History and Future Merge with Blue Origin Engine Plant in the Rocket City

Looking back on history with an eye to the future, elected officials joined the CEOs of Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance in a ground-breaking ceremony Friday for a $200 million rocket engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville.

“We’re here to celebrate history with a vision to the future,” said Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield at the event. Canfield was joined on the speakers’ platform by Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin; Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance; Gov. Kay Ivey; U.S. Sen. Doug Jones; U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

The plant, when its doors open in 2020, is a milestone achievement in helping the United States return to space by building America’s next rocket engine.

“It’s a great day here in the Rocket City,” said Smith. “Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.”

Blue Origin was selected by ULA last September of last year to supply its next generation Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, for the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket

“It is a true marvel of engineering,” Smith said. “We will be able to end our dependence on Russian engines,” Smith said.

Calling it a “day of destiny,” Brooks said Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was inspired to build rockets when he saw the movie “October Sky” in 1999. The movie was based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Huntsville resident Homer Hickam. “Blue Origin is coming to the home of the man who inspired him.”

Smith also linked Huntsville’s history of building the giant engines that took Americans to the moon to building the BE-4 engines.

“We’re in final negotiations with the Marshall Space Flight Center to test the BE-4 on Test Stand 4670, the historic site of engine tests for the Saturn V and the space shuttle,” he said.

A pair of BE-4 engines will lift the new Vulcan rockets, which are made at ULA’s plant in Decatur.

“Our rockets are going to take Americans on American soil into space,” said Bruno. “And it’s about damn time!”

Blue Origin has a launch services agreement partnership with the Air Force to use its commercial, heavy-lift New Glenn launch vehicle for national security space missions. New Glenn will be powered by seven BE-4 engines.

“This gives us a chance to design, make and test a rocket engine,” said Battle. “We will produce the greatest rocket engine in the world right here in Huntsville.”

Blue Origin’s engine production facility is the latest addition to Cummings Research Park, which is the second largest research park in the United States and fourth largest in the world.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome Blue Origin to Cummings Research Park,” said Erin Koshut, the park’s executive director. “As we like to say, the research and development happening here is driven by science and powered by people.”

The plant, which is expected to employ 300 people, is on a 46-acre site at the corner of Explorer Boulevard and Pegasus Drive.

Citing this area’s importance in U.S. space history, Strong said it’s no coincidence Blue Origin chose Huntsville.

“We have got the right people in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Welcome to the ‘Propulsion Capital of the World.’”

Geeks and Nerds Acquires Q-Track

Geeks and Nerds has acquired the assets of Q-Track in a purchase between two Huntsville high-tech businesses.

“We are excited about incorporating the technology and management team of Q-Track into Geeks and Nerds,” said GaN CEO/CTO Dr. Jonn Kim. “Our combined knowledge and experience position us well for advanced research and technology in the areas of electromagnetics, wireless communications, position and location, cyber electromagnetic activity, and radar.

“The talent and tenacity of Q-Track’s management and employees have created innovative product lines and unique intellectual property. Their success as a R&D company will complement GaN. I can’t wait to make magic happen.”

Q-Track CEO Stephen Werner said the two companies will make a perfect match. The company provides indoor location, safety, and RF solutions.

“I’m delighted by the enthusiasm with which GaN has embraced the opportunities offered by Q-Track’s capabilities and technology,” he said. “GaN’s culture of ethics, innovation, and creativity mirrors our own.”  

Q-Track co-founder and CTO Dr. Hans Schantz will serve as principal scientist of GaN and will help in the transition process.

“We’ve always been geeks and nerds at Q-Track,” Schantz said. “This just makes it official.”

Blue Origin to Break Ground on Engine Facility in Cummings Research Park.

Blue Origin will break ground Friday on its 200,000 square-foot engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park. The event is invitation only.

Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, will manufacture the BE-4 engine in the state-of-the-art facility. The engine will lift the Vulcan rocket, made in Decatur by United Launch Alliance. The BE-4 will end the nation’s dependence on Russian rockets.

Two BE-4s would be used on the Vulcan booster rocket. The BE-4 will also power Blue Origin’s New Glenn reusable launch system with seven BE-4s on the reusable first stage and a vacuum-optimized BE-4U on New Glenn’s second stage.

The $200 million engine plant is expected to employ about 340 people.

Windham named COO of HudsonAlpha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back on a great year for local business

According to Inc. magazine, tech companies are feeling the pressure of rising costs in large coastal cities. Businesses and residents are leaving in search of opportunities in less expensive areas.

This is great news for Huntsville which, in 2018, saw new companies planting seeds, older companies deepening their roots, infrastructure branching outward, and the quality of life flourishing as active lifestyles demand more room to grow.

Inc. writer David Brown puts Huntsville No. 2 among the Top Six “Attention-grabbing Cities for Tech Start-ups.”

“NASA’s presence is largely responsible for the Rocket City’s high rankings on the opportunity scale for engineers. The city has also executed well in forging strong public-private partnerships and promoting a thriving technology industry. Software development, electrical engineering, and computer science are top fields, contributing to the city’s 309 percent year-over-year growth in tech jobs.”

With so many sensational “gets” for Huntsville and Madison this past year, the question is whether it is sustainable?

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Chip Cherry, president & CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, answer that question.

“We have spent the past 10 years with a focused, intentional plan to grow and diversify our job base, improve quality of life, and capitalize on the rich assets in Huntsville and North Alabama,” said Battle. “We’ve put an emphasis on workforce development in our schools. Our road projects are designed to keep traffic moving long into the future. We are making Huntsville more appealing and desirable for top talent to move here through parks, music and cultural amenities, greenways and bike lanes.

“We don’t plan just for the next year. We plan for the next 10 to 20 years. For example, we created the Cyber Huntsville initiative and worked with that volunteer group to land the State Cyber and Engineering School in Huntsville. This program, along with many others in our public schools and universities, will help prepare the tech workforce we will need for the future.”

Cherry agreed that diversification is the key.

“A diversified base of businesses coupled with a strong and diversified portfolio on Redstone Arsenal are key to ensuring that we have a dynamic regional economy,” he said. “The community’s economic development wins in 2018 will impact the community for generations to come. 

“The blend of new locations and expansions will provide a broad range of employment opportunities as well as providing business opportunities for local companies to grow.”

Here are the Huntsville Business Journal’s top Madison County business stories of 2018:

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing

Of all the big business acquisitions and developments launched in 2018, Battle said that if he had to focus on a single mayoral accomplishment in 2018, the Mazda-Toyota announcement dwarfs all others because of its impact on our economy year in, and year out.

“I’ve often said the hard work on a project comes after the announcement, and the scale of this [Mazda Toyota] project was no exception,” he said. “It brought enormous challenges from its sheer size and scope. Clearing 1,200 acres, bringing in 7 million yards of dirt, putting a building pad in place with a solid rock foundation, building roads, and all the other challenges associated with a development – many times over.

“Fortunately, we worked in partnership with the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S. team. And we are able to navigate through the challenges together and meet our deadlines. Now the building is ready to go vertical and on track to produce cars in 2021. This plant will provide jobs for 4,000-5,000 workers, generational jobs that will impact our economy for decades to come.”

Being built by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, the sprawling site will produce 300,000 next-generation Toyota Corollas and a yet-to-be-revealed Mazda crossover model annually, beginning in 2021.

Investment in the Mazda Toyota plant is being split evenly between the automakers, allowing both automakers to respond quickly to market changes and ensure sustainable growth.

“While there were a number of things that placed our community in a strong competitive position to win this project,” Cherry said. “In the end, it was the ability of our team, and our partners, to be nimble and responsive that made the difference.”

Rocket City Trash Pandas

In early 2018, the City of Madison approved up to $46 million to build a baseball stadium, signaling minor league baseball’s return to the Tennessee Valley.

Highly visible from I-565 off Madison Boulevard at Zierdt Road, the ballpark will seat 5,500 baseball fans, and is part of the Town Madison project.

The team – named the Rocket City Trash Pandas in a voting contest – will officially move from Mobile to Madison after the 2019 baseball season and remain the farm team for the Los Angeles Angels.

Town Madison

Town Madison development, which held several groundbreakings in 2018 after nearly 2 years of dormancy as $100 million in new road construction was built to accommodate traffic flow to and from the development.

Town Madison will include 700,000 square feet of office space; over 1 million square feet of retail space; 700 new hotel rooms; over 1,200 luxury apartments; and 300 single-family homes.

“We’re very pleased to see groundbreakings underway in the Town Madison space,” said Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. “When complete, it will be a true destination spot, enabling families to spend the day enjoying entertainment, shopping and dining.”

Last February, HHome2 Suites by Hilton was the first to announce it was breaking ground on a 97 all-suite extended-stay hotel as part of the section called West End at Town Madison. The hotel is scheduled to open early this year.

Wisconsin-based retailer Duluth Trading Co. broke ground on its 15,000-square foot store in early December. The company is Town Madison’s first retail partner and will open this year.

As part of The Exchange at Town Madison, local developer Louis Breland broke ground last April on a 274-unit luxury apartment complex called The Station at Town Madison. It is slated to open in the summer.

In late May, Breland confirmed the development of a 150-room Margaritaville Hotel adjacent to the ballpark. It is set to open in 2020.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said, “Margaritaville is an international brand known for high-quality and fun projects. Not only will this hotel attract guests from across the region, but it will add multiple new dining and entertainment options for Madison residents.”

The Heights and The Commons at Town Madison will provide a mixture of affordable single-family and multifamily homes, townhomes, spacious luxury apartments, and condominiums around a village square. Home prices will range from $250,000 to $500,000.  

MidCity Huntsville

Certain to take significant shape throughout 2019, MidCity Huntsville is a dynamic 100-acre experiential mixed-use community right in the center of Huntsville. When finished, it will consist of a series of interconnected spaces and gathering places.

MidCity will feature dining, entertainment and recreation from names such as REI Co-op, Wahlburgers, Rascal Flatt’s, and High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Already in operation is Top Golf, a sports entertainment center with climate-controlled golf-ball hitting bays, a full-service restaurant and bar, private event spaces and meeting rooms; a rooftop terrace with fire pit, hundreds of HDTVs, and free wi-fi.

The development will also offer bike and walking trails, a park, an 8,500-seat open-air amphitheater, and The Stage for outdoor music and entertainment.

Area 120 is a science and technology accelerator with some 200,000 square feet of space for R&D and startups.

The Promenade with its hardscaped space will accommodate local farmers markets and Huntsville’s growing food truck fleet. You will also find luxury apartments and a hotel.

GE Aviation

Two years ago, GE Aviation announced it had almost cracked the code to mass producing the unique ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components used in jet propulsion engines, and when they did, the company would build two facilities in Huntsville to produce them.

Last May, GE Aviation announced they will open a 100-acre factory complex, destined to be the only location in the U.S. to produce these ultra-lightweight CMC components, which can withstand extremely high temperatures.

Investment in the project is expected to reach $200 million. GE Aviation currently employs 90 people at the Huntsville site and is expected to reach 300 at full production.

Facebook

Facebook will invest $750 million into a large-scale data center in Huntsville that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.

The Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval for Facebook to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million. They began construction on the 970,000-square-foot facility in late 2018.

“We believe in preparing our community for the challenges ahead,” said Battle. “Our Gig City initiative to provide city-wide high-speed connectivity is an example of that.”

The Downtown Madison Sealy Project

When the City of Madison announced that changes to the west side of Sullivan Street between Kyser Boulevard and Gin Oaks Court would pave the way for more commercial/retail space, it marked the beginning of a long-term improvement and expansion project for downtown Madison that would pick up steam in 2018.

Known as the Downtown Madison Sealy Project, it is the latest in a series of mixed-use developments about to hit downtown, extending from the east side of Sullivan Street to Short Street.

The city is making improvements to accommodate the 10,000 square-foot development which includes 190 upscale apartments and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space.

GATR Technologies

In April, Huntsville-based GATR Technologies announced it would be quadrupling its production capacity in Cummings Research Park to nearly 100,000 square feet.

The inflatable portable satellite innovator was acquired by Cubic Mission Solutions in 2016 and has grown from 80 employees in 2016 to 157 in 2018. GATR is projected to employ more than 200 people by October 2019.

GATR will soon be delivering systems by the thousands to the U. S. government, military, and any entity that benefits from deployable communications, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Electro Optic Systems

In June, Electro Optic Systems announced it will build its flagship production facility at on Wall Triana Highway in Huntsville.

The Australian aerospace technology and defense company expects to hire up to 100 fulltime employees in its first year and is scaled to grow to at least 250 employees quickly.

EOS has been producing software, lasers, electronics, optronics, gimbals, telescopes, beam directors, and stabilization and precision mechanisms for the military space, missile defense, and surface warfare sectors for more than 20 years.

BAE Systems

BAE Systems, the third-largest defense contractor in the world, broke ground on a $45.5 million expansion of its existing facilities in CRP in July. The growth is expected to create hundreds of jobs.

The new 83,000-square-foot facility is the first phase of a multi-phase growth plan to expand its existing offices on Discovery Drive and develop a new state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility in CRP to increase their capacity. An unused adjacent 20-acre lot will provide room for yet more expansion soon. Construction of the new building is expected to be complete in 2019.

Radiance Technologies

Employee-owned defense contractor Radiance Technologies broke ground in July on their first comprehensive headquarters in Huntsville.

The new 100,000 square foot building in CRP will, for the first time, allow the company’s 300 employees, all of whom have operated at remote locations in Huntsville since 1999, to collaborate under the same roof as they provide innovative technology to the Department of Defense, NASA, and national intelligence agencies.

South Memorial Parkway Expansion

The short but significant widening and redesign of the main line of South Memorial Parkway caused many headaches for residents and business owners over the past 2½ years, but in late July, that stretch between Golf Road and Whitesburg Drive officially re-opened.

The $54 million project opened a gateway of uninterrupted traffic through South Huntsville, providing easier accessibility to South Huntsville businesses, schools, and residential areas.

“South Parkway being fully open is a game-changer for businesses and drivers in South Huntsville,” said Claire Aiello, vice president of Marketing and Communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Looking to 2019

“Our objective has been to build on the community’s traditional industries such as aerospace and defense, while creating more opportunities in the semi-skilled and skilled sectors of the economy,” said Cherry. “We excelled in all of these areas in 2018. The year will go down in the record books as among the most vibrant economic development years in our history. The companies that selected our community for their new location or expansion will create over 5,400 new jobs and invest over $2.7 billion in new buildings and equipment. These investments and jobs will have a profound impact on our quality of life for decades to come.”

“Cummings Research Park is now at 91 percent occupancy,” said Aiello. “We are making a big focus on new amenities for employees at CRP to keep them engaged and to give them things to do in the park besides work. That will be something to look forward to in 2019.”

And according to Battle, “2019 is going to be a good year. Let’s just keep it at that!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

HudsonAlpha mourns passing of co-founder Lonnie McMillian

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

McMillian died Sunday. He was 90.

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

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

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

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

“He will be dearly missed.”

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

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

HudsonAlpha’s Brewer named IAAP Foundation board chair

Stacey Brewer, executive coordinator for Dr. Neil Lamb at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, was recently appointed as board chair for the International Association of Administrative Professionals Foundation. Brewer will serve a two-year term.

“Successful organizations depend on top-tier administrative professionals like Stacey Brewer,” said Lamb. “Admins are arguably the critical ‘connective tissue’ that keep a group informed and on track. Stacey is key to our educational outreach program’s success and I’m appreciative that IAAP has equipped him with relevant and timely professional development tools.

“We’re proud of his work with the Foundation and excited about his appointment as board chair.”

Midway Through the Mission: Making Huntsville a Gig City

If it hasn’t already, the Google van may be coming soon to your neighborhood.

Huntsville has never been the kind of place to wait around for technology to make its way here.

Sure, in many ways, Huntsville is still a traditional Southern city with long, hot, sultry summers and a penchant for football rivalries and ice-cold beer.

But make no mistake – Huntsville’s pluck and grit is writ in rocket flames. Never mistake a slow way of talking for short-sighted vision.

That was made clear back in 2012 when Google Fiber sent out its initial call to cities across the nation, interested in partnering with the technology giant to build a high-tech fiber network worthy of bringing gigabit internet service and Voice-over IP telephone services to the Tennessee Valley.

When all the entrants, including Huntsville, were thrown into the hat and a select few cities were chosen, Huntsville wasn’t among them.

Oh well.

If in 1956, the Redstone Testing Center had given up the first time a missile disintegrated on a test stand, Malawi may have put men into space before Huntsville!

According to Lauren Johannesmeyer, city manager for Google Fiber, Huntsville city leaders know something about executing a mission and Harrison Diamond, then the director of project management at the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, was on a mission.

“I remember back as early as 2013, Harrison (now the business relations officer for the City of Huntsville), had a vision for what a gig city looks like,” said Johannesmeyer. “Between the Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville, and Huntsville Utilities, they basically said, ‘We’re going to build the network anyway’.

“Once that was established, Google Fiber came back and said, ‘If you are going to build it anyway, can we lease it from you?’”

That initiative makes Huntsville a one-of-a-kind model for Google Fiber, the only city in the country where a utility company is constructing the network rather than Google Fiber.

“Huntsville may be the first, but we won’t be the last to make this investment,” said Joe Gerhdes, director of communications and public relations for Huntsville Utilities. “Huntsville has drawn the interest of utility companies in many cities across the country who are looking at doing the same. They are watching to see how successful we are.”

 

Rings & Huts

Huntsville Utilities is just short of midway through the build and right on schedule.

Construction consists of a fiber ring that encircles Huntsville to make it easy to branch service off into neighborhoods. The ring is divided into six fiber huts off which Huntsville Utilities connects the local Google Fiber network into the Internet backbone and the worldwide web.

“Huntsville Utilities manages and maintains the core ring that wraps around the City, and Google Fiber owns and manages the network from the point of access at the street, up to the customers house or business,” Johannesmeyer said. “Right now, in terms of serviceable areas for us, there is what I call a pizza slice-shaped section in north Huntsville. It was our very first opening on May 23, 2017.

“We also have all of Big Cove and Hampton Cove from Dug Hill Road to Cecil Ashburn Drive, and we are opening areas in south Huntsville near Mountain Gap and Challenger schools.”

Gerhdes added, “We started with the Chase Hut north of Winchester Road to Pulaski Pike because the Chase area power distribution center in northeast Huntsville was a great place to start.

“Big Cove and Hampton Cove are finished, and we are currently working on the Farley Hut in south Huntsville.”

He said the Triana Hut will service most of the core of downtown Huntsville including Blossomwood, and the utility is readying the 911 Hut near the Madison County 911 Center and Wynn Drive. The final construct will be the Jetport Hut at the western edge of Huntsville. The entire fiber network project is scheduled for completion in 2020.

 

 

Everyone Benefits From Improved Infrastructure

“This undertaking has been great for Huntsville, but it has also been great for telecoms and cable providers, too, because it has significantly improved the infrastructure under which all of these providers offer services,” Gerhdes said. “They too can now offer a better, more affordable service to their customers.”

Construction is always subject to change with many variables impacting schedules, but Google Fiber’s current contract with Huntsville Utilities is to service addresses they turn over to them as the ring expands within the Huntsville city limits. The lease agreement is not exclusive so other companies can lease out fiber on that ring as well.

In terms of what Google Fiber has to offer customers, its services include 100 MB or 1,000 MB (gigabit) fast residential internet options; traditional television services with 220+ channels that can be combined with their internet offering and Wi-Fi extenders; and a Voice-over IP (VoIP) phone service solution that uses the internet rather than traditional hardwired landlines.

Currently service to multifamily units (apartment complexes and condominiums) is minima but, ideally, Google Fiber wants to service as many people as possible so, as the ring grows, so will Google Fiber access.

“We also offer small and medium-size business gig packages with really cool extras businesses need to be successful,” said Johannesmeyer.

Community Involvement vital

She said community involvement is vital to promoting digital inclusion initiatives and education that provide groups and individuals with access to information and communication technologies. Google Fiber’s Community Impact Team works with local nonprofits to promote digital inclusion throughout the Tennessee Valley.

One of those enterprises is the Digital Inclusion Fund, created at the Community Foundation with sponsorship funding from Google Fiber to make Internet access and digital education available to residents currently without access to those resources. More than $100,000 in grant money was given to high-impact programs in North Alabama this past year.

“Ours is a very innovative model and we applaud Huntsville Utilities for their leadership,” said Johannesmeyer.

While the mission to make Huntsville a Gig City cannot yet be stamped “accomplished” – it is certainly in full rattle-battle!

To find out if Google Fiber is available in your neighborhood or business location, visit https://fiber.google.com/cities/huntsville/. You may also submit your email address to be notified when it is available.

With New Propst Center, HudsonAlpha’s Mission Continues

Carter Wells, executive vice president of economic development, left, and Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director, look over containers filled with more than five million beads representing the number of people who have been touched by HAIB’s education outreach program over the past 10 years. (Photo by Wendy Reeves)

Brightly colored beads in clear containers of various sizes and shapes represent more than 5 million learners who have experienced a HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (HAIB) educational outreach opportunity.

The display covering the past 10 years sits on the second floor of the new Paul Propst Center, which opened in September.

The education team, headed by Dr. Neil Lamb, has reached students, educators, clinical professionals, patients and members of the public who participated in internships, teacher training workshops, public seminars, clinical training and digital downloads for educational games like iCell and Touching Triton, said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha vice president of economic development.

The display is more than a creative display of numbers as it represents one of the four missions set forth by founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian before the HAIB opened its doors 10 years ago. It represents how far HAIB has come with the opening of its fourth facility on the campus.

The pair set out to create a center to conduct genomics-based research to improve human health and well being; implement genomic medicine, spark economic development; and provide educational outreach to nurture the next generation of biotech researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as to create a biotech literate public.

The education outreach team has three new learning labs, office and collaboration space spread across two floors in the new facility. Dr. Rick Myers, president and science director at HudsonAlpha, said the new space will allow the education team to increase its teaching opportunities.

Many learners who have experienced HudsonAlpha’s hands-on classroom activities, or participated in summer camps or internship programs are now a part of the HudsonAlpha workforce, or working in life science research institutes or companies across the country.

The Propst Center consists of 105,000 square feet housing about 150 tenants. The new building was funded by a $20 million state grant, and a donation by Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Propst Jr. The building is named for his father, a North Alabama minister.

On the second floor, those small, colorful beads are just one small example of what has transpired at the growing campus during its first 10 years. Those accomplishments lead to the construction of the new Propst Center, which looks and feels similar to the main building, where companies such as Conversant Bio started growing.

The company, which recently merged with four others to become Discovery Life Sciences, provides researchers around the world with hyper-annotated tissue samples in order to conduct informed, cutting edge investigations into many of today’s most problematic diseases.

“There was a lot more open space here when we started, and we started to take small bites of the apple here and there and we finally ran out of space,” said Marshall Schreeder, co-founder of Conversant Bio and vice president of sales and marketing for DLS. “We feel both fortunate to be a part of HudsonAlpha and the Huntsville community. I’m from here and love it here but we could have started our company anywhere.

“What we didn’t realize is how this community would embrace us … and how well this vision would work out.”

Other HudsonAlpha associate companies in the Propst Center include Microarrays, Alimetrix and iRepertoire, along with HudsonAlpha Software Development and Informatics (SDI), which develops software to analyze and interpret genomic and clinical datasets and works to identify and understand the genetic underpinnings of diseases.

“We’re a lot farther along than I ever expected and I’m a fairly optimistic person,” Myers said. “But this synergy that happens here on our campus … we call it our ecosystem with 800 people on our campus, there’s lots of interaction … and I didn’t anticipate how powerful it would be.”