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Rocket City Trash Pandas Announce Partnership with Pepsi

MADISON – If you want a soft drink while watching the Rocket City Trash Pandas, all you will have to do is say, “Pepsi, please.”

The Trash Pandas and Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi announced a long- term strategic partnership to include non-alcoholic beverage exclusivity and stadium sponsorships. The Trash Pandas have Pepsi, as the exclusive non-alcoholic provider of beverages for their new stadium opening in April 2020.

“Buffalo Rock-Pepsi is a company that aligns perfectly with our values and approach to deliver a fun, affordable family experience,” said Ralph Nelson, Trash Pandas CEO/managing partner. “We have been so impressed with the entire leadership team at Buffalo Rock-Pepsi and they’ve been with us at every major BallCorps event, long before this partnership was formalized.

“With over 35 years serving North Alabama, Buffalo Rock has consistently demonstrated their commitment to this community, so we are so happy to be their partners.”

As part of the agreement, Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi has been named a Founding Partner of the Trash Pandas and the new stadium. The Pepsi brand and logo will be prominently featured throughout the stadium, and the main entry gate where over 500,000 annual visitors will enter the venue will be known as Pepsi Gate.

“The community’s excitement as evidence in the Rocket City Trash Panda’s success in branding and merchandise sales, fuels our confidence in this being a great opportunity for both parties” said Matthew Dent, president/COO for Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi. “Our company is known for keeping families and community its focus. And, by becoming a strategic partner with a team bringing baseball back to North Alabama, we will be able to continue fulfilling our mission in the community for years to come.”

For Trash Pandas season ticket information, visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com.

A Food Hall of Kitchens, Breweries and Food Trucks Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — At his State of the City Address in March, Madison Mayor Paul Finley told the audience to buckle up for some big announcements coming out of the new Town Madison development this spring. Today, the Breland Companies delivered a big one!

Rendering shows layout of Town Madison around the baseball stadium and Food Hall

The latest addition is a sprawling Food Hall of 18 kitchens curated by local and regional chefs, two breweries, and several stationary food trucks in an outdoor dining area. A central bar with indoor/outdoor seating will serve as an anchor, and developers are talking to several local and regional restaurants about joining the unique dining lineup. 

The Food Hall can be seen to the right in this rendering.

Designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, an international design firm based in Atlanta, the Food Hall will feature a large outdoor event space and covered stage area for a variety of events including a showcase for songwriters, concerts and big screen showings of various sporting events.

“Town Madison is taking another step toward our goal to provide a new experience in North Alabama living,” said Louis Breland. “We toured some of the finest food halls in the country looking for the right concept. A great food hall becomes a central gathering spot and brings unique energy to a community.

“Along with the (Rocket City) Trash Pandas stadium, the Food Hall and plaza area will become the place to be before a game or any time people want to meet with friends and share new experiences.”

The Food Hall, a partnership between Breland and Fuqua Development of Atlanta, joins the growing roster of tenants at Town Madison including the baseball stadium; several hotels including the avid Hotel, Home2 Suites and Margaritaville Resort Hotel; restaurants; national retailers such as Duluth Trading Co.; luxury apartments and residential communities.

Construction on the Food Hall begins this summer and tenants will be announced by the end of the year.

It is slated to open next spring – in time for the first pitch.

Trash Pandas, Cumulus Announce Broadcast Partnership

MADISON — Against a backdrop of the new ballpark under construction, the Rocket City Trash Pandas and Cumulus Media announced an expansive three-year partnership, which will bring live radio broadcasts of the team’s 140 games on WUMP 103.9 FM/730 AM.

Calling the play-by-play will be Josh Caray, the grandson of legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray and son of the late Atlanta Braves broadcaster Skip Caray. Josh’s brother, Chip, is the current Braves’ play-by-play announcer.

From left, Ralph Nelson, CEO/managing partner of the Trash Pandas; Cumulus Vice President/Market Manager John Lewis; abd play-by-play announcer Josh Caray

“This is a special day for our organization,” said Ralph Nelson, Trash Pandas CEO/managing partner. “To have Josh Caray as our voice is yet another huge win for the amazing Trash Pandas fan base – they’re going to be blown away by his big-league style.”

Caray most recently served as the football and men’s basketball radio play-by-play broadcaster at Stony Brook University on Long Island. He also called baseball games for Yale University and the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League and will finish his duties with the Renegades this season before joining the Trash Pandas.

He grew up in the Atlanta area and also worked for the Braves’ Rome and Gwinnett affiliates. Caray related taking his job with the Trash Pandas to former Alabama Head Football Coach Bear Bryant on his return to Tuscaloosa to coach the Crimson Tide.

“When Mama calls, you’ve got to listen,” Caray said. “Mama called me and I’m coming home.”

At Monday’s press conference, Caray said he was excited about the opportunity to join the team.

“I am beyond surprised at the number of people out today,” he said. “This shows me that what is being built behind me” will be an exciting place.

Nelson said though the team chose Cumulus and Cumulus staff for game broadcasts and gameday activities, the Trash Pandas will be working with the other radio stations across north Alabama.

“Regarding our larger partnership… there are so many great stations in this region, and we intend to continue working with all of them,” he said. “We chose Cumulus because of its extensive reach across a variety of market segments. Cumulus offered us an unprecedented opportunity to share the Trash Pandas experience with the most fans possible.”

Mojo, of WZYP’s “The Mojo Radio Show”, will be gameday master of ceremonies, engaging fans and emceeing between-inning promotions, contests, and more. “Tricky Ricky” Fernandez of WUMP’s “The Bullpen,” will oversee in-stadium music, video and sound effects, and his “Bullpen” co-host Antonio “Tony Mac” MacBeath will be the public address announcer.

“This is a win-win …,” said John Lewis, vice president and market manager for Cumulus. “We are thrilled with this partnership; the Trash Pandas are already a world-class baseball franchise … we have 700,000 listeners to help them fully engage their extensive fan base.

“We’re also excited about the cross-promotional opportunities, so Trash Pandas fans can discover what so many already know – that Cumulus offers top-notch programming with great personalities, across a variety of platforms.”

For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com, umpsports.com and cumulusmedia.com.

Million-Dollar Mark: Trash Pandas Do Minor League in a Big League Way

MADISON — When the Rocket City Trash Pandas announced their team name, several hundred people packed a local microbrewery.

When the team held a logo unveiling with fireworks and a band, Madison’s Dublin Park was jammed.

So, why should it surprise anyone that the team – which will not play a game for another 11 months – is setting all sorts of records?

What kind of records? Sales of merchandise.

Shirts, caps, hoodies, sweatshirts bearing one or all of the team’s logos have been seen and photographed around the world.

The team shattered Minor League Baseball records for online and overall merchandise sales and now are about to hit another milestone: $1 million in sales. The Trash Pandas have a store in Bridge Street Town Centre, next to the Apple store, and also sell online at trashpandasbaseball.com.

“I don’t know of any team that has sold $1 million of merchandise 10 months before the first pitch,” Ralph Nelson, the team’s CEO and managing partner, said Tuesday.

Nelson and the team had another big league move Tuesday when they announced that Josh Caray would be the team’s play-by-play broadcaster.

Yes, Caray. As in Chip, Skip and, of course, Harry.

“He has got a lineage radio announcers dream of,” said Nelson. “He’s as talented as I have heard …”

So, what’s next?

Well, the Trash Pandas’ next big play will be in June when they unveil the team uniforms in a big ceremony in Big Spring Park.

Trash Pandas Merchandise Setting Records; Stadium on Schedule

MADISON — As apparel flies off the shelves inside the team’s store at Bridge Street, dirt and mud moves for the plain eye to see from the vantage point of I-565 toward the area near Zierdt Road where the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ future home will be.

But is the ground moving fast enough to meet deadlines for opening day in 2020 when the current Mobile BayBears, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, move north to a new home and take on a new name?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to Trash Pandas owner Ralph Nelson.

“These guys are incredible,” he said. “They’re working between raindrops. Somehow, someway they’ve found a way to stay on schedule.”

That schedule calls for the Trash Pandas to move into offices in the stadium well before the 2020 season opener. The venue, named Madison Stadium and part of the ambitious Town Madison project, will have a capacity of 7,000 for baseball.

“It’s coming along extremely well and, I understand, under budget and on schedule to move into the stadium three or four months before we play ball,” Nelson said.

Heavy, consistent rains in the Tennessee Valley since last fall have plagued developers and construction sites. And while the weather hasn’t slowed plans for the Trash Pandas to move into their new digs next spring, it has caused some changes in plans as gravel has replaced dirt for backfilling in certain areas.

“We’re very pleased where the situation is,” Nelson said. “The only thing that has concerned people is the rain. Some of the dirt is just too wet.”

Baseball’s impending return has created a stir. While the Huntsville Stars’ arrival in 1985 was also well-received and highly celebrated, the franchise limped out of town with attendance at all-time lows.

The local community, however, apparently missed professional baseball. The Trash Pandas’ apparel store has been doing brisk business for a long time and sales haven’t slowed. A unique team name hasn’t hurt.

Minor league baseball has also began sending licensed Trash Pandas merchandise to local stores. The team receives a percentage of those sales.

“Our store never slows down,” Nelson said. “Every day, every weekend we’re selling merchandise. We’re outselling all of baseball online. We’re selling stuff all over the country.

“We’re always having to buy merchandise just to keep the stocked.”

The Angels and Trash Pandas will continue their player development contract after the team relocates from Mobile. Los Angeles currently has the 10th best minor league system regarding position players and the ninth best for pitchers as ranked by milb.com.

Women in Hardhats are a Growing Trend in the Construction Industry

MADISON, Ala. — Nationally, women make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry – 9.1 percent according to the National Association of Women in Construction.

That number has been steadily increasing over the past decade, so much that the NAWIC started a Women in Construction Week, held annually in March. It highlights women as viable components of the construction industry and raises awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry.

Hoar Construction, headquartered in Birmingham and contracted to build the new Rocket City Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium in Madison, has long since broken through.

When it comes to women wearing hardhats on a construction site, Hoar Construction says women are beginning to dominate in engineering and project management positions within their company. Hoar’s female workforce is up to 20 percent, but what kind of challenges do women face on a construction site and how do so many find their way into the business?

Meet Amanda Black, Safety Manager

Amanda Black

Amanda Black is a safety manager for Hoar Construction and is with the crew at the baseball stadium. Amanda is 29 years old and her parents have worked for Hoar for over 32 years.

“I grew up on a construction site,” said Black. “As a child, I picked things apart to see how they were built. Even with toys, I wasn’t interested in the thing itself.

“I was more interested in how it was put together and what was inside that made it work.”

Black went to college on a scholarship, but the school didn’t offer academics in engineering or construction.

She came back to what she knew. Eleven years later, she is working for Hoar and is back in school for construction management.

“No one should be limited in what they want to be, if they have the heart for it,” Black said. “You have to have a thick skin to be a woman among so many men, but you need a thick skin in life anyway, right?”

As a safety manager, Amanda notes that everyone on a construction site has a very important job and the more skills sets you have, the more it benefits you.

“I started out as a laborer trying my hands at carpentry work, concrete, and I know how to operate some of the equipment,” she said. “I also help with the shell work on empty buildings and cross over to quality control when they need help.

“It’s what you do – you work your way up.”

Meet Jessica Yarbrough, Assistant Superintendent

Jessica Yarbrough

Jessica Yarbrough grew up learning the cabinetry trade from her father who worked as a boat captain three days on and three days off. Cabinetry was a hobby he excelled in and still does.

Jessica can build cabinets, but she chose not to pursue the craftsmanship side of construction. Instead, she has spent the past 7½ years traveling from project to project with her husband who is a superintendent for Hoar Construction.

Yarbrough has worked on a Disney World project in Orlando; built a physical fitness facility for the Army in Clarksville, Tenn.; built an outdoor shopping center in Baton Rouge, La.; and a commissary at Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Fla.)

Now she is in Arlington, Va., working for the first time without her husband on a 12-story midrise apartment building.

“I am an exterior scan superintendent,” said Yarbrough. “I am responsible for the brick, metal panel, glass storefront, and glass curtain wall that makes up the exterior on this project. Every day, I oversee the work of our trade partners, including brick masons, a metal panel guy, our window installer, and ironworkers.

“I work a little bit with the exterior framers and with our air barrier system, and I handle all the scheduling, coordination, and I manage workflow to ensure the project gets built on time.”

Yarbrough started college in premed but, while in the process of switching to nursing, an advisor noticed she was taking extra math classes. She asked Jessica if she was good at math and when she answered “Yes,” they encouraged her to pursue engineering rather than the medical field.

“I feel I have grown into the job,” she said. “There were opportunities for workers to pull a fast one on me or to get by with stuff but, instead, we worked through some teachable moments that made us all better at our jobs.”

Since then, there have been only a handful of times when she felt being a woman negatively impacted what she was trying to do.

“I find the day-to-day challenges – getting the job done on time and on budget – is harder than any challenges I face as a woman in a male-dominated field.”

Meet Donna Strange, Assistant Superintendent

Donna Strange

Donna Strange, like Jessica Yarbrough, is an assistant superintendent for Hoar Construction and she coordinates among multiple trade partners, documenting and making notification of field changes in real time on any project.

“I am the boots in the field,” she said. “I communicate with the project superintendent the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed with schedule and cost impacts. I listen to the concerns of our trade partners, always keeping one eye open for safety; and I have to make on-the-spot executive decisions to keep the project moving – not just the daily progress – but I have to be prepared to make the calls needed to keep the wheels on the bus during the challenging days ahead.”

Donna said she bounced around a few different professions, all of which left her feeling stuck, without a chance to get out and learn and explore.

“I found myself on a construction project as it was nearing the final stages and I fell head over heels in love with all aspects of the experience,” she said. “I found a profession where everyday there was potential for learning something new.” 

She said her biggest challenge at being a woman in a predominantly male industry is her 5-foot-2, 110-pound stature. It can be hard to show authority when you are petite, but she gets around it by being knowledgeable.

“I keep my eye on the big picture – giving our client a facility that meets expectations and I don’t let my size hinder my authority and responsibilities,” she said. “I focus on always staying calm, listening, and sharing my experience in a situation, before making decisions that affect others.”

Meet Sarah Horton, Project Engineer

Sarah Horton

Sarah Horton joined Hoar Construction officially this past year as a project engineer, but she worked for Hoar throughout college and was a co-op student with them in 2014. Sarah has a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Alabama but, from a general contractor’s perspective, she is at the management level of the job cost perspective.

Most of the work Sarah is involved with is renovated buildings rather than new construction, and she has been assigned to the Samford University campus in Birmingham. Her most current project is the University Center.

“We went in and took everything out including the slabs used to create two floors,” said Horton. “Now we have a shell of a building all on one floor, so we can start over.”

Structural and procedural changes are commonplace in renovations and Sarah’s architectural engineering background allows her to run software programs that a typical project manager ordinarily wouldn’t, such as the popular Building Information Modeling software.

“Typically, when we get a set of documents, they are printed on paper, but obviously building construction is seen much better in 3-dimension,” Horton said. “I use BIM and my architectural engineering background in HVAC design, power distribution and design, and structural concepts of building to get that into a 3-D space and coordinate changes from a general contractor’s perspective.

“Being able to run BIM gives us some control over the original designs using Virtual Design & Construction (VDC), so we can say, ‘You designed this, but we have a sprinkler system that must fit in this space too and it has certain code requirements. Let’s work together to make it all fit in this space with 25-foot high ceilings.’ ”

Sarah was exploring scholarship options while enrolled at the University of Alabama studying dentistry when she was approached by the engineering department, who had her test scores in math and science.

“Because I was a female, I was going to receive a nice engineering scholarship to declare general engineering as my major,” she said. “After one engineering foundations class, I was hooked!

“I agree with Amanda that you have to have thick skin, know who you are, and from a professional standpoint, be confident and understand the depth of your experience,” she said. “Now when I sit down at the table, I may be the only woman at that table, but I feel confident enough to give my opinion.

The Male Perspective

Horton said a lot of older men in the construction industry are against having women on the construction site because they believe it to be too dangerous from a safety standpoint. Unanimously, all four Hoar Women in Hardhats say, “No! We belong here just as much as you do!”

“It puts more pressure on me to make sure I know what I’m talking about,” said Horton. “I don’t get a free pass because I’m a girl. I have to know my stuff and back up what I say because they will go toe-to-toe with me on some things.”

“Construction is an amazing business to be in,” said Black. “For me, construction isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle. Construction provided for me when I was growing up, and now it provides for me as a mother.”

Although she did not pursue the craftsmanship side of construction, Yarbrough admits building cabinets is still in her cards.

“My dad still has a shop and all the tools and equipment, so it’s always been sort of like … if all else fails … I can always build cabinets!”

If she does, she will be an even rarer phenomenon since women make up less than 2 percent of carpenters nationwide!

Safety is Paramount as Construction on Town Madison Stadium Reaches Significant Milestones

MADISON — The home for the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball team is about one-quarter complete.

Concrete and steel have gone up and the underground plumbing and electricity is being laid.

Mud is moving, tractors are pulling, trucks are dumping, and walls are being erected.

The entire Town Madison development may have gotten off to a slow start, but word on the baseball stadium job site is that there will be significant progress in the coming weeks, in anticipation of the December completion date. In fact, the development will reach a point in which it will suddenly seem to go up all at once.

Hoar Construction, general contractor for the stadium, has 80 to 90 workers at the site on any given day. It is just one of many construction sites in full-build mode at Town Madison.

So, what is it like out there on a day-to-day basis? Is everybody staying safe?

Hoar Construction Safety Manager Amanda Black

“Some days there is a beehive of activity and it can get confusing with all the other construction going on around us,” said Bart Wilder, vice president of safety for Hoar Construction, “From a site perspective, it is nonstop all day. Building for us is not just about building on time, under budget, and to a high level of quality. It is about doing all of those things safely and seamlessly.”

Every trade has its own inherent risks associated with their type of work and for that reason, Wilder said they work diligently to get the right trade partners (subcontractors) on every project.

“We choose partners who understand that safety comes down to understanding what our risks are and having the processes in place to identify and mitigate them,” he said. “Hoar sets the culture and expectations for the project, but our partners represent various scopes of work like concrete and steel, utilities, plumbing, electrical. It takes all these trades to put together a project like the new stadium and most of the safety plan begins in preplanning when our safety representatives sit down with partner safety representatives to discuss what they see as hazards on the upcoming job.”

While the construction industry operates under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Primary Standards for Safety, there are other regulatory industries OSHA incorporates into its standards by reference. In fact, OSHA leans heavily on other building trades such as the National Fire Protection Association to write their own codes for fire extinguishers, fire suppression, or chemical exposure. The National Electrical Code also has its own safety protocol, incorporated into OSHA’s standards.

“Safety is not a burden because our partners share the safety responsibilities with us,” said Wilder. “Also, our obligations are not predicated on the minimum of OSHA standards. Our obligations are more along the lines of industry best practices, designed to be above and beyond OSHA.”

Hoar recommends every team start every shift by looking at specific tasks and asking each other – “Do we have the tools, equipment, manpower, and materials to do today’s tasks? Even more importantly – what are the hazards surrounding that task?” “Are there things that can hurt you in the process?”

Amanda Black, Hoar Construction’s safety manager at Town Madison, begins every morning with a field walk through the jobsite. She checks to see what the last shift left for the next day, and to assess whether site conditions require a superintendent or a team to clean it up. She also makes sure there is room to walk around and maneuver safely and room to operate their equipment.

“We preach two things all the time to the workforce,” said Black “‘Safety is everybody’s job’, and ‘If you see something, say something.’

“I’m out on the site most of the time making sure everyone is doing their job safely. We have safety meetings out here every Tuesday and free time safety analyses every day to keep the workers thinking about job safety and thinking about ways to prevent hazards from happening.”

She said as the general contractor, Hoar requires every team have safety meetings among their group, and Black confirms those meetings daily and any issues that arose from them, checking notes among supervisors to see if anyone spotted any safety hazards that need to be discussed.

“Amanda is in the field, boots on the ground, all day long,” said Wilder. “She is constantly observing not only potential unsafe conditions that can arise, but she knows how to approach an unsafe situation and talk about a way to fix it in a respectful, professional, an educated manner,” said Wilder. “Amanda is trained in safety rules and regulations, so she speaks with authority and people onsite respond to that.”

Construction safety also requires a great deal of foresight. Amanda spends a lot of time at the drawing table trying to safely predict any kind of hazard before it presents itself.

“We have all these great rules and regulations in our industry, but it is not about the regs with Hoar,” said Wilder. “We want you to go home safely. Whoever is waiting for you at home is more important than anyone at work.”

There is an economic message in that strategy as well.

“Part of our success is being able to create all these great construction jobs – jobs that in the process, send you home every day no worse for wear than however you were when you showed up.”

The number one injury on any construction jobsite is trips and falls.

“It seems that areas designated for storage tend to be where a plurality of these trip-and-fall injuries take place,” said Black. “We run to the problem, not away from it. We go back over the environment where they fell to see what caused it, and we check tools and equipment to make sure they were working properly.

“We call in our superintendents to engage quickly and work the problem until it gets resolved.”

“I believe the construction industry has gotten safer in relation to previous generations,” said Wilder. “OSHA always looks at incident rate as the total number of recordable injuries that occur in year, and the total number of incidents that result in someone getting hurt or put on restricted duty due to the severity of an incident.

“Those numbers are tabulated against the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the national industry averages. Hoar Construction has consistently ranked well below the industry average in jobsite injuries for more 10 years. We are very proud of that.”

Grand Reopening: Trash Pandas’ Renovated Emporium Includes Season Ticket Center

It’s time once again to start talking Trash.

That’s right. Trash with a capital “T” – as in Trash Pandas.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas are holding a grand reopening of the team’s Emporium and Season Ticket Center on Friday. Doors open at the newly renovated store at Bridge Street Town Centre at 10 a.m.

Fresh on the heels of record-setting sales, the Trash Pandas will be selling never-before-available team apparel and novelty items. The first 250 fans who make a purchase of $25 or more will receive a commemorative “Stadium Groundbreaking” baseball.

“As most people know, our original plan was for a ‘pop-up’ store to stay open only through the
holidays,” said Trash Pandas Executive Vice President Jenny Askins. “But, the demand for our
products from throughout North Alabama was so intense that we complied with our fans’ wishes and will keep the store open at least until we move into the new stadium.

“Our customers were very specific as to the types of merchandise they prefer, and we have restocked and added new items based on their requests.”

The restocked Emporium will feature all sizes of the most popular Trash Pandas merchandise that could not be kept in stock during the holidays, including the ultra-popular New Era 59FIFTY authentic fitted cap; the one worn by all Minor League Baseball players.

Among the new merchandise available Friday will be tank tops, sleeveless tee shirts, and new colors and styles of infant “onesies.” Coming soon will be items such as pop sockets, pennants, wall art, pet supplies, and new styles of hats from New Era.

The store will host the official Trash Pandas Season Ticket Center. There will be seating samples from the ballpark for three premium areas: Home Plate Luxury Field Boxes, Legacy (drink rail) seating and High Tops. A new feature will enable potential seat holders to view the field from any seat in the ballpark.

While two sections of the new stadium have already sold out for the first three seasons (Reserved Seating Stadium Club memberships and the half-moon shaped Four Tops), new reduced-price Stadium Club memberships that do not guarantee an outside seat will be available.

“I continue to be amazed at how this community has accepted and become excited by our team,” said
Trash Pandas’ CEO Ralph Nelson. “Our industry measures brand acceptance by merchandise sales,
and it’s hard to go very far in North Alabama or southern Tennessee without seeing folks in Trash
Pandas apparel. Our fans told us what they like and we think the new items to be introduced this spring are going to start a whole new wave of excitement.

“It made all the sense in the world to keep the store open so that the Trash Pandas Nation will just continue to grow.”

Baseball complex, 2 more hotels coming to Town Madison

MADISON — Mayor Paul Finley made some major announcements and shared some astounding economic data Friday night at his annual State of the City Address.

Two new hotel chains, the Avid Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn, will join Home2 Suites and Margaritaville at Town Madison. Why the need for more lodging?

Because among his big announcements is the development of Pro Player Park, a 12-field baseball complex on the west side of Town Madison that is projected to generate 35,000 room nights a year!

Finley said Madison is strong and getting stronger thanks to efforts in public safety, in education, in healthcare, and in job growth.

While Finley acknowledges that the area relies heavily on the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to drive economic growth at the highest level, Madison, which shares both Madison and Limestone counties, is a big piece of the Tennessee Valley puzzle.

“Based on statistics compiled by UAH, in the past three years, we have created 30,000 jobs in those two counties alone!” Finley said to thunderous applause from the audience at the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “That is a $2.6 billion economic expansion in Madison County and $6.6 billion in Limestone County, and that does not include Redstone Arsenal, which provides just under 10 percent of the state of Alabama’s gross domestic product”.

While the city itself is operating more efficiently, doing more with less expense to the taxpayer, Finley said that out of the $46 million for the Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium and $20 million for capital improvements for roads and infrastructure, the city currently has a surplus of $10 million in the bank “just in case”.

He also touted the success of Madison Hospital, which saw 55,000 visits to the emergency room last year and is on track to deliver an average of 200 babies per month in 2019. The Madison hospital has grown from 60 to 90 beds in just a couple of years.

He also called out Madison City Schools who ranked as the second-best district in the state in test scores – up from third last year.

“Every school in Madison received an ‘A’ on their report card,” said Finley. “There are only six out of 137 districts in the state who can say that, and ours is the largest to do it.”

He said the district has grown by 538 students since last year and, to put that into perspective, it equates to Madison itself becoming a 5A high school if the growth continues. They have also added two school resource officers to enhance safety and security in the schools, and the City Council budgeted more than $500,000 from the general fund to support both academics and school safety.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Finley. “We are the dog who caught the car. Now what are we going to do?”

He looks to the Launch 2035 initiative established by Huntsville’s Committee of 100 known as the Regional Collaboration of North Alabama “to ensure the successes we have had, continue for the next 10 and 15 years.”

“As leaders in this community, we have to come together to take the successes we have had, and make sure we support them with the things that are required: education, workforce development, and infrastructure.” 

Looking back on a great year for local business

According to Inc. magazine, tech companies are feeling the pressure of rising costs in large coastal cities. Businesses and residents are leaving in search of opportunities in less expensive areas.

This is great news for Huntsville which, in 2018, saw new companies planting seeds, older companies deepening their roots, infrastructure branching outward, and the quality of life flourishing as active lifestyles demand more room to grow.

Inc. writer David Brown puts Huntsville No. 2 among the Top Six “Attention-grabbing Cities for Tech Start-ups.”

“NASA’s presence is largely responsible for the Rocket City’s high rankings on the opportunity scale for engineers. The city has also executed well in forging strong public-private partnerships and promoting a thriving technology industry. Software development, electrical engineering, and computer science are top fields, contributing to the city’s 309 percent year-over-year growth in tech jobs.”

With so many sensational “gets” for Huntsville and Madison this past year, the question is whether it is sustainable?

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Chip Cherry, president & CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, answer that question.

“We have spent the past 10 years with a focused, intentional plan to grow and diversify our job base, improve quality of life, and capitalize on the rich assets in Huntsville and North Alabama,” said Battle. “We’ve put an emphasis on workforce development in our schools. Our road projects are designed to keep traffic moving long into the future. We are making Huntsville more appealing and desirable for top talent to move here through parks, music and cultural amenities, greenways and bike lanes.

“We don’t plan just for the next year. We plan for the next 10 to 20 years. For example, we created the Cyber Huntsville initiative and worked with that volunteer group to land the State Cyber and Engineering School in Huntsville. This program, along with many others in our public schools and universities, will help prepare the tech workforce we will need for the future.”

Cherry agreed that diversification is the key.

“A diversified base of businesses coupled with a strong and diversified portfolio on Redstone Arsenal are key to ensuring that we have a dynamic regional economy,” he said. “The community’s economic development wins in 2018 will impact the community for generations to come. 

“The blend of new locations and expansions will provide a broad range of employment opportunities as well as providing business opportunities for local companies to grow.”

Here are the Huntsville Business Journal’s top Madison County business stories of 2018:

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing

Of all the big business acquisitions and developments launched in 2018, Battle said that if he had to focus on a single mayoral accomplishment in 2018, the Mazda-Toyota announcement dwarfs all others because of its impact on our economy year in, and year out.

“I’ve often said the hard work on a project comes after the announcement, and the scale of this [Mazda Toyota] project was no exception,” he said. “It brought enormous challenges from its sheer size and scope. Clearing 1,200 acres, bringing in 7 million yards of dirt, putting a building pad in place with a solid rock foundation, building roads, and all the other challenges associated with a development – many times over.

“Fortunately, we worked in partnership with the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S. team. And we are able to navigate through the challenges together and meet our deadlines. Now the building is ready to go vertical and on track to produce cars in 2021. This plant will provide jobs for 4,000-5,000 workers, generational jobs that will impact our economy for decades to come.”

Being built by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, the sprawling site will produce 300,000 next-generation Toyota Corollas and a yet-to-be-revealed Mazda crossover model annually, beginning in 2021.

Investment in the Mazda Toyota plant is being split evenly between the automakers, allowing both automakers to respond quickly to market changes and ensure sustainable growth.

“While there were a number of things that placed our community in a strong competitive position to win this project,” Cherry said. “In the end, it was the ability of our team, and our partners, to be nimble and responsive that made the difference.”

Rocket City Trash Pandas

In early 2018, the City of Madison approved up to $46 million to build a baseball stadium, signaling minor league baseball’s return to the Tennessee Valley.

Highly visible from I-565 off Madison Boulevard at Zierdt Road, the ballpark will seat 5,500 baseball fans, and is part of the Town Madison project.

The team – named the Rocket City Trash Pandas in a voting contest – will officially move from Mobile to Madison after the 2019 baseball season and remain the farm team for the Los Angeles Angels.

Town Madison

Town Madison development, which held several groundbreakings in 2018 after nearly 2 years of dormancy as $100 million in new road construction was built to accommodate traffic flow to and from the development.

Town Madison will include 700,000 square feet of office space; over 1 million square feet of retail space; 700 new hotel rooms; over 1,200 luxury apartments; and 300 single-family homes.

“We’re very pleased to see groundbreakings underway in the Town Madison space,” said Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. “When complete, it will be a true destination spot, enabling families to spend the day enjoying entertainment, shopping and dining.”

Last February, HHome2 Suites by Hilton was the first to announce it was breaking ground on a 97 all-suite extended-stay hotel as part of the section called West End at Town Madison. The hotel is scheduled to open early this year.

Wisconsin-based retailer Duluth Trading Co. broke ground on its 15,000-square foot store in early December. The company is Town Madison’s first retail partner and will open this year.

As part of The Exchange at Town Madison, local developer Louis Breland broke ground last April on a 274-unit luxury apartment complex called The Station at Town Madison. It is slated to open in the summer.

In late May, Breland confirmed the development of a 150-room Margaritaville Hotel adjacent to the ballpark. It is set to open in 2020.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said, “Margaritaville is an international brand known for high-quality and fun projects. Not only will this hotel attract guests from across the region, but it will add multiple new dining and entertainment options for Madison residents.”

The Heights and The Commons at Town Madison will provide a mixture of affordable single-family and multifamily homes, townhomes, spacious luxury apartments, and condominiums around a village square. Home prices will range from $250,000 to $500,000.  

MidCity Huntsville

Certain to take significant shape throughout 2019, MidCity Huntsville is a dynamic 100-acre experiential mixed-use community right in the center of Huntsville. When finished, it will consist of a series of interconnected spaces and gathering places.

MidCity will feature dining, entertainment and recreation from names such as REI Co-op, Wahlburgers, Rascal Flatt’s, and High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Already in operation is Top Golf, a sports entertainment center with climate-controlled golf-ball hitting bays, a full-service restaurant and bar, private event spaces and meeting rooms; a rooftop terrace with fire pit, hundreds of HDTVs, and free wi-fi.

The development will also offer bike and walking trails, a park, an 8,500-seat open-air amphitheater, and The Stage for outdoor music and entertainment.

Area 120 is a science and technology accelerator with some 200,000 square feet of space for R&D and startups.

The Promenade with its hardscaped space will accommodate local farmers markets and Huntsville’s growing food truck fleet. You will also find luxury apartments and a hotel.

GE Aviation

Two years ago, GE Aviation announced it had almost cracked the code to mass producing the unique ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components used in jet propulsion engines, and when they did, the company would build two facilities in Huntsville to produce them.

Last May, GE Aviation announced they will open a 100-acre factory complex, destined to be the only location in the U.S. to produce these ultra-lightweight CMC components, which can withstand extremely high temperatures.

Investment in the project is expected to reach $200 million. GE Aviation currently employs 90 people at the Huntsville site and is expected to reach 300 at full production.

Facebook

Facebook will invest $750 million into a large-scale data center in Huntsville that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.

The Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval for Facebook to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million. They began construction on the 970,000-square-foot facility in late 2018.

“We believe in preparing our community for the challenges ahead,” said Battle. “Our Gig City initiative to provide city-wide high-speed connectivity is an example of that.”

The Downtown Madison Sealy Project

When the City of Madison announced that changes to the west side of Sullivan Street between Kyser Boulevard and Gin Oaks Court would pave the way for more commercial/retail space, it marked the beginning of a long-term improvement and expansion project for downtown Madison that would pick up steam in 2018.

Known as the Downtown Madison Sealy Project, it is the latest in a series of mixed-use developments about to hit downtown, extending from the east side of Sullivan Street to Short Street.

The city is making improvements to accommodate the 10,000 square-foot development which includes 190 upscale apartments and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space.

GATR Technologies

In April, Huntsville-based GATR Technologies announced it would be quadrupling its production capacity in Cummings Research Park to nearly 100,000 square feet.

The inflatable portable satellite innovator was acquired by Cubic Mission Solutions in 2016 and has grown from 80 employees in 2016 to 157 in 2018. GATR is projected to employ more than 200 people by October 2019.

GATR will soon be delivering systems by the thousands to the U. S. government, military, and any entity that benefits from deployable communications, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Electro Optic Systems

In June, Electro Optic Systems announced it will build its flagship production facility at on Wall Triana Highway in Huntsville.

The Australian aerospace technology and defense company expects to hire up to 100 fulltime employees in its first year and is scaled to grow to at least 250 employees quickly.

EOS has been producing software, lasers, electronics, optronics, gimbals, telescopes, beam directors, and stabilization and precision mechanisms for the military space, missile defense, and surface warfare sectors for more than 20 years.

BAE Systems

BAE Systems, the third-largest defense contractor in the world, broke ground on a $45.5 million expansion of its existing facilities in CRP in July. The growth is expected to create hundreds of jobs.

The new 83,000-square-foot facility is the first phase of a multi-phase growth plan to expand its existing offices on Discovery Drive and develop a new state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility in CRP to increase their capacity. An unused adjacent 20-acre lot will provide room for yet more expansion soon. Construction of the new building is expected to be complete in 2019.

Radiance Technologies

Employee-owned defense contractor Radiance Technologies broke ground in July on their first comprehensive headquarters in Huntsville.

The new 100,000 square foot building in CRP will, for the first time, allow the company’s 300 employees, all of whom have operated at remote locations in Huntsville since 1999, to collaborate under the same roof as they provide innovative technology to the Department of Defense, NASA, and national intelligence agencies.

South Memorial Parkway Expansion

The short but significant widening and redesign of the main line of South Memorial Parkway caused many headaches for residents and business owners over the past 2½ years, but in late July, that stretch between Golf Road and Whitesburg Drive officially re-opened.

The $54 million project opened a gateway of uninterrupted traffic through South Huntsville, providing easier accessibility to South Huntsville businesses, schools, and residential areas.

“South Parkway being fully open is a game-changer for businesses and drivers in South Huntsville,” said Claire Aiello, vice president of Marketing and Communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Looking to 2019

“Our objective has been to build on the community’s traditional industries such as aerospace and defense, while creating more opportunities in the semi-skilled and skilled sectors of the economy,” said Cherry. “We excelled in all of these areas in 2018. The year will go down in the record books as among the most vibrant economic development years in our history. The companies that selected our community for their new location or expansion will create over 5,400 new jobs and invest over $2.7 billion in new buildings and equipment. These investments and jobs will have a profound impact on our quality of life for decades to come.”

“Cummings Research Park is now at 91 percent occupancy,” said Aiello. “We are making a big focus on new amenities for employees at CRP to keep them engaged and to give them things to do in the park besides work. That will be something to look forward to in 2019.”

And according to Battle, “2019 is going to be a good year. Let’s just keep it at that!”