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Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Revs Up Hiring, Shows Off Post-COVID Assessment Center & Interview Process

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing kept its motor running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring 100 employees in April.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has implemented COVID-19 guidelines to protect employees. (Photo courtesy Mazda Toyota Manufacturing)

They auto plant kicked things into second gear May 11 by restarting the hiring process with job interviews and skills assessments at the MTM/AIDT Assessment Center at 7262 Governors Drive West, Suite 203, near Bridge Street Towne Center.

Mazda Toyota reopened its assessment center at 50 percent capacity, retrofitted the process with enhanced safety measures that focus on the safety and wellbeing of their employees, business partners, and members of the community.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing maintains the safety and wellbeing of our team members, business partners and community at top of mind,” said Toni Eberhart, head of corporate communications for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. “Though COVID-19 has presented many unprecedented challenges, we take pride in the collaboration and thoughtful decision making of our team to implement enhanced safety measures. It has enabled us to make continued progress toward our start of production in 2021.

“In April and May, we onboarded 144 new employees which represents about 25 percent of our workforce and we look forward to opening opportunities to join our team this year.”

Mayor Tommy Battle and other city leaders toured the facility Thursday to see the new conditions and hiring process.

“MTM is developing​ a core workforce that will manage over 4,000 workers and provide for the economy of North Alabama for years to come,” Battle said. “They have a science to building this foundation and it’s very impressive.”

The changes they saw in action include temperature checks, social distancing, mandatory face coverings, and a heightened sanitation schedule for the facility. The plant has also put some distance between the candidates and the interview staff to meet social distancing standards.

In addition to gearing up the hiring process, MTM announced several milestones in the construction of the 3.7 million square-foot state of the art facility.

As of May 7, the roof and floor slabs are 100 percent complete; the siding and fire protection is 99 percent complete; the piping and ductwork is at 90 percent completion; and the electrical is 75 percent finished.

Currently, MTM has about 500 employees ranging from professional and administrative staff, to engineers, production workers, and a skilled maintenance team.

Talk of Reopening Local Businesses Gains Steam

With the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Madison County flattening the curve, talk of reopening business is growing steam.

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 was the same Saturday — 205 — as it was Thursday. That figure was 198 to start the week. The number of deaths in the county related to the virus — four — also held steady.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong said preparations are being made to reopen whenever Gov. Kay Ivey lifts the stay-at-home order but said it would be a gradual process. The order expires Thursday.

“When it is lifted, this is not the green flag at the Talladega 500 where everyone comes out with the gas pedal mashed to the floor, trying to recoup,” Strong said during the most recent virus briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

Strong said when county offices opened safety procedures — using hand sanitizers, wearing gloves and face masks and practicing social distancing — will still be stressed. County employees will be required to work six feet apart.

“This is not a switch we’re going to flip an everything suddenly returns to normal,” Strong said. “Everything we’re doing now, from social distancing, wearing a face covering and not gathering in large groups, is our new normal.”

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said whenever the reopening occurs it will happen gradually for businesses such as restaurants.

“At this time right now we’re looking at a possible phased reopening,’’ Battle said. “Maybe 25 percent capacity, then 50 percent capacity, then 100 percent capacity. We don’t know exactly what the governor’s orders are going to have in it. We expect the governor’s orders within the week.

“We’re going to be walking a very fine line. The fine line is how we reopen our economy and re-open our businesses, and how we keep our public safe. That’s a very fine line to walk. We know we’ll have some additional cases.’’

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said an increase in positive tests will be unavoidable.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about when we start to open up again and what happens when we see a spike in cases, which we will. What we’re trying to avoid is an uncontrollable spike in cases.’’

For now, she said, she believes the county is “already in the containment phase. There’s no particular line of demarcation but with the continued downward trend in hospitalizations.’’

Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said they were investigating each case of COVID-19 and are doing contact tracing, a method of identifying people the person with the virus has been in contact with by using all ADHP employees with experience with tracing.

“We are working on expanding the contact investing pool by using pre-med medical students,’’ she said.

As of Saturday, the ADPH listed 6,137 confirmed cases and 212 deaths from the virus.

Crestwood CEO: What We’re Doing, What You’re Doing, is Working

Universal Source Control.

That’s the new buzz phrase coming from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said that was a “fancy way to say, ‘We can’t tell who all has it, we might each have it ourselves. If we all put a mask on, we’re going to significantly reduce the virus’ ability to be passed back and forth.’ ’’

Hudson, joining Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, said the CDC issued a statement declaring cloth masks as the best option concerning personal protection equipment (PPE). They should be kept clean and dry.

“Wear a mask and keep your virus from me,’’ she said.

Hudson also said a current model shows the virus peaking in the state April 23.

Madison County statistics regarding COVID-19 are positive.

  • Of the 4,043 confirmed cases statewide, as of early Wednesday, only 191, just three more than what was reported Monday, have been within county borders with three deaths of the state’s verified 116. Jefferson and Mobile counties have both reported 17 deaths and two other counties are in double digits.
  • In two weeks, Madison County, the state’s third-largest, has gone from having the second-most confirmed cases behind Jefferson County to fourth and now sixth.
  • A model that earlier projected 8,000 deaths in Alabama from the has gone down first to 634 and recently to 450.
  • Between Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, eight people are hospitalized with the virus and 21 have been discharged.

“So far, so good,’’ Hudson said of Madison County. “We’re on a solid track to claim success in flattening the curve.

“It doesn’t mean we have beaten COVID, it just means what we’re doing, what you’re doing, is working.’’

Strong said plans are being worked out as the discussion for reopening business is in the works. Finley said Gov. Kay Ivey is holding conference calls with mayors to gather information about reopening.

That date is still in question.

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said when it does happen it might have to come in “waves.’’

“We have a team of people in the city who is already looking at that and looking at how we would reopen,” Battle said. “We don’t know if it will be in one week, two weeks, three weeks, or six weeks. But we do know at some point we’ll re-open, we want to make sure we’re ahead of the game when we do.”

While the governor determines when the state will reopen, local governments will determine how it unfolds.

“It will be our job to define who opens up and how quickly,’’ Battle said. “That’s usually left to the local governments, it will be our job to enforce it as we go through it.”

Hudson warned against not wearing PPE and observing the six-foot social distancing rule would be a mistake even with talk of reopening escalating.

“Where one graduation party, one funeral, one wedding, one gathering where people aren’t careful away from having a spike in cases,’’ she said.

“We’re nowhere close to declaring victory,’’ Strong said.

 

Stay at Home Order Issued for State

The Alabama Department of Public Health has enacted a Stay at Home Order for the state of Alabama, effective April 4 at 5 p.m. to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Grocery stores and other essential businesses will remain open. Huntsville residents should stay at home, only leaving for essential needs and services, until the order is lifted.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle issued the following statement in response to the Stay at Home order:

“The City of Huntsville fully supports the Alabama Department of Health’s (ADPH) Stay at Home Order announced today by Governor (Kay) Ivey,” said MayorBattle. “This is a deliberate and measured response to the COVID-19 threat that faces our state and our community. The coming four weeks will be significant as the epicenter of this virus hits Alabama. Since the first confirmed case of the virus entered Madison County on March 17, Huntsville and our COVID-19 team partners – EMA, ADPH, medical community, hospitals, HEMSI, local governments, Redstone Arsenal, and the Chamber — have been working to apply the necessary controls and measures to stop the spread of this virus. The Stay at Home Order will further help us flatten the curve and save lives.

“None of this works without the support of our community. We must continue to take the virus seriously, to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, to protect the lives of those we love and that of our healthcare workers and those on the front lines.

“We will get through this together – six feet apart.”

Officials Stress ‘One Person, One Cart’ While Shopping; Curfew Discussed

Local elected officials leaders took a ride around Madison County over the weekend to monitor how residents and businesses were handling the latest move to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Kay Ivey released a list of non-essential businesses that were shut down Saturday. It was called the state’s most aggressive action to date to try to curb the spread, but falls short of a “stay at home” directive that some states have ordered.

After the tour Saturday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley discussed what would be their next steps.

“We have a strategy plan in place that works if everybody follows the plan, so we’re going to be very serious about this over the next 10 days to two weeks,” Battle said in a Huntsville-Madison County Chamber teleconference Monday. “Right now, we are still in the upslope of the curve, not at the top of the curve, so we have not seen the peak of confirmed cases yet, but if we can get through this first surge, we won’t be at the end, but we will be in better shape than we would otherwise.”

Battle said, overall, they found almost everybody doing what they were supposed to do.

“People stayed home, kept separated when they were out, and there was not much traffic in downtown Huntsville. Bridge Street and Research Park all the way across the board, everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

He said officials are aware of some “hot spots” across the county. Big box stores are open and inherently busy with people.

“Don’t take the whole family to these stores,” said Battle. “We call it ‘One Person, One Cart.’ Go through, get what you need, and get out.”

The Saturday posse also had to “tighten the reins” on some parks after seeing young people in groups of over 10 playing there.

“There is not to be any team sports occurring in the parks,” said Battle. “A lot of it is the younger generations … (they) enjoy group gatherings, but if one of them has the virus, then they give it to five other people in the group who take it home to their family, putting them all at risk. That’s just simply the way it is.

“And you know the one big thing we do not want to do, is have a curfew.”

Battle said he and Finley have discussed it with Strong, Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers and Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson.

They also discussed it with the Alabama Department of Public Health on their daily call. The ADPH keeps them updated on where they are with the virus, and what they are seeing throughout the state.

“We don’t want to institute a curfew at this time,” Battle said. “We don’t think it makes sense … but it’s still a tool in our tool chest in case we need it to enforce good public health.”

And Battle saluted the area’s health-care workers.

“They have done a wonderful job over the last several weeks,” he said. “Our hearts go out to those out there who are on the very tip of the spear, the ones who are there working on a day-to-day basis.”

Huntsville’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed March 18. There have now been 70 confirmed cases throughout the community, and Battle said there are probably quite a few more.

“If we all follow the plan, we will get through this,” he said. “If we do the right things, we come through this okay and we succeed.

“If we fail, it will cost people their lives.”

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Mayor Battle: ‘Take a Step Back … Take a Deep Breath’

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged people to avoid panic shopping and hysteria in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

His comments came at a news conference Monday with Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, and local health care and public safety partners.

“We all need to take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.

At the mayors’ requests, the Huntsville and Madison city councils each passed three-week states of emergency. The action will authorize the cities to avoid regular council procedure and take immediate action as needed to help fight COVID-19.

Battle, Finley and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong have been in regular communication with EMA, hospitals, HEMSI, ADPH, Redstone Arsenal and state partners on timely and coordinated action items to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital, said, “We still have regular flu out there and other illnesses haven’t stopped.”

He also said the hospital has canceled elective surgeries to save supplies and keep staff available.

“We recognize this is serious, and we are practicing all precautions while ensuring essential government services and protections remain in tact,” said Battle. “This team is working together. These are not normal times but we want to be as normal as possible.

“The City of Huntsville is still collecting garbage and our police and fire units remain on duty. Public transportation will run. We urge people to ‘sanitize and separate’.”

Dr. Pam Hudson of Crestwood Hospital said the facility is “open for business” but with restrictions.

“No one under the age of 16 (will be allowed to visit patients),” she said. “There is one visitor per patient and visitors will be screened.

“Our goal is to keep our patients safe and our staff safe.”

Battle said the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries may be hit the hardest, with people self-isolating themselves but “we’ll try to help.”

Unlike other municipalities, Huntsville and Madison are not closing restaurants and bars but, Battle said, “restaurants will be self-regulating” by following the state health department guidelines of limiting its customers to half of the capacity of the business.

 

Mayor Vetoes Lodging Tax

Mayor Tommy Battle informed City Council this morning that he vetoed the 1 percent lodging tax the  Council approved 3-2 Thursday night to fund the city’s planned amphitheater at MidCity District.

In a message to Council, Mayor Battle outlined his reasons as follows:

  1. The City of Huntsville has a solid financial model to pay for the amphitheater as presented when the architectural contract was approved.
  2. This lodging tax increase puts the City of Huntsville at a disadvantage in competing for travel, tourism and conventions.
  3. The tax is not needed – we have a balanced budget.
  4. Hitting the hotel/motel industry with an additional tax amid the COVID-19 virus exacerbates the financial burden on the hospitality Industry, a critical sector of our economy.
  5. There is no plan for additional funding. All projects in the Capital Improvements Plan have been identified and budgeted.

“We all have the same desire — to do what is best for our community,” said Battle. “Passing a tax just to have future dollars to spend without designation is not right. The people who earn the tax dollars that are paid to the City of Huntsville work very hard, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“They trust us to spend their resources conservatively.”

The mayor expressed his gratitude to Council for their work and concluded his message by saying, “We all have the same goals, just different ways of achieving them.”

Navistar Revving Up Engine Production in Huntsville with $125 Million Expansion

The shovels dug deeply into wet but fertile ground as Navistar officially broke ground this week on a 50-acre, $125 million expansion of its manufacturing facilities in the Jetplex Industrial Park in Huntsville.

Ground was broken for the ground-breaking $125 million Navistar expansion. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

The build-out will drive Navistar’s total Huntsville footprint to 80 acres and add 110,000 square feet to its 300,000 square-foot plant. It will also add 145 skilled manufacturing jobs to build next-generation, big-bore powertrains.

“Over the past two decades, the city of Huntsville has been a valuable partner and we are eager to expand our presence here,” said Persio Lisboa, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Navistar. “The local skilled workforce has proudly supported the implementation of our product strategy, and we look forward to incorporating some of the most advanced manufacturing standards into our Navistar Diesel of Alabama facility to continue to bring best-in-class products to the market.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle tied Navistar’s truck engine production here to the rocket engines under development just a few miles away’

“Our skilled manufacturing workforce is ready to take on the production of Navistar’s global powertrain, adding capacity to Huntsville’s reputation as the ‘propulsion capital’ of the world,” he said. “Whether it’s across the country or across the universe, Huntsville gets you there.”

Already using the latest state-of-the-art technology, the company will implement a “manufacturing 4.0 strategy” in the plant.

Next-level software and assembly lines will drive everything from receiving components to delivery to the customers, revving up production while giving them more control over that production.

Navistar’s A26 engine is built in Huntsville. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

Navistar’s principal engine built in Huntsville is the International A26 – a 12.4-liter big-bore engine. The current 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space is dedicated to the A26 engine.

Navistar will use the additional space to produce next-generation big-bore powertrains developed with its global alliance partner Traton.

According to Brandon Tucker, Director of Operations, Navistar has built more than 1 million engines in Huntsville over the past 20 years.

“It’s easy to say one million engines, but if you step back and think about that – it’s a lot of engines,” he said. “It’s a lot of parts. It’s a lot of overtime. It’s a lot of work fixing problems. It’s a lot of hard work.

“Engines are what makes us great, it’s what gives us the competitive advantage … so this is really about a big job, well done.”

Tucker said it is also about business continuation.

“It’s a line in the sand, a jumping off point for big things to come,” he said. “Like any industry, we ride the tide of ebb and flow … but today it is time to focus on the future.”

He said things will move quickly on the new building with center office construction starting in March, site work and grading should begin by spring with core construction expected to start by midsummer. It is slated for completion the first half of 2023.

“Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport is proud to be home to Navistar,” said Rick Tucker, CEO of the Port of Huntsville. “Having been a corporate partner of theirs for over two decades, it means a lot to us that they would desire to continue to grow both the facility and their relationship with us.

“I’m certain that we will all work together to continue to propel Alabama forward.”

Construction on Schedule for North Huntsville Library and Berachah Park

The site is shaping up on Sparkman Drive for the new North Huntsville Library and Berachah Park.

Contractors are on schedule for a fall completion of the joint $10.8 million project – a partnership between the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library.

“The city is proud to make this investment in North Huntsville,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Residents need and deserve high-quality places to learn, collaborate, connect and play.

“This project accomplishes these goals with a beautiful new library and park that will serve the community for decades to come.”

The complex is being built at the site of the outdated Bessie K. Russell Library branch, which occupies just 1,700 square feet, at 3011 Sparkman Drive.

The new 19,000-square-foot facility is designed to meet the information-seeking needs of residents with state-of-the-art technology, a café, children’s reading areas, interactive literacy center and a makerspace for entrepreneurs.

“Libraries connect people to resources that build community,” said Kim Lewis, North Huntsville Library Capital Campaign Chairperson. “The new library will serve as a community hub, with two meeting rooms, multiple study areas and an after-school program space for children.

“It will also feature some of the latest technologies such as a workforce development lab, a Makerspace with 3D printers, and an automated sorting machine.”

“We are so excited to show the North Huntsville community what their library can do,” said Laurel Best, Executive Director of the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library. “We will be able to expand the great service of Bessie K. Russell and offer more people an opportunity to use our computer and Internet services, participate in children’s programming and learn STEM-related activities and equipment in the Makerspace.”

For City Council President and District 1 representative Devyn Keith, the new library and park is personal.

“As a kid, I remember coming into the Bessie Russell trailer to do my Accelerated Reader points,” said Keith. “It amazing to have to have a chance to be part of this expansion and investment by the city and generous donors so that children will have a place that inspires and opens doors of opportunity.”

The library will be next to a new city park which will feature walking trails, pickleball courts, multipurpose fields, a pavilion and children’s play areas.

The project architect is Fuqua & Partners and the general contractor is Lee Builders. They expect to complete work on the site in October.