Buffalo Rock Moving Operations with $20M Facility

The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Plant “neighborhood” is about to get a new resident.

Buffalo Rock announced it will be moving its distribution operations from Old Madison Pike to a $20 million facility next year in Limestone County near the massive auto plant north of I-565.

The new distribution center for Pepsi-Cola beverages and food products will employ 130 full-time workers and be operational by the end of the year. The current facility has 108 employees and there is no room for expansion.

“The operations on Old Madison Pike will be moving to this new facility by the end of 2021,” Buffalo Rock President/COO Matthew Dent said in a statement. “As with other projects, the overall goals are to improve the employee-partner experience, increase efficiency and productivity, and expand our ability to handle the strategic growth we have envisioned.”

According to plans, the city is purchasing about 85 acres for some $3.2 million and will then sell 55 acres to Buffalo Rock for $2.75 million.

“The capital investment they’re doing in the area means we’ll have more building and the amount of money they’ll add to the economy will be $5 million a year in payroll,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.

Huntsville will use the other 30 acres for flood mitigation and infrastructure, Battle said.

Dent said that was the option that helped his company choose Huntsville over other locations.

“With the city’s commitment to invest in the property’s road access, retention and utilities, it became an attractive option that allows us to stay in Huntsville as we expand,” he said.

Battle said the commitment is a “win-win” for Huntsville.

“There are no real abatements on this project,” he said. “They are promising jobs; they are promising capital investment.

“So, it’s a win-win for community.”

According to the agreement, the city will make road improvements and Huntsville Utilities will provide – at no cost to Buffalo Rock – electrical, natural gas, water and sewer connections. The agreement also states the plant must be operational by the end of next year with 130 full-time employees no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Chamber Hosts Virtual Automotive Hiring Event

Ready for some good news/bad news?

The bad news first: Yes, there are a lot of people out of work, some people who are not sure their jobs are coming back post-COVID, and others facing instability in their current jobs and careers.

But there is a lot of good news for these people: Huntsville has jobs available, and lots of them – particularly in the automotive industry.

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a virtual North Huntsville Automotive Hiring
Event Wednesday with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, as well as other automotive industry-related companies.

The companies will do virtual presentations about the work they do and what their jobs entail. They will meet with job seekers to discuss the jobs they have available (entry-level and above); and talk about the companies’ culture and expectations.

According to Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development at the Chamber, they will be using a platform called Remo, an interactive online recruitment environment.

“Ideally, we would do this in an auditorium where we could get people in the room talking to each other face-to-face,” Cape said. “But this is the closest thing we could find with COVID still a threat.

“There will also be a presentation from AIDT, Alabama’s statewide industrial training and recruitment group which does most of the hiring for production jobs.”

Cape said there are openings now with great opportunities to make a career change.

“If you know someone who is out of work, or concerned about their job or their career, given the changes in our economy, encourage them to check this out,” Cape said. “We are experiencing a lot of growth – we have never had this kind of OEM activity before … we are always looking for ways to support these companies, while making sure the community benefits from these great job projects.”

There are two sessions Wednesday: 4-5 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. with spots for 200 people per event.

Cape said if they max these two sessions out, they will host another one. She said there will likely be similar events well into the first quarter of 2021.

“Remember, the Chamber’s job site at https://asmartplace.com/work/find-a-job has jobs posted from other industries and other employers all the time,” she said. “But we had a particular push right now with Mazda Toyota and Toyota Alabama for specific positions that are available now.”

To register in advance for the 4 p.m. event, go to bit.ly/NorthHSVautojobs1.

To register in advance for the 5 p.m. event, go to bit.ly/NorthHSVautojobs2.

Automotive companies that would like to join the job fair should contact Cape at lcape@hsvchamber.org.

 

Booz Allen Innovation Center at Stovehouse Will Put Technology on Display

Booz Allen Huntsville Senior Vice President Lincoln Hudson: The innovation center “is a chance to show off some of our extraordinary talent.”

This winter, visitors to the historic Stovehouse will be able to watch innovation in progress through the glass “storefront” of the new Booz Allen Innovation Center overlooking the grassy courtyard of the reimagined factory. On display will be the company’s vast 3D printing capabilities and other additive manufacturing technologies.

Plans for the innovation center were first announced in June, but a live groundbreaking event followed by a virtual tour of the renovated 6,400 square-foot facility was recently carried on Facebook with Mayor Tommy Battle; Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Chair Kevin Burns; City Councilman Bill Kling; the Booz Allen Innovation Center Program Manager Emily Jones; and Booz Allen Huntsville Senior Vice President Lincoln Hudson.

“This new innovation center is a celebration of one of Huntsville’s longtime investors, and a key member of the Huntsville regional growth initiative,” said Burns.

The 3D printing space will act like a “storefront” in front of the windows overlooking the Stovehouse courtyard. Guest office space will be on the right.

“It’s a really big day for Booz Allen, opening this innovation center,” said Hudson. “We have been a part of Huntsville, really from the very beginning when Wernher von Braun was still a director at MDA (Missile Defense Agency). He reached out to Booz Allen to try and figure out how to get the funding to kick off the U.S. missile program here.

“We have grown as a company supporting MDA and NASA since then and grown into the huge company, we are today because of it, and more recently, because of our support for the DoD (Department of Defense) as well.”

The innovation center is a way for Booz Allen to showcase its engineering expertise in a customer and community collaborative environment. The center will feature a reconfigurable layout based on client work and technology requirements, including additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

“Huntsville’s newest innovation space is well on its way to being finished,” said Kling. “Booz Allen’s Innovation Center will provide a cutting edge and a welcoming environment in support of Booz Allen and their customers here in Huntsville.

Taking part in a “groundbreaking ceremony” are Kevin Burns, 2020 Chair Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce; City Councilman Bill Kling; Emily Jones, Booz Allen Innovation Center Program Manager; Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president, Booz Allen Huntsville; and Mayor Tommy Battle

“It will definitely have some very cool features.”

Hudson said the goal is to change as little as possible of the original factory space, while making it as flexible as possible to meet the company’s needs.

Entering the building from the Stovehouse courtyard, Booz Allen customers and Stovehouse guests will find the space open and conducive to social distancing.

The 3D printing space is in front of the windows and on full display. Across from it are guest offices for Booz Allen customers already using that technology.

Off to the right is a large, reconfigurable open space that can be used for multiple purposes and events with desks and tables and chairs.

In the far right corner is a main conference room that includes a soundproof, video-quality environment for customers and clients.

This multi-purpose open space is reconfigurable and will include a main conference room with a soundproof, video quality environment.

“Everything behind the front pillar as you enter the building will be on wheels,” said Hudson. “We will have some carts and toolboxes for light integration work, a lot of work with training in virtual environments such as cockpit controls. We manufacture some training environments and will definitely be demonstrating how we integrate technologies into those different virtual environments.”

They will also have a recruiting area and will hold staffing events.

“It is a chance to show off some of our extraordinary talent,” said Hudson.

Booz Allen plans to be open in time for a February leadership meeting scheduled at the Innovation Center.

“Innovation is what has made Huntsville what it is today,” said Battle “On behalf of the 205,000 people in the city of Huntsville, I thank you for making Huntsville part of your home.

“As we continue to grow, we are proud this is happening here in our community.”

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to Launch Second Phase of Mass Hiring

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, the Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. joint-venture automotive plant, will resume hiring for production team member positions Dec. 7.

Company and state officials will discuss the hiring opportunities during a Facebook Live event at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. It is open to the public.

“When you join the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing team you become a part of something bigger. Our production team member positions are career opportunities on a world-class team of highly-skilled, high-trained coworkers supported by leadership committed to the individual success of each employee on our team,” said Janette Hostettler, vice president of Production. “We looked forward to launching this next phase of hiring and encourage all interested in joining our team to tune into the Facebook Live event to learn more.”

“The partnership between the State of Alabama and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has been great not only for our state but also our citizens,” said Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of Commerce. “We’re proud to support their hiring and training needs as they move into the next phase of their process and give more Alabamians an opportunity to jump start their manufacturing careers.”

The positions are direct hire, full-time positions. Starting wage for production team members is $17/hour with a top grow in wage of $23/hour plus shift premium. Production team members are provided benefits on their first day of employment including paid time off, vehicle discount program, and medical/dental/vision.

Eligibility to participate in the company’s 401k with 6 percent employer match begins just 60 days after employment. Interested candidates may submit their application beginning Dec. 7 at MazdaToyota.com.

Facebook Live Details:
Date: Thursday, Dec. 3
Time: 3:30 – 4 p.m.
Link: www.facebook.com/aidtedu

Featured speakers are Hannah Hartline, Communications Specialist II, AIDT; Janette Hostettler, VP of Production, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing; Jena Huskey, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing; and Mitch Hewlett, Production Team Leader in Assembly, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing.

 

BAE’s Warrior Integration Program Called a ‘Lifesaver’

Tom Block was at a crossroads.

Front Row, Left to Right: Marine Corps Master Sgt. Andrew Desmond; Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sean Madison; Marine Corps Staff Sgt Peter Boisvert; Army Sgt. 1st Class Pat Cornell. Back Row, Left to Right: Army Sgt. Alan Kenneally; Navy Chief Petty Officer Steve Westcott; Army Staff Sgt. Chris Chouramanis; Marine Corps Sgt. Tim Cunha; Army Sgt. Tom Block; Service Dog Csar

After leaving the Army, he was working for the Department of Homeland Security investigating child exploitation. The job gave him financial security, but he said he was covering “pretty rough material’’ and he wanted to look around.

He found what he now calls “home’’ as a member of the Warrior Integration Program (WIP), an 11-year old initiative operating within defense contractor BAE Systems. The giant defense contractor, which is currently looking to fill a WIP opening in Huntsville, opened a $50 million, 3,000-square foot campus in Cummings Research Park in September.

The WIP aids post-9/11 wounded warriors seeking jobs once they leave the military. Block, a member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion out of Fort Benning, was wounded in 2013 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

“It’s been, honestly, a lifesaver for me,’’ said Block, who is now a subcontract administrator II for BAE. “It was a very, very hard time for me (at DHS). I was definitely looking for other options.

“I have a friend who works with Systems and he told me about WIP.’’

Alan Kenneally, a native of Ireland who emigrated to the United States in 1995, is the WIP’s program director. He was injured in an ambush while on his second tour in Iraq as an Army sergeant.

“We bring the individual on and set them up in different parts of the company,’’ he said. “Then, after maybe 12 to 15 months, they switch into a new role. There are more responsibilities, more tasks.

“We have senior leadership and managers who mentor and speak up for them and sponsor them in trying to get better opportunities. The only requirement to get into the program is honorable service and, unfortunately, have suffered some form of injury.’’

A formal education is not required for WIP applicants.

“It’s very, very accepting of individuals that have that lack of educational experience and drives home the fact that, yeah, we don’t have a degree or diploma but what we do have is years of training and experience and high stress,’’ Block said. “We have tools that can help us handle those types of situations.’’

Joe Wasley, the director of BAE’s Huntsville Business Center and the site director, said while BAE is looking to hire one person now, the goal is to have 250-275 employees within two to three years.

The current opening will be filled through the WIP.

“It would be a career in manufacturing, starting manufacturing and an opportunity to expand their career and sign on with a large international company,’’ he said. “We have 85,000 employees across the world, and we’re the fourth-largest defense contractor in the world.

“It’s a very large company with lots of opportunities to grow and expand your career here. We are really looking forward to landing a candidate for the program.’’

Applicants don’t have to live in the area but would have to relocate if hired.

“We’re looking at folks that are interested in things like manufacturing, production and what it takes to run a manufacturing operation,’’ said Bob Langell, director of Strategic Operations for the Huntsville Business Center. “There’s a lot of testing in diagnostics and working with engineers as technicians and assistance, anything along that realm of possibilities. Someone who’s interested in that kind of activity we’d be interested in talking to.’’

According to BAE External Communications’ Mark Daly, the WIP allows members to support those in combat.

“They still have a lot of friends that are out there, buddies that are still fighting,’’ Daly said. “This is one of the ways they get to continue to contribute even though they were discharged because they were injured.”

KTECH Expands Workforce Training Initiative in Partnership with Toyota Plant

It was a matter of seeing is believing for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

After company representatives toured the classrooms and labs at Huntsville’s KTECH, the two forged a partnership for KTECH to provide workforce training support and advanced technology capabilities to the Huntsville engine plant’s growing  team.

Launched in 2016, KTECH is a workforce development program created by founder Lee Marshall for her Kids to Love Foundation, targeting young adults who have aged out of the foster care system.

The program also reaches out to anyone in the community, such as veterans, who can use the skills. It focuses on providing certified skills training that will leverage them into good-paying career jobs and, since then, has proven to be a successful workforce training model.

According to Marshall, officials with the engine plant approached in February with a request for customized training. In August, KTECH trained the first Toyota team members.

“Innovation is a key component to the advanced manufacturing industry,” said Marshall. “The ability to train for that industry has been part of KTECH’s strategic plan from the beginning.

“Adding this component positions KTECH to expand our student base beyond those pursuing education alone, and includes students who have careers, but want to hone their expertise.”

Joe Steder, the plant’s maintenance and facilities manager, said after touring the KTECH facility, company leaders saw first-hand the superior caliber of students enrolled and identified KTECH as an opportunity to further support their training needs.

“KTECH developed customized courses that our skilled maintenance technicians can take locally, which provides tremendous benefits to our team,” said Steder.

“The objective of the class is to introduce, familiarize, and build skillsets for using cobot and vision tools,” said Keith Laney, Skilled Maintenance Group leader.  “The top down training approach reflects how technicians actually perform on the job, making it very effective.”

KTECH Workforce Development Director  Dorothy Havens said the organization hones in on the skills companies are seeking.

“Our biggest challenge is filling the number of advanced manufacturing jobs in our community, and connecting with the current workforce so our students have instant industry access. It is a win for everyone,” said Havens.

To date, KTECH has awarded 134 certifications and found graduates jobs at more than 20 local companies.

As FAME Star Shines, Chamber Formalizes Partnership with Rocket City Chapter

From the time Toyota launched its flagship Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) initiative in 2014, city leaders praised it as a promising and much needed apprenticeship training program and recruitment tool for the entire region.

AMTs Paul Logston and Brandon Powers working at Huntsville’s EFi Inc.

Now the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce is formalizing its support for the Rocket City Chapter of FAME Alabama with an official partnership.

According to Lydia Pennington, Chamber Industry Relations director, this new partnership includes local industry and education partners, and the North Alabama Manufacturing Institute.

“Making this partnership official will help support Toyota and AL FAME as a trusted employer-led talent solution,” said Pennington. “For several years, the Chamber has been a constant presence in support of the program and that has not changed, but more than 10,000 new manufacturing jobs have been announced over the past three years in Huntsville/Madison County. That accounts for more than 80 percent of total job announcements, so we are excited about this.”

FAME also got the attention of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle who, in a panel discussion after his State of the City Address, said his administration was discussing strategy, trying to shore up anything that could prevent Huntsville from realizing its full potential when FAME filled in some problem areas.

“At the time, Toyota was advertising for 200 jobs, and they had 10,000 people apply,” he said. “That showed us we had an under-employment issue that needed to be addressed.”

Pennington said the partnership will also help the Rocket City chapter grow and diversify into other industries besides automotive – in fact, that is already happening.

Brown Precision, a machine manufacturing company in Huntsville, has been onboard almost from the beginning.

“The FAME program is the most effective way we have found to solve the problem of finding qualified industrial maintenance technicians,” said Co-CEO Greg Brown. “We have over 50 CNC machine tools that need constant planned/preventive maintenance and occasional major repairs.

“I’ve been impressed by the rigor of the FAME program’s technical education as well as the program’s emphasis on the ‘essential’ skills required to be a part of a successful organization. I am thankful that the FAME program has filled a critical void for Brown Precision Inc.”

Matthew Johnson, Dante Thomas and Matthew Rolin at FAME graduation.

In Huntsville, FAME enrollment has more than doubled since 2014 and that jump in 2019 was a topic of discussion last September when First Daughter Ivanka Trump visited the Manufacturing Institute to celebrate the partnership that brought the FAME USA apprenticeship program under MI leadership.

“Toyota did something exceptional in creating a pilot that was excellent, to train that next generation of high-tech manufacturers, and then we start to scale it across the country,” Trump said. “FAME is an example of manufacturing taking best class practices from the private sector and scaling that opportunity so that many, many, more Americans can experience this pathway of acquired skills through this great program.

“We’re seeing people who have previously been on the sidelines of our economy, now entering the workforce and securing the skills that they need to not just get a job, but to secure a career.”

Findings in a report put out by the Brookings Institution and Opportunity America show AL FAME is one of the most successful apprenticeship models in the country. The report draws special attention to FAME’s benefits for less advantaged students, including older learners and those not planning to attend college.

Apprenticeship is the only path to a postsecondary credential and well-paying career for these people but, with COVID-19, a more job-focused education and training is also an option.

“Our study highlights what a growing group of manufacturing employers already know,” said Opportunity America President Tamar Jacoby, one of the authors of the report. “The FAME program works to prepare learners for today’s rapidly changing economy, teaching not just technical skills but also critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.”

Today, FAME is a national network of nearly 400 companies in 13 states, with more than 1,100 Advanced Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) completing the program.

“We welcome this partnership with the Chamber, which we know will allow us to continue to grow … the workforce needs of this region,” said Scott Russo, president of the Rocket City Chapter of AL FAME. “The rapid growth of this chapter shows the value of the FAME model, and now, with more than 20 companies sponsoring AMTs, it is a great time to add an experienced and trusted partner to help us manage the Chapter.”

For Tony Davis, senior director for Workforce Initiatives for MI and FAME USA national leader, the partnership is a model for a win-win situation.

“With the Chamber helping employers solve their skilled position needs while growing local workforce capacity, at the same time theses employers are strengthening their pipeline of global-best talent while fostering relationships with local schools to continue to feed that pipeline,” said Davis. “All of this makes the area more attractive for continued growth, ensuring the entire region benefits from the economies created through this partnership.”

There are 51 graduates from the Rocket City Chapter of FAME, and there are currently 73 students enrolled in the Huntsville program.

“The Chamber is committed to supporting the FAME Rocket City Chapter and helping it grow to meet local demand,” said Pennington.

 

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Unveils Corporate Logo

As its massive auto plant nears completion, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing unveiled its corporate logo.

The logo, which was developed through partnership with local marketing agency Red Sage Communications, is rich in symbolism and was designed to represent Mazda Toyota Manufacturing’s mission, vision, values and ties to North Alabama, the company said in a news release Tuesday. Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is a joint manufacturing venture between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp.

“The development process for the MTM logo was very intentional. We solicited the collaboration and support of our entire team – from production employees to executive officers – to ensure there was meaning in nearly every facet of the design,” said Mark Brazeal, Mazda Toyota vice president of administration, “We want North Alabama to see our logo as a reminder of our commitment to serve as a hometown company as much as we want our team to be inspired and motivated to build the highest quality products for our customers every day.”

“The opportunity to work collaboratively with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing’s team to develop their new logo and brand identity was tremendously exciting. We were honored to be chosen for the partnership,” said Ellen Didier, Red Sage Communications founder and president. “The company’s brand values of innovation and collaboration, as well as a desire to relate to and connect with the North Alabama community, were key inspirations for the design.”

The logo, which reads “MTM”, is composed of two sides joined by three lines representing the company origin and foundation of support from its parent companies, Mazda and Toyota. It also includes meaningful design elements such as use of a custom red that was created through a mix of three shades of paint; Alabama state red, Toyota red and Mazda soul red. The blend was created by students at Limestone County Career Technical Center and was painted on the vehicle cabs used to complete assessments at the AIDT/MTM Assessment Center.

“As we prepare to resume applications for Production Team Members in the upcoming months and continue to make strides toward start of production, we are so proud to reveal our logo to the community,” Brazeal said. “We look forward to being here, building our team and offering exciting opportunities to join us for many, many years to come.”

Mazda Toyota has hired more than 750 employees and the $2.311 billion facility is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and will have the capacity to assemble up to 300,000 vehicles a year, beginning in 2021.

City Leaders Discuss Smart Growth Strategy For Huntsville

A city leadership panel of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Huntsville City Administrator John Hamilton, Director of Urban and Economic Development Shane Davis and City Engineer Kathy Martin took an in-depth look into the vigorous activity and relentless growth Battle discussed in his State of the City Address.

Huntsville’s smart growth strategy seems to underlie every aspect of the city’s regional approach to economic growth. Infrastructure, high quality of life, good jobs, and its strategic placement at all points of the city are significant components of that strategy.

Moderator Chip Cherry, president/CEO of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, asked Battle about the role regional cooperation plays in the success of the local economy, and in advocating for Redstone Arsenal.

“Teamwork, but not your typical community teamwork. Cross jurisdictional teamwork and collaboration,” Battle said. “None of us are an island. We work together.

“Mazda Toyota came about because Huntsville was working with Limestone County and the City of Athens on utilities, and that had us working with the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Commerce.

“We have a lot of servant leaders in our communities who learned how to put aside egos and work together to make good things happen without worry about who is getting the credit or the fame for it.”

He cited the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville Utilities, Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.

“We have great leadership across the board at upper levels, but that can’t sustain us,” Battle said. “You have to have leadership on the director’s level, and we have been developing leadership at that level for the past 15 years.

“Leadership is executing a plan.”

Infrastructure

“Restore Roads was a vision back in 2014 to help sustain the growth we knew was coming,” Martin said. “Three of those projects are complete. Cecil Ashburn is the latest, and the Land Trust just opened their parking lot there – and by the way, the sunsets off Cecil Ashburn are quite amazing.”

Kathy Martin: “Restore Roads was a vision back in 2014 to help sustain the growth we knew was coming.”

She said Research Park Boulevard, Mastin Lake Road, and the northern bypass are all under construction or starting construction. Greenbriar Parkway adds seven miles of infrastructure to connect to I-565; and the reconstruction of old Highway 20 adds another five miles to the Mazda Toyota corridor.

Good weather has permitted a lot of progress on Martin Road just outside the arsenal’s Gate 7. Martin said now that the traffic has shifted lanes, the progress will be more noticeable as the City wants it completed by next fall.

Haysland Road on the south end of town is on schedule to open the end of this year, with the Edinburgh connector starting next spring.

“The south connector, previously called the Southern Bypass project, has been around for quite a while,” said Martin. “Currently, it is called the Arsenal East Connector and has been revived to get a direct interstate connection down to the Patton Road gate as quickly as possible. There’s been some federal funding that’s allowed Huntsville to do a corridor study and get the first phase of that East Arsenal Connector in the beginning design process.”

She said the city is working closely with the federal government, the state, and Redstone Arsenal to come up with an alignment that works for everyone.

“Currently, our staff is managing approximately 70 roadway projects,” Martin said. “That is about 300 lane miles of improvements in our city, equating to about $800 million in federal, state, and local funding infrastructure to accommodate the growth we see.”

Quality of Life

“When we talk about infrastructure, we think roads, sidewalks, utility expansion, and resiliency,” Hamilton said. “Those things are all extremely important, but there are other pieces of public infrastructure necessary to be part of workforce development.

“Companies work hard to make their businesses places where people want to work. The City has to make Huntsville a place where people want to live.”

John Hunt Park is part of Huntsville’s Central Park, which is laid out as a complex of parks at Huntsville’s heart. Building a wide diversity of recreational and athletic opportunities around it is a large part of improving Huntsville’s quality of life.

Quality of life to city leaders is hosting college-level sand volleyball tournaments such as the Junior National Championships this year, in a complex built so that the college tournaments are using the same facilities as the youths.

Hamilton said the same thing is happening in soccer, lacrosse, and cross-country infrastructure where the former municipal golf course was converted into a cross-country course.

“Local high schools hosted a cross-country meet that attracted teams from all over the state,” said Hamilton. “Next year we’re hosting one of the NCAA regionals on the same course. It reflects our strategy of making sure we’re meeting and identifying the daily demands of our community and for all their family’s recreational pursuits, but doing it in a way that really can attract business into our community and bring sports tourism in.”

But Huntsville isn’t just investing in big venues. The city is making investments in every neighborhood as well.

John Hamilton: “We are investing in a way that’s high quality and meets the rolling demand.”

“The Sandra Moon Complex is a great example of what will be a little town center in southeast Huntsville providing arts, a library for academic pursuits and reading, but also athletic events right there on that same location, so it becomes a hub, almost a little village down there,” said Hamilton. “Same thing across the mountain at the Mark Russell Recreation Center north of the Johnson Legacy Center with rock climbing and fitness facilities and nature preserve.

“We disperse it geographically across the city and … really expand the diversity of those opportunities. We all love football, baseball, basketball, and continue investing in that; we also have a rapidly growing lacrosse community and running and biking communities.”

He said by introducing sports such as skateboarding into Huntsville, it helps attract people from different parts of the country.

“We are investing in a way that’s high quality and meets the rolling demand,” he said.

Other quality of life projects include the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex. Hamilton said many people who move to Huntsville from up north are surprised at how robust the hockey, figure skating and curling community is here, and has been for decades. As a result, the aging Ice Complex got an $11 million renovation that will be finished in the middle of November with higher quality ice, better seating, and more amenities.

Davis joined the conversation to discuss the many revitalization projects and new investments projects ranging from multihousing to commercial space and retail development.

“Joe Davis stadium was designed to be a baseball stadium and, in its current configuration, that is all it can be, but we have the ability to transform it into a venue for high school football, soccer, lacrosse, and basically any sport that uses a rectangular field,” said Davis. “We will leverage the value that park brings in in hotels, restaurants, and whatever makes sense from a commercial perspective.”

There will be additional infrastructure through the middle of Brahan Spring Park to connect it to Lowe Mill as an arts center, and on into the downtown area. That project starts in 2021.

The Johnson Legacy Center project is in its first phase as part of the quality of life infrastructure. Davis said when the public safety training facility relocates to the former Johnson High School site, there’s a great of potential for large green spaces that will allow for festivals and events.

“And we continue to see a lot of desire for investment in the downtown area, so parking infrastructure will ultimately help drive the expansion of the Von Braun Center. Those improvements will provide more arts and entertainment to the area.”

There is always more to come, so they work in phases he said but for the next couple of years, they are focused on making sure Huntsville’s new corporate citizens are successful.

“We want to make sure our existing companies are expanding and staying focused on reinvestment in downtown, Research Park, workforce development, and making sure our communities are prepared for the opportunities we see coming.”

Strategic Placement

“Our ability to execute the plan is what we’re seeing today … being very deliberate in the placement of jobs, and it’s not just chasing the western corridor, putting companies in the right locations for them to be successful, but also brings leverage into our communities,” said Davis.

Shane Davis: “We sat down and came up with a vision, a plan; but your plan is only as good as its execution.”

“I think you have to go back 10 to 12 years ago during what people call the Great Recession or a decade in the rearview mirror,” Davis said. “You’re trying to meet budget and provide community services. We sat down and came up with a vision, a plan; but your plan is only as good as its execution.

What we see throughout Huntsville, he said, is the placement of those jobs and major investments in areas where neighborhoods can come back and revitalize. Existing neighborhoods and commercial corridors usher in new neighborhoods, creating a new commercial lane that is not in any one part or section of the community but abroad. No part of the city is left out of the growth strategy.

“We looked at about 67 non-industrial projects that are active in the middle of COVID-19,” said Davis. “Huntsville is not only punching above their weight class as a secondary tier metro competing with major metros across the USA, but that is no longer the challenge. Huntsville has become a totally different market, and that’s good not only for the bottom line to provide more services and quality of life attributes to our communities, but to be able to pay for them, is good for our community, our citizens and our businesses.”

He said bringing more people into a community is the best way to help small business. “It is the placement of industrial growth at Research Park and in and around the Arsenal, but also placing it in the northeast and southeast part of town, and you can see the impact caused by it in the community,” Davis said.

The Secret to Huntsville’s Success

Cherry said Huntsville is the most optimistic community he has ever been around and that no one should be surprised leadership has executed the plan so well.

“This is a community that not that long ago said, ‘Sure, we can put a man on the moon and bring him home alive, no problem,” said Cherry. “It took a whole lot of local teamwork to do it, but when you’re in a place that is now saying, “No problem. We will go to Mars and we will make sure they stay alive and come back alive”. That’s a community that doesn’t see obstacles. It’s a community that wins every competition it enters, and I think that just permeates who we are as a community and drives that success.”

Mayor Tommy Battle: “I think we can look at every section of the city, every part of town and it is growing right now.”

Battle said while people talk about Huntsville being number one, number one isn’t important  – being the best, is.

“Many years ago we were updating our strategy, talking about where the voids were and whether things had to be able to realize our full potential, because Toyota at the time was advertising for 200 jobs and they had 10,000 people apply,” he said. “It showed us we had an under-employment issue.

“This led community leadership to focus on diversification and picking up more advanced manufacturing jobs. It was really kind of pulling people up from the bottom and a lot of people were questioning it, but we designed a mechanism to make sure investment is protected. Every one of the projects we’ve done, we look very closely at return on investment, at how much we’re going to invest, what the returns will be, how many jobs we are getting, and what is it going to do to our economy? What is the capital expenditure going to be coming back into it?”

Redstone Gateway is an example.

“We were going to invest a certain amount into infrastructure, but we wanted to make sure we would get paid back. So, we worked in a unique fashion, different than anybody had ever done before,” said Battle. “The company actually borrowed the money to come in, and they were paid back by the buildings they built and the property tax as it came back to them.

“As a city, we did not have exposure. There was no risk as long as they built the building. We felt very comfortable that the value of that building would continue to make money and continue to bring in property taxes that could pay off that infrastructure.”

He said the city always expects Huntsville to get a return on the investment with every project and that the citizens and people engaged in the community should know the appointment of resources is very strategic, designed to yield secondary impacts throughout the market like parking decks that allow for denser developments.

“I think we can look at every section of the city, every part of town and it is growing right now,” said Battle. “In Hampton Cove we’ve got a new community center and the Sandra Moon Complex and Hays Farm project are going to be magnificent developments,” said Battle.

“And don’t forget out to the west and all the property surrounding the Mazda Toyota plant and Polaris. It is going to have growth factors, as well as Research Park and the Arsenal. Research Park still has over 300 acres of undeveloped land and it is growing very fast.

“We still have about 2.5 million to 3 million square feet of land to be developed at Redstone Gateway, and on the Arsenal, the growth we are seeing out of the FBI and from internal or organic growth coming out of all the other agencies, makes it a great time to be in Huntsville.”

Can we get an “Amen?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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