerseys.

The uniform reveal will be Thursday night in a big bash at Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. It all starts at 6 p.m. and local television personalities will model the full official uniforms, including the Salute to Military Sunday/Holiday uniform, modeled by Redstone Arsenal Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts.

“We are going to tip our hats to the military every Sunday,” said Nelson, the team’s CEO and managing partner. “If we have games on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, we’ll wear them then, too.”

Replica jerseys will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at the Trash Pandas Emporium in the Bridge Street Town Centre, next to the Apple Store.

Also in Thursday’s lineup are food trucks, music, “bouncy houses,” T-shirt giveaways …  and more, as Nelson hits another home run.

Nelson and his staff engineered a ground-breaking ceremony last year that drew hundreds of people, a team name release party that packed a local craft brewery and a logo/team colors celebration-fireworks gala that packed Madison’s Dublin Park.

So, naturally, this isn’t going to be your standard uniform unveiling – if there is such a thing.

“We decided to turn it into an ‘experience,’” he said. “It’s also another chance for us to integrate with the community.”

So, continuing its mission of fan involvement, the team is offering fans a chance to purchase authentic inaugural season jerseys and take part in the Authentic Jersey Experience.

“We are really excited about the Authentic Jersey Experience,” Nelson said. “The fans who take part will get their jerseys (next March) in the team locker room and go out onto the field before the players do.

“If you’re a baseball fan, this is what it’s all about.”

The package includes a Rawlings authentic Trash Pandas jersey and a ballpark/locker room experience featuring the use of a player’s locker, batting practice on the field, and a post-game “spread” in the players’ lounge, all courtesy of the Trash Pandas clubhouse manager. The jerseys will be custom made for each fan, including size, name and number.

The Experience will be available for purchase for $199 Thursday night through June 30. It can be purchased online or at the Trash Pandas Emporium after Thursday’s event. On July 1, the cost goes up to $249 and wraps up at the end of the year.

“Rather than just box up the jerseys (for the fans who bought them), we decided to offer them this experience,” Nelson said.

Yep, imagine that, Nelson thinking outside the box.

Clift Farm: Breland Companies Bought the Farm That Jack Built

MADISON — In 1850, the population of rural Madison was less than 500 residents. Alabama farmers were producing nearly 565,000 bales of cotton and nearly 29 million bushels of corn a year.

John Henry Clift bought a small piece of rural farmland in what was then called Madison Station.

Since then, six generations of the Clift family have farmed that land for cotton, corn, soybeans, fresh fruits, and vegetables, mostly for local consumption.

Construction is underway on the Clift Farm development.

It was Jack Clift, known as Pawpaw to his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who moved home from Atlanta after World War II and took over the family farming business. Jack, who turned 100 years old in December, expanded the farm to more than 600 acres off U.S. 72 between Wall Triana Highway and Balch Road in Madison.

Several years ago, he sold off a sliver to developers who built the shopping plaza where Planet Fitness sits today.

Last fall, Jack officially sold the remaining 550 acres to The Breland Companies who, with his blessing, will develop it into a pedestrian-friendly residential community, park, and retail center.

The Breland development recently broke ground across the highway from the Target Shopping Center and Madison Hospital, but according to Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, the development will in every way, honor and represent the Clift legacy.

“Jack has always been a conservationist at heart,” said Ceci. “His original vision for the land was to keep it agricultural, but he realized later in life that it was going to be sold. He wanted to be an active participant in the process and after much discussion with his family, he entrusted the development and preservation of his property to Louis Breland.”

“To understand this property, you need to understand the history of the Clift family and what faithful stewards Jack and Lillian Clift have been for this land,” said Breland. “I have ridden every inch of this property with Mr. Clift to understand its history and his vision for this wonderful piece of land.”

The goal is to create a community that will have a timeless feel, that will preserve many of the existing natural attributes, while providing retail, dining, residential, office space, multifamily homes, and medical opportunities.

“There is a lot of retail in that area already, but this one is different from those you are seeing at MidCity Huntsville and Town Madison, which will draw a regional audience,” said Ceci. “This one will be mostly residential and will have a relatively small, town center retail and restaurant component that supports the Clift Farm community.”

He said it will have a very real element of green space: a passive park area planted with wildflowers and fruit trees as opposed to soccer fields; a man-made pond surrounded by greenways, and a lot of walking trails. The residential component will consist of townhomes starting at $300,000 and homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000.

In March, the Madison County Commission approved $8 million for Breland to spend on the development, to build roads and a utility infrastructure for the project.

“We have already done a little bit of groundbreaking, but we are currently building arterial roads and putting in that infrastructure,” said Ceci. “Breland is building a third lane into the property from (U.S.) 72 to alleviate the already heavy traffic in that area, and we have brought in traffic engineers to help us install a couple of red lights.”

An expanded farmers’ market is part of the Clift Farm development plan.

The front of the development along U.S. 72 will be retail and restaurants. The back will include three-story luxury apartments and townhomes with an overall pedestrian environment similar to Huntsville’s Village of Providence. Several out-parcels of land may be developed as medical office space, located conveniently across from Madison Hospital.

One of the most unique aspects of the project, according to Ceci, is that they carved out a modest plot of land on which Clift’s son and grandson will continue small-scale farming and they are building an enlarged farmers market where they will continue to sell fresh fruit and produce from the very land they continue to harvest.

“You have heard restaurants talk about farm-to-table ingredients? In this case, if you order a salad, you can almost sit there and watch the guys go pick it for you,” said Ceci.

Breland expects to begin selling residential lots possibly at the end of this year or early 2020. Some of the retail will likely open in April or May next year.

Havoc Owner Keith Jeffries Credits Golden Rule for Team’s Success

The man behind the hottest ticket in town last month entered professional minor league sports with no experience in the field and no grand plans on how to make his venture a success.

But Keith Jeffries, owner of the back-to-back and three-time Southern Professional Hockey League champion Huntsville Havoc, also didn’t jump in with eyes closed and without a guiding light.

Havoc owner Keith Jeffries, surrounded by players, addresses the crowd during the presentation of the Southern Professional Hockey League championship President’s Cup outside Propst Arena.

He leaned on a principle that can be found in the name of his former business — Golden Rule Printing.

“It goes back to when I went into business early in life, when I was in my early 20s,’’ Jeffries said. “My dad told me the key has always been good customer service. The name we had was Golden Rule and it came from the idea of how to treat people, whether they were customers or employees, to try to treat people the way you’d want to be treated as a customer or employee.

“We try to do the same thing here. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better. If I was a fan or season ticket holder — how would I want to be treated? Some things are out of our control, but we still do the best with what we have.’’

That best resulted in four straight seasons where the Havoc set SPHL attendance records. Sellouts are common, and the team defeated the Birmingham Bulls at a packed, raucous VBC Propst Arena on April 27 to add to previous titles in 2010 and 2018.

Winning certainly helps drive attendance. So does cozy relations with the VBC’s Steve Maples and Mike Vojticek. Concession sales have soared at the renovated Propst Arena.

But a major part of the Havoc’s successful formula is Jeffries.

Ashley Balch, the team president, would know. He’s been with the franchise since its inception 15 years ago when the team played for one year as the Channel Cats. And he was there when the Havoc won 11 games in 2014-15, then set its first attendance record the following season.

Havoc President Ashley Balch welcomes fans to celebration.

“(The key) is commitment from ownership, the commitment from Keith and Becky Jeffries,’’ Balch said. “Keith doesn’t own any other business. They’re not doing this just for fun. This has become their life.

“They’ve made my family part of their family. The way they treat their employees makes you want to make them proud. You want to do a good job for them.’’

It certainly doesn’t hurt the Havoc’s bottom line that the city and area has transplants from hockey-crazed regions and an ever-growing population. And the team returns the favor by giving the city yet another reason for the growth.

“Keith does a great show and it’s been a great year for the team,’’ said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “It’s something most people don’t expect when they come here. The interesting thing is people come here and you’ve got to have something to draw people to downtown and keep people downtown.

“It’s just part of your draw for the VBC and the downtown area. It all blends together into something that makes a community.’’

Before the puck dropped on the inaugural 2004-05 season Jeffries did some homework. He talked to Ron Evans, the former VBC director, and others. He listened and heard what worked and what didn’t as minor league professional teams from hockey, basketball and, eventually, indoor football came and went.

“A lot of the business models of the past were maybe — flawed a little?’’ Jeffries said. “The thing that helped us from the very beginning and continues to help us is the partnership we have with the (VBC). How many owners and buildings have a love-hate relationship and compete? By co-promoting this (team) with the building, we both make money when we put people in the building.’’

Jeffries’ game plan for business success has evolved over 15 years. He said he “obviously’’ spends no money on newspaper advertising since there is no daily newspaper in Huntsville and spends “very little’’ on television and radio spots. The Havoc focus is on social media and reaching out to those who already know the team.

“We spend more time interacting with people who come to our games,’’ he said. “We know they like it and might bring somebody with them.’’

It should be noted that in the SPHL, unlike minor league baseball clubs affiliated with Major League teams, coaches and players are not paid by the big league club.

Jeffries said he doesn’t have a lot of money to open his pockets for charity, since the Havoc is a mom-and-pop operation, but is proud the franchise can give back to the community and charities in different ways because of its profile.

“It’s what keeps me going,’’ he said.

Bullet and Barrel Not Your Typical Gun Store

The people behind the counters at Bullet and Barrel in Huntsville are trying to redefine what a shooting-range experience is supposed to be by creating an environment that takes into account aesthetics, services and a personal touch.


Behind the counter, sales manager Alberto Lavizzari looks over some of the firearms the store has in stock with Jeff White, an RSO at the range.

“It’s really designed to be welcoming to people from all walks of life,” Louis Southard, Bullet and Barrel’s general manager, said. “You know, people who aren’t necessarily gun people, people who never bought a gun before, they come in and they don’t get that typical gun store experience.


“They get something much more modernized, much more akin to walking into a Verizon store.”

When you walk into Bullet and Barrel, you don’t see the one thing you’d expect to see at a shooting range – guns. Instead, there are displays of men’s and women’s clothes and accessories, along with a number of other items. They do sell guns and offer gunsmithing services, but the guns are toward the back of the store.

That’s because, according to Southard, new shooters make up one of the biggest segments of their customer base. So, one of the goals was to ease people into the guns with what he called a “soft entrance, which makes it less intimidating for customers to come in and learn about shooting sports.

Beyond the entrance, Bullet and Barrel blends farmhouse-rustic aesthetics with technology.

General Manager Louis Southard

Touchpads are set up to log in new shooters and each lane, designed to be wider than normal, is equipped with a state-of-art target carrier system that allows shooters to set the distance of their targets. The 100-yard tunnels used for sighting rifles are decked out with high-tech feedback, as well, making it quick and easy to calibrate a scope.

“Our goal is to get more and more people into the shooting sports,” Southard said.

That’s why, according to Southard, such an emphasis is placed on customer service such as when a first-time shooter visits the range.

“Let’s say you’re a new shooter and you decide to come in a shoot with us,” he said. “Ideally, you’ll let us know at the range check-in and we’ll have a RSO there to help you out and kind of keep an eye on things like making sure the gun is pointed in a safe direction, making sure your finger is off the trigger until you ready shoot and making sure the gun is safe to shoot.”

In addition to the attention the staff pays to its guests, Bullet and Barrel offers in-house classes and has partnered with Bishop 30 Solutions – a company that offers defense training courses for civilians, businesses and churches – to expand learning opportunities for their customers at the 30,000 square-foot facility.

Members can relax in the lounge at Bullet and Barrel

“That’s the kind of thing you don’t see at most shooting ranges,” Southard said. “Most shooting ranges, they do everything in-house, but Noell (Bishop, founder of Bishop 30 Solutions) has an impressive background. People learn from him. They love him, and they can take all sorts of different classes from him.”

According to the range’s website, www.bulletandbarrel.com, there are about 20 different classes that can be taken at Bullet and Barrel.

For example, there is a concealed-carry training course by Bishop 30 Solutions, which is a four-hour class that covers everything from a choosing a holster, the right ammunition, a review of basic skills and an overview of Alabama law relating to different scenarios.

Then there is a class on first aid for gunshot wounds, a ladies-only Handgun 101 class and a youth marksmanship class.

Bullet and Barrel offers membership packages and accepts walk-ins. There are also benefits such as a member’s only lounge, lane priority, free guest passes and a litany of other perks.

For nonmembers, fees run from $18 an hour for a lane rental to $18 for a half hour on the 100-yard range.

The range also offers more than 100 different firearms that can be rented starting at $10.

Bullet and Barrel, at 3252 Leeman Ferry Road in Huntsville, is owned by Melanie Hammer Murray and Bill Roberts.  For information, call 256-384-4867 or visit www.bulletandbarrel.com.

Hays Farm Development: ‘It’s Time; the Community Needs It’

Six to 10 years, that’s how long the Hays family expects the 850-acre, multifaceted development of Hays Farm to take.

Jim Hays, John Hays and Jeff Enfinger, the owners of the property, were on hand Thursday night to highlight the details of the project to a packed house in the Martha deFord Hays Auditorium at Grissom High School.

“For 49 years we’ve been developing communities for people in North Alabama, this is the first time we’ve ever put our name on one,” John Hays said.

John Hays talks about the importance
of the Hays Farm Development.

The development will eventually consist of about 1,000 residential units, three parks and see of new commercial spaces along with the redevelopment of Haysland Square, according to Enfinger.

The first part of the commercial aspect of the development is to raze Haysland Square and develop 175,000 to 200,000 square feet of new commercial space.

“It’s under contract now with a Florida developer who has developed here and we hope to have an announcement this Fall where that center would be redone next year and it would be upscale, walkable and pretty,” Enfinger said.

Enfinger added that they were working with Staples, the only retail store left in the current development.

“We’re providing space for Staples,” Enfinger said. “We have to cut a deal and they have to agree to it, but we’re going to make every effort to keep Staples.”

Jeff Enfinger gives an overview of the master plan for the Hays Farm development

It is expected to take five years before developers get back to the center housing Home Depot and a development north of Mike’s Merchandise, according to Enfinger.

“We’ve got three opportunities to develop and redevelop the high-volume, high-traffic commercial areas,” he said.

The first 500 units of residential development will consist of single-family detached units such as estate homes, patio homes and traditional housing sizes, which will span the $300,000 to $700,000 price points, according to Enfinger. Some of those are being developed now.

The next 500 units will consist of condominiums, townhouses, some lofts over the new retail establishments and possibly some age-restricted housing, according to Enfinger.

“The 1,000 units we’re going to build doesn’t do much for the commercial activity except create sort of a foundation,” Enfinger said. “The commercial activity is part of all of south Huntsville.

“So, if south Huntsville doesn’t become part of the commercial activity then it won’t be as successful.”

The development will have three parks: a 500-acre natural park, similar to the Hays Nature Preserve; a new ballpark with soccer and baseball/softball fields; and a city park, like Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville.

“We have a park system that I believe will be unrivaled by any park system that I know of in my lifetime,” Enfinger said.

There are also plans to have an entertainment district set up in the new development, possibly around the city park, but Enfinger said most of the specifics were still yet to be determined.

“It was really a difficult decision for the family to decide to let the farm go,” Jim Hays said.

“…But, it’s time. The community needs it; so it was time.”

Jim Hays talks about the history behind the land
that will be used as greenspaces in the Hays Farm Development.

Hays Farm Presentation Set for Thursday

The South Huntsville Business Association will host a community presentation of the Hays Farm revitalization project Thursday in the Grissom High School auditorium. It will start at 6 p.m.  

Jim and John Hays, along with Jeff Enfinger of The Enfinger Cos., are developing the 850-acre generational Hays Farm into a multi-use project with 110 acres of commercial development including retail stores and restaurants; 200 acres of residential area with about 1,000 single-family and multifamily homes; and a 12-acre city park with a potential entertainment component, sports fields and a dog park.

The remaining 540 acres will remain protected land with 6½ miles of walking trails and a nature preserve.

The economic boost to Huntsville is projected to be $450 million.

Representatives from the city, the Hayses, Enfinger Cos., and SHBA will be available for questions.

Urban Engine Discussion Focuses on Unique Challenges Faced by Women in Business

The Rocket City is known for its high-tech, digital-driven businesses and engineering.

But, if you’re a woman in those industries, there are challenges that male counterparts don’t have to face.

So, Urban Engine Executive Director Toni Eberhart stepped in to help women answer those challenges with a panel discussion called “Her-Story.”

“We decided to do a panel discussion for Women’s History Month which featured women who were making waves,” Eberhart said. “The panel was designed to open the discussion of the unique challenges faced by women. It was important to us to find women that were relatable and accessible.”

Founded in fall 2016, Urban Engine is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, small business incubator that governs, nurtures, and sustains.

“Urban Engine facilitates aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s collaboration,” Eberhart saidr. “We started a meetup and a place where people work on their side projects. It’s geared toward those interested in startups leveraged around mobile technology and software, the industry disrupters.”

The meetups soon gained momentum, and what began as a group of six to 10 people grew to 100 people and morphed into what is now known as “Coworking Night.”

The “Her-Story” event was moderated by Carly Seldon, host of “Let Me Tell You Something.”

“I’m really excited about the panel,” Seldon said. “Toni and I have worked on this. We wanted to have an honest conversation about the struggles and to be able to pass along some knowledge.”

The panelists were: Jessica Barker, entrepreneur, owner of Affluent Business Services; Joanna Broad White, government affairs liaison, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; May Chen, computer engineer at Adtran; and Emilie Dover, owner of Rocket City Digital.

Seldon started the panel discussion by asking Chen about the challenges faced as an engineer, which, traditionally is considered a male-dominated field.

“There are (few) females in research and development or management,” Chen said. “It’s hard to have a female voice. I see myself as a capable, confident engineer.

“Customers and clients don’t see you has having the answers. Is it because I’m female? Because I’m Chinese? It’s hard not to question. I try to see things objectively and say what I think.”

Women also have to face certain “stereotypes” compared to men in the same position.

“I’ve never heard a man be referred to as ‘pushy,’” White said. “I think men lack some of the qualities women have. Men are reticent to express passion. If a woman is really jazzed or really angry about something, men are going to get uncomfortable.

“Assertiveness is valuable, and paved with passion that men will grow to appreciate. My male mentors were afraid to be assertive, which allowed me to push forward. It’s also important to back everything up with really good work.”

Climbing the ladder also brings its own set of challenges for women.

Barker brought up the “crab” effect, also known as “Crabology.”

“Something that a lot of black women know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Like a bucket of crabs, as you’re climbing up, trying to get up the ladder (out of the bucket), your friends are pulling you back down. At this point, you start to lose friends, or your friendships change.

“The problem is not limited to the black experience. How to circumvent it is to change your own mindset. Keep in mind that they (your friends) might not be in that same mindset. You can’t be talking about travel and new car purchases, you have different conversations with them and don’t bring up certain things.”

Did Someone Stifle Your Growth?

“It’s a huge reason why Rocket City Digital came into being,” said Dover. “I had several bosses who would give me more work. I would take on more jobs, more responsibilities, all along realizing I could do this for myself.

“One day I told my future partner, ‘I’m quitting. So, if we’re going to start this business, we’re going to start it today.’”

Seldon posed another question: “How do you make sure you don’t stifle someone else’s growth?”

“I’m very self-aware, my partners and I have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Dover said. ‘We strive to provide a safe, healthy, fun workplace for our employees. At Rocket City Digital, we strive to provide a workplace where you want to be there.”

What are the traits a woman needs?

“You really have to know what your passions are. You have to love STEM, or at least like it. You have to have the courage to pursue what you want,” Chen said.

“Whatever you wake up in the morning yearning to do,” said Barker. “Put your passion to a purpose. Whatever it is that’s burning inside you. Someone needs what you have the passion to do.”

What lessons are you passing on to your children?

“Make sure you find out what they are passionate about,” said Barker, a mother of four – ages 1-14. “Follow what they like to do. Let them be free to live their lives.”

White, also a mom with four children, said let the children know what is important.

“That the world doesn’t revolve around them, we are not the only things in mom’s life,” she said. “Husband, faith, friends, they are all very important. We celebrate our friend’s successes. They have them ask themselves ‘How can I make a difference? Do I have compassion?’”

“I want to make sure that my son knows that life isn’t always fair,” said Dover, mother to a 3-year-old son. “Time and dedication, it will ultimately pay off for the future.”

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

“I love confrontation,” said White. “When you live in the present, it’s so important to deal with these things because they will fester. You cannot please everyone, you are not pizza. Not everyone is going to like me, but they will respect me. I just need to make sure that I back it up with good work.”

“Show them real value and you’ll be respected,” Chen said.

What would be the advice you would give your younger self?

“You need to become ‘numb” inside,’” said Dover. “Business is business and business owners see things differently. You can’t take everything personally when it comes to business. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle. Find ways to do your job better and more efficiently.”

“I have an amazing group of friends,” said Chen. “I have a lot of good friends, male, female. Find your support group, it helps.”

“Energy is not created nor destroyed,” said Barker. “Whatever you put out there is what you will get back.”

“Take a minute, stop and eat,” said White. “Nothing is as dramatic as you think. There is a time when you need to take time for yourself.”

What do you do to get motivated?

“In the office, we do slow claps,” said Dover.

“I listen to local Huntsville music, like Judy and Josh Allison on Spotify,” said White. “I nerd out about Huntsville. Stuff to keep me focused and to remind me why I am here. I also focus on big projects. Huntsville is a small pond. So, if you work hard, you’ll be a big fish really quick. Maybe things are ending for a reason. Be sure there’s a good examination, find a network.”

Barker, who listens to New Orleans jazz music to get motivated, said, “When things look bleak, I go back to my network, go to networking events, and make sure I’m staying current.”

How does one learn to say ‘No’?

“I’ve often weakened my ‘no’ by saying ‘yes,’” said Dover. “If you are doing the hard work, they will respect your ‘no.’”

“Make sure you’re personally aligned with your mission,” said White. “Develop your personal mission so you know when to say ‘no.’”

“Build relationships and rapport,” said Chen. “When I say no, they know I have a good reason.”

“To them, your ‘no’ may look like doom at first,” said Barker. “But it just might be your victory.”

For more information on Urban Engine’s Coworking Night and other programs, visit   https://www.urbanengine.org/

Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Wins Prestigious Award from Site Selection Magazine

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber has been honored with a Mac Conway Award, which was revealed in the May 2019 issue of Site Selection magazine.

The magazine’s Mac Conway Awards for Excellence in Economic Development recognize the top local and regional economic development agencies in the US for their roles in helping to deliver prosperity to their communities.

This year’s winners were determined by an index that examines corporate facility investment projects in US metro areas as tracked by Site Selection’s proprietary Conway Projects database in 2018. Scores are awarded based on six criteria: total projects, total investment associated with those projects and jobs associated with those projects; and those same three numbers calculated per capita for the metro area.


Lucia Cape, Senior VP of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber; and Chamber President/CEO Chip Cherry with Mac Conway Award. (Photo: Claire Aiello)

The Huntsville/Madison County area saw record growth in 2018, with five new companies adding 4,207 jobs and $2,363,367,600 in capital investment. The largest of these was landing Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, which includes 4,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in investment. Facebook also announced a $750 million data center. In addition, 13 companies added 982 jobs and $346,653,096 in capital investments.

“The foundation that led to the game-changing economic development wins in 2018 are the result of the foundation laid by many partners over a long period of time,” said Chip Cherry, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “The Chamber is proud to be part of an amazing team comprised of elected leaders, volunteers, partners, and a talented staff. The team has a common mission – to develop a world class economy that supports innovation and provides employment opportunities for our citizens, while ensuring that our quality of life is second to none.

“We are honored to accept the award on behalf of our partners and the community.”

The chamber cited support from many partners, including the state, cities of Huntsville and Madison, Madison County and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“The number of game-changing projects landing in Huntsville in recent years, capped by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, reflects the hard work of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The chamber team is highly professional, energetic, and willing to put in long hours to bring jobs and investment to the community. This is a well-deserved honor.”

“This economic development team has mastered the art of collaboration and partnership through a strategic vision that has been designed and executed by the Chamber, local government, and business,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The city of Huntsville is proud to be part of this partnership.”

“Our chamber gets it, and they have for a long, long time. Leaders from NASA, Redstone Arsenal, city and county governments, education, and health care take the lead from our chamber and partner with our community business leaders to help define our direction, build on our strengths, and look forward toward opportunity,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Individual viewpoints are synced, the steps to make those opportunities reality are defined, and our incredibly talented chamber team goes to work.

“We have accomplished this year after year, decade after decade, turning opportunity into jobs for our community.”

“Madison County is pleased to celebrate the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber for this much-deserved award,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong. “The Chamber has always played a pivotal role in positioning our region as an economic development leader as demonstrated by the 2018 growth and expansions throughout our region. In Madison County, Alabama we’re grateful for the collaborative approach by our chamber team to bring new and innovative opportunities to Madison County.”

“TVA congratulates the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber on its recognition as a Top Economic Development Group. We are proud to partner with the chamber as we work to foster job creation and economic growth in the region,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of economic development. “The results the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber have had speak for themselves, and we look forward to a continued partnership for years to come.”

Former NASA Acting Administrator, MSFC Director Robert Lightfoot Joins Lockheed Martin

Robert Lightfoot, a longtime NASA executive who served as both the agency’s acting administrator and highest-ranking civil servant, will join Lockheed Martin Space as vice president, Strategy and Business Development, effective May 6.

Robert Lightfoot

In his new role, Lightfoot will lead strategic planning, advanced technology concepts, and new business strategy for the corporation’s Space business area.

The business area programs include GPS, missile warning and communications satellites for the Department of Defense; human and robotic exploration systems for NASA; weather and commercial communications satellites, and strategic missile and missile defense systems.

Lightfoot retired from NASA in April 2018 and has served as president of LSINC in Huntsville for the past year.

“Robert is a universally-respected leader with an exceptional understanding of space technology, operations and strategy,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. “Robert’s insights and expertise will be crucial to the continued transformation of our space portfolio as we embrace new technologies and new business models.

“He will shape and drive a strategy that will help us deliver the breakthrough innovations and capabilities our customers need as we enter a new space age.”

During his career at NASA, Lightfoot served in several critical leadership roles to support space operations, exploration and science missions including director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and director of Propulsion Test at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

He also focused on strategies for key missions including the shuttle’s return to flight following the Columbia tragedy, then initial transition and retirement efforts for shuttle infrastructure.

Lightfoot retired from NASA in April 2018 and has served as president of LSINC Corporation in Huntsville

Women in Hardhats are a Growing Trend in the Construction Industry

MADISON, Ala. — Nationally, women make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry – 9.1 percent according to the National Association of Women in Construction.

That number has been steadily increasing over the past decade, so much that the NAWIC started a Women in Construction Week, held annually in March. It highlights women as viable components of the construction industry and raises awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry.

Hoar Construction, headquartered in Birmingham and contracted to build the new Rocket City Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium in Madison, has long since broken through.

When it comes to women wearing hardhats on a construction site, Hoar Construction says women are beginning to dominate in engineering and project management positions within their company. Hoar’s female workforce is up to 20 percent, but what kind of challenges do women face on a construction site and how do so many find their way into the business?

Meet Amanda Black, Safety Manager

Amanda Black

Amanda Black is a safety manager for Hoar Construction and is with the crew at the baseball stadium. Amanda is 29 years old and her parents have worked for Hoar for over 32 years.

“I grew up on a construction site,” said Black. “As a child, I picked things apart to see how they were built. Even with toys, I wasn’t interested in the thing itself.

“I was more interested in how it was put together and what was inside that made it work.”

Black went to college on a scholarship, but the school didn’t offer academics in engineering or construction.

She came back to what she knew. Eleven years later, she is working for Hoar and is back in school for construction management.

“No one should be limited in what they want to be, if they have the heart for it,” Black said. “You have to have a thick skin to be a woman among so many men, but you need a thick skin in life anyway, right?”

As a safety manager, Amanda notes that everyone on a construction site has a very important job and the more skills sets you have, the more it benefits you.

“I started out as a laborer trying my hands at carpentry work, concrete, and I know how to operate some of the equipment,” she said. “I also help with the shell work on empty buildings and cross over to quality control when they need help.

“It’s what you do – you work your way up.”

Meet Jessica Yarbrough, Assistant Superintendent

Jessica Yarbrough

Jessica Yarbrough grew up learning the cabinetry trade from her father who worked as a boat captain three days on and three days off. Cabinetry was a hobby he excelled in and still does.

Jessica can build cabinets, but she chose not to pursue the craftsmanship side of construction. Instead, she has spent the past 7½ years traveling from project to project with her husband who is a superintendent for Hoar Construction.

Yarbrough has worked on a Disney World project in Orlando; built a physical fitness facility for the Army in Clarksville, Tenn.; built an outdoor shopping center in Baton Rouge, La.; and a commissary at Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Fla.)

Now she is in Arlington, Va., working for the first time without her husband on a 12-story midrise apartment building.

“I am an exterior scan superintendent,” said Yarbrough. “I am responsible for the brick, metal panel, glass storefront, and glass curtain wall that makes up the exterior on this project. Every day, I oversee the work of our trade partners, including brick masons, a metal panel guy, our window installer, and ironworkers.

“I work a little bit with the exterior framers and with our air barrier system, and I handle all the scheduling, coordination, and I manage workflow to ensure the project gets built on time.”

Yarbrough started college in premed but, while in the process of switching to nursing, an advisor noticed she was taking extra math classes. She asked Jessica if she was good at math and when she answered “Yes,” they encouraged her to pursue engineering rather than the medical field.

“I feel I have grown into the job,” she said. “There were opportunities for workers to pull a fast one on me or to get by with stuff but, instead, we worked through some teachable moments that made us all better at our jobs.”

Since then, there have been only a handful of times when she felt being a woman negatively impacted what she was trying to do.

“I find the day-to-day challenges – getting the job done on time and on budget – is harder than any challenges I face as a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Meet Donna Strange, Assistant Superintendent

Donna Strange

Donna Strange, like Jessica Yarbrough, is an assistant superintendent for Hoar Construction and she coordinates among multiple trade partners, documenting and making notification of field changes in real time on any project.

“I am the boots in the field,” she said. “I communicate with the project superintendent the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed with schedule and cost impacts. I listen to the concerns of our trade partners, always keeping one eye open for safety; and I have to make on-the-spot executive decisions to keep the project moving – not just the daily progress – but I have to be prepared to make the calls needed to keep the wheels on the bus during the challenging days ahead.”

Donna said she bounced around a few different professions, all of which left her feeling stuck, without a chance to get out and learn and explore.

“I found myself on a construction project as it was nearing the final stages and I fell head over heels in love with all aspects of the experience,” she said. “I found a profession where everyday there was potential for learning something new.” 

She said her biggest challenge at being a woman in a predominantly male industry is her 5-foot-2, 110-pound stature. It can be hard to show authority when you are petite, but she gets around it by being knowledgeable.

“I keep my eye on the big picture – giving our client a facility that meets expectations and I don’t let my size hinder my authority and responsibilities,” she said. “I focus on always staying calm, listening, and sharing my experience in a situation, before making decisions that affect others.”

Meet Sarah Horton, Project Engineer

Sarah Horton

Sarah Horton joined Hoar Construction officially this past year as a project engineer, but she worked for Hoar throughout college and was a co-op student with them in 2014. Sarah has a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Alabama but, from a general contractor’s perspective, she is at the management level of the job cost perspective.

Most of the work Sarah is involved with is renovated buildings rather than new construction, and she has been assigned to the Samford University campus in Birmingham. Her most current project is the University Center.

“We went in and took everything out including the slabs used to create two floors,” said Horton. “Now we have a shell of a building all on one floor, so we can start over.”

Structural and procedural changes are commonplace in renovations and Sarah’s architectural engineering background allows her to run software programs that a typical project manager ordinarily wouldn’t, such as the popular Building Information Modeling software.

“Typically, when we get a set of documents, they are printed on paper, but obviously building construction is seen much better in 3-dimension,” Horton said. “I use BIM and my architectural engineering background in HVAC design, power distribution and design, and structural concepts of building to get that into a 3-D space and coordinate changes from a general contractor’s perspective.

“Being able to run BIM gives us some control over the original designs using Virtual Design & Construction (VDC), so we can say, ‘You designed this, but we have a sprinkler system that must fit in this space too and it has certain code requirements. Let’s work together to make it all fit in this space with 25-foot high ceilings.’ ”

Sarah was exploring scholarship options while enrolled at the University of Alabama studying dentistry when she was approached by the engineering department, who had her test scores in math and science.

“Because I was a female, I was going to receive a nice engineering scholarship to declare general engineering as my major,” she said. “After one engineering foundations class, I was hooked!

“I agree with Amanda that you have to have thick skin, know who you are, and from a professional standpoint, be confident and understand the depth of your experience,” she said. “Now when I sit down at the table, I may be the only woman at that table, but I feel confident enough to give my opinion.

The Male Perspective

Horton said a lot of older men in the construction industry are against having women on the construction site because they believe it to be too dangerous from a safety standpoint. Unanimously, all four Hoar Women in Hardhats say, “No! We belong here just as much as you do!”

“It puts more pressure on me to make sure I know what I’m talking about,” said Horton. “I don’t get a free pass because I’m a girl. I have to know my stuff and back up what I say because they will go toe-to-toe with me on some things.”

“Construction is an amazing business to be in,” said Black. “For me, construction isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle. Construction provided for me when I was growing up, and now it provides for me as a mother.”

Although she did not pursue the craftsmanship side of construction, Yarbrough admits building cabinets is still in her cards.

“My dad still has a shop and all the tools and equipment, so it’s always been sort of like … if all else fails … I can always build cabinets!”

If she does, she will be an even rarer phenomenon since women make up less than 2 percent of carpenters nationwide!