Thrift Store with a Twist: Greater Huntsville Humane Society Store Relocating

For 51 years and counting, the Greater Huntsville Humane Society has continuously grown to meet the needs of the community’s animal population.

In her first year as CEO, Anne Caldwell is taking GHHS to the next level with a new business model and relocating the Thrift Store while expanding animal service capacity at the shelter.

The new thrift store opening is slated for late summer, early fall. The current store was supposed to reopen June 16. However that has been delayed due to COVID19 and staffing issues.

Before the big move even begins, Caldwell hopes to sell off as much inventory as possible in hopes of recouping some of the revenue missed during the COVID-19 shutdown, along with reducing the amount of merchandise left to be hauled crosstown.

At 10,000 square feet, the location on Pratt Avenue will be more than double the space of the current shop. In addition to selling gently used merchandise, Caldwell has plans for expanding retail sales and hosting community events.

“What we’re trying to do with the new store at the new location, is to create something unique,” said Caldwell. “It will be a hybrid of what people would expect out of a thrift store mixed in with a gift shop.

“I think we are missing out on a pretty big opportunity by not selling merchandise that’s branded specifically to the Humane Society; t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers

“Then, taking that idea one step further and carrying a few brand-new things, like pet clothes or toys. Things that people are going to think of around the holidays when they are searching for the perfect gift for the pet lover in their family.”

Caldwell’s plans include going well beyond the traditional thrift store business model. She hopes to host events, such as trunk shows and pop-up shops.

Additionally, she wants to feature local artists.

“I want to have different ways to really engage with our community and support local artists, local makers, and in turn support our pets,” said Caldwell. “It’s going to be very unique to the area, but I think it’s going to be very well-received.”

The store’s move is not just about facility expansion, it’s also about expanding capacity and providing services for animals that wouldn’t have anywhere else to go because of a contagious illness or disease.

“In addition to this cool, unique, innovative new spot that we’re creating for the store, we’re also leaving behind 4,000 square feet on site that we can now use for animal care,” said Caldwell. “That’s not only going to increase our physical capacity, but it’s also going to allow us to do a lot more than what we’re currently doing. Having that extra space in our backyard will allow us to have a proper isolation unit and a quarantine unit.”

Caldwell hopes the new thrift store will foster a welcoming experience yet remain true to the GHHS mission.

“We’ll make sure to have featured dogs and adoption events,” said Caldwell. “It’s going to be very clear that this store is not just a gift shop, it is an integral part of the Greater Huntsville Humane Society.”

With this new elevated breed of thrift store, Caldwell hopes to also enhance the perception of animal shelters and shelter pets.

“Shelters get a bad rep and I think sometimes, the public thinks of them as loud, chaotic, and dirty and all the dogs are just strays,” said Caldwell. “These preconceived notions are things that I tackle in every aspect of our operations.

“Huntsville is growing so fast, there are so many people here that are not originally from here. So even though the Humane Society has been around for over 50 years now, we are still encountering people who have never heard of us. That leads us to a really great opportunity to rebrand and capture a new demographic of people.”

Phat Sammy’s Brings a Polynesian Vibe to Downtown Huntsville

Phat Sammy’s opening day was March 18, right when COVID-19 was taking the world by storm.

As people were grimly preparing for the inevitable shutdown, Phat Sammy’s four owners braced for the uncertainty.

Adaptability just happens to be one of their core competencies. With 3 1/2 years of operating as a traveling pop-up dining experience, Team Phat was already adept at quickly shifting gears and adjusting to the unexpected. They just rolled with the punches and have kept rolling.

Phat Sammy’s location at 104 Jefferson Street is not super obvious.

At street level, there’s nothing to see, nothing giving it away. No signs. The windows are heavily tinted and there’s a doorbell; something that was installed during the pandemic and is likely here to stay. If you walk past it, you’re liable to collide into the ever-popular official “bird” of downtown Huntsville, the crane. Construction is everywhere and red clay footprints smudge the sidewalk in front of the building.

A hint that coolness lurks in the midst is provided by the large metal pineapple just above the entrance. Almost glass-like, this exquisite gem by Micah Gregg at Drop Metal is backlit at night by green LEDs, thus creating an aura of the exotic.

Once downstairs at basement level, that’s where the magic happens. Adorning a long stretch of wall is a bright, colorful mural by local artist Logan Tanner. And there’s an iconic, grass-edged Tiki bar.

The food and beverages are as colorful as they are tasty. It’s like a Polynesian getaway – right in the heart of downtown.

Phat Sammy’s managing partners are Nick Quinn, Josh Beverly, and the two Jeremys: Executive Chef Jeremy Esterly and Beverage Director Jeremy Concepcion. The foursome bring a diverse repertoire of talent and Tiki to the table.

The K-Mac is an international festival of flavor on a bun.

Historically, the Tiki concept is laced with mystery and romanticism, conjuring imagery of the exotic and lands far away. In 1933, Don’s Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant In Hollywood, Calif., officially ushered in what we commonly refer to as Tiki culture.

Phat Sammy’s is a delightful combination of modern Tiki Bar meets Eastern Asia inspiration. The entrees and cocktails go far beyond the everyday, with menu items such as the “K-Mac,” a double cheeseburger with kimchi bacon and egg on a Canadian bacon brioche bun.

Drinks with tongue-in-cheek names such as “Not a Painkiller,” “Sammy’s Pet Flamingo” and “Jungle Bird” are served up in fancy Tiki-inspired mugs, complete with flowers, fresh fruit, and a cocktail umbrella.

There’s a sign on the wall that sums it up: “For us, Tiki means no limits. Our creativity is allowed to grow under an umbrella of culture that craves for experimentation of flavor. Tiki creates an experience where you get to escape the fast-pace lives we live to kick back, grab a cocktail, and just chill.”

 

Through Faith and Perseverance, Couple Holds Madison’s First Post-Shutdown Ribbon-cutting

MADISON — It was the first grand opening and ribbon-cutting event in Madison since before the COVID-19 related shutdowns in March.

The Say Ahh dental practice holds Madison’s first post-pandemic ribbon-cutting. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Madison Mayor Paul Finley and the Madison Chamber of Commerce were on hand for the opening of Say Ahh! Family and Cosmetic Dentistry on U.S. 72 at Nance Road.

Dr. Joyce Bellamy and her husband, Michael, had business ventures in the works when the shutdowns began.

They had procured the location for her dental practice last summer and began hard-core renovations of the storefront in December that transformed the space into a luxurious, high-tech dental facility with an inhouse lab for making their own crowns.

They were right on schedule for a March grand opening when just days before their scheduled ribbon-cutting, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the first stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael was slated to become a professor at the Decatur campus of Calhoun Community College but that is on hold while Calhoun works through its plans for holding classes this fall.

He was also launching his Bags to Briefcase Business Consulting Group when the pandemic struck. He had to put some of his motivational speaking engagements on hold as all large gatherings have been cancelled.

“It was a full year of work and we were devastated, but God has His reasons,” said Dr. Bellamy during the delayed ribbon-cutting and open house earlier this week. “Michael has been working on his doctorate and was about to launch his Bags to Briefcases consulting business in unison with our opening Say Ahh!, but God had a different plan for us.”

The couple held an opening prayer and official dedication ceremony for the open house.

“Any event that starts with prayer, especially with everything that is going on today is so welcomed,” said Finley. “To have a new family business opening up and investing in our city is exciting and on behalf of our city council and the Chamber of Commerce, we wish you success, we are glad you are here, and we are appreciative of your investment.”

State-of-the-art equipment allows chairside ceramic restorations. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Dr. Bellamy is a Huntsville native and honors graduate from Oakwood University. She received a Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry where she was appointed clinical adjunct professor in the Department of Caries, Restorative Sciences, and Endodontics. She returned to Huntsville where she has practiced dentistry for the past eight years.

The newly renovated facility with its exposed ceilings and bright open-air feel was designed by Huntsville designer Marc Nixon of Marc Nixon Couture, whom Dr. Bellamy describes as her best friend since age seven.

“I wanted it to be nice and comfortable for our patients with a modern design,” Said Dr. Bellamy. “I gave Marc a basic idea of what I was looking for, which is clean, classy, and elegant, but it came out beyond my wildest dreams.”

One guest at the grand opening commented, “This doesn’t look like any dentist’s office I have ever been to!”

The practice will have two to three dentists in addition to Dr. Bellamy. It has an operatory office and unexpanded function rooms with an in-house lab where Say Ahh! can fabricate ceramic restorations such as inlays, crowns, and veneers chairside.

Say Ahh! will welcome its irst patients June 8 and Dr. Bellamy said they will adhere to all OSHA and CDC specifications. Personal protective equipment is worn at all times in treating patients and they have a safe practice system in place as they focus on the cutting edge of the dentistry industry.

“We have some very exciting services on the horizon, and I hope within the next three to six months, we will be doing some major expansions and bringing some really cool things into the practice,” said Dr. Bellamy. “We offer relaxation sedation and accept all types of insurance with specials for people without dental insurance like free examinations.”

Michael Bellamy will be managing all aspects of the practice including marketing and communications for the near future. The shutdown affected his immediate plans as well.

Michael discussed his motivation behind Bags to Briefcases.

“My mother was a teacher and my father military, but they wanted me to have a Christian education,” he said. “There was a lot of sacrifice involved in keeping me in private Christian school, so when I was young, every year I got two trash bags full of neatly pressed hand-me-down clothes from my church.

“As I grew up, I became a counselor and was involved in the Boys Clubs and pastored in Michigan for many years. Everybody starts somewhere and with every experience, there is an elevation, a transition from where you started. Along the way, people put things in that bag to help you move forward – anything from a nice suit of clothes for an interview to helpful nuggets like maintaining good grades and treating people how you want to be treated. It becomes your portfolio in life and your keys to success.”

 

Sitdown with Success: Straight to Ale’s Bruce Weddendorf

(Sitdown with Success is a regular feature of the Huntsville Business Journal on entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s subject is Bruce Weddendorf who helped revolutionize the craft-brewing industry in Huntsville and the state.)

Just four short weeks before COVID- 19 became everyone’s daily reality, Huntsville City Mayor Tommy Battle proclaimed Feb. 14 as Straight to Ale Day.

Bruce Weddendorf stands in the Straight to Ale stockroom, a converted gym at the former Stone Middle School. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The Valentine’s Day proclamation came on the heels of a recent accolade from RateBeer, naming the Huntsville brewery the “2019 Best Brewer in Alabama.” And what an honor it was: Five times in six years, Straight to Ale has earned the title.

Going far beyond its local and state popularity, Straight to Ale has become a nationally recognized product, as well as a hang out. The taproom is a prime destination location for out-of-town visitors.

It’s that kind of comfy place where old friends gather over a pint, business folk network and new connections are forged.

Getting its start in 2009, Straight to Ale has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the small, 500-square-foot production facility at Lincoln Mill.

In spring 2011, Straight To Ale took up residence in the former Olde Towne Brewery on Leeman Ferry Road. Still operating as a production venture, the passing of the Brewery Modernization Act in fall 2011 that included taprooms, was a business model game-changer.

Once the taproom was added, operations expanded to host a wide assortment of special events. Every night was a party of some sort and, by 2014, Straight to Ale was bursting at the seams.

School’s out forever! By summer 2016, Straight to Ale became the anchor tenant at Campus No. 805, formerly  Stone Middle School, which was a part of the West Huntsville redevelopment initiative.

In its spacious, 45,000-square-foot facility, Straight to Ale has plenty to offer. There’s the taproom with more than 20 taps of Straight To Ale brews. The beer names are uniquely memorable, such as “Monkeynaut,” and “Unobtainium.” STA Operations Manager Matt Broadhurst creates the quirky label art that’s poster worthy and unforgettable.

Having a reception, business meeting or a party? There are five special event rental spaces. There’s also a small retail shop that sells STA merchandise.

For dining, there’s Ale’s Kitchen, serving up items from a variety of cultures, all made from scratch.

Bruce Weddendorf, his wife Jo, and business partners Dan Perry and Colin Austin were the trailblazers on this first wave of local craft beer; frontrunners with the taproom concept.

The idea behind Straight to Ale was to make Huntsville more fun! “We wanted to provide a product that was uniquely Huntsville,” said Weddendorf. “To get people -all kinds of people- together over beer.”

Before 2009, there wasn’t a craft beer segment to the beer market. Free the Hops paved the way by helping to pass the Gourmet Beer Bill. That was the first industry game-changer. When they helped to pass the taproom laws two years later, it completely changed Straight to Ale’s business model.

“The thing is, we really didn’t know what it would do, we didn’t understand at the time how big a part of our lives it was going to become because we were still very much a manufacturing business,” said Weddendorf. “It (the taproom) made it so much better, so much easier to reach customers and to make bonds with those customers.”

Since 2011, Alabama has gone from seven craft breweries to 45 in 2019. The passing of the Gourmet Beer Bill and Taproom law had the one-two punch effect of creating a new industry and adapting the brewery business model from strictly production to a business that encompassed hospitality and retail, too.

Straight to Ale’s Bruce Weddendorf is climbing the ladder to success in the craft beer industry. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“We grew from being just manufacturing-oriented to becoming part of the hospitality industry,” said Weddendorf. “That wasn’t something we planned, but it’s been tremendously beneficial to our business and beneficial to Huntsville.”

There remains to be challenges; but challenges are something that Weddendorf sees as something to go over, go under, go around, or break the walls down. Until the recent pandemic, home alcohol delivery wasn’t an issue nor was it on the radar.

“It was something that we hadn’t noticed until COVID-19,” said Weddendorf.

Despite the current business climate and the obstacles associated with COVID 19, Straight to Ale recently completed a merger with the Tuscaloosa-based Druid City Brewing. The idea was to help Druid City bring their great beers statewide to and to expand their fun, yet tiny taproom and brewery.

And it’s been a win-win.

“This has been a great relationship and it benefited everyone,” said Weddendorf. “We are very glad that we were fortunate enough to be able to make this deal.”

Straight to Ale provides the place and the experience where people can come to relax.

“It’s all kinds of people and everyone has the beer in common; the beer and the desire to be with other people,” said Weddendorf. “It’s amazing to touch the friendships, the business relationships, and all kinds of important connections and networking that come out of this place. And that is very satisfying to see; that type of success where we’re really influencing a lot of people’s lives, we’re making their lives better.

“We’re giving them somewhere to connect with other people and it’s beneficial to the community, so I’m really proud of that.”

 

Independent Radio Voices Facing Budget Struggles to inform Listeners

If Wes Neighbors is reading the tea leaves correctly, independently owned local radio stations might have a bright future if the coronavirus doesn’t cause much more financial headache.

Neighbors, a financial consultant by trade, owns 97.7 The Zone that carries sports talk and live events such as Auburn football, UAH basketball, and high school games. He said the trend he sees is moving in favor of local content.

“I’m finding that people are ready to go back to the local shows,’’ said Neighbors, who also co-hosts The Drive with Steve Moulton weekdays from 5-7 p.m. “They want to hear their contemporaries on the air. I almost think it’s going in that direction.’’

In addition to 97.7 there are three other locally owned radio stations in Huntsville: Mix 96.9, owned by Penny Nielsen; WEUP-FM 103.1 and 1700-AM, owned by Hundley Batts Sr. and his wife Dr. Virginia Capers; and WTKI 105.3-FM and 1450-AM, owned by Fred Holland.

“It’s been a learning experience,’’ said Neighbors, a stockbroker by trade. “I thought I’d do a show two to three months and here I am.’’

Holland of WTKI is also an on-air personality and is the longest-serving talk show host in North Alabama with his first program airing on the station in 1992.

According to the station’s website, his 6-8 a.m. show “Talk Radio for Real Life’’ is “the evolution of talk radio from merely debating political theory to offering a vehicle for solutions to life challenges.’’

Holland had stints at other stations. He even did sales for two years.

But the urge to get back behind the microphone was too great and he took a show on WVNN. In 2010, he thought owning a station sounded good.

“I kept driving by this place (WTKI) and decided to make an offer,’’ he said. “They took it.’’

With three employees, including himself, and one part-timer, Holland said he’s a jack-of-all-trades at the station. But, he’s still going strong at 68 years old.

“I got the bug when I lived in Ottawa (Ontario),’’ he said. “The voice of the Rough Riders, Ernie Calcutt, he lived down the street. He gave me a tour of the station and I was hooked.’’

Holland said one of the biggest challenges of operating independently is his staffing budget. The station has just three employees, including himself, and one part-timer.

“Anything that needs to be done, like replacing the toilet paper roll, I’m the one who has to do it,’’ he said.

   Batts is the “Old Pro’’ among the local owners. He and his wife, Dr. Virginia Capers, bought WEUP — the state’s first black-owned station — in 1987. The couple has since added two more AM and one FM stations.

WEUP began broadcasting as a 100-watt AM station in 1958 from a trailer on the grounds of Syler Tabernacle Church with a mix of gospel, sermons, news, and rhythm and blues. It now broadcasts 25,000 watts from its building on Jordan Lane.

Batts, who also owns the Hundley Batts and Associates Insurance Agency, was inducted into the Alabama Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2019.

“I’m excited that someone would even put my name in as a candidate because I know the ABA does its research before they even give you a ‘hello,’ ’’ Hundley told the ABA at his induction. “So, I’m just tickled pink.’’

Neighbors said other than his relative lack of experience — he’s owned the station for just one year — budgeting is also a concern as it is for all independent stations. And not just during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home order that recently was lifted.

“I would think one difficulty is the economics of scale,’’ Neighbors said. “If you’re a major station, there are deals you can make. If you’re with Cumulus you can get Tennessee football through Learfield and Learfield also has Alabama football. They might not have to pay as much for one or the other.’’

Another hurdle independents have to jump is they get very little advertising outside of the city from where they broadcast.

“We get some sales out of Guntersville and some out of Scottsboro and of course we love having those people,’’ Neighbors said from his downtown office not far from WTKI’s studio. “But our majority of sales come from a probably 10-mile radius of where I’m sitting right now.’’

In the midst of the pandemic, his station has lost some sales and has seen an economic downturn that mirrors the market — 35 percent from mid-March until the re-opening. He also said the station was working with advertisers during the current financial crises, his staff brainstormed ideas so they “wouldn’t have to talk about the virus every day,’’ and that some sponsors have “stepped up.’’

While acknowledging it was “hard to make money when there are no sports’’ Neighbors said his staff put in the necessary work to keep things moving forward.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve done well,’’ he said, “but I’m pleasantly surprised.’’

 

 

 

Ben Porter Realty is now Redstone Family Realty

Ben Porter Realty, a long-standing real estate agency, has been purchased by a subsidiary of Redstone Federal Credit Union and is now Redstone Family Realty.

Redstone Family Realty joins RFCU’s network of real estate services: Redstone Family Realty, Redstone Mortgage Services and Redstone Title Services LLC.

“Selling or buying a home is one of the most important financial decisions that we make in our lifetimes,’’ said Joe Newberry, RFCU’s President and CEO. “We are already helping members with mortgages and with their title services, this new business unit makes sure they have the best experience possible from start to finish,’’ he said.

Redstone membership is required to secure a home loan; but not to utilize the services of the title company or the real estate agency.

Ben Porter’s Realtors and agents are now with Redstone Family Realty and continue to operate offices in Huntsville, Madison and Decatur. The newly formed agency provides agents, buyers and sellers with the latest technology and techniques through its affiliation with ERA.

Todd Howard, president of Redstone Family Realty and Redstone Title Services, said it’s exciting to think about all the benefits and savings people will enjoy when they use these services together.

“It’s an absolute game-changer for the Tennessee Valley in regards to real estate,’’ Howard said. “It’s a solid business model that is built on the reputation and integrity of two time-tested organizations: Redstone Federal Credit Union and Ben Porter Realty.’’

 

Huntsville Receives Donations from Booz Allen Hamilton Pandemic Resilience Program

Huntsville will receive a $50,000 donation to the Food Bank of North Alabama, and numerous other donations from Booz Allen Hamilton, as part of the company’s national $100 million pandemic resilience program in support of its employees and the communities where those employees live and work.

Huntsville is one of 10 cities to receive these funds out of the $1 million national donation to Feeding America’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Shirley Schofield, executive director of the Food Bank of North Alabama, said she is grateful for the donation on behalf of the 11 counties and network of 250 food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehabilitation centers who partner to provide food to those in need.

“This is a tremendous gift for our community,” Schofield said. “This is funding that will go straight into the community and help feed many people and families affected by the current crisis.

“Generally, we are able to convert every $1 into seven meals, so if you do the math on that, it is a lot of food coming into this community thanks to Booz Allen Hamilton, and we are very appreciative of that.”

Her organization has seen a tremendous increase in the need for food since the shutdown ensued.

“Since March 15, we have provided almost a million meals to people in need, and every day, we hear from someone who has never had to seek assistance before,” she said. “They have worked full time but got laid off and they have not yet received their unemployment benefits.”

Another of those programs help families who count on the free lunch and breakfast programs at schools, who are feeling the pressure to accommodate two more meals a day for their children since the school system has moved to online classes from home.

“We have a lot of partnerships that work together to provide meals to all those kids, and we are one of the main suppliers of food for that,” said Schofield.

Huntsville Chamber’s A Smart Place Digital STEM Learning Hub

Booz Allen Hamilton also made a $15,000 donation to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s digital STEM learning hub A Smart Place, which is being used by students and teachers as part of the remote-learning system. With city and county schools having moved to daily online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the donation is timely to say the least.

Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president of company’s Army business in Huntsville, is on the board of directors for the  Chamber of Commerce. He said the $15,000 donation to the Chamber’s Smart Place will significantly boost local schools’ laptop loaner program and access to Wi-Fi.

“This goes directly to one of the problems we see due to the unexpected shutdown of the schools,” he said. “I think it was pretty timely and right in line with what is expected of technology companies, and it has helped too with planning for the future to keep education moving forward.”

Local Support for Emergency Response and Front-Line Health Care

Booz Allen made a $1 million donation to the national CDC Foundation and Huntsville’s portion of that money will go directly to support local emergency response priorities such as staffing and helping front line health care workers during this critical time.

Furthermore, in partnership with the independent Booz Allen Foundation, the company has committed at least $10 million in assistance to local communities across the U.S. in the form of cash donations, grants, volunteer hours, pro-bono work, and technology to help military families, veterans, front line healthcare workers and those who are most vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly and homeless.

In addition to the initial funding, Booz Allen Hamilton is also exploring pro-bono, skills-based, and general volunteerism efforts in Huntsville.

COVID-19 Military Support Initiative

With the Army being the preponderance of the 225 people Booz Allen Hamilton employs on Redstone Arsenal, followed by the FBI and to a lesser extent, NASA, Huntsville will also see the impact of more than $1 million in donations to the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative, which supports veterans and military families during this unprecedented time.

The initiative is another slice of the $100 million pie, some of which will be routed to Huntsville to tackle employee health issues, provides an increase in the general benefit for employees, and offers flexibility for support services distributed through charitable donations.

Guaranteed Employment Until July 1

“On top of all of this, the big takeaway is that Booz Allen made the commitment across the whole firm to say, ‘If you’re a Booz Allen employee, you have a guaranteed job all the way until July 1’,” said Hudson. “Over 90 percent of our employees are teleworking so that is a great position to be in because that is not the case everywhere.”

He said it has been great working with Redstone Arsenal because they were so quick to adapt to a teleworking mentality.

“That has been a huge stress relief for employees and their families,” Hudson said. “Not only does it give them the security to pay their bills, but it also helps us to be able to support our customers so business can go forward.”

Freedom Real Estate, Torch Technologies, Invariant Break Ground on Mixed-Use Facility

Freedom Real Estate & Capital, Torch Technologies and Invariant Corp. have announced they will be breaking ground on a mixed-use facility in South Huntsville, with a targeted completion date in summer 2021.

The groundbreaking ceremony, cancelled due to COVID-19, was set to take place at the end of April. This new development follows the 2019 completion of Torch’s Technology Integration and Prototyping Center.

Freedom, a real estate investment company, will develop the facility at 4040 Chris Drive, and has leased the first two spaces to Torch and Invariant, with opportunity for an additional tenant. The multi-tenant building will house up to 92,000 square feet and will feature a mix of office, research and development labs, light manufacturing, assembly and integration space along with a high bay.

Torch, a 100 percent employee-owned services and solutions defense contractor founded in 2002 in Huntsville, has shown its continued commitment to the redevelopment of and investment in South Huntsville through the rapid growth of its Huntsville headquarters. Torch’s campus consisted of two buildings in 2015 and, just five years later, the company is breaking ground on its sixth building.

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

“We are proud to work alongside the city and state in our continued efforts to improve the standard of living in our South Huntsville community,” said John Watson, president and CEO of Torch.

Invariant, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company founded in 2001, is expanding into the facility to support its continued growth.

“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, and we are proud to be a part of Huntsville’s continuing success,” said David Anderson, president of Invariant.

The project is part of a continued effort to redevelop South Huntsville.

The city has been working to reclaim, modernize and upgrade the area along South Memorial Parkway to encourage investment and redevelopment in the area, and is seeing progress with the announcements of new projects, including Hays Farm.

“Torch has been a catalyst for South Huntsville’s revitalization since the very beginning,” said Bekah Schmidt, CEO of South Huntsville Business Main Association. “The new facility at 4040 Chris Drive is a mixed-use facility with a state-of-the-art laboratory and premier manufacturing space.

“We look forward to seeing this project completed next year and appreciate Torch’s continued investment in South Huntsville.”

Bill Roark, co-founder of Torch Technologies and CEO of Freedom Real Estate & Capital, said, “We are proud to be able to contribute to economic development and growth in South Huntsville. This community is our home, and we look forward to watching it grow and thrive for years to come.”

The COVID-19 Endgame: Questions & Analysis From UAH Business School

Huntsville is accustomed to goal-oriented missions.

When it was determined that our healthcare system could be overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 patients in North Alabama, Madison County residents and business owners took unprecedented steps to follow state and federal guidelines for social distancing. They closed their businesses and sheltered at home to help flatten the curve against exposure to the virus.

Beijing factory workers maintain social distancing during lunch breaks.

Under all discernible yet cautious reporting, COVID-19 cases seem to be waning and our hospitals seem to be buffered against the threat.

Mission accomplished. Goals achieved.

But this mission is different from any other. At what costs have we seen success? What does an economic recovery following this pandemic look like? When will it occur? How long will it take to get back to “normal”? Will there ever be a “normal” or will it change us forever?

These are the questions posed to Wafa Hakim Orman, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the College of Business & Associate Professor of Economics and Computational Analysis at the University of Alabama in Huntsville this week during a teleconference call with the Huntsville-Madison Chamber of Commerce.

“Economically, things are very bad right now,” said Orman “The problem is our normal indicator models don’t do us much good because they are monthly or quarterly.”

For instance, the national labor force is around 164 million. Before the pandemic started, unemployment was about 3.5 percent. The April unemployment rate was 14.7 percent.

Compared to the financial crisis of 2008, this is off the charts. Even when compared it to the Great Depression of 1929, unemployment was high, but the fall-off was gradual, not all at once.

“The country has never seen anything like it. It is completely unprecedented,” said Orman. “There are however some alternative indicators available if we look for them and one of those is electricity demand.

“The Department of Energy provides hourly indicators on electricity demand and you can tell if commercial establishments are shutting down because electricity use will be lower. Based on up-to-the-minute indicators provided by University of Chicago economist Steve Cicala, electricity use has plummeted, and this information has been adjusted to allow for temperature, weather patterns, and holidays.”

Electricity demand should be at the February average of 2 percent. After March 15, it dropped precipitously to nearly -8 percent.

“I did a similar analysis for the areas covered by the Tennessee Valley Authority, because that’s the smallest scale at which we can get this electricity data for our region, and the results are very similar,” she said.

Another alternative source of data comes from a website called Homebase.com.

“They provide timesheets and scheduling software and they have very helpfully made aggregates of what they’re seeing available on their website,” Orman said. “You can see the impact on local business from their customer base looking at hours worked. Again, we see a sharp decline, and when you look at it by industry, this provides us with something I think we should be paying a lot of attention to as we think about reopening.”

Orman believes the businesses that are seeing the biggest declines are likely to be those people will be the most reluctant to go back to after reopening.

“As an economist, what we have is essentially a major shock to aggregate demand,” she said. “And it creates this tension. We need to save lives by shutting down, but we also face terrible consequences from the economic shutdown. Increases in unemployment, increases in poverty, and all the negatives we know are associated with recessions, are really intensified in a short period of time right now.”

While the number appear to be flattening the curve and social distancing seems to have been a successful strategy for slowing the spread of the virus, the long-term effects are unknown. Orman however presents some ideas for discussion.

“And it is completely implausible that we just wait for some bell to ring that tells us the virus is no longer a threat. That is impossible. It will have to be a phased reopening but how does that unfold?” she asks.

She admits a slow, limping back to normal over a prolonged period is difficult to assess at this point because IF we begin to reopen the economy to some non-essential businesses, we risk seeing another spike in infections and that will be bad news that affects further openings.

And there are yet other considerations equally as concerning.

“What businesses will people actually go back to and what businesses are likely to continue to suffer, even after we reopen,” she said. “Looking at data from Homebase.com, home and repair and transportation don’t involve much contact so people will probably be quite happy to see those reopen.”

Orman believes there will be some pent-up demand with people stuck in their houses for a couple of months. They will want to go to a restaurant, buy things they have been needing or wanting, take a hiking trip, go camping, or attend a social gathering at a local venue. People will be able to get a leak in their roof fixed or plant their spring garden, but what about professional services?

She points out it may be a while before people are comfortable with touching gym equipment someone else has been using; getting a manicure, a massage, or even a haircut because it requires a lot of personal contact with another person.

“And what about the food and beverage industry,” she asks. “We’re talking about opening restaurants, but they will have to deal with capacity. They still will not be able to employ as many workers as they did before, leaving some unemployed.”

During the pandemic, automation and teleconferencing has replaced in-person contact so although many industries have been using self-checkout counters and teleconferencing software as a back-up, how many jobs will be lost to fully-automated services; how much business travel will be cut in lieu of online meetings; and how many office jobs will move to telework?

There is also a question mark concerning education.

“Students are being forced to adapt to online learning, including elementary school and kindergarten. Those that can move online, have done so, but education at the lower grade levels like kindergarten through 12th grade may be online this semester; but what happens to other educational activities like afterschool programs, sports, tutoring, music, and extracurricular activities like summer camp?

Subway passengers maintain social distancing.

“How long will it be before people are comfortable sitting in a crowded movie theater, attending a concert, or other events that involve large numbers of people in one place,” she poses.

She will not be surprised if relatively high unemployment remains for a while as people don’t get rehired such as teachers aides, personal trainers, and extra restaurant workers.

Orman said at that point, unemployed workers will continue to be a drag on GDP.

“By fall, that’s starting to get far enough in the future that although difficult to predict, I think the best we can do is an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic scenario,” she said.

“In the optimistic scenario, our healthcare system can put in place widespread contact tracing and widespread testing, so if someone is diagnosed, we treat them and everybody they’ve been in contact with. Those people are quarantined but everybody else can go back to normal.

In that scenario she said it is also possible to develop the so-called herd immunity – that once enough people have the coronavirus, it is not such a problem anymore.

“Most businesses open, and we can realistically hope hiring and spending start to increase. This is happening in China where they are experiencing a V-shaped recovery for manufacturing that’s taking off but again, tourism and personal service industries are much, much slower.”

In the pessimistic scenario, she said we do not yet have widespread contact tracing and testing and the virus spikes back up. In this scenario it will be like the 1918 influenza virus that started out relatively mild in the spring of 1918, then surged with a vengeance in the fall of that year.

“Pandemics and epidemics have throughout history, resulted in big long-term changes to society and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see the same with this one,” said Orman. “And how soon economic recovery takes place depends on what American society is willing to live with.”

That requires compliance.

“This is a free country. We prize our freedoms, so will we submit to required testing on a regular basis, or being told you need to be in quarantine because of someone you’ve been in contact with has contracted the disease and you need to be quarantined for two weeks, even if you’re not feeling sick?

“I think some people will and some people won’t. Initially there will be a strong sense of public spiritedness so people will comply, but eventually people will get tired of it, so compliance will probably be an issue.”

And will widespread mask-wearing make sense, and will people comply with it? Orman said it’s hard to see how it won’t become standard at this point, but how will people feel about it in the long-term?”

Orman shared three very telling images from China taken after they reopened their economy.

The differences are stark of Chinese factory workers maintaining 6-foot social distancing while enjoying lunch at a manufacturing plant looks more like an image from a prison.

One image shows a sparsely populated subway in Beijing with passengers sitting 6 feet apart in a car that is usually very crowded.

And perhaps the most telling picture of all – a wedding, where aside from the bride and groom, everyone in the wedding party, including the photographer, are wearing masks.

After seeing these images – to what extent are people going to be comfortable with this and for how long?

“These are still the probing questions,” Orman said.

Cummings Aerospace to Build State-of-the-Art HQ at Redstone Gateway

Cummings Aerospace announced it is moving its headquarters to the growing Redstone Gateway development. The new corporate headquarters, 7100 Redstone Gateway, will be able to accommodate Cummings Aerospace’s multiple business functions under one roof

“We’re excited for our employees as we consolidate into a new corporate headquarters at Redstone Gateway,” said Cummings Aerospace President & CEO Sheila Cummings. “This new facility will allow us to continue to serve our customers with the highest level of service within close proximity.

“This move reflects our commitment to the future of our employees, our customers, and our company.”

Corporate Office Properties Trust executed a 46,000 square foot build-to-suit lease with Cummings, a Native American Woman-Owned Small Business. The facility is anticipated to be operational during the first quarter of 2021.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to support Cummings Aerospace’s continued success, and to welcome another leading Huntsville based company to Redstone Gateway,” said COPT President & CEO Steve Budorick. “This decision reaffirms Redstone Gateway’s unrivaled combination of efficiency, convenience, walkable amenities, and access to important commands at Redstone Arsenal.”