Some Ideas for Shopping Local, Shopping Small for the Holidays

‘Tis the season to start thinking about holiday gift-giving. Only this year, it comes with a unique pandemic-infused twist.

To help make the annual holiday shopping experience more of a joyous occasion and less of a chore, Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment is hosting its fourth annual “Yule Y’all,” from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 5. Enjoy one of the most popular outdoor-centric holiday market and spirit sampling events of the season. There will be a tantalizing assortment of maker art, holiday creations, food, and music, along with a spirited chaser. This year’s event will also fully embrace the social distancing mindset and mask protocol.

The lighting of the iconic Lowe Mill water tower will take place at 5 p.m.

With more than 150 working studios and seven galleries, there’s something for everyone at Lowe Mill. From Cigar box guitars to sculpture and all points in between. What’s more, it’s all created by local artisans and/or owned by local entrepreneurs. Support Your Community: Shop Local!

Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment

2211 Seminole Drive

Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, noon-6 p.m.; Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

(Note: Individual vendors and artists’ hours may vary)

(256) 533-0399

Lowemill.art

Facebook: Lowe Mill Arts

 

Wondering where to begin? Here’s a handful of clever gift ideas, designed to jumpstart even the stubbornest of holiday shopper’s block. If crowds are a concern, many of the businesses listed also have an online retail presence. Listed below are a few of the many talented artisans, makers, and entrepreneurs in Huntsville/Madison. Beginning at Lowe Mill.

CHOCOLATE’S THE WORD

For those stumped on what to buy, it’s hard to go wrong with the gift of chocolate. This isn’t any ordinary chocolate, mind you. Owners Caitlin Lyon and Michelle Novosel have built a mini empire based on their elaborate, unique, and most importantly, delicious confections. In addition to chocolates, there are mini-cakes, ice cream, and chocolate and coffee beverages. Coming soon, just in time for the holidays: Pizzelle’s fabulous Drinking Chocolate ornaments. Willy Wonka beams proudly over their well-run enterprise.

Pizzelle’s

Railroad Room 4A

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m.

(256) 513-9745

Pizzellesconfections.com

Facebook: Pizzelle’s Confections

 

THERE’S A SONG FOR THAT

Everyone loves the gift of music. And vinyl has made a comeback in a big way. Vertical House has a plethora of 33-1/3 titles, from the well-known to the most obscure. As a fixture at Lowe Mill since 2007, Vertical House is your go-to for all genres of music. Their newest location has more square footage, which means more CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, and of course, more VINYL. If something you want isn’t in stock, owner Andy Vaughn can order it for you.

 

Vertical House Records

Railroad Room 9

Hours: Wednesday – Friday, noon– 6 p.m.; Saturday, noon–5 p.m.

(256)  658-2976

verticalhouse@gmail.com

theverticalhouse.com

Facebook: Vertical House Records

 

JEWELRY IS A GAL’S BEST FRIEND

It can also be a guy’s best buddy, right? Connie Ulrich’s jewelry is a fusion of natural materials and skillfully worked metals and precious stones. Her studio presents an attractive selection of hand-crafted jewelry, rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. There’s even a workshop for making your own ring! Along with the amazing assortment of jewelry, Ulrich also has a fine selection of small paintings available for sale.

Connie Ulrich

Studio 121

Hours: Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and by appointment only

(256) 536-4653

Connieulrich.com

Facebook: Connie Ulrich Studio

 

WELCOME TO FABULOUS HUNTSVEGAS

Cheers to the Rocket City! If you’re seeking unique, head to Green Pea Press. Green Pea Press has a wide assortment of t-shirts, mugs, coasters, koozies, earrings, and stickers. They also have an assortment of frame worthy screen print art. For those who would appreciate an “experience” kind of gift, Green Pea Pressoffers printing workshops and classes. Gift certificates are also available from $25-up.

Green Pea Press

Studio 150

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

(256) 533-0399

Greenpeapress.com

Facebook: Green Pea Press

In addition to its Lowe Mill studio, Green Pea Press has a location on Governors Drive:

Green Pea Press

2720 Governors Drive

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

(256) 924-0451

 

IT RESIN-ATES!

Up-and-coming resin artist Kenzie Johnston (aka KenziB) will first delight you with her personality, then with her eye-catching and creative assortment of colorful geode-like designs and preserved flowers in resin. The flowers are always bright and fresh; Johnston picks up a new batch daily.

KenziB

Studio 301

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

(601) 481-5707

kenzi.boo.art@gmail.com

kenzib.com

Instagram: kenziejohnstonart

 

WHISKEY A GO-GO

One man, One whiskey. NASA engineer Jeff Irons has a natural gift for distilling only the best. Love, patience, and commitment are evident in the final product. And for those reasons, Irons One has continued to grow exponentially in popularity. Irons One is a small batch, handcrafted whiskey. “The only way I know how to make the best whiskey is to be totally involved in every step of the process,” says Irons. “I can only do that if I stay small enough in size to manage each step.” Be sure to check online and sign up to the Irons One e-mail list for product updates and availability.

Irons One Whiskey

Studio 2061

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

(256) 536-0100

ironsonewhiskey@gmail.com

Ironsone.com

Although Lowe Mill provides one of the most uniquely creative shopper’s paradise, here are a few more places to consider.

 

BEER IS THE WORD

If you’re looking for exceptional craft beer, look no further than Das Stahl Bierhaus. With 32 beers on tap, you can have some now, then take some home in a 32- or 64-ounce glass growler.

One of the big hits at Das Stahl this season are the Advent beer calendars. The calendars come pre-assembled and filled with a jolly assortment of holiday brewskis. The Advent box can also be purchased and filled with a selection of personal favorites. Not sure what beers to buy? For $15 more, one of the crew at Das Stahl can fill up that calendar with a selection that’s guaranteed to delight. In addition to draft beer, Das Stahl Bierhaus sells a wide assortment of canned and bottled beers, decorative steins, branded glassware, and t-shirts. Still undecided? There’s always the gift card option.

Das Stahl Bierhaus

7914 Memorial Pkwy SW, B2 (Village Center)

Hours: Monday-Wednesday, noon-8 p.m.; Thursday, noon-9 p.m.

Friday & Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 2-8 p.m.

(256) 858-1495

dsb-hsv.com

Facebook: DSBHSV

 

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

When looking for the perfect gift, check out Alabama Goods. Along with assorted gift baskets, Alabama Goods boasts one of the largest selections of Alabama-made pottery. In fact, everything in the store is created by artisans here in our sweet home Alabama! Owners Sherry Hartley and Beth Staula search far and wide throughout the state for just the right art, jewelry, pottery, crafts, and food items.

Alabama Goods

2722 Carl T. Jones Drive, Valley Bend Shopping Center

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

(256) 270-7439

alabamagoods.com

Facebook: Alabama Goods Huntsville

 

WINE NOT?

Uncorked is in the heart of Providence Main and owner Saranne Riccio’s secret to her success lies in her simple philosophy, “Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Along with a variety of wines to suit any budget, there are tasty tidbits, such as Mama’s cheese straws, Arabella’s dilled onions, candied jalapenos, and pepper jelly; Belle Chevre goat cheeses, and Pizzelle’s chocolates. Add these delightful goodies with a great bottle of wine to your next gift basket.

Uncorked Wine Shop & Tasting Room

485 Providence Main St

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, noon-7 p.m.

Closed Sundays and Mondays

(256) 970-4717

Facebook: Uncorked Wine Shop Tasting Room

 

And don we now, our seasonal apparel. If you’re looking for a variety of ladies and kid’s clothing, along with assorted accessories and swag, Redbird Boutique is the place to go. Co-joined with University Pickers, Redbird features over 60 local designers and there’s a wide variety of items to choose from. Bird is the word, shop local!

Redbird Boutique and Gifts at University Pickers

3024 University Drive

Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, noon–5 p.m.

(256) 536-5738

Redbirdhsv.com

Facebook: Redbird Boutique and Gifts

Listed below are two of the many local designers with merchandise available at Redbird Boutique.

 

WHISK YOU WERE HERE

The brainchild of Jonathon Fowler, Fow Wow merchandise is iconic, quirky, and uniquely Huntsville. Many of the designs are sure to provoke a smile, or even a laugh. Fow Wow brand products are sold throughout Huntsville in retail establishments, such as Redbird Boutique and Huntsville Museum of Art. Merchandise can also be ordered online. Check their website or Facebook page for a complete selection of products.

Fow Wow Designs

fowwowdesigns.com

Facebook: Fow Wows

 

SOUTHWESTERN HEART CHIC

Summer Sklar, an El Paso native-Huntsville transplant, puts her heart and soul, along with beads and wire, into her captivating assortment of Mexican/Southwestern-meets funky chic jewelry. Sklar creates a beautiful selection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and wine charms. Each piece of Heart & Wire jewelry is one-of-a-kind and is available at Redbird Boutique or via online at the Heart & Wire website. Custom orders are also welcomed.

Heart & Wire

Heartandwire.com

Facebook: Heart and Wire

 

 

 

 

 

A Virtual Celebration honors Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Best in Business

MADISON – Virtuous Realty Group was the “virtual” winner for the Madison Start-Up Business of the Year in the annual Madison Chamber of Commerce 2020 Best in Business Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the winners were announced virtually Tuesday afternoon in 13 categories. The winners will be honored  at a dinner Thursday from 5-7 p.m. at Tom Brown’s restaurant in the Target Shopping Center. It will include the winners and Chamber representatives in a small masked and socially distanced event.

Conditioned Air Solutions was named Best Business of the Year and U-Lock-It Storage won the Small Business of the Year category.

Cathy Miller from United Way won Community Servant of the Year; Alice Lessmann from Signalink received the Excellence in Leadership & Service Award and Carlos Mendoza of Edward Jones was the Ambassador of the Year Award winner.

Among the Small Business Awards, Anglin Reichmann Armstrong was recognized as Professional Service Business of the Year and Madison Visionary Partners won Best Non-Profit of the Year.

Fit4Mom-Madison was named Health & Wellness Business of the Year; Hawthorne at the Ridge was the  Essential Services Business of the Year; and Insanity Complex won Culinary Business of the Year.

Huntsville Ballet danced off with the Arts, Entertainment & Hospitality Business of the Year; and Thrive Alabama won Medical Practice of the Year.

 

MartinFederal Wins Contract from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

MartinFederal Consulting has been awarded a one-year contract to support the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency.

Huntsville-based MartinFederal is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business focused on providing solutions-based services to the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, and other federal agencies,

The DPAA mission is to recover and identify Department of Defense personnel from past conflicts. As part of the first phase of this multi-phase project, the MartinFederal team will conduct a page-by-page inventory of the Korean War Reference Documents at DPAA Headquarters.

“As an SDVOSB, we understand the importance of the DPAA’s mission, and hope that our support in this project will aid in the accounting effort of the more than 7,600 servicemen who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War,” said Corey Martin, founder and CEO of MartinFederal. “We stand ready to lend our inventory and records management capabilities for this and future phases of this accounting effort.”

Ad4! Group Adds Business Development to its Services

Ad4! Group has added business development to its line of services.

The full-service advertising and marketing agency specializes in branding, marketing strategies, digital marketing campaigns, while serving the Madison County area for 15 years.

Owner Felica Sparks said she is excited about this new addition of business development to their extensive list of services through a partnership with James Bishop of Business Acceleration.

“His ability to pore through businesses’ processes, then offer customized solutions that streamlines what they do, and helps them yield higher returns, is simply invaluable,” Sparks said.

“I am thrilled to be a part of the Ad4! Group team,” said Bishop. “Their smart and strategic marketing fits incredibly well with what I bring to the table for business owners, so we make a great team. With this partnership, I think clients will see that working with Ad4! Group just make sense because we are the whole package.”

For information, visit https://ad4group.com/business-consulting-services/.

The Stay-at-Home Blues Are Helping Retailers See Black

It’s funny how when you only spend six out of 15 daylight hours a day at home, you don’t notice that lumpy sofa, weeds growing in the flower pot or how much better that movie would have been on a wide screen TV.

But staying at home 24 hours a day for days, weeks, growing into months on end with no TV sports or outside entertainment, and everyone’s alter ego rises to the occasion … taskmaster, contractor, landscaper, housekeeper … everyone turns into Lucy & Ethel paperhangers! Who knew there was so much to do around the house!

According to Statista, a company that provides insights into some 170 industries worldwide, reported in August that U.S. retail sales saw a sharp rebound in May and continued to recover in June and July from the historic slump brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furniture retailers have seen an uptick in sales during the pandemic, especially home-office furniture.

Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show total retail and food services sales amounted to $536 billion in July, up 1.2 percent over June and 2.7 percent over last year’s July figure. That follows an 8.4 percent month-over-month increase in June and that latest increase puts retail sales back on its pre-pandemic trajectory.

According to housewares industry news source Homeworld Business, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the mass-market furniture business and that continues to drive unprecedented sales.

Charlie Swearingen with Lily Flagg Furniture said sales have increased significantly since the store reopened in May after an eight-week closure from mid-March through April.

“Our problem now is getting furniture in from the manufacturers,” he said. “We have our own warehousing so our customers have always known they can buy right off the floor and we can quickly restock from our warehouse.

“But sales have been so good, we have sold and replenished most of what we usually have in the warehouse and manufacturers are telling us it will be three to six months before we will get certain items from them. Customers don’t want to wait that long.”

Miranda Jackson has been with Huntsville’s La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery for 15 years and she said they are facing the same dilemma.

“We were only closed for about four weeks in April, but we have seen a tremendous upsurge in living room and dining room furniture and rockers,” she said. “Now we are low on stock on a lot of popular items and out of stock on rockers, which is one of our best-selling items.”

She said their rocker manufacturer has resumed production, but they are backlogged so they are telling stores to expect a minimum 110-day wait.

Swearingen says during normal times, three factors drive furniture sales: building or buying a new house, downsizing, and the desire for change. But he believes staying at home and stimulus checks have driven some of the pandemic upsurge.

Several Huntsville furniture retailers report surges in home office furniture as well.

According to Homeworld Business, the office furniture market is set to grow by $22.32 billion during the 2019 to 2023 period, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of almost 6 percent during the forecast period.

Electronics Express manager Priestley Thomas said the pandemic put its store in Jones Valley on the map.

“Electronics and appliances were deemed essential, so we did not close, however the big box names did close or had limited hours and access based on blanket corporate decisions,” he said. “That was excellent for us as a small business and a lot of people who did not know we are here have become regular customers.”

Sales of home freezers have been “phenomenal.”

He said computer and home freezer sales have been phenomenal.

“People realized their home computers were not sufficient for what they needed to work at home,” Thomas said. “Between that and kids needing computers for home schooling, we have sold more computers and home freezers in the months since the pandemic than we have sold since we opened.”

Freezers?

“In the early days of the pandemic, people were worried about food shortages, so they were buying up a lot of meat and frozen foods and needing freezers in which to store it,” Thomas said. “We sold freezers to people who has never had a freezer before.”

According to the National Retail Federation, just over half of retail categories saw month-over-month gains and three-quarters saw year-over-year increases with electronics and appliance stores up 22.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

The numbers coincide with what Thomas reported locally.

The biggest monthly gain came at electronics and appliance stores, which are selling more computers for home offices and online learning, along with more appliances associated with home improvement spending and higher home sales.

Another area where Huntsville retailers are reporting high pandemic sales is in lawn, gardening, and landscaping.

Home gardens have seen a surge during the pandemic.

Randy Cobbler, store manager for TriGreen Equipment, said home mowers and trimmers have been big sellers during the pandemic but it may be surprising to hear that hand-held tillers are far and away in the greatest demand. So much, Cobbler said, the store has run out its stock and can’t find any available with surrounding dealers, either.

“There is nothing like a pandemic to make people start thinking about the food supply and food shortages,” said Cobbler. “Farm-grown food would be essential in that case and a lot of people started planting vegetable gardens, some for the first time. A tiller is essential to planting vegetables and we have a lot of people, especially ladies, calling us because they discovered they need one.”

The NRF sales figures differ from Census Bureau figures because they exclude automotive, gasoline stations and restaurants to focus more on core retail. Those retail figures showed July up 1 percent seasonally adjusted from June, but the July numbers showed a trend. The numbers were up 7.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year on a three-month moving average and up 4.7 percent for the first seven months of the year.

What are the blues for consumers can be good news for retailers!

Banking Industry Sees Digital, Mobile Services Increase During Pandemic

With the onset of the global pandemic, businesses rolled up their collective sleeves and grimly faced the arduous task of shifting gears.

And financial institutions quickly found themselves in the spotlight. When it comes to continued access to money, whether it be a loan, savings, or one’s paycheck, everyone feels the effect when that access is hindered.

The banking industry with its customers faced technological hurdles and economic hardships. But banks stepped up with solutions to protect their customers and employees as well as keeping themselves insulated against financial catastrophe – such as the crash of 2008.

“The current COVID pandemic focused a spotlight on the importance of providing uninterrupted services to all customers, including, personal, business and government,” said Tim Singleton, senior commercial lending manager for Bank Independent. “In many ways, the banking industry became hyper-vigilant preparing for multiple unknown economic factors.”

If one thing is certain, COVID-19 has been an accelerant for increased consumer usage of digital banking technologies.

Although most banks were already invested in digitalized and mobile banking services, the pandemic quickly prompted many of non-to-low-end digital users into the age of mobile banking.

Many banks, which had mobile banking tools and were already maintaining digital relationships with customers, had to quickly adjust to a sudden increase in demand for mobile services.

According to data collected by Fidelity National Information Services, April 15, 2020 witnessed a 145 percent spike in the average daily traffic for mobile banking platforms, as compared with the March’s numbers. Along with the uptick in traffic, new registrations for mobile banking apps jumped 207 percent.

“Wells Fargo has seen increased digital and mobile logins, mobile deposit volume, checks deposited using mobile devices and online wire transfers since COVID-19 started,” said Stephen Norris, regional bank president for Wells Fargo. “All of this translated into more digital banking access and transactions than ever before.”

For Wells Fargo, those numbers are significant when compared 2019’s second quarter statistics. For April 2020, digital logins were up 21.5 percent, mobile deposit dollar volume was up 108.3 percent, and online wires transactions were up 49.6 percent. There were also 31.7 million checks deposited using mobile devices, which was a 35.9 increase over a year ago.

Naturally, there were learning curves and the need for increased bandwidth capacity.

“Our IT department ensured an uninterrupted workflow for our team members who suddenly found themselves working remotely,” said Singleton. “The robust features built into Sync Mobile and Online found popularity with our customers.”

Bank Independent’s loan processing teams shifted gears by using the digital signature platform, in lieu of traditional signatures to close documents.

Since the pandemic exploded, customers have significantly changed how they do their banking. According to an FIS survey, 45 percent of consumers said they started using some form of mobile wallet following the pandemic’s onset. Once comfortable with usage, it is seen as another option, in addition to the face-to-face banking.

However, there are customers who prefer the return of “brick and mortar” banking.

“I think the industry will scramble to find the balance between digital and personal,” said Singleton. “Our customers have voiced their desire for things to return to ‘normal.’

“We have a plan in place that will accommodate our customers in a manner that is safe and secure for both the customer and our team members.”

 

 

 

Year-to-Date: Huntsville Area has Seen More Than $1 Billion in New Capital Investment and 850 New Jobs

Did someone say there is an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, the facts on the ground do not bear that out here, according to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. 

“With COVID-19, this has certainly been a challenging year, but in spite of all that is happening, Huntsville still continues to see job growth in all parts of our City,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “Whether it’s Torch Technologies in South Huntsville, Dynetics in Cummings Research Park, or TriRx in Chase Industrial Park, there are buildings going up and sites being delivered.

“When you combine that with the ongoing work at North Huntsville Industrial Park with Facebook and Toyota and the numerous projects at Mazda Toyota, it’s a remarkable statement to the resiliency of the Huntsville market and its industries.”

Year-to-date economic growth figures show the Huntsville metropolitan region has accrued more than $1 billion in capital investments from new commercial projects, company expansions, and from companies that have increased the scope of previously announced projects in 2020. That growth will also result in 852 new jobs across the region.

“Throughout 2020, Madison County and Huntsville have continued the work in bringing new and innovative business and industry to our community while also supporting expansions among our industry partners,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “Our diverse economy continues to be robust year after year. With a focus on workforce development the future of the Rocket City and Redstone Arsenal will continue to drive the economy of Alabama and southern Tennessee.”

The bulk of the growth will come from four large Huntsville company projects and four smaller, but significant, projects this year. However, due to coronavirus restrictions limiting celebratory groundbreakings, grand openings and open house events, many of these projects have been operating under the public radar.

“We want to celebrate every expansion, but this year, it has been challenging to do that in a safe way,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development. “These companies are important to our community and to the people they employ, and we want to recognize their growth.” 

Rendering shows the Freedom-Torch-Invariant facility from the south parking lot.

Torch Technologies leads with $32.3 million in investment on two recent expansion projects that will bring 120 new jobs to Huntsville. 

First announced in April 2018, Torch has completed its Technology Integration and Prototyping Center (TIPC) with two-story office space and an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility at the corner of Chris Drive and Vermont Road in South Huntsville. Constructed by its sister company, Freedom Real Estate & Capital, the center includes a 35,000 square-foot lab and solutions facility.

According to board member and Torch President & CEO John Watson the new facility will allow Torch to take on projects of greater complexity.

“These projects will range from developing instruments that will completely change how warhead testing is accomplished, to re-engineering products that protect our nation,” Watson said.

The second Torch expansion is part of a partnership with the Invariant, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company founded in 2001. 

Invariant President David Anderson: “We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.” (Rendering/Invariant)

Invariant is investing $430,000 in a 92,000 square-foot facility as part of a mixed-use facility being built by Freedom in South Huntsville. 

The facility will consist of office, research, development, and manufacturing space. They quietly broke ground in May and expect the facility to be complete by next summer. Invariant’s growth will produce 23 new jobs.

“We are excited to grow and expand into this new facility that will provide our employees the resources needed to ensure quality services and products are delivered to our customers,” said Invariant President David Anderson. “We are proud to be a part of Huntsville’s continuing success. We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.”

Japan-based freight and logistics provider Nippon Express USA will invest $19.1 million in its location on the campus of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. over the next two years. They expect to hire more than 100 employees over that period.

After being acquired by Leidos in January, Dynetics will add up to 200 jobs associated with weapon development work, and has hired hundreds of people this year in support of the Human Landing System and other projects. The expansion brings the company’s local employment to 2,740. 

Those four expansions represent a total of 510 new jobs and $71 million in investment.

Four more companies, Aldez, TriRx Pharmaceuticals, Palco Telecommunications and Ridgeview Industries have also significantly expanded in Huntsville.

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company and has a new facility near the sprawling Mazda Toyota Manufacturing facility. (Photo/Aldez)

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company with a focus on the automotive industry. Its operations in the SouthPoint Business Park, a couple of miles from the Mazda Toyota plant, will provide maintenance, repair and operations crib management and distribution center services for the MTMUS facility.

“This new, state-of-the-art facility is a strategic move that will allow us to serve MTMUS manufacturing’s newest automotive facility in Huntsville, Limestone County, and enable further growth with their supplier base,” said Aldez COO Mike Byrne. 

“These economic development projects have changed the future of our county by their investments and job creation,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “The opportunities provided to our community through these projects will have a lasting impact for years to come.”

TriRx Pharmaceutical Services celebrated its one-year anniversary in Huntsville in May. According to Timothy C. Tyson, chairman and CEO, the Huntsville Liquids, Creams and Ointments Facility has grown from a small number of employees to more than 250 people as of June. 

“We would like to thank our employees, our customers, and our community for their amazing support,” said Tyson. “We continue to be focused on and dedicated to the patients we serve. This has been an exciting year accented by growth with a passion for delivering on our commitment to our customers. And we have just begun.”

Palco Telecommunications, a post-sales supply chain management company started in Huntsville in 1986; and Ridgeview Industries, Inc., a metal stamping and welded assemblies’ manufacturer for automotive OEM, have also among the announced expansions in Huntsville.

“It is exciting to see these quality organizations continuing to grow, building off of their previous successes and adding even more jobs in our community,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I am excited about the opportunities these companies bring for our region as we continue to grow together.” 

Contenders for 2020 Small Business of the Year Announced

More than 160 businesses and individuals are in contention for top honors at the 35th annual Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Small Business of the Year Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 20 event will be a virtual presentation. It will be from 4-6 p.m. and fees are $25 for individual members and $50 for individual nonmembers.

The categories and contenders are:

Culinary Business of the Year

Emerging Business of the Year

Local “Creative” of the Year

Government Contracting: Professional Services of the Year

Government Contracting: Technology Business of the Year

Medical Practice of the Year

Nonprofit of the Year

Professional Services Business of the Year

Retailer of the Year

Service Business of the Year

Technology Business of the Year

Woman-Owned Business of the Year

Young Professional of the Year

Russell G Brown Executive Leadership Award

Construction of Mixed-Use Development on Governors Drive Set for Early 2021

Developers of a mixed-use “I-565 gateway” to Huntsville’s Westside have released a preliminary rendering of the project and anticipate a “first quarter 2021” construction start.

Preliminary rendering of the planned mixed-use development on Governors Drive in Huntsville’s Westside. (The Beach Company)

The property, some 13 acres of land on Governors Drive near the intersections with 13th and 14th streets, will be developed by The Beach Company, a Charleston, S.C.-based development company.

The multibuilding community will feature 342 multifamily units, including 14 townhomes; 9,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space; and 48,000 square feet of Class A office space.

Residential amenities will include a pool, a fitness area, a clubhouse and ample green space with a dog park.

The planned project will complement the neighboring Stovehouse complex and will feature pedestrian walkways between the two developments.

“This community addition will help continue the momentum of growth along Governors Drive through increased walkability and connectivity,” said Ned Miller, development manager with The Beach Company. “The project was thoughtfully designed to enhance the experience of the growing number of residents and businesses expanding to Huntsville’s flourishing Westside.”

Regions Grant Gives KTECH’s Virtual Reality Workforce Initiative Real-Life Implications

Virtual reality goes real-time at KTECH thanks to a $42,000 grant from the Regions Foundation, the nonprofit initiative of Regions Bank. The money will fund virtual reality equipment for KTECH’s new Virtual Reality Workforce Development Training initiative.

Founder and CEO Lee Marshall formed KTECH as the workforce training and development arm of her Kids to Love Foundation. Because workforce readiness is a top priority for Regions Bank, its initiatives naturally align with KTECH.

“It has never been more important to connect with people wherever they are,” said Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation. “That’s exactly what VR does, and what KTECH is doing. This is about empowering students with new tools to help them prepare for successful and rewarding careers.”

The grant is an extension of Region’s work to prepare people in Huntsville and Madison County for advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs.

KTECH introduced the use of virtual reality technology this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a 3D Virtual Tour recruitment tool. Students were able to explore KTECH’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) facilities while living under stay-at-home orders.

It introduced a new way of seeing what KTECH is about and gave virtual viewers an up-close look at instructors demonstrating how the equipment works. It also shows the instructors conducting KTECH training, so it puts the student right there in the workplace and classroom.

KTECH has been on the edge of innovation. It targets foster kids who have aged out of the foster care system, and also is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills, including veterans.

They offer hands-on, interactive, one-on-one instruction and certification training in mechatronics, robotics, soldering and solid edge modeling. All four skills are in high demand in the advanced manufacturing industry.

After students receive their certification, KTECH connects its graduates with good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Now VR is incorporated into the Mechatronics classes, further enhancing the student’s classroom experience in preparation for future careers.

VR technology creates a 3D simulated environment that prepares students for a range of vocational and tech-based careers. Students can both learn a STEAM skill and experience the job environment in which they will find themselves upon completion. It supplements in-person training with remote learning from anywhere.

“Students use VR headsets to experience face-to-face interactions with realistic avatars for a more immersive experience in learning than workers have ever been able to do before,” said Marshall. “During COVID-19, we knew we had to pivot to propel our students forward, and Virtual Reality was the obvious choice.

“Cutting-edge virtual reality technology is used throughout KTECH and helps students pursue self-guided discovery in areas such as mechatronics, hands-on skills development, and more.”

According to several career-oriented websites, VR is ranked in the top five fastest growing technology careers, alongside cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“We are thankful the Regions Foundation sees how this Virtual Reality technology will advance our KTECH students,” said Marshall. “Putting state-of-the-art technology into the palm of a student’s hand, no matter where they are, is critical to the learning and workforce training process. Adapting and expanding digital offerings allows KTECH to grow in a ‘post-COVID’ world, preparing the workforce of the future.”

Sean Kelly, Huntsville market executive for Regions Bank. said, as the local economy recovers from COVID-19, more companies will discover the positive workforce climate available in Huntsville.

“KTECH and the Virtual Reality program will serve as important components to the success of the Tennessee Valley,” said Kelly. “We all benefit – individuals, businesses and communities – when we ensure the workforce is trained, prepared and ready to succeed.”