Matt Curtis counting his blessings after a stellar year

The real estate market is booming and, as a result, Matt Curtis has a lot of blessings to count.

Over the past 13 years, Matt Curtis Real Estate has grown rapidly. In 2018, the agency received the following distinctions: Huntsville Chamber of Commerce Service Business of the Year, Nationally Ranked Website by Real Trends and, for the past two years, Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in the Nation (No. 17 in 2018).

“2018 has been one of the best years – inventory is at an all-time low; growth rate is up at 10 percent,” Curtis said. “Although nationally the market will start to slow down, Huntsville-Madison can anticipate 5 to 10 years of solid growth. This has been the busiest January we’ve ever had.”

After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in computer engineering, Curtis started out selling test equipment for National Instruments to the Army and NASA. Then, after landing his biggest sale, he was offered a job at Woodland Homes. During his stint at Woodland, he honed his business acumen for real estate.

For Curtis and his team, giving back is important.

“For the past three years, we have been building homes in Nicaragua,” he said. “For every 100 homes sold, we build a home in Nicaragua for a family living in unsafe conditions.

“2019 will be our fourth year. There have been 65 houses built to date, with the 20 more being built this year, that’s 85 houses by the end of the year. Habitat for Humanity is also involved with the mission. The way it’s been usually, is that half the funding comes from donation, the other half coming from builders.”

However, this year there will be no building.

“We usually go once a year and I was planning to take my family this year,” Curtis said. “But due to safety concerns, we had to cancel our trip. It was sad not to be able to go.”

In addition to the Nicaragua effort, the Curtis team supports local community projects.

“We have funded numerous charitable initiatives including 88.1 WAY-FM’s local concerts and a new gym for Madison Academy,” Curtis said.

And, there is also a love of sports and supporting the local teams.

“It’s a good, fan-based experience for the family,” Curtis said. “Huntsville Havoc, Rocket City Trash Pandas, we are big fans.

“We have already bought our box seats for the 2020 (Trash Pandas) season.”

Strong Economic Numbers, Distinguished Service Highlighted at Chamber Meeting

Someone said that looking back, 2018 was a year for the record books for Huntsville and Madison County …. “off the charts” and “epic”.

That someone was Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. His remarks came Wednesday at the 83rd Annual Chamber Membership Meeting.

According to real numbers, his proclamation was not overstated.

Huntsville finished 2018 ranked sixth in the nation for job growth according to 24/7 Wall Street. In all, five new companies broke ground, bringing more than 4,200 jobs to Madison County. They made capital investments of $2.3 billion while 13 current companies made capital investments of just under $350 million and nearly 1,000 jobs.

The groundbreaking of the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant at Greenbrier Road and Old Highway 20 was the biggest economic story of 2018. The plant is expected to create 4,000 jobs by 2021 when it opens.

Cummings Research Park, the second-largest research park in the nation, is at 91 percent occupancy, marking three groundbreakings and 10 ribbon-cuttings in 2018.

To provide some perspective, the Economic Growth Index, which reflects combined employment, GDP, and wages, shows Huntsville with a 38 percent growth rate in 2018. Compare that to 23 percent nationally and 15 percent growth for the state of Alabama, and Huntsville more than doubles statewide economic growth!

Keynote speaker Chris Voss, author and founder/CEO of the Black Swan Group and a former international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, used humor and intrigue in speaking to the membership about the art of business negotiation.

Before passing the gavel to 2019 Chamber Board Chair Kim Lewis, outgoing Chair Gary Bolton honored Alicia Ryan of LSINC with the Distinguished Service Award for her volunteer work serving as the vice chair of the Board of Directors for the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering, a statewide magnet school created by the Legislature in 2018. She also serves as the chair of the Board of the Foundation supporting the school, which will be the first of its kind in the nation to address the growing demand for cyber and engineering professionals in the workforce.

Huntsville received several significant media recognitions recently. According to The New York Times, Huntsville is one of 52 Places to Go in 2019; Huntsville ranks No. 7 in the Best Places to Live in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report; and the city is No. 3 on the Wall Street Journal‘s Where You Should Move to Make the Most Money list.

Bolton, vice president of Global Marketing at Adtran, presented a $10,000 donation on behalf of his company to the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering.

Ad4! Group Celebrates 15 Years

Ad4! Group has turned the big 1-5!

The Huntsville-based full-service advertising and marketing agency is celebrating 15 years in business.

Owner Felica Sparks opened Ad4! Group in 2004 with one goal in mind, to change the reputation of marketing agencies. Sparks said the agency’s focus would be the return on investment of every client.

“That’s why at Ad4! Group, the focus is ‘Communication that Counts!'” she said. “My goal is to be able to provide our clients with top-notch strategies and products that help bring customers in their doors and, most of all, increases their bottom line.

“We want to help make your marketing dollars work for you.”

Since its opening, Ad4! Group has worked with all facets of the business community including non-profits, small businesses, large businesses, and community initiatives.

“We have been blessed over these past 15 years to have had the ability to work with such an amazing
variety of people in this community,” said Sparks, “and we look forward to what the next 15 years have in store.”

For information, visit www.ad4group.com.

No Wall Divides Huntsville as Neighbor Helps Neighbor During Shutdown

She’s recently divorced and lives in a 1-bedroom apartment.

Her ex-husband has custody of their children – though she sees them every weekend.

Due to our recent political climate, the dad – a government contractor – has been furloughed with a mortgage payment and kids to feed.

Mom reached out to her neighbors and friends via Facebook asking if they had “any extras in their pantry” to help make sure the kids are fed while her ex works – at a temp job – to keep a roof over their heads. And he feels lucky to have the job.

The friends and neighbors have answered with bags and boxes of canned goods, toiletries and other items to help during this stressful time.

This, unfortunately, is happening in all parts of Huntsville and Madison County and affecting all walks of life – supervisors, engineers, production workers, administrative personnel and custodial workers.

If you notice, I didn’t say “federal workers.” These folks work for companies that contract with federal agencies. They are furloughed because there is no money to pay them due to the shutdown. But, unlike federal workers, the contractors don’t receive back pay.

So, not only are some of our families, friends and neighbors in need of some help now, they will be until the shutdown ends and the money starts flowing.

In the meantime, help is coming from other directions.

Several banks and credit unions are offering furlough loans at 0 percent or a low percentage rate and some temp services have short-term employment opportunities.

Huntsville Utilities is asking customers who may have difficulty paying their bills due to the shutdown to give them a call, and they’ll work with customers and explain their options.

In a gesture reflecting its mission, Oakwood University’s farm is giving away fresh fruit, vegetables and grain this Saturday (Jan. 19) 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to federal furloughed workers. It is first come, first served.

The website of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber has a news article on the agencies and businesses that are stepping up at www.hsvchamber.org.

If you are a business owner or know of someone who has services to offer, drop us a line here so we can let everyone know.

Let’s step up Huntsville and not let a wall separate us from our compassion for others.

Maynard Cooper & Gale Adds 3 Members to Huntsville Office

Maynard Cooper & Gale has announced the addition of three team members to the firm’s Huntsville office.

Attorney Philip Johnson joins the litigation practice and patent agent Erin Gaddes and technical advisor Badhri Ragunathan join the intellectual property practice.

“We are excited to grow our office and expand our services with the addition of these bright and talented individuals,” said Daniel Wilson, managing shareholder. “They possess technical skill sets and industry knowledge that will benefit our IP and litigation practices, and we are pleased to have them on board.”

Senate Confirms Wardynski for Army Post

WASHINGTON — Former Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski was confirmed to a top Army post by the U.S. Senate on the final day of the 115th Congress.

Wardynski was confirmed to be assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs. His nomination had been approved in September by the Senate Armed Services Committee but a final vote by the full Senate was postponed. They were approved by voice vote on Jan. 2 as part of a group of 77 nominees receiving a confirmation vote.

Wardynski, a retired Army officer with 30 years of service, spent about half his military career as an expert in economic and manpower analysis before being named to head the Huntsville school system. His daughter Jennifer and son Chris are serving in the Army.

Wardynski told the Senate he expects the top issue he’ll face is “manning the total force with high quality people.”

“Recruiting and retaining the very best our nation has to offer is critical to the Army’s efforts to meet its increased end strength goals and promote readiness,” he wrote in his answers to committee questions. “Striking an appropriate balance in the military, civilian, and contractor workforce within a fiscally competitive environment will be critical to effectively meeting mission requirements around the globe.”

Irons One Whiskey: A Personal Touch Every Step of the Way

In a small, second floor suite at Lowe Mill, there’s a highly personal, downright magical process taking place daily – the distillation of Irons One Whiskey.

Distiller Jeff Irons and his wife Vicki work together to create a preciously delightful adult beverage – one that’s meant to be savored slowly.

For over 40 years now, Irons has cultivated his love affair with whiskey, starting as a New Jersey teen crossing the state line with his buddies into New York state, because of the lower legal drinking age. Once over the border, drinks were pricey, and New York and New Jersey’s finest had a keen eye for drunken teens on the road.

As the group’s official designated driver, Irons selected whiskey because it could be savored, as well as it being cost-efficient.

While an engineering student at Virginia Tech, Irons had his first taste of “homemade” whiskey, later followed by samples obtained from his brother-in-law’s dad, who was a physician in West Virginia. When the good doctor’s patients couldn’t pay him with cash, they paid him with home-distilled whiskey.

Despite the long romance, the NASA engineer became interested in opening his own distillery only within the past few years.

“It has been a long and difficult process and it is expensive,” he said. “Regardless, my love of whiskey and my sincere desire to be able to offer a superior bourbon and bourbon mash whiskey to my friends and to our community will be well-worth all of the effort.”

Irons’ business model is to remain small and personally involved in the distillation process. 

“I love making whiskey,” he said. “From mashing to fermenting, to distilling, to aging and bottling – I love this process. The only way I know how to make the best whiskey is to be totally involved in every step of the process.

“I can only do that if I stay small enough in size to manage each step.” 

The love, patience, and commitment are evident in the final product. Irons One was recently judged as the Double-Gold winner by “The Fifty Best” in the category of bourbon whiskey, which is quite an honor.

In the selection, strict tasting rules are applied to the “blind” tasting of 46 bourbon whiskeys; all ranked by members of “The Fifty Best” spirits judging panel. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are also awarded, based on the final point scores received from the judges.

“Irons One is the small batch, single-hand crafted whiskey for those who savor a rich, smooth flavor –served neat, with a little water or over ice,” Irons said. “This is truly a whiskey from my hands to yours.”

For more information, visit  www.ironsone.com or email ironsonewhiskey@gmail.com

Windham named COO of HudsonAlpha

Long-time local business and community leader Danny Windham has been named chief operating officer of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Windham brings more than 20 years of leadership experience to HudsonAlpha, serving as president and COO at Adtran (2005-07) and CEO at Digium (2007-18).

“I have great admiration for the founders and leaders of HudsonAlpha,” said Windham. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to work alongside such a talented team and help ensure the institute’s mission endures for years to come.”

He is involved in the entrepreneurial community — as a mentor and board member — and has supported the development of several startupss.

Windham earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Mississippi State University, where he was named a distinguished engineering Fellow in 2001, and a master’s in business administration from Florida Tech.

“Danny is well-known to the Huntsville research and technology community for his leadership, advocacy and wisdom,” said Dr. Rick Myers, HudsonAlpha president and science director. “We are honored and excited to have him join the HudsonAlpha team.”

Windham also has a strong commitment to giving back to his community. He serves on multiple boards including the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Biztech and Leadership Alabama. He was also chairman of the Madison YMCA fundraising committee and a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization that provides free air transportation for individuals with any legitimate, charitable, medically related need.

Watson named Torch president/CEO; Roark is CEO of Starfish Holdings

John Watson has been named president and CEO of Torch Technologies, succeeding Bill Roark who is now CEO of Starfish Holdings, the parent company of Torch Technologies and other Starfish holdings.

Watson has served as president of Torch since 2013. This transition has occurred over the past two years, with Roark moving away from his full-time involvement with Torch and toward leadership of the Starfish Holdings enterprise.

“We have selected a strong, proven leader for Torch at a time when Torch is in a very strong position as a rapidly growing employee-owned small business,” said Roark, a co-founder of Torch. “Since John became president…, he has continually grown the company in multiple locations, broadening our capabilities and solutions. We have full confidence that John will continue to move the company forward, capitalizing on the opportunities in front of us, and will lead the company in the best interest of our employee-owners.”

Watson joined Torch in 2009 as vice president of corporate development.

“I joined Torch in 2009 because I wanted to be a part of a company that not only had an established reputation within the community and with customers for its ethics and values, but also had vast possibilities for growth and innovation,” said Watson. “Today it is even more clear to me that Torch is that company. I am honored that Bill and the Torch Board have placed their faith in me to continue to lead Torch in this capacity.”

HudsonAlpha mourns passing of co-founder Lonnie McMillian

The team at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology mourns the passing of an inspirational leader, Lonnie McMillian, the co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Institute.

McMillian died Sunday. He was 90.

McMillian was a founder of Adtran, a leading global provider of networking and communications equipment. When he retired from the company in 2001, he worked with longtime friend Jim Hudson to create HudsonAlpha.

The pair set out to develop a unique vision — a nonprofit institute that could combine the power of academic research with the resources of the commercial sector to bring discoveries to market quicker.

Their focus was to deliver better medical care to people everywhere. McMillian and Hudson’s belief in the Institute and their devotion to its success have impacted countless lives the world over, through advancements in diagnosis, treatment and our fundamental understanding of the genome.

“Lonnie was so deeply humble,” Hudson said of his friend, “that not many people have a true scope of how much he gave to the world. The institute is only one example, and I feel blessed for the opportunity to have worked on it with him.

“He will be dearly missed.”

McMillian was a generous philanthropist, and he lived out his commitment to improving the human condition through support of educational, scientific and other charitable causes. Many of his gifts will never be recognized due to his desire for anonymity.

“He was an innovator,” said Dr. Rick Myers, president of HudsonAlpha. “Lonnie was a visionary and a gift to all of us that knew him — and many more who were impacted by his generosity without ever realizing it. We have our work cut out for us to live up to his legacy.”