Huntsville’s Business Environment Embraces Veterans

Huntsville is a well-known destination for retiring veterans who want to do business with the government.

In 1992, Rosalyn Thompson-Blackwell and Roderick Herron met during 14 weeks of Officer’s Training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Thompson-Blackwell, president and CEO of Huntsville’s Mb Solutions, had worked as a project manager and acquisitions officer in the Army, stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo. She often came to Huntsville on Temporary Duty because her brother was stationed at Redstone Arsenal.

When she retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years of service, she wanted to start a business that supplied services to the Department of Defense. There was no hesitation about where she would go.

Herron, executive vice president of Mb Solutions, had his college business degree but was deeply in debt. Three years in the Army was the quickest means for paying it off. Twenty-six years later, he found his greater purpose.

When he retired, also as a lieutenant colonel, he made a career decision based on Redstone being the closest military installation to his hometown of Grenada, Miss.

Huntsville is the ‘Pentagon South’ 

“For Army veterans, Huntsville is known as the ‘Pentagon South,’” said Rich McAdams, president of Ignite, a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business government contractor headquartered in Huntsville. “So much Army acquisition work is done here, it is said that if an Army soldier writes it, shoots it, eats it, drinks it, or consumes it, the Army Materiel Command in Huntsville buys it.

“AMC has an annual budget of $147 billion a year, so you can see why Huntsville is so well-known and highly regarded among veterans, and especially those interested in doing business with the government or military.”

The Challenges of Starting a Veteran-owned Business

Initially, Thompson-Blackwell went to work for People-Tec, a Huntsville contractor which specializes in diversified engineering, modeling and simulation, cybersecurity, rapid prototyping, and program support.

“I had received programmatic and engineering services and knew the military structure and the acquisition process,” she says. “I did not know the business from the contractor’s perspective, so People-Tec mentored me even though they knew I wanted to go into business for myself. They showed me how to cost out contracts and how to manage contracts.”

In 2016, Thompson-Blackwell and Herron opened Mb Solutions together.

“It’s not as easy as it may seem,” says Herron. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of knowledge, the right connections, and many blessings. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is luck!”

“We call it procurement-ready,” says Mary Jane Fleming, Procurement Advisor and VA Certified Verification Advisor at the Small Business Development Center and Procurement Technical Assistance Center. “If you want to do business with the government or team up with large companies, we help you understand the business processes.”

“We went through a lot of growing pains, but we used it to our advantage,” says Thompson-Blackwell. “This is where a military background is important. We used that time to set up operating procedures, write policies, and set up an accounting system. We figured out how our company could be beneficial to veterans with benefits and policies that align with that philosophy. We didn’t waste any of that time.”

According to Foster Perry, director of the SBDC, “This is a military town; Veterans own a lot of businesses here and they hire a lot of veterans. The military has its own culture, so if they can bring someone in who knows that culture, it is a benefit.”

Veterans Make the Best Employees

“I admit I am biased when it comes to veterans,” says McAdams with Ignite. “I am biased for business reasons. Vets make great employees.

“At a young age in the Army, you are given a lot of responsibility. At 22 you might be a section leader in charge of five or six soldiers or a squad leader in charge of 10 or 11 soldiers. If you are in Afghanistan, you are going door-to-door looking for bad guys and making life or death decisions. At 26 years old, you can have 100 people working for you and be responsible for over $100 million worth of equipment. Veterans have maturity and judgement way beyond that of a civian peer.”

Herron and Thompson-Blackwell agree.

“We have been on the other side and have a passion for what we do,” said Thompson-Blackwell. “We know the needs of the kids – the soldiers who are still out there on the front lines.

“If I can provide something to make their life easier or that could save one American child’s life, it’s worthwhile.”

“I think once you have done 24 to 26 years of service, it becomes part of who you are,” said Herron. “That service spirit is embedded in you and you still want to be part of it in some way.

“Providing support to the government is like being a part of something bigger than you.”

McAdams said a key to hiring veterans is their strong work ethic.

“If I have two candidates, all things being equal, but one is a veteran,” he said. “I will hire the vet in a heartbeat because of their work ethic, maturity and judgement.”


Rebranded Organization Provides a ‘Catalyst’ to Start a Business

The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship serves as a driver for economic growth and job creation in north Alabama by lending its expertise to small business owners at every stage of business development. By providing quality programming, business coaching, and networking opportunities, The Catalyst offers entrepreneurs and startups the tools they need successfully manage their businesses.

Originally founded in 2003 as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama (WBCNA),  the organization rebranded itself in 2017 as The Catalyst to better represent its services and mission.

“We’ve grown to be more than just a woman’s business center,” said Katie Williams, project manager. “The Catalyst has multiple projects under one umbrella, all with a different focus.”

Those projects include:

WBC: The Women’s Business Center Project serves as a principal source of information and resources; offering in-depth business coaching, entrepreneurial training, small business development and networking opportunities to help women start, expand and successfully manage their businesses.

TechRich: The Technology Regional Innovation Cluster Project provides services to government contractors, innovative, and technology companies. The Catalyst assists in locating, filtering and facilitating business opportunities by encouraging collaboration, innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and contracting opportunities among technology businesses.

HUBZone Accelerator: The HUBZone Accelerator Project serves as a one-stop resource for HUBZone companies to grow, share resources and market their capabilities to prime businesses and government agencies.

HOPE2 for Winston County: The Catalyst’s most recent project initiative. HOPE2 assists with business services in economically disadvantaged communities in west Alabama. Partnered with Valley Innovation Alliance, small business start-ups and entrepreneurs receive much-needed tech assistance and coaching.

BAM:  A business microloan, focuses on giving entrepreneurs and small business start-ups essential financial resources to keep them on track, helping them to take their business to the next level.  This program is a partnership between Redstone Federal Credit Union, Neighborhood Concepts, and The Catalyst. Says Williams, “We’ve seen a big gap between business startups and banks, where there’s a need for financial resources, yet no past performance data available to qualify for business loans.”

The Catalyst offers a variety of business-focused workshops, seminars, and networking events. In partnership with RFCU, they host a series of business seminars in the Atrium on the Wynn Drive campus.

For more information, visit and

Uncorked: Wine Shop & Tasting Room a Toast to Success

Uncorked features a price point for everyone. (Photo by Steve Babin)

For the past 26 years, Saranne Riccio has been in the wine business: a distributor, a sommelier, and teaching wine classes to the uninitiated.

She had visions of owning her very own place someday. And, four months ago, those dreams were realized when Uncorked: Wine Shop & Tasting Room opened for business. 

Located in the heart of Providence Main, Uncorked is attractively appointed with a small bar that seats six, a cozy couch and comfy chairs. The walls are adorned with the works of local artists. Recently, the works of Joe Hendrickson were featured, accompanied by an artist’s reception.

Riccio’s secret to her success lies in her simple philosophy.

“Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a price range from $6.99-$200/bottle, there’s a price point for everyone,” she said. “There are several wines for $20 and under that are great bang for the buck.”

For wines by the glass, Riccio offers what she refers to as a “Built in Personal Flight,” a selection of 16 featured wines, either as a two-pour, or as a six-pour flight.

Riccio and her staff are highly responsive to their customers.

“There’s no point in directing someone with a $20 price point into the $200 bottle selections; if someone wants buy a higher end wine, don’t take them to the lower priced varieties,” she said. “Once their spending range is established, we can then find out what their preferences are, what do they like?

“Once we know this, we can help the customer navigate through the wines.”

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. Adding these delightful goodies to a great bottle of wine would make a tasty gift basket.

The holidays, and the associated parties will be here before you know it. Uncorked can help customers with parties for up to 50 people. A $300 facility rental fee allows guests to savor the Uncorked after-hours ambience from 7:30-9:30pm. For an additional fee, there’s a wide assortment of wines and charcuterie that can be tailored to any taste or budget.

What are Riccio’s plans for future growth?

“To make people more aware of our presence, to be that ‘go-to’ place for people to learn about wines,” she said. “… helping to educate people about wines to the extent that they want to learn, and doubling the varieties of our ‘by the glass’ wine selections.”


Retailers Dreaming of a Black Christmas

For years economists have pushed the idea that “Black Friday” is the first day of the year in which retailers operating all year “in the red” and at a loss, use the Christmas buying season to turn a profit putting them “in the black.”

Supposedly on the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers are so full of turkey and dressing, and so weary of nonstop football, they can’t wait to blow some dough on heavily discounted merchandise.

The History Channel, however, says this is a myth.

According to the cable TV channel, Black Friday got its name in the 1950s from the Philadelphia police who used the term “Black Friday” to refer to post-Thanksgiving chaos when thousands of suburban shoppers flooded into the city to shop, causing the police to work extra-long shifts to deal with crowds and traffic. This not-so-holly-jolly story also included battling shoplifters who took advantage of the bedlam.

So much for good tidings.

That Black Friday is the single largest retail sales day of the year, however, rings true.

According to the American Marketing Association based on statistics from Adobe Analytics, U.S. retailers earned a record $7.9 billion on Black Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2016.

“Cyber Monday” 2017 added another $6.6 billion in internet sales, making it the largest online shopping day in history. Those sales figures also pushed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s net worth past $100 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, 2017.

This bump in Black Friday spending does not, as many people believe, bode poorly for brick and mortar retail shopping.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak says store traffic declined less than 1 percent on Black Friday 2017, a significantly lesser decline than projected. In 2018, the National Retail Federation projects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Janet Brown, manager for Belk at Bridge Street, confirms that Black Friday is the biggest retail sales day of year, but that truth comes with a little enticement.

“We open at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and are open until 1 a.m.,” Brown said. “Then we open again at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. The first 200 people in line Thursday receive a gift card in denominations of anywhere from $5 to one prize of $500 at every Belk store. On Friday, the first 100 customers in line receive gift cards. Belk as a company is giving away $1,000,000 in gift cards to customers who stand in line.”

Belk will hold Santafest in the children’s department Nov. 10 featuring arts and crafts as well as, of course, pictures with Santa.

The retailer will also have a toy store that officials hope will fill the gap left by the departure of Toys ‘R Us; and they welcome choral groups to sing while people shop. The store will offer refreshments and goodies throughout the holidays and during the official tree lighting event on the Bridge Street promenade.

“We are not doing these things to compete with online sales and to bring people into the store,” says Brown. “Belk has always held these special activities to add a festive atmosphere to our stores during the Christmas season.”

All I Want for Christmas

Tiffani Spengler, manager of Alabama Outdoor in Jones Valley, said they notice a big uptick starting on Black Friday, but they see it as the kickoff for the rest of the busy season ahead.

“We sell a lot of gift items, but we have a whole lot of visitors who want to see what we have available, measure their options, and get ideas,” she said. “They may or may not buy on Black Friday, but we see a steady stream of people who return to make purchases all the way up to Christmas.

“Everyone gets the same experience whether you know what you are looking for like a Patagonia sweater or rock-climbing gear; or whether you are looking for a gift for someone who loves hiking and camping, but you aren’t sure what to get them,” said Spengler. “We can show you how to pack a backpack, explain the difference between buying a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad, help you dress in layers, so you stay warm for a three-day camping trip; or help you prepare for a vacation to Iceland.”

Apparel is their most popular holiday items because Alabama Outdoors promotes functionality and fashion. Jackets, pullovers, fleece and down layered clothing that protects against the elements, hats, scarves, neck warmers, blankets, and socks are all gift favorites.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

“Shoppers are on a mission, especially when looking for gifts for Christmas,” said Dr. Ana Byrne, owner of The Little Green Store on Monte Sano Mountain and the new holiday shop in downtown Huntsville. “They are on a mission to find something interesting, looking for one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces, local artwork, and finely crafted décor. The new store downtown is a challenge because most or our merchandise is individual artistic pieces.”

Chris Gregory of Roosevelt & Co Gentleman’s Supply with Ana Byrne of The Little Green Store. (Photo by Steve Babin)

Will they be doing anything different for Black Friday?

“Our goal is always to make people feel happy, welcome, and comfortable while they are here, and we always work hard at that,” Byrne said. “If it is cold, I have hot chocolate for them to drink; if it is hot, I have cold water for them to drink. We wrap everything you buy as a gift and deliver if you need help getting it home.

“We hold art shows, open houses, and participate in Under the Christmas Tree, activities that keep people seeing what’s new and gives them a chance to meet the artists,” she said. “We carry a lot of holiday items like handmade tree ornaments, ceramics, and Raku Nativities. Our customers are loyal and we have fun with them. We know their taste enough to say, ‘We have something new you are going to love – take a look at this’.”

Santa Baby

Fatemeh Nazarieh and Donny Maleknia of Donny’s Diamond Gallery admits the Christmas holidays are the busiest time of the year for jewelers, but they offer several advantages for people looking for a more relaxing shopping experience on Black Friday.

“Located along the Parkway, no matter how busy we are, there are no problems finding a parking place, no parking garages, we have easy access with no traffic coming in and out, and we have hot drinks, cookies, and candy for you to enjoy while you shop. It is all part of creating a festive atmosphere for shopping,” said Nazarieh.

“The trends in jewelry among younger customers are custom designs, especially in engagement rings. They want something that is theirs alone and of course custom designs is Donny’s specialty.”

Their holiday kickoff came earlier than Black Friday this year with a gem show in late October featuring David Artinian, the Gem Hunter.

“Colored gems and stones are growing in popularity. We specialize in diamonds, but this is the second year David Artinian has done a show with us. People buy the stones and it takes four to six weeks to design a jewelry piece that showcases the stone, just in time for Christmas,” Nazarieh said. “We also have plenty of preset diamonds and gems in our showcases too, so we have something for everyone and in all price ranges.”

O Tannenbaum

Opening at 9 a.m. on Black Friday Pat and Roger Schwerman’s Christmas Tree Plantation in Lacey’s Spring provides the perfect family holiday experience.

Roger grew up on a large farm in Kansas. He and his wife Pat bought the fully operational Christmas Tree farm in 2002, shortly after 9/11. Being in the Pentagon on that day, Roger wanted to get away for some peace and quiet, so he came back and “bought the farm,” so to speak.

“We don’t sell trees, we sell tradition,” said Schwerman.

“I had people stop by and plead with me, sometimes almost threaten me – ‘I’ve been coming to this Christmas tree plantation for 30 years for my Christmas trees and I want that to continue. You cannot get rid of the trees!’” he said with a laugh.

He and Pat had no intention to do so. Their 70-acre Christmas tree plantation has Virginia pine, white pine, leland cypress and deodar cedars and is only open on weekends from Black Friday through Dec. 24.

There are also horses, cows, baby goats, and chickens for the kids to pet and feed. There are antique tractors to enjoy, a country gift shop, a Santa Claus on site, and a train for the little kids to ride.

Pat Schwerman said families carry out an old tradition of cutting their own Christmas trees.

“When you arrive, we provide you with a saw and a measuring stick. You can pick out any tree on the farm you want. We have ‘elves’ to help you if you need any,” she said. “If you cut a live tree on the day after Thanksgiving and put it in a bucket of water when you get home, it will still be fresh after Christmas.

“A previously cut tree is dead and drying out when you buy it. That is why families get together and enjoy the experience of choosing their own tree.”

Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse

Athens-based Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse


Athens-based Onyx Aerospace has expanded and opened an office in Stovehouse on Huntsville’s Westside. The announcement was made by Stovehouse Properties and Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate.

The aerospace engineering firm will occupy a 2,058-square-foot open-air office space.

“Stovehouse is a vibrant destination that has given us the freedom and flexibility we were looking for,” said Onyx President Steve Hanna. “During our first few months at the development, we found that our team was able to bring ideas to the table faster and get the job done more efficiently. Environment plays an important role when it comes to productivity, and Stovehouse offers a unique work/play setting with food options, entertainment and fresh air when you need to step away from the desk.”

Onyx’s customers include NASA and Boeing and the location provides easy access.

“Onyx has a heavy customer base at Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park,” Hanna said. “Stovehouse is central to our clientele and provides multiple access points to major highways and Huntsville hot spots.”

Hannah said Onyx is a HUBZone company and is looking for ways to encourage growth of HUBZone neighborhoods

“From the beginning, Stovehouse has been clear in its mission to boost West Huntsville by introducing passionate and inventive businesses to the area,” said Stovehouse Properties Owner/Developer, Danny Yancey. “Onyx immediately got behind the project and they have fully embraced the creative atmosphere we’ve cultivated. We look forward to supporting them as they expand their footprint in Huntsville.”



Record-setting Night for Madison Best in Business Awards

MADISON — It was a record-setting night for the annual Madison Chamber of Commerce Best in Business Awards.

This year’s event was held at the Insanity Complex Entertainment Center and, according to Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Chamber, it was the biggest awards program ever.

“We had more than 400 attendees and a record number of nominees this year, giving the judges a real challenge to select the winners,” she said. “The Best in Business Awards are a celebration of the amazing contributions our local businesses are making to grow and strengthen our community.”

More than 50 local businesses were nominated in eight categories. The winners were II XCL Strength & Conditioning for Health & Wellness; Lee Company for Home & Living; Nesin Therapy Services for Medical Practice; and Blue Pants Brewery for Food Service. Alexander’s Martial Arts (Health & Wellness); Insanity Complex (Home & Living); Compass Physical Therapy (Medical Practice); and Lawlers Barbecue (Food Service) were finalists.

Deborah Ward of Inside-Out Ministries won the Community Servant of the Year and Sarah Sledge of Madison Public Library was the finalist. HomeFit Consulting won Start-up Business of the Year, with Legacy Chapel Funeral Home and Crematory as the finalist.

Louis Breland of Breland Companies won Excellence in Leadership & Service with Rachel Brown of Rachel Brown Homes the finalist.

Hogan Family YMCA won Nonprofit of the Year; Compass Physical Therapy took Small Business of the Year, and The Riley Center won Best Business of the Year. Finalists in those respective categories were the Downtown Rescue Mission, Inside-Out Ministries, and Kids to Love.

Teresa Croley of iHeartMedia won Ambassador of the Year.

Known for being inspirational and uplifting, the featured speaker was Dr. Karockas Watkins, CEO/President/Executive Director of Ability Plus. Good Samaritan Hospice was the event’s presenting sponsor and Capital Management Services was the trophy sponsor.

The evening started with a cocktail party sponsored by Progress Bank, and the winners and their guests were treated to a VIP champagne reception sponsored by IberiaBank after the program.


Sentar awarded $12.1 Billion U.S. Army contract


Sentar, a Woman-Owned Small Business, was recently awarded a potential, nine-year, $12.1 billion contract from the Army.

The Huntsville-based company specializes in advanced cybersecurity and intelligence services and technology. The award is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for Information Technology Enterprise Solutions-3 services, known as ITES-3S. The program  is expected to be the Army’s primary source of IT-related services worldwide. The contract ceiling value is $25 billion.

“Sentar is excited to be recognized as a leading small business that can provide the innovation and agility required in today’s cybersecurity-intensive IT environment,” said Bridget Abashian, CEO and president of Sentar. “We look forward to strengthening our relationship with our Army customers and delivering services essential to the soundness of our nation’s most critical programs for years to come.”


Oh, the Horror! Cashing in on the Business of Zombies, Superheroes and Mystical Creatures


Americans will not just wander around with their arms or heads slashed open for fun this Halloween, but they will gash their wallets wide open in search of the perfect frightfest.

According to 2017 National Retail Federation (NRF) statistics, more than 179 million Americans will participate in Halloween activities this year. Thirty-five percent will either attend or throw a Halloween party and, as creepy as this sounds, they will spend more than $9.1 billion on Halloween-related products and services.

This ghoulish phenomenon is enough to run chills up the spines of many business owners and entrepreneurs looking for new revenue streams. Only Christmas has higher participation and seasonal profits in terms of how far people will go with decorations and holiday activities.

In 2012, David Businda was looking into starting a retail business when a colleague suggested a Halloween store. At first, he was skeptical.

“The more I looked into it, I discovered a Halloween Express franchise was pretty liberal in its operations, giving owners a lot of flexibility not found in most franchise opportunities,” said Businda. “There were no limits or demands on marketing or buying stock, and I was able to buy the North Alabama territory, so I can open stores as far south as Birmingham.

“Right now, we are only in Huntsville but that could change.”

For the first few years, Halloween Express had a store on University Drive.

“We are only open Sept. 1 through Nov. 1, so it is sometimes difficult to lease short-term store space,” Businda said. “Last year, Parkway Place welcomed us into the mall.

“We see profits of between $300,000 and $350,000 in those 60 days, and I don’t see it slowing down.”

Parkway Place Marketing Director Molly Mitchell said they have made a substantial impact on local sales.

“Sales were up significantly throughout Parkway Place in September and October,” she said. “Halloween Express was an amazing addition to our tenant mix and we are thrilled to have them back at Parkway Place for the 2018 fall/Halloween Season.

“They have expanded their footprint into two locations: one for home décor and props, and the other for costumes and makeup.”

Part of the mall’s success has been sponsoring the Mall-o-Ween Extravaganza and hosting the annual Junior Face-Off contest for the past two years. Mitchell said there were more than 2,000 people in attendance last year.

On Oct. 14, Halloween Express will hold a Spooky Halloween Make-up and Prop Class to prep kids for the Oct. 28 Junior Face-Off contest.

Halloween Express will provide contestants with a goodie bag full of make-up, fake blood, and some prosthetics. They will have 45 minutes to use everything in the bag to make up their parents as a Halloween ghoul or their favorite superhero or character. The winner bags a $50 gift certificate.

Due to the growing popularity of Halloween there are several areas where an entrepreneur may find unique business opportunities such as providing Halloween music for parties and events; offering decorating services for residences as well as office environments; setting up a haunted house and charging admission; creating and/or selling costumes, masks, prosthetics, and props; and coordinating and managing parties and events for children and adults.

Many Huntsville business owners and nonprofits are already taking advantage of the benefits.

Nichole Harris, co-owner and event manager for Birmingham-based ICrawlUSA, started an event management company that specializes in theme crawls and theme parties.

Night crawling

Bar-crawling or just “crawling” has grown in popularity across the country in the past three to five years. They are putting on Huntsville’s first Night of the Crawling Dead Halloween Bar Crawl downtown this year.

Below the Radar Brewhouse on Holmes Avenue, SiP on Greene Street, Martin Bar and Bistro on Washington Street, and Pints & Pixels on Clinton Avenue are participating. Crawlers pay $15 for a ticket in advance, and dressed out in full costumes, go from bar to bar enjoying free and discounted drinks at participating bars. The event starts at 6 p.m. and drink specials run through 8:30 p.m., however the party lasts until midnight, culminating in a costume contest at Pints & Pixels.

“The participating pubs can offer whatever drink specials and food too if they want, but we recommend the 3-2-1 method,” said Harris. “That is $3 wells, $2 shots, and $1 beers. Crawlers will receive a wristband and a passport that will guide them to all the participating bars.”

Harris said it is a popular group event, but anyone over the age of 21 is welcome.

“I think the attraction for adults in Halloween is the opportunity to relax and be a kid again,” he said. “People have responsibilities with jobs and families and other obligations, and this is a chance to celebrate, gather together with friends, dress up in a costume, and be anyone you want to be for the night.”

Matthew Bakula, events coordinator at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, said Halloween is just good business for the art studios.

“We offer something for all ages beginning with the kids from 4-7 p.m. We have Trick or Treat inside the building for the children and all the studios participate with candy, and then we have a pumpkin carving contest,” he said.

Then, at 8 p.m., things get theatrical as the grown-ups take over. In the past, there has been a Pizza Party Massacre and it may return this year; however, in addition to the adult Halloween party, Lowe Mill plans a Drive-in Horror Movie showing on the concert dock, charging $10 per car. There will be three classic Halloween horror flicks – rain or shine. One year it rained, but more than 6,000 people still showed up.

“We are very performance-based here at Lowe Mill,” said Bakula. “Halloween is a time in which adults are free to be whatever they want to be whether it is a different person, some creature, or manifest a different personality – and then of course – enjoy a party.”

Of superheroes and zombies

While nearly half of all Halloween-goers will wear a costume, they will also spend more money on their garb than anything else related to the haunted holiday.

According to the NRF, men average $96 and women average $77 per costume. Witches, superhero characters, animals, and vampires are the most popular choices, but 16 percent of pet owners will dress up their family pet up as a pumpkin, a hot dog, a bumble bee, or the devil.

“Halloween is an escape from reality for a day,” said a spokesperson for Spirit Halloween, a seasonal retailer at Bridge Street Town Centre. “For adults, you can put on a Halloween costume and forget about work … and other pressures.”

Rita Burkholder, owner of Fig Leaf Costumes, said it is not all about the costume itself, anymore, now that people can reek of zombies and realistically display severed limbs and deformities.

“TV shows like the Sci-Fi Channel’s Face-Off has sparked a whole new way to project mystical effects using make-up, prosthetics, fake blood, and body painting to create realistic masklike faces and creature effects,” she said.

Ronnie Young, manager of the prop and decorations division of Halloween Express, and owner of his own Redrum SSX Studios, said Halloween has been boosted by a love for the horror genre and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Face-Off” and “American Horror Story.”

“You would be shocked at how popular it is with people to create wild characters using hair and make-up,” he said. “With 75 percent of Americans celebrating in a big way, it can expand beyond Halloween.

“I have done zombie-themed corporate parties, horror-themed weddings, and birthday massacre parties.”

Speaking of corporate parties, the Huntsville Young Professionals (HYP) have expanded what used to be a joint party with the Huntsville Land Trust in the Haunt at 3 Caves the past five years, into the Nightmare on Church Street on the east side of Big Spring Park this year.

Mallory Johnston, president of HYP, said the big Halloween party has always drawn more than 600 members and friends to the group’s only fundraiser throughout the year.

“We don’t charge fees or dues to be a member, so this is an important and success event for us,” says Johnston. “We raised $13,000 last year and, even though we don’t have a costume contest, people go all out.”

Strictly for adults 21 and over, HYP offers a cash bar and live band. Tickets are $35 per person and $55 after Oct 16. VIP tickets are $75 and includes six complimentary cocktails, access to bathrooms with no line, and an attendant who takes drink orders.

Decorating for demons

Finally, as an extra for Halloween pumpkin carvers, Christy Wray of Silver Moon Art Studio in Scottsboro held several Jack-O-Lantern Sculpture and Wicked Witch 3-D Door Hanger workshops at Top Key Market in South Huntsville . Wray teaches art lovers secret recycling methods to create Halloween sculptures and ceramics using things that most people have laying around the house. They even make their own air-dried clay.

“I have been thrilled at the response to our classes this year,” she said. “We charge $125 for the Wicked Witch 3-D Door Hangers class and $140 for the Jack-O-Lantern sculptures and people go all out to create amazing sculpture for their homes, yards, and patios.”

Considering people will decorate their home or yard, Wray’s classes, which are designed to last two to three hours over a 3-day period, often stretch out longer because participants are enthusiastic about their work creating realistic, life-size sculptures that will give neighbors a chill.

Oh, and attendees are welcome to bring their own spirits … metaphysically and the other kind!


Rapid Growth Spurs LSINC to Purchase Building in CRP

LSINC has moved to 490 Discovery Drive. (LSINC Photo)

Less than a year from a ribbon-cutting ceremony when it moved into Cummings Research Park, LSINC has now changed addresses with the purchase of its own building elsewhere in the park.

The time of rapid growth necessitated the purchase for the Huntsville-based company. It will allow LSINC to better serve current customers, as well as allow for planned, targeted expansion into new markets.

“Purchasing a building is our commitment to our customers, employees, and the community,” said CEO Alicia Ryan. “We now have significantly more space and that will allow us to work multiple product-development projects for our clients and more easily accommodate our customers’ propriety and classified projects.

“The timing is wonderful, too, as we’ve recently begun work on our own research and design initiatives, and we now have more room to develop LSINC-branded products.”

The company’s new location is a 51,300 square-foot facility at 490 Discovery Drive. It includes 36,000 square feet of laboratory and manufacturing space with a loading dock and two drive-in doors. Assisting LSINC in site-selection were Binswanger Management and Samples Properties. Fuqua and Partners Architects is assisting with the remodeling and design.

The building will feature a specially designed innovation space with a collaborative environment for creative meetings with clients when launching the design phase of the product development process.

“By integrating our strategy approach with the product development process, we help clients think through all the possibilities and markets for how a product can be used prior to starting the design phase,” said company President Robert Lightfoot. “Our Strategy Assurance approach results in products that are engineered for the right solutions.”

The innovation space also will be used for internal R&D meetings for LSINC-branded products.

25 Area Businesses Ranked Among Inc. 5000


Fresh on the heels of the Huntsville Madison County Chamber’s annual Small Business Awards celebration, several local companies received news Wednesday they have joined an elite group.

The annual Inc. 5000 list was unveiled and it included 25 Madison County small businesses.

“If your company is on the Inc. 5000, it’s unparalleled recognition of your years of hard work and sacrifice,” said James Ledbetter, the magazine’s editor in chief. “The lines of business may come and go, or come and stay.

“What doesn’t change is the way entrepreneurs create and accelerate the forces that shape our lives.”

Reflective of Huntsville’s “Federal City” moniker, 21 of the 25 businesses are in government services.

Cintel was the highest-ranked local business, coming in at 252. It was followed by Yorktown Services, 749; Hill Technical Solutions, 797; R2C Support Services, 1263; Pinnacle Solutions, 1558; Mission Driven Research, 1638; Shearer, 1690; IronMountain Solutions, 1741; Matt Curtis Real Estate, 1791; MSB Analytics, 1827; Spur, 2047; Kord Technologies, 2298; nLogic, 2350; MartinFederal, 2575; Sentar, 2853; Venturi, 2860; TriVector Services, 3040; Thompson Gray, 3235; Monte Sano Research, 3338; nouSystems, 3396; Torch Technologies, 3397; Keel Point Partners, 3752; LSINC, 3904; Trideum, 4870; and enVention, 4903.

The complete list can be found at and in the September issue of Inc. magazine, which is on newsstands now.