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Despite Remington Money Woes and Furloughs, Incentives are Protected

It’s too early to tell how or if Remington’s recent furloughs will affect its agreement with the city of Huntsville, according to city officials.

June 3 marked the first day of about a two-month furlough for about 200 workers at the Remington plant in Huntsville. Workers are expected to return in mid-August.

Following the company’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which saw $775 million in debt converted to equity and the company receive $193 million in a new lending package funded by seven banks, the city of Huntsville renegotiated the original incentive package that was put in place when Remington decided to move here.

Last November, the city council approved a new deal that gave Remington an extra three years to meet its objective of employing 1,868 employees or the company forfeits its $12.5 million incentive package provided by the city of Huntsville, the Madison County Commission and the Industrial Development Board.

“Part of the revised agreement gives the company flexibility to respond to market shifts, as long as they fulfill long-term obligations,” Kelly Schrimsher, director of communications for the city of Huntsville, said. “There are benchmarks where the company’s performance is analyzed. These include performance numbers for wages and employees. The next reporting period will be Dec. 31, 2019. Compliance reports, however, will not be delivered until spring of 2020.

“Until the city and state see that report, it would be premature to speculate on Remington’s performance.”

According to reports, Remington has already lost $3 million from a withheld cash incentive payment from the state and repaid more than $500,000 for failing to meet various job and payroll targets, which was part of an overall $70 million incentive package.

Remington did not respond to requests for information by deadline.

Huntsville officials still believe Remington is committed to meeting its goals and to the city.

“This is a 200-year old company in the process of restructuring and reshaping its future to meet a changing marketplace,” Schrimsher said. “The CEO’s office is now in Huntsville. We believe the company is committed to having a strong presence here, and our agreement gives them time to work through their reorganization.

“Conversations to date have reflected this continued commitment.”

Schrimsher also said the city is well protected under the agreement it has with Remington.

“The city still has 100 percent control of the Remington campus,” she said. “To date, Remington has not earned any percentage of the facility. Should Remington ultimately be found in default of its contract, the company would owe the city $12.5 million, which was the city’s investment in the project or surrender the campus. The campus market value far exceeds the $12.5 million mortgage.

“Huntsville’s investment was relatively small considering the hundreds of millions of dollars Remington has invested in the plant and payroll to date. If Remington walked away tomorrow, Huntsville would be made whole.”

Schrimsher cited the positive impact Remington had after locating in the city from a jobs standpoint, regardless of what happens in the future.

“To put this in further perspective, the Huntsville marketplace is in an entirely different position when Remington entered in 2014,” she said. “At that time, Huntsville was heavily dependent upon federal employment dollars, and Mayor Tommy Battle and the Chamber (of Commerce) were working hard to diversify and expand our employment base beyond federal contracting. Advanced manufacturing was a target market, but it’s also highly competitive, and every state in the country is fighting for good-paying jobs for skilled workers.

“Landing the Remington plant put Huntsville on the map for advanced manufacturing. After the Remington announcement, the city caught the eye of Polaris, then GE Aviation, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, and now Mazda-Toyota. Remington was a catalytic project for Huntsville. At present, there are thousands of jobs available for highly skilled workers in Huntsville.”

UAH to Host Interim State Cyber and Engineering School; Massey Named President

The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Bevill Center will serve as the interim site for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, it was announced Friday.

Also, former Madison County Schools Superintendent Matt Massey was named the school’s first president. The school is scheduled to open in August 2020 with 10th- and 11th-grade students from across the state attending.

“The University of Alabama in Huntsville is excited to be the interim location for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering,” said UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson. “Our Bevill Center on campus will provide secure living arrangements for students, in addition to classroom space and food services.

“We appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with us to meet their training needs elsewhere on campus so that the School could begin residency and education on our campus next year.”

The announcements were made at a press conference at Redstone Federal Credit Union.

“It’s not only an exciting opportunity to be named president of the school, but to be a resource for teachers and administrators to implement cyber and STEM into their schools,” said Massey, who had served as the county’s superintendent for 4 1/2 years. “The result will not just impact 300 students in the school, but will exponentially reach students and educators all across the state.”

The city of Huntsville is donating property in Cummings Research Park for the school’s permanent location. The school is expected to open there in August 2022.

“The City of Huntsville is proud to be an ongoing partner in this cyber initiative by supporting Alabama’s cyber magnet school with a gift of property for a new campus,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Once again, Huntsville will continue to be the epicenter for the state’s best and brightest to help Alabama and our nation meet the demand for a future workforce in cyber and engineering.”

The independent residential magnet school will provide students from across the state with educational opportunities and experiences in cyber technology and engineering. The school will also assist Alabama teachers, administrators, and superintendents in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.

“The ASCTE Board could not be more pleased with the continued and expanded partnership with UAH, and the tremendous gift by the City of Huntsville through Mayor Battle and the City Council to establish a permanent site in CRP for the school,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, president of the school’s Board of Trustees. “All in all, it is gratifying to see the Huntsville community realize the importance of this school to the area and state as we establish a world-class institution.”

Navistar to make $125M expansion here; add 145 jobs

Navistar, which has an engine plant in Huntsville, will expand its operations here with the addition of a gear box and engine manufacturing facility.

The Huntsville City Council approved an agreement with the company for the $125 million plant that will create some 145 jobs. Navistar employs 126 workers at its diesel engine plant near Huntsville International Airport. The new facility will be adjacent to the engine plant.

Navistar’s International A26 engine built in Huntsville.
(Navistar Photo)

“The Huntsville facility is an important part of Navistar’s manufacturing footprint, and we look forward to the new opportunities this investment allows,” said Lyndi McMillan, Navistar’s director of business communications. “This proposed expansion would increase the company’s capacity to continue to build its International A26 engine as well as produce its next-generation big-bore diesel engines in Alabama.”

Construction is expected to start next year with completion scheduled for December 2021. It will begin operations by the end of September 2022, according to the agreement.

AAA Credit Ratings Prove Huntsville an Economic Engine for North Alabama

For the 11th consecutive year, Huntsville has received the highest possible “AAA” credit ratings from the two major credit rating agencies Standard & Poors and Moody’s Investors Services.

The agencies cited several factors as the driving force behind the ratings including financial stability, a strong regional tax base, substantial reserve funds, and Huntsville’s strong economy as a steady economic engine for all North Alabama.

Out of 22,250 U.S. cities and counties, less than 1 percent receive this top rating.

“The city has also been reinvesting in its community with deliberate and effective urban planning and design efforts. With a combination of pay-as-you-go financing from excess revenues, tax increment revenues and debt proceeds, the city has been able to undertake multiple projects,” S&P said in a statement.

“The tremendous growth in Huntsville, our ability to work together strategically, efficiently and collaboratively has made this success possible,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We’ll use these high credit marks to borrow money at exceptionally low interest rates to fund projects in the city’s capital improvement plan.”

Budgetary management and a low debt-to-citizen/debt-to-GDP ratio also played a large role, the reports said. The ratings give Huntsville a lot of financial leverage including the ability to borrow close to $85 million for city and countywide projects.

Among them is $25 million to complete the Greenbrier Parkway in rural Limestone County, which was annexed to Huntsville as part of the infrastructure needed to support the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing USA auto plant.

Another $50 million has been earmarked for capital building and improvement projects at John Hunt, Merrimack, and Brahan Spring Parks; for recreation centers; libraries; greenways; and a public safety training center and police firing range. An additional $10 million has been put aside for downtown parking garages.

Auto Supplier DaikyoNishikawa to Locate First U.S. Plant in Huntsville, Creating 380 Jobs

Japan-based DaikyoNishikawa US will build a $110 million auto parts manufacturing facility in Huntsville, the company announced Tuesday.

“Huntsville welcomes DaikyoNishikawa to our growing regional network of automotive suppliers,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “They’re joining an outstanding partnership with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., and we’re collectively witnessing the birth of a major automotive hub for the U.S. and the world.”

The company will be on-site at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. assembly plant under construction. DNUS will create approximately 380 jobs and produce plastic automotive parts. Construction is expected to start in July and production slated for 2021.

DNUS is the first on-site partner announced for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., a $1.6 billion joint-venture assembly plant being built on a 2,500-acre site in the Limestone County portion of Huntsville.

“With this being DaikyoNishikawa’s first U.S. manufacturing facility, we welcome them home to Limestone County and look forward to being a key partner in their future success,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “This $110 million investment that will bring 380 new jobs is a testament to the strong workforce in our region that has earned global recognition.”

DNUS has established a temporary office in Huntsville and a human resources director to prepare for hiring. Jobs are listed at joblink.alabama.gov.

Limestone, Madison Counties Lead State in Capital Investment, Job Creation

Limestone and Madison counties topped all other counties in Alabama for new capital investment (CAPEX) and job creation, according to the 2018 New & Expanding Industry Report just released by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Limestone County led the state with CAPEX of $1.7 billion, followed by Madison County with $1.1 billion in new capital investment. The Limestone County figures are heavily driven by the $1.6 billion Mazda  Toyota Manufacturing USA plant under construction in Huntsville-Limestone County.

Furthermore, according to the report, Limestone County ranked first in job creation at 4,172 jobs. Madison County ranked No. 3 at 1,043 jobs.

However, Harrison Diamond, Business Relations officer for the City of Huntsville, said the report contains a caveat.

“The numbers for our area are even better when you realize that Huntsville is now comprised of Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties,” said Diamond, “Limestone’s numbers included some investment not in Huntsville, but when you pull it all together, Huntsville’s CAPEX is $2.7 billion with 5,189 jobs created in 2018.”

Growth in automotive and aerospace remained strong in 2018, boding well for North Alabama, which has momentum for the rest of 2019.

The report outlines 357 economic development projects totaling a record-breaking $8.7 billion in CAPEX statewide with 17,062 jobs from new and expanding industries. That is the highest increase since 2015 at $7.1 billion.

“This success solidifies my belief that we are building a more dynamic economy in Alabama and creating a pathway to greater prosperity for its citizens,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Projects in the City of Huntsville

Company                                                                  Year     Jobs                 Investment ($)

BAE Systems Inc. 2018 200 45,500,000
BWXT 2018 5 0
Custom Assembly inc. 2018 75 0
DC Blox 2018 5 10,867,600
Dynetics 2018 130 24,455,643
EOS 2018 100 2,500,000
Facebook 2018 100 750,000,000
Kohler 2018 149 175,470,698
LG Electronics 2018 159 28,100,000
Mitchell Plastics 2018 95 18,315,000
Mynaric USA 2018 2 0
Novocol Healthcare 2018 7 1,000,000
Radiance Technologies, Inc. 2018 60 18,990,000
Redline Steel 2018 50 11,111,454
St. Gobain 2018 2 13,000,000
Torch Technologies 2018 40 6,325,000
Toyota/Mazda JV 2018 4000 1,600,000,000
VT Miltope 2018 10 0

Total                                                                                                5,189               2,700,000,000

Huntsville, Sierra Nevada Chasing the Dream of Space-based Business

Since the launch of the International Space Station some 20 years ago, the idea of space, especially low-Earth orbit, has been as one big start-up business.

With Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft jumping into the commercial resupply mission lane, the whole commercialization of space concept got very interesting for Huntsville.

If all goes as planned, the busy little Dream Chaser spacecraft will make its maiden landing at the Huntsville International Airport in 2023. It will be the first and only commercial airport licensed by the FAA for a spaceplane landing. The only other designated landing site will be Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“There is a whole new business going on up there and people who create NASA policy like the idea of the commercialization of space,” said Lee Jankowski, senior director of Business Development for Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville. He is also the program manager for the $1 million project to obtain two special FAA licenses so the Dream Chaser spacecraft can land at Huntsville International Airport.

If this sounds far-fetched, that’s what Jankowski thought too, five years ago.

While known for the business of rocketry and propulsion. Huntsville also contributes to other areas of space exploration, such as payload science analysis, operations, and integration.

Sierra Nevada rendering shows Dream Chaser docked with International Space Station

Teledyne Brown Engineering  in Huntsville has handled all science payload operations for the Space Shuttle missions for nearly 20 years. The company has a Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center and the contract was renewed to manage resupply efforts and payloads to the International Space Station.

“TBE and our subcontractors understand how to plan out the science while it’s onboard; how to train for it; how to execute it; and how to get it back down to Earth to maximize its scientific return,” said Jankowski. “With the shuttle program, Teledyne Brown planned one- or two-week missions that occurred three or four times a year.

“With the space station, we are up there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of science.”

Huntsville’s Story

Jankowski believes there is a compelling story to be told for why landing the Dream Chaser in Huntsville makes sense.

“There are two different mission sets or two different orbits for Huntsville to consider,” he said. “Let’s say we have a mission that goes up from Kennedy, resupplies the space station and, when it comes down, lands in Huntsville.”

This is not an implausible scenario, he said, because the Marshall Space Flight Center has a lot of hardware flying around up there that needs to be returned.

The second mission set would be going back to Spacelab-type payload missions. Many Huntsville entities such as Marshall and HudsonAlpha already have payloads. Why not plan a return mission that is more North Alabama-centric?

Sierra Nevada rendering shows projects being offloaded from Dream Chaser on the runway.

A standalone Huntsville payload mission landing here carrying specimens, hardware, or other science can be immediately offloaded from the space vehicle and delivered pronto to the scientists, universities, and companies in this area.

So Many Possibilities

Most of the early missions will be unmanned and flown autonomously but the Dream Chaser was originally designed for a crew of at least six. The interior has been modified to better accommodate supply runs to the space station, but Sierra Nevada is still focused on getting a U.S. astronaut back to the space station on a U.S. vehicle.

“A Dream Chaser landing capability here opens up so many possibilities,” Jankowski said. “Exposure to cutting-edge concepts and, let’s say we only get one landing. We are looking at job growth. We will need processing facilities and manpower to build, operate and integrate payloads.”

For the third straight year, the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored a  European Space Agency competition, seeking applications for the Dream Chaser that would land in Huntsville.

“The Space Exploration Masters competition with the European Space Agency and our partner, Astrosat, a Scottish space services company, has given us a world stage for promoting our space, science and technology ecosystem,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “The competition has helped us raise the international profile of Huntsville not only as the home of the Saturn V and the space shuttle, but also as the space science operations center for the International Space Station and the ongoing rocket and propulsion capital for SLS and Blue Origin.”

Five years ago, Jankowski approached Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway on how to acquire study money to determine if such a pursuit was feasible and if the airport could handle the unique spacecraft’s landing.

Haraway; County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; then-Madison Mayor Troy Trulock; Cape; and the Port of Huntsville leadership, all pulled together $200,000 in public funds to conduct a six-month feasibility study.

“The Chamber’s role in economic development includes working with local leaders and companies to position ourselves for optimal growth,” said Cape. “We’ve identified Huntsville’s space science and payload expertise as a key asset in the emerging space economy.

“Landing the Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport would create new opportunities for local companies as well as new capabilities for our research and development community.”

HSV Runway Testing

“In 2015, Huntsville International Airport did a landing site study (to determine) the feasibility and compatibility of landing future space vehicles (specifically the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser),” said Kevin Vandeberg, director of operations at Huntsville International Airport. 

The main issue was whether the skid plate on the front of Dream Chaser would seriously damage the asphalt runway. Dream Chaser lands on its back two wheels but does not have a front landing tire. Instead, the nose drops down on a skid plate to bring the vehicle to a halt. 

Using heavy equipment travelling at a high rate of speed, Morell Engineering tests showed a vehicle the size of Dream Chaser would be going so fast, it would do only minimal damage to the runway, never digging into the asphalt or rutting. Sierra Nevada shipped in a real skid plate for the test and it passed with flying colors.

They also conducted preliminary environmental assessments to measure the effects of the mild sonic boom the landing will trigger, and whether it will impact nearby explosive materials.

“In January 2016, the Airport Authority received the report on the findings of the study from Morell Engineering,” said Vandeberg. “It confirmed that little structural damage is expected to occur during the landing of Dream Chaser on the airport’s asphalt runway. Upon review of this report, Huntsville International Airport determined that we would move forward with the FAA license application process.”

The $1 Million Phase II Engineering Analysis

There are two applications required by the FAA to be considered a landing designation for Dream Chaser. Huntsville International must apply for a license to operate a re-entry site. Sierra Nevada must submit an application for a license for “Re-entry of a Re-entry Vehicle Other Than a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).”

“We are currently in the middle of a 2½-year engineering analysis in which we have subcontractors based at Kennedy Space Center doing most of the analyses,” said Jankowski. “Huntsville is taking a backseat to Kennedy because NASA is paying the Kennedy Space Center to do most of the required analyses. If you look at the launch schedule, Kennedy is one to two months ahead of Huntsville. Sierra Nevada gave us a heads-up to be patient and let Kennedy go first so a lot of the generic analysis needed is paid for, keeping our $1 million investment intact.”

The airport is scheduled to submit the first application to the FAA in December and the second application next January. However, the NASA buzz is that it will likely slip four or five months, and the Chamber has warned about recent proposed changes to space launch and landing permits at the federal level that could impact plans.

Altogether, it puts them a year away from final submission.

Community Engagement & Legislative Support

“We have engaged some amazing people like Congressman Mo Brooks, Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, and Gov. Kay Ivey,” said Jankowski. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; past-NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden; William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA; and Kirk Shireman, manager of the ISS Program, are all familiar with Huntsville’s FAA status.”

“The Chamber has been actively marketing Huntsville as a landing site through local partner workshops, presentations to local industry groups and the Alabama Space Authority,” said Cape. “We also have the sponsorship of an international competition seeking ideas for using the Dream Chaser to further space exploration and economic development.

The United Nations Factor

There is an even bigger business storyline in the making – Sierra Nevada is in negotiations with the United Nations.

A couple of years ago, the company sent out a Call For Interest among U.N. members, asking if they have any potential payloads or science to fly on a two-week Dream Chaser mission.

Expecting 40 or 50 responses, Sierra Nevada received close to 175. The United Nations is working with Sierra Nevada to potentially launch missions that help Third World nations.

And Jankowski said everything is on schedule so far.

“From the day Huntsville International Airport submits the application, the FAA reserves up to 180 days to approve the license,” he said. “Once they get their license, there will be 1½-year lead-time before NASA says, ‘Huntsville has both of their FAA licenses in hand. They want a mission.’

“After that, the soonest we could get on the manifest is, I think, about 20 months, so we are probably still looking at being about 3½ years out.”

But, as everyone knows, in the realm of the business of space, that day will be here before we know it.

While Residents are Goin’ ‘Round Huntsville Mountain, Businesses are Assessing the Fallout

Huntsville residents are used to going around things.

Most people have skirted around Redstone Arsenal for 65 years to get where they are going.

And, after all, when you live in a valley, there are going to be some mountains to traverse, but the priority $18 million Cecil Ashburn Drive road improvement project has been challenging for a lot of people since it was closed in January for a widening project.

Cecil Ashburn connects commuters from east Huntsville, Marshall and Jackson counties to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

While the through pass is closed, there are three routes connecting Big Cove/Hampton Cove to Huntsville and destinations to the west and all three require going around Huntsville. U.S. 431 via Governors Drive; South Memorial Parkway via Hobbs Island Road; and U.S. 72 via Eastern Bypass/Rock Cut Road are all viable, if not the shortest, routes.

Construction on Cecil Ashburn Drive is progressing. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Almost since it opened in 2000, the winding two-lane shortcut through Huntsville Mountain from Jones Valley to Hampton Cove has been over-capacity. More than 17,000 vehicles travel it every day and, in the past 11 years, there have been 782 vehicle wrecks and 11 fatalities recorded along that 3.4-mile stretch of road.

The City of Huntsville knew it was going to be a bitter pill, but officials tried to alleviate as much pain as possible to improve traffic flow, increase capacity, and improve safety. The project will widen the road from two to four lanes between Old Big Cove Road and Four Mile Post Road, and safety improvements include eight-foot shoulders along each side of the roadway.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

The Effects on Local Business

“The closure occurred just after the first of the year and, for us in the health and exercise business, January and February are our busiest months,” said Kim Edmunds, manager of Hot Yoga of Huntsville, at 326 Sutton Road on the east side of the construction. “We were outwardly worried people would have difficulty getting here for their appointments, but we have been surprised it is not any worse than it is.”

She said there has been a fall-off in attendance at the popular late-afternoon class, the one that attracts people on their way home from work between 4 and 6 p.m.

“We also see what we believe is a hesitation from our short term and trial members to make a long-term commitment while travel is limited,” she said. “We believe this will change when at least a couple of lanes are reopened this fall.”

Carl Stanfield, interim store manager for Alabama Outdoors, said during the week foot traffic to his store at 2030 Cecil Ashburn Drive in Jones Valley, seems to have slowed down, but weekends are still very busy.

“Checking with our corporate headquarters, we have seen a 25 percent drop in headcounts since the first of the year, so we think there may be some negative effects from the construction,” he said. “But the closure came the second week of January just as the holidays came to an end and school started back. That could also account for a natural drop-off after the holidays.”

Tropical Smoothie Café manager Tyisha Burt said her business at 2075 Cecil Ashburn Drive opened in September, so there isn’t any history to compare.

“We have been very busy the past few months I think because of the warmer weather,” she said. “But we believe, once the pass is opened again, things will be even better than they are now.”

Donna Denson, patient concierge at Austin Physical Therapy, drives in to the Jones Valley location from Scottsboro every day.

“The day before the road closed, I decided to try the Green Mountain route using Old Big Cove Road,” she said. “But it was foggy that day and it was too unfamiliar, so I started taking Hobbs Island Road to Bailey Cove. It is an hour drive, but not a bad drive at all.

“It takes a little extra time, but they say 17,000 cars travel Cecil Ashburn every day. That means a lot of people are taking some extra time and I see it as only a temporary lapse.

Denson said there has been a “significant” in appointments between 4 and 6 p.m. and 7 a.m..

“Lucky for us though, we have another location at the foot of Monte Sano when you come on Governors Drive,” she said. “So, rather than losing patients, they seem to just be booking the other location.”

Business seems to be more negatively affected on the Jones Valley side than the Hampton Cove side and the restaurant business seems to be the most negatively affected.

Heavy equipment breaks through the rocks to create extra lanes on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Moe’s Barbecue closed its doors due to a lack of business, according to neighboring tenants, but will be opening a location downtown.

Ben Patterson, manager of the Jones Valley Mellow Mushroom, said there is no escaping the reality that dinner has fallen off since the closing. But his customers are so loyal, they have expressed their commitment to making it in whenever they can.

“It was sort of like ripping off the Band-aid,” he said. “We had hoped they would not have to close down Cecil Ashburn completely, but we also know that the improvements will lead to a smoother, safer thoroughfare that will hopefully, when it opens again in October, lead to more traffic coming across from Hampton Cove.”

For Anaheim Chili, the lunch crowd still shows up but the dinner crowd has dwindled.

“People are certainly not comin’ ‘round the mountain’ as far as we can tell,” said manager Scott Harriman. “We have definitely seen a fall-off in dinner customers, but lunch is pretty steady.

“Where we see the biggest drop-off is Monday through Wednesday for dinner. A lot of people stop to eat on their way home or to grab take out, but they are not doing that right now, probably because it takes people off their route and it takes longer to get home.”

Tough Decisions

While no one likes to hear that the main access from one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain is closing down for 10 months, the City of Huntsville and the contractor, Carcel & G Construction, have taken steps to ease some of the pain.

Originally, the project came in at $25 million with a timeline of nearly three years. The proposal had a caveat – one lane would stay open open during peak traffic times, something that sounded good to retailers and businesses in Jones Valley and Hampton Cove.

However, city planners said that plan would have been a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers came back with a new schedule and an adjusted $18 million budget they felt best addressed the needs and concerns of the community.

Crews work on the drainage system for the Cecil Ashburn Drive project. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Those adjustments called for a complete shutdown of the roadway for 10 months beginning in January. In order to keep the project on track, the contractor has been offered financial performance bonuses of up to $2 million for each day work is ahead of schedule or meets the abbreviated construction timeline. Alternately, the contractor will be penalized up to $2 million for scheduled delays.

They are also incentivized to make sure at least two lanes of traffic will reopen within the first 10-month period, which takes us into October.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, the city’s director of economic and urban development.

Currently …

Clearing operations are complete and the highly unpopular blasting operations that have disturbed residents of the area are approximately 80 percent complete. The storm drainage installation is close to 70 percent complete. The contractor is coordinating with utility companies to begin relocation efforts.

Huntsville Utilities has completed the electrical relocation and others are scheduled to begin their work. The contractor will also begin installing water lines soon to complete the utility work.

They will begin to construct the roadway subgrade shortly thereafter.

“This schedule provides the least disruption course and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season,” Battle said.

Aerial photo provides and overview of the construction work on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by EQB)

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.’”

Cecil Ashburn Drive project to begin Jan. 7

 

The City of Huntsville is set to begin critical roadwork in early January to improve safety and increase capacity on Cecil Ashburn Drive, one of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridors.

Listed as a priority improvement project in Huntsville’s “Restore Our Roads” agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation, contractors will widen Cecil Ashburn Drive from two to four lanes over an 18-month period.

To expedite construction and shorten the project’s timeline, Cecil Ashburn Drive will close Jan. 7, and the contractor will be incentivized to reopen two lanes of traffic within 10 months. Remaining work is expected to be complete six to eight months later with all lanes open by May 2020.

To keep the project on track or ahead of schedule, the contractor may earn up to $2 million in performance bonuses. Conversely, the builder will be financially penalized up to $2 million for schedule delays. This is the same model the City and State used to fast-track overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway, another Restore Our Roads project.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This schedule provides the least disruption and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season.”

The base bid on the revised project came in at just under $18 million, nearly $7 million less than a previous round of bidding last May. At that time, the city was working on a construction plan to keep one lane of traffic partially open during peak weekday hours. The plan proved to be a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers went back to the drawing board and believe the new schedule best addresses the needs and concerns of the community.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, director of Economic and Urban Development.

To further minimize disruptions for commuters impacted by the road closure, City departments have been working closely with community organizations and businesses to address needs and concerns related to increased traffic and speeders on alternate routes, ride-sharing options, moving wrecks, accident alerts, and public safety.

“It will take everyone a few weeks to adjust to new routes and schedules, and we’ve found many businesses are pwilling to offer flex time to help their employees through the transition,” said Dennis Madsen, long-range planner. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries about carpools and ride-sharing programs, and the road closure presents an opportunity to explore these options and create some new healthy habits.”