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Contenders for 2020 Small Business of the Year Announced

More than 160 businesses and individuals are in contention for top honors at the 35th annual Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Small Business of the Year Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 20 event will be a virtual presentation. It will be from 4-6 p.m. and fees are $25 for individual members and $50 for individual nonmembers.

The categories and contenders are:

Culinary Business of the Year

Emerging Business of the Year

Local “Creative” of the Year

Government Contracting: Professional Services of the Year

Government Contracting: Technology Business of the Year

Medical Practice of the Year

Nonprofit of the Year

Professional Services Business of the Year

Retailer of the Year

Service Business of the Year

Technology Business of the Year

Woman-Owned Business of the Year

Young Professional of the Year

Russell G Brown Executive Leadership Award

Fund Established to Support Nonprofits Providing Supervised Learning for Students

A fund has been established to support nonprofit organizations providing assistance for local students during this time of virtual learning.

The Remote Learning Supervision Fund is a collaborative effort of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, The Schools Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. Toyota Alabama, Raytheon Technologies, and The Junior League of Huntsville provided the initial $50,000 to start the fund. The deadline for donations for the initial round of grants is Sept. 25, and grant applications will be open soon.

The fund is for nonprofits that provide supervised learning for students in Huntsville, Madison, and
Madison County school districts that are operating remotely, running staggered schedules, or temporarily closed because of COVID-19 cases.

“While all three public school systems are operating virtually for the first nine weeks, schedules could adjust as the school year proceeds, and students will continue to need support,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce. “We are thankful for all of the organizations who have stepped up to provide expanded services to support children, and this fund is intended to help provide scholarships and subsidies for parents who cannot afford existing options.”

As the first donor, Toyota created the momentum to get it started.

“Toyota is proud to support this initiative in collaboration with fellow community members,” said Kim Ogle, Toyota Motor North America Communications Manager. “We’re grateful to do our part and see our community come together and help each other during this unprecedented time.”

For information, visit hsvchamber.org.

Mission and Vision: Region’s Largest Spec Industrial Facility Breaks Ground

All it takes is a mission and a vision for Huntsville’s long-term strategic plan to build a multicounty regional economy in North Alabama to take shape.

One of the components of that vision dropped into place recently as the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Limestone County Economic Development Authority joined the Hollingsworth Cos. in breaking ground on the largest speculative industrial facility in North Alabama.

It is the 11th facility Hollingsworth has built in the SouthPoint Business Park, which has already provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investments. When finished, the new building will be home to more than 1.9 million square feet of industrial space.

Located off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, the park is suitable for high-growth manufacturing and distribution companies who benefit from a location along the I-65 corridor in North Alabama.

SouthPoint Business Park is already home to HDT Global, Custom Assembly, Redline Steel, Woodbridge, Supreme Beverage and Aldez.

While shovels moved dirt for the sprawling new building, local and state officials and members of the business community toured two industrial buildings now available in the park. The two buildings provide 173,888 and 109,080 square feet for companies looking to expand or relocate their manufacturing and distribution facilities.

“In spite of the economic pressure of COVID-19 and this being an election year, we are very bullish on the North Alabama market,” said Joe Hollingsworth, CEO of The Hollingsworth Cos., the largest nonurban industrial real estate developer and construction firm in the Southeast. “We have grown our business on the belief that American manufacturing will continue to prosper, and the Southeastern United States will lead this growth. I would like to thank the community for being willing to invest time, effort, and money into being a true partner in making this park successful.

“It is my belief that the next eight years will be the best economic period of our lives.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the park will help ensure job creation and business development for the Rocket City.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve been able to announce new and expanding companies in our community that have created 30,000 jobs,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “To do that requires many assets. You need a workforce, you need access to markets, and you need sites and buildings. Today’s groundbreaking gives us another tool to help us in our continuing efforts to diversify our economy and to make sure that anyone in Huntsville who wants a job can get a job. 

“We thank the Hollingsworth Companies for its continued investment and belief in our community,” 

Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly said, “The groundbreaking of the largest speculative industrial building in North Alabama, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, is positive news for our county. We look forward to this new location assisting with the demand for industrial facilities needed for the continued growth in our county.”

Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, said, “This latest Hollingsworth building in Southpoint Industrial Park is much needed and is very timely in order to meet the demands of our regional growth.” 

 

Huntsville No. 2 for Career Opportunities in COVID-19 Recession

We’re not No. 1, but No. 2 is pretty good.

In a recent study, Huntsville ranked No. 2 among the best places for career opportunities in the COVID-19 recession . SmartAsset analyzed 200 of the largest metro areas across seven metrics related to employment, income and access to professional development through higher education or career counseling.

Huntsville placed in the top 10 of the study for two different categories: It had the sixth-lowest unemployment rate in May 2020, at 7.6 percent, and the eighth-highest income growth over a career, at 30.47 percent.

While the metro area finishes in the bottom half of the study for its low number of career counselors and post-secondary teachers per 1,000 workers, it ranks within the top 50 for its relatively small drop in total employment over the past year (-7.26 percent) and its relatively high 2019 median income (almost $42,000).

The top 10 according to SmartAsset are: College Station-Bryan, Texas; Huntsville; Gainesville, Fla.; Lincoln, Neb.; Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Tallahassee, Fla.; Boulder, Colo; Tucson, Ariz.; and Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.

SmartAsset is a financial technology company that provides personal finance advice on the web. The company offers free and personalized tools for personal finance decisions around homebuying, retirement, taxes and more.

 

Upwards Virtual Career & Training Fair a Must for Out-of-Work Alabamians

There are 42,146 people out of work in North Alabama. 

The additional $600 a week people have been receiving from the federal government is scheduled to end July 31, and taking the initiative to bring down that 7.8 percent unemployment rate as quickly as possible is the focus of the Upwards Career & Training Fair. It will be one of North Alabama’s first, virtual hiring events, and the fair runs July 14-16.

Spearheaded by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with local business and civic leaders, including the AlabamaWorks! North Alabama workforce council and a variety of educational partners from the surrounding 13-county region, the Upwards Career & Training Fair has been organized specifically to assist these dislocated workers impacted by COVID-19. 

North Alabama’s Region 1 includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, and Winston counties. 

The event will match job seekers with employers who have available, high-demand jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. It will also look to upskill or reskill workers with training opportunities designed to leverage workers into high-demand, good-paying jobs. The upskilling and reskilling portion of the event was a big focus for the state of Alabama before the pandemic.

There is no cost to register; employers, training organizations and job seekers throughout the North Alabama region should register at UpwardsAlabama.com before July 14.

It is easy for job seekers to register, upload a resume, and explore the companies and training resources offered. There are also recommended times for job seekers and companies to hook up online and talk. 

Those times, designed to suit a variety of schedules are July 14 from 1-4 p.m.; July 15 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.; and July 16 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Once registered, each company or training organization will be able to build a virtual booth with a welcoming video to the job seekers that explains more about the company or organization, including the mission, vision, values, and potential opportunities to grow.

It will also provide at least one specific position for which they are hiring, with a complete job description and three specific interview questions that align with the company’s culture or the specific position.

To make it even easier, the Chamber of Commerce is offering a mobile-friendly experience for those workers who do not have access to a computer.

Once again, Huntsville’s regional economy is pulling together to give the workforce a boost – not just as a long-term strategy for economic growth, but in response to the worker in times of uncertainty where creative thinking and positive initiatives help the region recover as quickly as possible.

Huntsville Shows Resilience as New Economic Numbers Are Mixed Bag

New economic impact numbers have been released and according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Research Director Ken Smith, they provide a snapshot into exactly what kind of impact COVID-19 has had on our local economy, and how that information compares to the national numbers.

While there is some bad news in the data, albeit expected; there is quite a bit a good news going forward as Huntsville proves to be overwhelmingly resilient.

According to Smith’s presentation on a recent teleconference call with Chamber members, there was a big dip in employment coming off March into April with Huntsville employment at 226,000. The one-month change showed an 8.3 percent dip, which Smith said is a significant drop. However, compared to the U.S. employment numbers of -13.1 percent, Huntsville stayed well ahead of the national statistics.

Furthermore, according to early calculations for May, employment has already started ticking back up, showing a 2 percent increase in employment from April to May.

“We are looking at what analysts are saying is a two-year recovery for GDP and a possible three-year recovery for employment to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Smith. “We are about 7.5 percent below where we were this time last year, as compared to 13 percent for the U.S. economy. That translates into 10.6 percent unemployment locally, which is a big jump, but not bad when compared to the U.S., which was up to 14.4 percent.

“The Federal Reserve recently announced they are not likely to raise interest rates until after the year 2022. So this gives us hope and a sign it will be the same for the local Huntsville economy, and it will rebound, which falls in line with what the Federal Reserve has been predicting.”

Looking at the two-year picture, backing up to January 2018, the numbers show the precipitous drop in April wiped out any gains over the past few years, and the same can be said for the U.S. economy, which lost 20,000,000 workers over the past month. It added back 3 million in May.

“We at the Chamber use trends in our marketing to potential new clients interested in moving their business into the area,” said Smith. “They like to see that our economy is strong.

“If you look out over 20 years instead of two years, you can see Huntsville’s employment growth is about twice the rate of the U.S. and it has been trending that way since 2000.

Smith’s data charts show the dip in 2008, which was the recession. It took Huntsville about five years to recover and get employment back to pre-recession levels. It took the U.S. six years.

“But what they’re predicting now is a larger drop but a shorter recovery,” said Smith. “That is a three-year recovery in employment and four years for the U.S. to recover.”

Looking at employment by industry, there are no surprises.

The biggest local job loss was in the leisure and hospitality industry, losing 8,000 jobs from March to April. That includes all the arts, entertainment, and recreation, and hotel and food services.

The second biggest loss for Huntsville was in professional and business services.

Huntsville lost 4,100 jobs during that same time period, and where engineering and technology workers did not see a big job loss, the losses were in support services such as office and administrative, cleaning services, document preparation, and employment services. With companies closed or people working from home, there was a lot less need for some of that support.

The third largest drop was some 1,500 jobs in a sector that included repair and maintenance businesses, hair and nail salons, and nonprofit organizations.

Smith said Huntsville’s employment by industry matches up pretty well against the U.S. hospitality and leisure sector, which lost 7.2 million jobs.

“Huntsville dropped about 36 percent, so we see over one-third unemployment in leisure and hospitality, where the U.S. lost almost half in that sector at about 46 percent,” said Smith. “Huntsville expects to gain it back.”

In areas where Huntsville fared pretty well, the retail trade industries only lost about 5 percent, compared to the U.S. at about 14 percent.

Huntsville also did well in manufacturing, losing only about 4 percent compared to the U.S. losing about 10 percent overall.

In the areas of construction, wholesale trade, and transportation, Huntsville lost very few jobs compared to the national numbers, but transportation is not a very big industry in the local market.

Huntsville also did not lose many jobs in finance or in the government sector.

Looking at the good news, Moody’s Analytics did an analysis at the end of May showing a sharp drop with a continued recovery through the rest of this year 2020.

“A lot of people might think, ‘Well, all we did was put on the brakes. Why can’t we just start right back up and go back to where we were two months ago?’,” said Smith. “That’s typically not going to happen. We saw after the 2008 recession it took five years to get back to pre-recession levels.

“Here, they are expecting a recovery, but not an immediate one. Huntsville is looking at two years for GDP and three years for the employment to recover, which is one year earlier than the U.S.

Why is Huntsville’s recovery faster than the U.S.?

Moody’s points to some of the area’s key strengths.

“It’s interesting to see how the short-term and long-term statistics show us in expansion mode, which is pretty positive,” said Smith.

Some of those strengths are Huntsville’s extremely highly skilled and educated workforce in areas of advanced manufacturing at key companies like Mazda Toyota, for example; and research jobs such as those at Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Moody’s mentions all three specifically.

Huntsville’s robust population growth and favorable migration is part of it too. It comes on the heels of new population numbers recently released showing Huntsville’s population hitting over 200,000 for the very first time, so that is definitely something to note.

In terms of weaknesses, Smith said Huntsville still gets knocked down because of our dependence on the government sector with an underrepresented private sector.

Also wage growth is slow, due in part to a higher-educated workforce whose wages are already on the upper end, so there is less room to grow.

“Lastly, if we look into the Moody’s forecast a little more deeply, you can see the year-by-year percent growth, and you can see where we were trending before 2019,” said Smith. “We were outpacing the U.S. economy in growth and jobs so this is why we say Huntsville’s economic recovery and employment growth is better, and will be faster than the U.S.”

Smith also said the Chamber still has companies interested in locating their businesses in the Huntsville community and they are working on several projects on the commercial side.

“We are still seeing a lot of investment companies and private investors looking to continue their projects here, so from the Chamber perspective, we are primed and ready!

“It’s a very difficult time for many people, especially small business, but the balance of the skilled workforce and job growth makes Huntsville residents better able to support their families than some,” said Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry. “There’s a lot of job growth and information that shows companies are hiring, and there is a lot going on Redstone Arsenal too, so there are still a lot of opportunities in this market.

“We are not recession-proof, but we are a lot more resilient than some,” Cherry said.

 

Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Wins ‘Site Selection’ Award

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has been named a winner of a 2020 Mac Conway Award by Site Selection magazine.

The award recognizes the Chamber, a longtime Tennessee Valley Authority economic development partner, as one of the top local and regional economic development agencies in the U.S. for its role in helping deliver prosperity to its community.

“Congratulations to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber on receiving the Mac Conway Award,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president for Economic Development. “This organization is committed to raising the quality of life in the area, and its efforts continue to bring high quality jobs and attract business and industry to the region.”

The Chamber actively promotes economic development, workforce and education, small business events, marketing and communications, and government outreach on behalf of the local business community. The Chamber’s efforts propelled it to high marks in the four areas considered in the selection process.

“This recognition is a direct reflection of our community and its attractiveness to new and expanding businesses,” said Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “The talent here and the quality of life make it possible for us to recruit new companies while supporting local growth.

“We appreciate this award and what it means for the Huntsville area.”

This year’s Mac Conway Award winners have been determined by an index that examines 2019 corporate facility investment projects in U.S. metro areas as tracked by Site Selection’s proprietary Conway Projects database. Scores are awarded based on six criteria: total projects, total investment associated with those projects, jobs associated with those projects and three criteria representing a per capita calculation of those same metrics.

‘Best Places to Work’ Awarded Virtually

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of events and activities, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber went virtual this year for the annual Best Places To Work Awards,

The event, presented by Synovus, was originally scheduled for April 15 in the Von Braun Center North Hall, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The results are based on employee surveys. Results are tabulated by Quantum Workplace and were kept confidential prior to the event.

The winners are:

Micro Category (10-24 employees)
GOLD: Phased n Research, Inc.
SILVER: Cortina Solutions, LLC
BRONZE: River Tree Insurance Services, Inc.

Small Category (25-50 employees)
GOLD: KODA Technologies, Inc.
SILVER: Matt Curtis Real Estate, Inc.
BRONZE: Crossflow Technologies, Inc.

Medium Category (51-100 employees)
GOLD: Thompson Gray, Inc.
SILVER: Hill Technical Solutions, Inc.
BRONZE: Brockwell Technologies, Inc.

Large Category (101-250 employees)
GOLD: Avion Solutions
SILVER: IronMountain Solutions
BRONZE: Simulation Technologies, Inc.

X-Large Category (251-plus employees)
GOLD: Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation
SILVER: Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI)
BRONZE: PeopleTec, Inc.

Huntsville Receives Donations from Booz Allen Hamilton Pandemic Resilience Program

Huntsville will receive a $50,000 donation to the Food Bank of North Alabama, and numerous other donations from Booz Allen Hamilton, as part of the company’s national $100 million pandemic resilience program in support of its employees and the communities where those employees live and work.

Huntsville is one of 10 cities to receive these funds out of the $1 million national donation to Feeding America’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Shirley Schofield, executive director of the Food Bank of North Alabama, said she is grateful for the donation on behalf of the 11 counties and network of 250 food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehabilitation centers who partner to provide food to those in need.

“This is a tremendous gift for our community,” Schofield said. “This is funding that will go straight into the community and help feed many people and families affected by the current crisis.

“Generally, we are able to convert every $1 into seven meals, so if you do the math on that, it is a lot of food coming into this community thanks to Booz Allen Hamilton, and we are very appreciative of that.”

Her organization has seen a tremendous increase in the need for food since the shutdown ensued.

“Since March 15, we have provided almost a million meals to people in need, and every day, we hear from someone who has never had to seek assistance before,” she said. “They have worked full time but got laid off and they have not yet received their unemployment benefits.”

Another of those programs help families who count on the free lunch and breakfast programs at schools, who are feeling the pressure to accommodate two more meals a day for their children since the school system has moved to online classes from home.

“We have a lot of partnerships that work together to provide meals to all those kids, and we are one of the main suppliers of food for that,” said Schofield.

Huntsville Chamber’s A Smart Place Digital STEM Learning Hub

Booz Allen Hamilton also made a $15,000 donation to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s digital STEM learning hub A Smart Place, which is being used by students and teachers as part of the remote-learning system. With city and county schools having moved to daily online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the donation is timely to say the least.

Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president of company’s Army business in Huntsville, is on the board of directors for the  Chamber of Commerce. He said the $15,000 donation to the Chamber’s Smart Place will significantly boost local schools’ laptop loaner program and access to Wi-Fi.

“This goes directly to one of the problems we see due to the unexpected shutdown of the schools,” he said. “I think it was pretty timely and right in line with what is expected of technology companies, and it has helped too with planning for the future to keep education moving forward.”

Local Support for Emergency Response and Front-Line Health Care

Booz Allen made a $1 million donation to the national CDC Foundation and Huntsville’s portion of that money will go directly to support local emergency response priorities such as staffing and helping front line health care workers during this critical time.

Furthermore, in partnership with the independent Booz Allen Foundation, the company has committed at least $10 million in assistance to local communities across the U.S. in the form of cash donations, grants, volunteer hours, pro-bono work, and technology to help military families, veterans, front line healthcare workers and those who are most vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly and homeless.

In addition to the initial funding, Booz Allen Hamilton is also exploring pro-bono, skills-based, and general volunteerism efforts in Huntsville.

COVID-19 Military Support Initiative

With the Army being the preponderance of the 225 people Booz Allen Hamilton employs on Redstone Arsenal, followed by the FBI and to a lesser extent, NASA, Huntsville will also see the impact of more than $1 million in donations to the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative, which supports veterans and military families during this unprecedented time.

The initiative is another slice of the $100 million pie, some of which will be routed to Huntsville to tackle employee health issues, provides an increase in the general benefit for employees, and offers flexibility for support services distributed through charitable donations.

Guaranteed Employment Until July 1

“On top of all of this, the big takeaway is that Booz Allen made the commitment across the whole firm to say, ‘If you’re a Booz Allen employee, you have a guaranteed job all the way until July 1’,” said Hudson. “Over 90 percent of our employees are teleworking so that is a great position to be in because that is not the case everywhere.”

He said it has been great working with Redstone Arsenal because they were so quick to adapt to a teleworking mentality.

“That has been a huge stress relief for employees and their families,” Hudson said. “Not only does it give them the security to pay their bills, but it also helps us to be able to support our customers so business can go forward.”

Community Foundation Reignites Emergency Relief Fund with $50K Donation from Toyota

Initiated after the tornado outbreak in North Alabama in 2011, the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville has  reignited its emergency relief fund thanks to a donation of $50,000 from Toyota. The funds are intended to support community nonprofit organizations who are providing basic needs and health and wellness relief throughout the community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and WAAY-TV have also partnered with the Community Foundation and Toyota to kick off the Take 5 to Give $5 campaign, which will culminate on May 5 for the global GivingTuesdayNow Day.

The partnership is challenging other companies to give anything from $5 up to $50,000 to match Toyota’s donation. Melissa Thompson, executive director of the Community Foundation, said their goal over the next two weeks is to put $500,000 into this fund.

In just a few days since launching the campaign, the Community Foundation and its donors have deposited nearly $200,000, not including the Toyota donation.

“We are supporting 28 different grants from 27 different nonprofit organizations to date,” said Thompson. “But the needs are still beyond what we are able to fund, so we have received grant applications in excess of $800,000. Our grants committee continues to work to get this money out to those organizations on the frontlines of our COVID-19 response.”

The Community Foundation usually relies on fees for managing company funds to cover operations. However, during the pandemic, the foundation is waiving its fees for the management of the emergency relief fund, to ensure that 100 percent of every dollar contributed goes directly to the nonprofits recommended for funding.

“Managing these contributions is our way of giving back to the community,” said Thompson.

The Community Foundation website at https://communityfoundationhsv.org/Covid lists the organizations that have already received grant funding, and visitors can also see the Foundation’s grants committee recommendations.

“Our grants committee is trying to prioritize needs and is very conscious of the fact we are spending other people’s money who have donated to this fund and also, that by endorsing a grant, we have a responsibility to stand behind it,” said Thompson. “The community can have confidence in the grants we are recommending.”

For questions about how an agency on the frontlines of this pandemic can apply for a grant and become a part of the Community Foundation, those agencies can find the application at the bottom of the webpage.

“We try to make it a pretty easy application,” said Thompson. “Our grants committee is meeting weekly right now to turn these applications around quickly, so get your application in as soon as possible.

“Just note the money is specific to basic needs and health and wellness right now.”