First avid Hotel in Alabama Breaks Ground at Town Madison

MADISON — Shovels in hand, the Breland Companies, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the leadership team for avid Hotels to break ground on their first hotel in Alabama.

“We are excited about this great location in the City of Madison and to be a part of Town Madison’s success,” said Pritesh Patel of Jalasai Hospitality. “This new and thrilling brand will bring a tremendous new option for both business and leisure guests.”

Located at the western end of Town Madison off I-565 at Wall Triana Highway, the four-story, 87-room midscale avid Hotel is the first of its kind in the Southeast. It is also the newest addition to the 563-acre Town Madison development., which is home to the new Madison baseball stadium and dozens of retail stores, restaurants, residences, and Pro Player Park.

“Another hotel here is desperately needed,” said Finley. “Minor league baseball (Rocket City Trash Pandas) will be here in less than a year, housed in our multi-use venue at Town Madison. The way we fund that multi-use venue is a deal with Ballcorps LLC who owns the Trash Pandas, to rent it from us, but also through lodging tax.

“Town Madison has always been a regional destination location,” said Louis Breland, founder of Breland Cos. who is building the hotel and working to bring more businesses to the multi-use venue. “We are in negotiations with many retailers, many restaurants, and numerous other hotels about coming to Town Madison, so today’s groundbreaking will be the first of many businesses coming this spring and summer.”

The newest mainstream brand from IHG, avid hotels was designed for travelers and meets their expectations for the type of hospitality they value most: the basics done exceptionally well at a fair price. The location at Town Madison will feature modern, comfortable design, guest rooms designed for a sound-sleep, a focused, high-quality breakfast consisting of name-brand options, and will deliver the latest technology for a seamless guest experience

“So this is one more thing that makes a difference in our Master Plan of bringing something of quality to this area that helps the overall Tennessee Valley and makes a major difference in the City of Madison,” Finley said.

He went on to explain that the 12 baseball fields that make up Pro Player Park, located between the Madison baseball stadium and the new Avid Hotel, is a huge draw for travel baseball. 

“What do they need? They need places to stay,” said Finley. “So, they will be right here close by, and the restaurants will follow.”

“As our newest partner, avid provides not only Town Madison residents a new way to connect, relax and work, but our constantly-expanding business community yet another option to show out-of-town clients, customers, and employees everything we have to offer in Madison County,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

Port of Huntsville Wins Governor’s Trade Excellence Award

MONTGOMERY — The Port of Huntsville received a 2019 Governor’s Trade Excellence Award Wednesday in a ceremony at the State Capitol with Gov. Kay Ivey. The annual awards recognize companies that fuel Alabama’s robust export business and sell their innovative designs and products in markets worldwide.

The Port of Huntsville was one of eight honorees chosen for the key roles they played in the critical transportation industry, which has sparked new jobs and investments in communities across the state. Also recognized were Huntsville-based RMCI, Aerostar, GKN Aerospace–Alabama, Help Lightning, Polyvance, Trinity Highway Products, and Zorn Molds.

“The Port of Huntsville is honored to be acknowledged by Gov. Kay Ivey and Export Alabama Alliance for trade excellence,” said Rick Tucker, executive director of the Port of Huntsville. “We are grateful to our partners LG Electronics, Toyota, Panalpina and Norfolk Southern for joining us today.

“We also thank (Huntsville) Mayor Tommy Battle, (Madison County) Chairman Dale Strong and representatives from the North Alabama International Trade Association for supporting us not just today at the Capitol as we received this award, but always in our efforts to stimulate the economic growth and development of the Tennessee Valley region.”

Alabama export figures topped $21 billion last year as shipments reached 191 countries according to information from the Alabama Department of Commerce earlier this month. The total, which came during a year marked by global trade tensions, is just 2 percent shy of the record $21.8 billion in exports set in 2017.

Known officially as the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority, the Port of Huntsville incorporates Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center and Jetplex Industrial Park. The Port of Huntsville has the only scheduled international cargo flights in the state and ranks 18th among continental U.S. airports in international air cargo volume. The International Intermodal Center ships and receives ocean containers by rail, to and from both East and West Coast seaports. 

“We are especially pleased to recognize the Port of Huntsville this year,” said Hilda Lockhart, director of the International Trade Office at the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Without this first-class multimodal transportation operation, many of Alabama’s products would not be shipped from our state. 

“This facility is certainly a critical part of our state’s international infrastructure.”

American Airlines Increases Service at Huntsville International

Beginning in June, American Airlines will offer more early morning and evening flight options for passengers traveling direct from Huntsville to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Customers in Huntsville will have the opportunity to make one stop in Dallas/Fort Worth to travel to places such as Dublin and Munich, where American is launching seasonal service for the first time in June.

“We are very excited that American made the decision to add service to the Huntsville market and we know that our customers will appreciate more options and will utilize this service,” said airport Board Chairman Dr. Carl J. Gessler Jr.

While airport officials recognize the benefits of the added service, they are quick to point out that continued growth will require the support of the community.

“These additions are another step to provide all of the citizens of the Tennessee Valley more air travel options and phenomenal savings,” said airport Executive Director Rick Tucker. “American sees potential in Huntsville’s market, and we are glad they chose to expand their presence (here).

“This is great news and if the business community and our residents support our local airport we will all enjoy more air travel options with guaranteed lower fares.”

For more information or to make reservations, visit aa.com. Reservations can also be made at no additional charge using the Huntsville Hot Ticket Hot Line service by calling 256-258-1944, Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A Brand New Time in South Huntsville or, Rather, a New Brand

In the next couple of months, south Huntsville will enter a new era. In fact, a “brand’ new era.

South Huntsville business owners, community members and government officials are coming together to create a vibrant and thriving district.

Extending from, essentially, Martin Road south to the Tennessee River, South Huntsville Main Street will be a corridor reflecting a diverse lifestyle of work and play.

Just imagine, driving south on the parkway through the Martin Road “tunnel.” On the “ceiling” and the sides are row upon row of colored lights.

Talk about a grand entrance!

And as you exit the “tunnel,” laid out in front of you are banners on the light poles welcoming visitors.

There are local businesses along the road, each touting their wares and inviting customers inside.

The South Huntsville Business Association, with Executive Director Bekah Schmidt and President Jerry Cargile, has been the impetus to improving this part of the city.

A major step was being accepted into Main Street Alabama, a nonprofit organization that uses a national model with a 40-year track record of revitalizing downtowns and neighborhoods.

The process concentrates in four areas: organization, design, promotion and economic vitality. Each one is guided by Main Street’s transformation strategy to remain focused on a specific market-based outcome.

With a solid and active SHBA, the organization stage is answered. The design aspect concerns itself with aesthetics and function, such as the tunnel lights, improved landscaping and redesigned parking areas.

Promotion will incorporate some of the design aspects as well as sharing information and marketing the district. Economic vitality is key in that there must be room and desire for businesses to grow and prosper.

To help in the process, SHBA has launched a South Huntsville Community Survey. It is anonymous and the feedback will help provide direction for businesses to grow in South Huntsville. The findings will be shared with the public at a community meeting June 6. You can find the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/sohunt. For information, visit http://shba.biz/

Also at the meeting, the Main Street Alabama officials will revisit south Huntsville to launch a branding presentation, which includes a logo for the district and several variations of it; a marketing strategy; and other information to help south Huntsville soar to new heights.

(Bud McLaughlin is editor of the Huntsville Business Journal. He can be heard every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. with Fred Holland on WTKI-FM 105.3 and 1450 AM.)

Huntsville West: Repurposing a Former School into a Coworking Community

Passions run high when neighborhood schools face retirement.

Residents and alumni get emotional reminiscing about passing notes in science class, sneaking their first kiss behind the bleachers, gossiping with friends around the lockers, and cramming for pop quizzes in the library.

Unlike an old warehouse or aging office building, most schools face an uncertain future. Their unique layout makes gutting the building and converting it into a retail store or apartment building impractical.

As an alternative to demolition, old schools usually sell for pennies on the dollar and sit useless and abandoned for many years.

Huntsville, however, is not like most cities.

When Huntsville City Schools retired more 700,000 square feet of school space a few years ago, Huntsville’s serial entrepreneurs used their tenaciously innovative spirit and ingenuity to find pragmatic solutions for this otherwise wasteful real estate.

Several successful projects have been born from repurposing abandoned schools.

Huntsville developer Randy Schrimsher converted the Butler High School/Stone Middle School built in 1951 into downtown Huntsville’s premier brewery and entertainment center, Campus 805.

The Huntsville Madison County Public Library Foundation (HMCPL) bought the original Virgil I. Grissom High School on Bailey Cove Road and is currently repurposing it into the Sandra Moon Community Complex and new Huntsville Library.

Twenty-nine-year-old Brandon Kruse is a technological magnate.

By the age of 24, he had already built and sold a successful telecommunications company. In 2014, he used $500,000 of those proceeds to buy a shuttered West Huntsville Elementary School on 9th Avenue.

He planned to convert it into a low overhead small business incubator he refers to as “a flophouse for entrepreneurs” called the Huntsville West Coworking Community. Almost a year later, Kruse purchased the vacant Westlawn Middle School,  just down the street from West Huntsville, for $650,000 for similar repurposing.

While Westlawn is currently home to the Huntsville Achievement Academy, it is only 20 percent completed, and will have a big agenda in 2019.

Huntsville West on the other hand is proving to be very successful and, if not for the variety of memberships and leasing options available, on any given day it sits at 100 percent occupancy.

According to Community Manager Demetrius Malone, Huntsville West caters to startup technology companies, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creative professionals who have limited resources and need flexibility. Among the current tenants you will find a diverse community of software developers, Google Fiber technicians, Disney engineers, data security firms, nonprofit organizations, and mentoring and consulting services.

“One of the ways we offer flexibility is through a variety of affordable memberships and low-cost all-inclusive month-to-month leasing options,” Malone said. “Research shows that among start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, there is a real fear of sustainability on a long-term office space lease. This undue stress becomes a distraction when the focus should be on growing the business or getting a product or service to market.”

Although Huntsville West has a waiting list for the 35 or 40 redesigned “classrooms” acting as individual offices and studios along the hallways, there is much more to Huntsville West than private offices.

“We have many ways for you to benefit from joining our community,” said Malone.

In fact, a large segment of the Huntsville West Coworking Community doesn’t have private offices at all. The community’s basic membership starts at $150 and gives the member access to all the common areas, coworking lounge, conference rooms, and break rooms with vending machines and hot coffee.

If someone does not have an office but needs privacy, there are comfortable nooks and corners where to work in private, or large open areas where people can gather around a table with others to socialize and collaborate.

Office space starts at $550 a month and go up to $950 a month for a large studio. Utilities, Internet and 24/7 access are included.

One level of membership includes one of Huntsville West’s larger shared offices where two or three people can work. It isn’t quite a private office but allows you a private desk and the ability to leave your work and personal belongings overnight without having to carry them back and forth from home.

Huntsville West also offers day passes for potential members to try out the facilities; as well as a 5-day pass for $50 a month to use those five days anytime during a 30-day period. Membership comes with an app for your smartphone that tracks your time.

The concept for coworking space is less than 20 years old, but in many ways, it has saved much of the nation’s job force, said Malone.

“Corporations have saved a lot of overhead by downsizing office facilities and allowing their employees to work at remote locations,” he said. “It is also ideal for start-ups because we offer them all types of professional guidance and advice, as well as resources to give them a boost and help them step-by-step achieve their dreams.”

Sometimes coffee shops and restaurants are too loud; many places have limited Internet access; and working at home can be distracting, said Malone.

“You have none of that here,” he said. “You can grow at your own pace, and what excites me is seeing someone start out with a basic membership but in time, upgrade to a private office or go from a small office to a larger office.

“That means they are growing and accomplishing goals, which is what Brandon designed Huntsville West to do.”

Add to that an overall culture and environment that promotes collaboration, diversity, an exchange of ideas, and that has management that keeps people engaged and inspired to reach for their dreams. They offer free lunches that bring members of the community together, and provide classes and seminars on a wide variety of business topics like leadership skills; how to create a business plan; how to recognize it is time to get a business license; when to take certain steps, and when not to; even workshops to improve business skills and find solutions to challenges.

One such upcoming program Malone calls Working Women’s Wednesday aims to show working moms how to balance a career, kids, and marriage so they do not have to wait for the kids to leave home before she can pursue her dreams.

“We work to make Huntsville West a casual, friendly environment where you do not have to whisper as if you are in a library, and yet a place where everyone is working towards something big and takes their time here seriously,” said Malone. “We have experienced business people in their 60s and 70s working on starting up a new venture, sitting and sometimes even collaborating with a 19- or 20- year-old who doesn’t have a clue about business, but knows technology like the back their hand.

“To see that combination come together without a hierarchy of experience that says, ‘I am here and you are there’, is just amazing.”

Kruse, who is a software engineer and all-around techie, can be found hoverboarding through the halls of Huntsville West on any given day. He is creative in addition to his technological and business savvy and has the support from his father and grandfather who are successful Huntsville real estate executives. His mother, Penny Kruse, and her company, Interiors by Pennel, designed all of the contemporary interior space with its clean techie style and appealing colors.

Because West Huntsville Elementary opened in 1955, bringing its infrastructure up to technological standards that support fast Internet and Voice-over IP (VoIP) would be a problem for some, but when Google Fiber leases office space in your building, that problem is easily solved.

“We have a very creative team who works together to capitalize and get the most out of every inch of space so that it is comfortable, functional, and efficient,” said Malone. “We want Huntsville West to look like it was built as a coworking center that just happened to be used as a school for 50 years, rather than the other way around.”

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.

Twin Peaks to Open in Huntsville


Twin Peaks, a “sports lodge” known for its made-from-scratch menu and ice-cold, 29-degree beer is coming to Huntsville in January.

When the restaurant opens at 5901 University Drive – the former Macaroni Grill site, it will feature 61 high-definition flat screen TVs and 32 beers on tap and two full bars. The indoor bar features 30 seats surrounded by wallto-wall TVs. The outdoor bar sits on 1,103-square-feet of open-air patio space, complete with 28 seats, a covered drink rail and a 6-seat firepit. It’s the perfect atmosphere to enjoy 29-degree drafts and hand-crafted cocktails.

Twin Peaks has started seeking 125 talented individuals for multiple positions including 85 Twin Peaks Girls, cooks with scratch-cooking experience, bussers, bar-backs, dishwashers and janitors. The hiring team is at the restaurant recruiting daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“We are excited to bring the Twin Peaks brand to Huntsville,” said Coby Brooks, CEO of La Cima Restaurants, LLC. “We’re confident the hearty, scratch-made food, ice-cold beer and mountain lodge vibe will be welcomed with open arms by the community. We also look forward to building a stand-out team of outgoing, customer-service-oriented individuals to bring the Twin Peaks experience to life.”

Joining the Twin Peaks team comes with a variety of perks such as flexible hours, discounted fitness memberships and a fun work environment that includes great tips. Twin Peaks Girls wear “LumberJill” costumes and sports tops that support all the big games, adding to the mountain sports lodge setting. For hiring information, visit twinpeaksrestaurant.com/careers.

The 7,683-square-foot restaurant will be the first Twin Peaks in north Alabama, third in Alabama, and 85th location system-wide. The Huntsville location will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to midnight, and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

RFCU Reaches Out to the Community with Financial Education Programming

Today, financial education is a must for just about everyone.

And, Redstone Federal Credit Union is stepping up with a series of financial education seminars.

 Based on the variety of offerings, “financial” may seem like a misnomer, but that good things – such as buying a home or launching a business – or bad things – such as natural disasters – all have direct or indirect financial consequences.

“Over time, the seminar offerings have evolved, there’s more of a mix now,” said Briana Cousins, financial education coordinator/communications. “Programming  focuses on four main tenets: Save, spend, borrow, plan. These areas effect overall financial fitness. We have developed our own in-house programming to give back to the community.”

Other resources include Balance.com which RFCU uses for the “Drive Away Happy” and “Financial First Aid” seminars, providing a “canned” curriculum that can be used for some of the online financial programming,

Over the past year, RFCU has developed a partnership with local small business incubator, The Catalyst Center to expand on seminar offerings. The collaboration has a small business development focus featuring programming such as “Finding Your Target Market,” and “Developing an Elevator Pitch.”

Cousins is focusing on the next steps and beyond.

“How can we expand outside of Madison County?” she asked. “How can we reach specific audiences, expand our market? Get the word out to the community, in general?”

Regarding one of the bigger challenges she faces, Cousins said, “There’s a massively growing segment of the population who need the messages we are providing. We are trying to find ways to reach this population that is least likely to attend seminars. Unless you can reach them where they are, they don’t participate. So, we need to find a way to get out into the community instead of them coming to us.”

“For 2019, RFCU will keep some of the same programming. In thefuture, we see more partnering with the Catalyst, focusing on providing business assistance for startups and entrepreneurs.”

RFCUseminars are free and open to members and non-members. There are morning, lunchtime, late afternoon, and early evening programs. There are no sales pitches for any of the products presented. However, presenters do provide attendees with printed materials and contact information to follow up, one-to-one.

For schedule and registration info, go to: www.redfcu.org/seminars

Planes, drones, special missions aircraft on display at Sierra Nevada Industry Day

MERIDIANVILLE — A cost-effective solution for retrofitting old Black Hawk helicopters with the most technologically advanced electronics and equipment was unveiled recently by Sierra Nevada. The event was held during Sierra Nevada’s Industry Day at the company’s facility at the Huntsville Executive Airport.

SNC acquired the older model Air Force UH-60L Black Hawk through Huntsville’s Black Hawk Exchange & Sales Team (BEST) program. They removed the outdated analog gages and Marconi strip radar system and replaced it with an all glass cockpit, a fully certified state-of-the-art digital avionics suite, and mission-specific equipment including an external mounted camera, rescue hoists, and a 200-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. Now known as the Sierra Force Rotary-Wing Aircraft, the newly retrofitted helicopter is valued at an estimated $19 million.

“At the end of the day, each Sierra Force aircraft returns a significant portion of the production cost to the U.S. government,” said Bill Morris, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada. “We make it possible for the U.S. Air Force to acquire the most cost-effective replacement aircraft available.”

Also, on exhibit was a King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit.

King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit with five-blade propellers that enable the aircraft to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes.

“We bought the standard King Air as a green aircraft,” he said. “… using the Independent Research and Development (IR&D) program to determine what modifications were needed, we created a Mission Enhancement Kit that involves installing a new engine, an electronic braking system, and a light weight battery that removes 20 pounds from the aircraft, while increasing the capacity to fly at airspeeds up to 340 knots.”

Morris said Sierra Nevada replaced the four-blade propeller with five blades, which enable the plane to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes instead of 40 minutes. It mitigates a lot of the noise from the engine so passengers can have a reasonable conversation without headsets.

“On an ordinary 90-degree day at 7,000 feet, you would have only about 30 minutes of fuel available,” said Morris. “With our newly designed kit, you can fly for eight hours under the same conditions – a significant increase for our Army forces who fly very long distances on manned surveillance and intelligence missions.”

The King Air and the SNC Scorpion Aircraft are fully-integrated multi-role special mission aircraft whose configurations include a lightweight interior, LED lighting, an extended nose to accommodate camera and sensors that surveil targets on the ocean up to 200 nautical miles; and a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) satellite communications system on top that transmits data in real time to a ground station.

Also on display during Industry Day was a battery-operated surveillance drone. The aircraft is housed in a case with a Unified Ground Control Station, a hand-held controller and manned and unmanned teaming functions.

Powered by software designed by Kutta Technologies, the unmanned aircraft system can be dropped from an aircraft and deployed remotely from ground or air and has autonomous landing capabilities. It has a payload bay and a powerful camera that can see around corners. The drone can be programmed with waypoints or set to loiter and wait for updates from the controller.

 

SHBA begins search for executive director

The South Huntsville Business Association (SHBA) announced today an executive search for the association’s first executive director. Applications will be accepted through June 20.

The SHBA was recently selected as one of three new Main Street designated communities in Alabama.

According to the organization, the new director will help promote economic development among South Huntsville businesses and spearhead activities related to the new Main Street Alabama designation. SHBA expects to have the right candidate in place by Aug. 6, in time for the official Main Street Alabama kickoff scheduled for the second week in August.

South Huntsville’s selection is unique because it is one of the first communities chose by the statewide delegation not located in a downtown urban district. The South Huntsville designation is essentially a commercial urban corridor that begins just north of Martin Road and extends south along Memorial Parkway to Ditto Landing and the Tennessee River.

The new SHBA executive director must have proven leadership skills, executive management and strategic economic planning experience, and possess a passion for impacting growth while viewing challenges through a creative lens, SHBA said.

Contact SHBA for more information at info@SHBA.biz.