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Chamber Chair Kim Lewis: ‘We Need to Create a Trained Workforce’

One of the Huntsville-Madison County’s key business influencers has been recently named as the 2019 Board Chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Kim Caudle Lewis, the first African-American woman to hold the board position said her top goal for the year-long volunteer job is helping workers gain the skills they need to match the many jobs available locally.

“I’m pretty excited!” said Lewis.

“We’ve done a great job as far as economic development goes, but we’ve got to work on our workforce,” she said, adding that the unemployed, the under-employed, and those looking for new careers are the chamber’s focus.

With an upbeat, can-do work ethic, Lewis epitomizes hard work, soft-skills, and solid business savvy, an ideal combination for a board chair. Lewis has keen insight of the big picture, as well as understanding the future industry needs of North Alabama.

Lewis’ primary focus is job skills and workforce development, and the need to create a trained, work-ready job force in anticipation of the exciting new industry coming to Northeast Alabama.

“We need to create a trained workforce to meet the needs of the new industries and jobs that are coming to Huntsville, Madison, and North Alabama,” said Lewis. “The training required is not currently available in the two- and four-year systems, not even in the high schools. We also need to provide education that’s affordable and accessible.”

Even though Huntsville is a high-tech driven city, Lewis said there is a renewed demand for the skilled labor, blue-collar types of jobs.

“With economic growth comes demand,” she said. “Not all jobs are high-tech, there’s a lot of skilled labor jobs. There are jobs in every industry. A lot of them are new industries for this area.

“The Chamber has done a really good job of bringing new industry to Huntsville-North Alabama. There’s more concentration on the workforce now. We’ve promised the companies the workforce. Now, we need to make sure to educate workers to fill those jobs.”

“With the coming of the Toyota plant,” says Lewis, “we’ve never had a full production plant here. This makes it more exciting. You can come to Huntsville and be a part of something that’s done – all in one location.”

And there’s the advancements in aerospace.

“We’ve always had NASA here, but with the arrival of Blue Origin, we will be taking space to a whole new level,” she said.

“Many simply don’t know what skills are required to fill local open jobs,” said Lewis. “We want to show people the path to get there.

“The biggest mistake is that people generalize a lot of jobs, such as engineering. There are so many types of engineers, in various industries. We need to do a better job of explaining.  Asmartplace.com is a site linked to the Chamber’s website which shows a “Day in the Life” of a variety of industry jobs. It’s a sample. A good, brief overview of what they can anticipate in that job.”

Recently, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber hosted the Second Chance Job Fair in collaboration with the Alabama Career Center, the Alabama Community College System, and several local nonprofits, and community agencies. The event was developed to help bridge the gap between under-resourced job seekers and employers.

“Workforce development is just a small part of what the Chamber does,” said Lewis “There are a lot of activities going on. We help support businesses already here. We provide the resources to help them grow and continue to grow.”

Lewis is no stranger to service work. Growing up in Triana the youngest of 10 children, her parents Charley D. Caudle of Triana and the late Lela Mae Caudle, always instilled the virtues of civic duty and community participation.

Her father set a good example for his children. First serving in the military, he then worked for Tennessee Valley Authority, and was also a volunteer fireman. In retirement, he worked for the town of Triana. One of her sisters, Mary Caudle, is the mayor of Triana.

Lewis has also held several volunteer board leadership roles, including the Chamber Foundation, Public Affairs Research Council of North Alabama, Huntsville Botanical Garden, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, HEALS (Health Establishments at Local Schools), the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, Huntsville Committee of 100, and her alma mater, Calhoun Community College.

As the owner and president of Project XYZ, an award-winning Huntsville company, Kim and her husband Larry provide engineering, logistics, information technology, and alternative energy services, in addition to health care IT.

Comprised of 100 employees, Project XYZ has been honored as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Woman-Owned Business of the year and won the 2016 “Blue Ribbon Award,” and the 2015 Business of the Year by the local chamber. Project XYZ was also on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s top entrepreneurs in 2014-17. 

Mayor: ‘No better time to live in Huntsville’

 

Calling it a “day of celebration,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle reeled off a list of successes the city accomplished over the last few years.

“What started 10 years ago began as a vision,” he said. “Then a plan.”

“You are the reason we are stronger then ever,” he told the audience of some 1,200 people at Tuesday’s annual State of the City Address in the Von Braun Center North Hall. It was the largest crowd at a Huntsville Chamber event.

The mayor cited the city’s population growth, which is twice the national rate; and some 25,000 jobs created since 2010 – “We lead the state in job creation.”

Not to mention, the domestic GDP is up 15 percent, fueled by major economic development. Included in the development are major companies moving here: Mazda-Toyota; Google; Facebook; General Electric; Blue Origin, among others.

“There’s no better time to live in Huntsville, Alabama,” Battle said.

Huntsville has had a Triple-A bond rating for 10 straight years; 91 percent of the children attend Huntsville City Schools; Cummings Research Park – “a shining example of public-private partnership”- has a 91 percent occupancy rate; Redstone Arsenal is continuing to grow as it adds more agencies and provides some $50 billion in spending.

“We’re not just growing as an economy,” Battle said. “We’re growing opportunity.”

And the city is not resting on the laurels of those successes.

Tapped to be the largest city in the state within the next decade, Huntsville needs to stay at the economic forefront to “stay relevant to the future,” Battle said.

“The next five to 10 years are taken care of,” he said. “Our job is to take care of the next 15, 20, 30 years.

“We are making sure we’re not the community left behind.”

The mayor said the city’s task is to find the new, emerging markets.

“Pushing the edge is what Huntsville does … we’ve always been the innovators and creators.”

And he closed on an optimistic note that was greeted with a standing ovation:

“Huntsville’s future as the ‘Star of Alabama’ is brighter than ever.”

 

Small Business Awards celebration honors Huntsville’s best

Lynn Troy of Troy 7 receives the Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership Award from Chamber Vice Chair Hank Isenberg (Photo by Steve Babin)

Amidst a gala “Masquerade Ball” atmosphere of a masked audience in formal attire, the Huntsville Madison County Chamber celebrated the city’s entrepreneurial community in the 33rd annual Small Business Awards.

Gary Bolton, the Chamber board chair and vice president of global marketing for Adtran, welcomed the crowd to Tuesday night’s affair. Hank Isenberg, Chamber vice president, small business and events, and Haley Baker of WAFF-TV were the emcees.

“We are celebrating the most successful” small businesses, Bolton said.

“We received 650 nominations and there are 155 contenders,” he said. “There are 1,100 people here” … in the soldout event held in the Von Braun Center’s North Hall.

Lynn Troy of Troy 7 received the prestigious Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership Award, the top honor presented annually.

Canvas was a double-winner, capturing the Woman-owned Business of the Year and the Government Contracting – Technology Business of the Year awards.

Mary Taylor Griffith with Aleta Technologies was named the HASBAT Small Business Advocate for Excellence.

A new category debuted, saluting the area’s booming growth – Local “Creative” of the Year. It was won by Pizzelle’s Confections.

The other winners were: Rocket City Digital, Emerging Business of the Year; Flint River Dental, Medical Practice of the Year; Capstone Realty, Professional Services Business of the Year; Kristina Sexton of NXTSTEP Family Law, Young Professional of the Year; Downtown Rescue Mission, Nonprofit of the Year; MartinFederal, Government Contracting – Professional Services Business of the Year; Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza, Culinary Business of the Year; Matt Curtis Real Estate, Service Business of the Year; and Summit Information Solutions, Technology Business of the Year.

 

 

 

Facebook likes Huntsville; company to build $750 million data center

It’s the perfect connection: A digital giant and a high-tech capital.

So, when Facebook announced it was building a large-scale data center, it was no surprise. The company will invest $750 million in the center that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.

“This is indeed an exciting day for this company, for this area of the state, and indeed for the entire state of Alabama,” said Gov. Kay Ivey at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “Announcements like this require positive visions and an environment where companies can grow and expand their businesses. Economic development happens because of the collaborative efforts between state and local leaders, and businesses that are attracted by all that Alabama has to offer.”

The announcement has been kept a secret since May 24 when the Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval to Facebook’s project entity, Starbelt LLC, to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million.

Surrounded by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and other civic leaders and representatives, Matt VanderZanden, director of site selection at Facebook, said the technology giant selected Huntsville for several reasons.

“This location gives us great access to renewable energy and infrastructures, a strong talent pool and, very importantly, a tremendous set of community partners,” VanderZanden said. “Facebook data centers are terrific tools and real economic engines. Facebook is in it for the long game and we look forward to having a long, fruitful partnership with the Huntsville community.”

Battle cited the city’s innovation and high-tech reputation as a link with the digital giant.

“Facebook has built its business on connecting friends to family, businesses to customers, and people to the world,” Battle said. “This is one of the most innovative companies in the world and we’re proud to have them in one of the world’s most innovative cities.

“Huntsville is a city that constantly redefines what is possible. Facebook constantly redefines life online.”

The governor used a Facebook reference in her remarks.

“Every day, millions of people get on Facebook to connect with family and friends,” Ivey said. “I sure am glad that when Facebook was looking to grow their connections, they sent out a friend request to Alabama!”

EOS selects Huntsville for flagship manufacturing facility

Electro Optic Systems (EOS), a leading Australian technology company in the aerospace and defense markets, has selected Huntsville for its flagship U.S. manufacturing facility.

The company made the announcement Wednesday, joined by state and city leaders at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“EOS is very happy to have the opportunity to formally join the Huntsville community,” said Phil Coker, the company’s U.S. president. “North Alabama is an area of incredible people, outstanding institutions and immense potential and we are thrilled to have the chance to establish a business in this area.

“We look forward to working with the Defense Department, federal, state and local government leaders and local businesses to improve the community and serve our country and its citizens.”

Within the first year of operation, EOS will hire up to 100 full-time employees. A state-of-the-art production facility on Wall-Triana Highway has been scaled to grow to at least 250 employees if contract awards continue on the current trajectory.

“EOS is a natural fit for the Huntsville community, and we’re pleased our new Australian partners chose Huntsville as their preferred place to invest and do business,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This addition continues our momentum to add more manufacturing in support of Huntsville’s excellent research and development capabilities.”

EOS is a leader in the development and production of robotic or remotely controlled weapons systems (“RCWS” or “RWS”) where it has built a strong reputation as a major provider for more than 25 years to the U.S., NATO and ANZUS markets. EOS products currently dominate the global market for next-generation lightweight weapon systems with unprecedented accuracy and firepower.

“EOS’ decision to locate its new manufacturing center in Alabama is a reflection of the state’s attractive business climate and its skilled workers, who prove their capabilities each and every day,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Huntsville will make a great home for the company because Alabama’s ‘Rocket City’ offers every advantage a business needs to succeed.”

EOS, which is based in Hume, ACT, operates in military space, missile defense and surface warfare sectors. Its products incorporate advanced electro-optic applications based on EOS core technologies in software, lasers, electronics, optronics, gimbals, telescopes, beam directors, stabilization and precision mechanisms.

“Huntsville serves as a critical hub for high-tech defense work, and that makes the city a smart choice for EOS as it develops a flagship U.S. manufacturing facility,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “We look forward to building a strong partnership with the company and seeing it grow both its business and its workforce in coming years.”

More information visit, http://www.eos-aus.com/