The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 week ago

Madison County road construction projects should alleviate congestion, improve safety

(Gene Gallin/Unsplash)

The Metropolitan Planning Organization gave its approval to move ahead on two road construction projects that will improve the safety and traffic flow on a congested arterial road for northwest Madison County, Huntsville and northeast Limestone County.

“I’m grateful for the monumental progress that is being made on this important road project for north Alabama. It has taken a lot of persistence and patience working the process to move along road construction on what is clearly the most pressing transportation need in north Alabama,” said Dale Strong, the chairman of the Madison County Commission. Strong also serves as the chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO.

“Conversations are taking place about four-laning Highway 53, and I’m pleased we are picking up the pace of progress and paving,” he added. “A final solution for definitive funding for paving of the entire road project is the result of much collaboration among many elected leaders in our region. ”

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Alabama Highway 53 carries nearly 30,000 cars daily as most of that traffic is commuters from outlying areas to jobs in Huntsville, many of them Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.

Strong said the widening of Highway 53 will create an economic corridor that will begin at the north end in Ardmore and will impact northwest Madison County, northeast Limestone County and Huntsville.

The new projects include improvements on the highway at three different intersections in northwest Madison County – Harvest Road, McKee Road and Old Railroad Bed Road. Plans including the addition of turn lanes both on the north and south bound lanes. Traffic signals will also be placed at each intersection.

The total estimated cost of the road improvements is $5 million. Work is expected to start in 2023.

Highway 53 is overburdened carrying a heavy load of traffic for a two-lane highway from near the Tennessee border until it reaches Jeff Road in the Monrovia community. Traffic on this route has grown 50% during the past five years.

This overcrowded traffic artery is expected to get additional relief in the not-too-distant future. Also approved by the Metropolitan Planning Organization was a widening of Highway 53 from Jeff Road to Harvest Road. The cost on this project is estimated at $12.5 million and is expected to start in 2024.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

3 weeks ago

Alabama’s John Christy pens climate science journey

Dr. John Christy, Director of the Earth Science Systems Center at UAH. (Michael Mercier/UAH).

Dr. John Christy is among planet Earth’s best known climate scientists. However, being skeptical of today’s claims of a “broken climate” isn’t how he thought he would gain such notoriety when he began his quest for knowledge about climate science at age 10, as he describes in his new book, “Is it getting hotter in Fresno… or not?”

Sixty years later, Christy is a scientist who is vilified by liberal politicians and the left-wing media for his interpretation of the actual data that describes the climate. He understands there is a tremendous amount of “politics” behind climate science, but maintains that the observational data should be our starting point for arriving at conclusions about climate change, no matter what the climate may be doing.

Christy is the distinguished professor of Atmospheric and Earth Sciences and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). He is also the Alabama State Climatologist. He has received the American Meteorological Society’s Special Award and the rank of Fellow of this Society for his satellite research. NASA awarded him the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for work with Dr. Roy Spencer (UAH) on measuring global temperatures from satellites. He has published more than 100 scientific papers and has appeared as an expert witness on climate in U.S. federal court, as well as testified 20 times before the U.S. Congress.

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This climate journey is the result of his innate curiosity that began when he was still in elementary school in Fresno, California. He documents that journey with this new book – “Is it hotter in Fresno … or not? A book about my hometown’s changing weather.”

(ISBN 9798714472664
Published by John R. Christy – March 2021)

In the book, he answers the title’s question with a real nuts-and-bolts description of how one builds a climate dataset. But the answer does not fit today’s politically popular narrative. For Fresno, the most dominant impact on temperatures has been a warming due to the massive urbanization around the weather station. This warming is seen in the remarkable rise of nighttime temperatures, while the day time temperatures, where impacts due to extra greenhouse gases should be seen, have hardly changed. So, Fresno’s climate is not broken.

Fresno served as his home from birth to graduation from Fresno State (B.A. Mathematics). After serving as a missionary and teaching physics and chemistry in Kenya, East Africa, he earned a Master of Divinity from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, then served as a bi-vocational pastor while also teaching math at nearby colleges. He headed back to the classroom for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Illinois. This academic training prepared him for his career at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

But it was the young inquiring mind of a precocious 10-year-old future scientist to begin climate study in the most unlikely of locations.  Indeed, he described Fresno’s “weather-monotony” as the general rule where he spent his first 22 years. He writes the most confounding question to answer at the beginning of this book is, “Why would a curious boy become fascinated in weather and climate while growing up in, of all places, Fresno, California?” Christy says Fresno is not one of those locales about which people say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait around awhile and it will change.”

Christy observed that weather conditions in Fresno were always hot and dry from May to September. Then, during stagnant periods of a week or two between mid-November and mid-February, Fresno would be imprisoned by a gloomy, drizzly “high fog” in which the sun never broke through and the temperature was stuck, miserably, in the mid-30s to mid-40s. He said during this gloom, there was a simple fact that all knew – that just a half-hour’s drive east into the foothills, the warm sun would be shining in full glory. And, if you kept driving another 30 minutes, you would be in the majestically snow-covered Sierra where even there the temperature would be warmer than in the foggy valley.

Christy’s drive to know more about the valley’s weather consumed many hours from the time he was about 10 to his graduation from Fresno State in 1973. But that desire to document and understand the weather of the central San Joaquin Valley has never left him even though after 1973 he would not live in the valley again.

Though writing about the details of building a climate dataset, Dr. Christy also looks at his life as a climate scientist and deals with questions such as: What is the source of the climate data about which so much contention arises? How are these datasets constructed? Are they able to give us precise answers about climate change?

He examines these questions in detail for one spot on the earth – his hometown of Fresno. He delves into the observations, adding some data never before used to build a dataset of temperatures starting in 1887.

Along the way he mentions the personal experiences of his Fresno life that dovetail with his passion for climate science – this to let his grandkids know what type of work he did at the beginning of their century. After putting all of the information together, he arrives at a conclusion that implicates humans for the temperature changes Fresno has seen, but not in the way that is popularly promoted today. He offers finally his insight from his background as a professional climatologist and former resident of Africa as to how we might approach policy decisions regarding this highly contentious issue.

Proceeds from Dr. Christy‘s book will benefit student scholarships at UAH.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

1 month ago

UAH hockey fails to gain conference; Program will be suspended immediately

(UAHHockey.com/Facebook)

The inability to secure a conference affiliation for the University of Alabama in Huntsville hockey team has resulted in a suspension of the university’s troubled program.

A year ago, UAH announced its plans to discontinue the men’s ice hockey program as one of several cost-saving measures forced by the financial uncertainties associated with COVID-19.

UAH hockey received $750,000 in private philanthropic support to extend the program for the 2020-2021 season through a grassroots effort led by alumni and fans. The university’s administration worked to secure membership in an NCAA Division I hockey conference. Hockey is UAH’s only Division I sport. The university’s other athletic programs compete in NCAA Division II. Conference membership is a vital component of a sustainable funding model, making it a requirement for the continuation of the UAH hockey program, according to university officials.

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UAH officials and former UAH Hockey All-Americans Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski, leaders of the alumni group that provided private funds to support the 2020-2021 season, agreed that the university would discontinue its hockey program if unable to secure a conference home by this spring.

As of this week, UAH has not secured a conference affiliation for the upcoming season, and therefore announced plans on Wednesday to suspend its hockey operations, effective immediately. If UAH ultimately secures conference membership, it plans to promptly reinstate its hockey program. However, UAH will not be eligible for conference play for at least one year upon receiving a conference invitation.

“We have been inspired by the unwavering support we have received from our UAH alumni and our community, and that inspiration has driven our tenacious efforts to secure a conference home, which is the foundational element of a successful and sustainable hockey program,” stated UAH President Darren Dawson. “Despite our hard work, UAH has not received an invitation for conference membership, and thus we must unfortunately suspend our hockey program.”

In collaboration with the alumni group and with guidance from UAH’s Hockey Advisory Board, the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) were identified as potential home conferences that would provide for a long-term, sustainable hockey program. UAH subsequently submitted proposals to AHA and CCHA for consideration. The CCHA did not accept UAH’s proposal, and AHA has yet to formally respond to UAH’s proposal.

The timing of this announcement gives UAH student-athletes the opportunity to transfer and play at another institution amidst the uncertainty of the program’s future at UAH. Student-athletes who would like to join another institution’s roster will be released without penalty and are free to transfer immediately. For student-athletes on the men’s hockey team who wish to complete their education at UAH, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of the students’ academic careers.

“I am endlessly grateful for our outstanding hockey student-athletes and staff, who chose to compete for UAH, despite an uncertain future, and made lasting contributions to our athletics program,” said UAH Athletic Director Cade Smith. “I also am appreciative for the unyielding support of the alumni group – especially Taso and Sheldon, who have been generous with their time and financial support as we have worked tirelessly to secure a conference membership invitation.”

Wolitski commented, “Although the suspension means that the 2021 – 2022 season will not occur, I want to be very clear that this is not the end of UAH hockey and, in fact, could be an opportunity for a new beginning. Taso and I have worked diligently with UAH administration, including Dr. Dawson, to develop a plan outlining UAH’s effort to secure conference membership.”

“If we achieve entry into a new conference, our multi-year, sustainable funding model will serve as the foundation of a reinvigorated UAH hockey program,” he added.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Alabama one of six locations nationwide chosen as defense manufacturing community

(YHN)

Alabama has been chosen as one of six locations in the United States designated a Defense Manufacturing Community as a result of collaboration among the Department of Defense (DoD), Redstone Arsenal and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

UAH has been awarded a $3.7 million DoD grant under the Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program. The university is serving as the lead to focus on the visibility, workforce training and adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies in the region with an emphasis on the modernization of U.S. Army aviation and missile systems.

This award follows a competitive selection process culminating in the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment’s designation of six Defense Manufacturing Communities (DMC) across the country.

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UAH served as the lead for proposal development and grant funding and will act as the spokesperson presenting the consensus opinion of the consortium, as well as coordinating their strategy implementation for the Alabama Defense Advanced Manufacturing Community (ADAMC).

The ADAMC is comprised of 22 counties that will focus on supporting and growing the capabilities of the defense industrial base in Alabama. UAH will pull together existing programs throughout the region and will establish the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center (AMIIC) in Huntsville.

Shaded area indicates the 22-county Alabama Defense Advanced Manufacturing Community.

“Alabama has been a strong leader in the defense manufacturing community for decades, and this grant only recognizes the significant impact our state has on our nation’s defense programs,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the groundbreaking advancements UAH will be able to achieve for manufacturing technologies.”

This defense manufacturing community in Alabama encompasses the majority of aerospace and defense manufacturing, defense installations and associated industries in the region. The implementation strategy to achieve these goals consists of two enabling activities, including:

• The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) will establish the initial operation of the AMIIC facility, which is expected to be in Cummings Research Park near the UAH campus.
• UAH will be responsible for examining needs, gaps and barriers to effective workforce development and technology adoption.

These efforts are designed to strengthen the innovation and manufacturing base in designated defense manufacturing communities through a consortium composed of members of academia, defense industry, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governmental entities.

“AMIIC is a newly-founded non-profit organization led by a collaborative advisory board representing government, industry, and academia. We have a mission to accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and grow Alabama’s highly-skilled workforce,” explained AMIIC executive director John Schmitt. “Huntsville’s leadership in the defense manufacturing community is long-standing, and AMIIC is proud to be a part of the city’s future and continued leadership in this arena.”

This presents a revolutionary step forward for the region with regard to positioning the DoD presence within a rich environment of industry, academia and small-to-medium manufacturing expertise, benefitting Army modernization priorities through product, process, human capital and the STEM educational experience, according to Dr. Bob Lindquist, UAH vice president for Research and Economic Development.

The combination of achieving defense manufacturing community status and the subsequent enhancement of advanced manufacturing capabilities will strengthen Alabama’s defense industrial base and make further contributions to the DoD to position the state for continued growth and retention of its defense installations. The state has a strong history in manufacturing and is growing exponentially in advanced manufacturing-related jobs.

To achieve these program goals, the partners will create a model that drives interaction and collaboration. The educational process will begin early in K-12, with a focus on STEM needs and manufacturing education, and carry forward through both two-year and four-year academic career paths.

By working collaboratively with government, industry and academia, existing education programs will benefit as new workforce development programs are created to supply a pipeline of qualified and capable individuals, according to the DoD.

This award is one of six Department of Defense grants announced across the nation totaling $25 million made by the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation. The awards derive from fiscal year 2020 appropriated funding and leverage an additional $12.6 million in non-federal funding for a total investment of $37.6 million to enhance critical skills, research and development, and small business support, said Dr. Suzy Young — a director in the UAH Office of Research and Economic Development and a member of the AMIIC board.

The Department of Defense’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation works with states and communities to help them respond to changes driven by the DoD throughout the U.S. Some are home to military bases while others manufacture the products and provide the services necessary for national defense. The office leverages the capabilities of state and local partners through grants and technical assistance to enhance readiness of installations and ranges as well.

The ADAMC ecosystem elements will be in three areas: demand for advanced manufacturing; technology advancement and knowledge sharing capabilities; and education and workforce development. UAH principal investigators for the project include Brian Tucker, research scientist, and Joe Paxton, director for the UAH Office for Operational Excellence.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Madison County delivering major savings on water service

(Ray Garner/Contributed, YHN)

When you think about innovation and technology improvements, the chances are very high you don’t think about the water that enters your home when you turn on a faucet or flush your toilet.

That’s not the case for Madison County Director of Public Works Chuck Faulkner. He sees technology and innovation being exploited to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the Madison County Commission.

The commission oversees the operation of the Madison County Water Department, which serves 33,000 customers through 1,000 miles of water lines primarily in 400 square miles of northeast Madison County.

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Faulkner says leaks are a constant issue for his department with an average of 120 leaks each month. The two biggest causes are an aging water supply infrastructure and new construction that is taking place in Madison County. Despite the best efforts by the water department to alert work crews to the presence of water lines, theses crews will invariably damage water lines during construction.

While it would be near impossible to pinpoint where old water lines may spring a leak, there are ways to limit those financial losses, Faulkner explains. That’s where technology and innovation enter the picture.

The development of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system for Madison County has been underway for four years. Since the inception of the program, more than 7,000 units have been installed.

The AMI connects sensors to a centralized computer and those sensors send signals every three hours about water usage on each location of the sensors.

“For example, if you have a toilet in a house that has developed a leak, we can detect that leak by the higher rate of usage. It might be unlikely the customer is aware of the leak, so we can contact the customer and they can correct the problem,” Faulkner said.

Two things are driving the development of installing the advanced meter infrastructure, he said. But the bottom line is just that – the bottom line. Currently, Madison County is writing off $300,000 a year in adjustments for customers who have leaks that could go on as long as six weeks before they are discovered. Also, the county partners with Huntsville Utilities to read the meters for the county water system. Huntsville Utilities is moving toward AMI as well. As a result, the cost of continuing to have Huntsville Utilities manually read the meters in the county system would become more expensive.

Faulkner said county officials reviewed various options and it just made financial sense to develop the Advanced Metering Infrastructure for the county. He said adding staff to read 33,000 meters would add more than $600,000 in costs each year. The annual revenues from providing water are approximately $12 million. “Madison County water ratepayers are significantly better served with the AMI option,” Faulkner said.

The pace of installing the infrastructure for the remainder of the customers – approximately 24,000 – should speed up, according to Faulkner. The Madison County Commission has signed a contract with UWS Inc. to complete the project in the next two years.

Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick said Faulkner and the rest of his staff have proven the value of the AMI system. “This is giving the commission great confidence that we will invest in a system that will provide outstanding financial return on the taxpayers’ dollars that are entrusted to the Madison County Commission,” Riddick said.

Another improvement underway in the water system is to create additional, smaller water zones (District Metered Areas). Currently, the 33,000 customers in the 400 square miles are included in one of three zones. According to Vince Moody, the county’s water system engineer, monitoring the large areas will be improved through the creation of 10 zones. Leaks will be discovered more quickly, but it will also allow for better management of the various pipeline pressures on the water infrastructure system that are more problematic in large zones.

The Madison County Public Works department is being more aggressive in the creation of these zones. Faulkner said the plan is to have the smaller zones by October.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Brainpower: Advanced workforce will play key role in FBI’s success in North Alabama

(FBI/Contributed, YHN)

HUNTSVILLE — Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to express confidence in Madison County’s ability to recruit and produce an advanced workforce for FBI’s expansion plans, and those highly educated and skilled workers will be the key to the agency’s success in the future, according to agency officials.

The local FBI workforce is currently at 800 workers, and the agency anticipates 2,000 workers within the next two years, according to FBI Deputy Assistant Director Jeffery Peterson. Another FBI official stated during a community update last year by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce that 4,000 employees will be housed at Redstone by the end of the decade.

“The Huntsville workforce profile and research capabilities are certainly a key aspect of why the FBI chose to invest at Redstone,” Peterson said. “The talent pool is virtually unsurpassed and provides us with an incredible opportunity for partnerships, recruitment, and synergies.”

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Madison County’s workforce boasts one of the highest concentration of engineers in the nation as well a large population whose residents have earned a college degree, well above the national average.

“Our Redstone transition has evolved since its inception and will continue to evolve based upon the requirements to meet the FBI’s mission,” Peterson said. “While new agents and analysts will continue to undergo basic training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, we see Redstone as the FBI’s ‘graduate school’ for advanced training across a wide spectrum of skills and mission sets.”

Peterson added that other parts of the FBI Redstone campus will be more aligned with providing mission support and administrative duties which will be more consistent, traditional functions and provide a hub of support outside the National Capital Region. “The workforce requirements will need to be adaptive as the FBI expands its portfolio and, as always, continues to adapt to emerging threats and technological advancements. There must always be room to adapt—Redstone provides us that ability through our new facilities, the space to expand, and the rich workforce available in the area.”

FBI officials cite Madison County’s high quality of living – good public schools and affordable costs — as key components resulting in a high percentage of employees transferring to Alabama. However, as successful as the FBI has been in getting workers to transfer, the FBI acknowledges there will be a need to recruit additional talent.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is expected to be a key provider to that talent helping fill an important pipeline for the region’s advanced workforce. The incoming talent at the university is among the most highly qualified among Alabama’s public universities. UAH’s freshman classes consistently scored the highest ACT average with a record 28.5 in 2020. Additional credentials of UAH’s freshman class in 2020 is that 52.1% had a 4.0 grade point average in high school and 39.1% scored 30 or higher on their ACT. This class also had an average 3.88 on their high school GPA.

FBI personnel from around the country have been to campus for a visit of the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s capabilities.

Those visits culminated in FBI officials signing a Memorandum of Understanding with UAH in 2019. That MOU provides for collaboration for workforce development opportunities, technology transfer, exchange of subject matter experts and providing internships, sabbatical and mentoring opportunities.

The agency also signed an MOU with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in 2020. This agreement is taking advantage of the U.S. Cyber Camp, a joint venture of the Space & Rocket Center and UAH created in 2017.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong has been involved in the community’s recruitment of operations to Redstone Arsenal and has made observations about the region’s workforce.

“Huntsville and Madison County have been very successful at creating an advanced workforce,” he commented. “We have experience going back more than a half century in preparing a highly educated workforce that supports the federal agencies at Redstone and our corporate presence in Cummings Research Park.”

FBI executive Peterson said the Bureau has been thankful for the welcome mat that has been thrown out by the local community.

“The Huntsville/Madison County and Redstone communities have provided a warm welcome to the FBI — and we truly appreciate the southern hospitality. Civic and Redstone leadership as well as various other entities have made it easy for the FBI to call Huntsville home,” he stated.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

4 months ago

Huntsville International Airport chosen by FAA as unmanned systems test site

(Huntsville International Airport/Facebook)

Huntsville International Airport is one of five airports in the United States selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to host an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Detection and Mitigation Research Program Test Site.

Airport officials submitted a proposal to the FAA in fall 2020 that advanced the airport as the operator host for an FAA testing and evaluation site. The purpose of the program is to evaluate technologies and systems that could detect and mitigate potential safety risks posed by unmanned aircraft.

The airport’s proposal offered a committed community and a concentration of high-tech resources focused on UAS research by academia and industry alike, according to the FAA. Redstone Arsenal’s capabilities and UAS research being conducted at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) were cited in the announcement to address detection and mitigation of military and civilian unmanned aerial systems.

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“Huntsville International Airport is honored to have been selected,” said Rick Tucker, Huntsville International Airport CEO. “We applaud this decision by the FAA and look forward to hosting a test site at our airport. We are grateful to our partner UAH, and to industry partners like COLSA, QuantiTech and Dynetics.”

Tucker also praised city, county and state leadership for their support and vital roles in this proposal.

“We especially want to express our appreciation to Sen. Richard Shelby for his efforts regarding Huntsville’s selection and for his continued support of Huntsville International Airport as we both work to move Alabama forward,” he said.

UAH vice president for Research and Economic Development Dr. Bob Lindquist stated, “This project will allow UAH to leverage its Unmanned Aircraft Systems expertise and engage with the FAA and aviation organizations with superior UAS engineering, research, integration and test capability from all across the United States.”

The five airports selected were:

• Atlantic City International Airport in Atlantic City, New Jersey
• Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York
• Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio
• Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, Alabama
• Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

4 months ago

Madison County real estate industry remains strong

(Huntsville Area Association of Realtors)

Pandemic. Did someone say pandemic? The term obviously failed to resonate with the Madison County real estate industry during 2020. While there was a slight pause in the second quarter, the robust activity for the remainder of the year provided an astounding overall growth increase of 25% for the past year.

Total of all sales reached $2.5 billion during 2020, up from $2 billion in 2019, according to the annual report from the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors.

Zelda Friedman, president of the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors, said it’s the economic tide that is the driving force behind the numbers.

“There is a tremendous amount of industry coming to the area,” she said. “It’s simply job growth and we expect this momentum to continue for the next few years.” She cited FBI transfers into Redstone Arsenal but the area’s economic growth includes a lot of local companies who are adding jobs. The Mazda-Toyota plant is also contributing to the rapid growth.

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Friedman said 2020 was an incredible year in spite of the world COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone took precautions to ensure we protected home buyers, whether it was showing a house or doing virtual presentations. We just had to show some creativity during the pandemic,” she stated.

Friedman also praised Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, saying, “She included real estate as an essential service meaning that real estate brokers could continue to do business. That helped pave the way for this growth.”

Existing home sales in Madison County totaled $1.7 billion, and new construction added $845 million with condos and townhomes contributing $24 million.

Numerous indicators showed positive results:

  • The total number of real estate properties sold during 2020 was 9,090. While sales volume growth in the second quarter was flat when compared to 2019, significant growth occurred in the third quarter (12 percent) and fourth quarter (22 percent) of 2020 when compared to numbers a year ago.
  • The average days on the market was 27 days last year compared to 43 in 2019.
  • Median sales price continued an upward trend to $249,328 in the fourth quarter which was an increase of four percent over the fourth quarter 2019. There were approximately 8,860 new listings during the year. By the end of 2020, there was only 26 days of supply.
  • Average days on market in the fourth quarter of 20 days remained similar to the 19 days in the third quarter. This level is down from 35 days in the fourth quarter of 2019.
  • The average sales price and median sales price grew through the third quarter of 2020 to $291,953 and declined in the fourth quarter to $279,160. Median sales price reached a new high of $254,991 in the third quarter and was slightly lower at $249,328 in the fourth quarter.

The market analysis was conducted by Jeff Thompson of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

4 months ago

Dale Strong unveils new Madison County Services Center

HUNTSVILLE — The days of residents driving around the Madison County courthouse square looking for a parking spot to conduct personal business with the County are no more. The time and energy wasted standing in lines at overcrowded offices — no more.

Beginning March 1, getting licenses, automobile plates, seeing the tax assessor or paying property taxes are expected to be more accommodating and less frustrating, according to Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

Chairman Strong held a media briefing recently to show off the new 60,000-square-foot Madison County Services Center located at the southeast corner of Memorial Parkway and Oakwood Avenue.

“Convenience for citizens in Huntsville and Madison County was the driving force behind this new services center,” Strong said. “With input from the county departments and employees we believe we have established a facility that will provide services in a more effective and comfortable way.”

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Strong pointed out that it starts when residents drive onto the site. They will see free, ground-level parking spaces for more than 350 cars. The site is also a bus stop for public transportation.

The next improvement is upon entry to the building. After residents make it through security, there are several kiosks to register for the county’s services. They will be afforded comfortable seats as they wait to be called.

Waiting time will also be minimized. Residents will find 23 service windows at the license department, three cameras for driver’s license photos and 175 employees to keep things moving along.

One other feature of the two-story building pertains to its COVID-19 protocols, which will be built-in for future possible outbreaks as well. Numerous glass panels have been installed in addition to durable materials and surfaces easy to clean.

The six departments that will be located in the building are: Board of Registrars, License Department, Probate Judge, Sales Tax Department, as well as the tax assessor and tax collector.

It should be noted that the cost of the land, facility and equipment was covered without debt to taxpayers, Strong said. The dollars used to make the facility possible resulted from savings generated by several cost-cutting measures put into place by Strong and members of the county commission in recent years.

The facility also came in under-cost and ahead of schedule. The construction budget was $13.8 million, and the final construction cost totaled $11,597,298. Strong said April 1 was the target for opening and the opening is going to be March 1.

Chapman Sisson was the architect on the project and Lee Builders Inc. served as the building contractor.

Strong underlined yet another advantage of the new services center. The departments that have moved from the courthouse to the new center will create new space in the 1960s-era building on Courthouse Square. He advised plans are being developed for an interior and exterior renovation to that building.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

4 months ago

Defense industry leaders don’t anticipate drastic changes for Redstone Arsenal after change in administration

(Team Redstone/Facebook)

Veteran aerospace and defense industry leaders in North Alabama do not anticipate drastic change for Redstone Arsenal as a result of changing leadership in Washington, according to a roundtable discussion with Yellowhammer News.

That seemed to be the consensus of corporate executives recently gathered on a Zoom call. Joining the call were Jeff Gronberg of deciBel Research, David Cook of Torch Technologies and Craig Naudain of SAIC. The call was arranged by Mike Ward, senior vice president for government and public affairs with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. These executives also play a role as volunteers in the chamber’ s community leadership.

The consensus from this conversation was that drastic changes are not expected. They said from a Department of Defense budget perspective, it would not be surprising if budgets could be flat or slightly reduced. From a Biden administration perspective, the jury remains out while officials try to balance the different aspects of DOD’s needs. But huge changes are not expected to take place. Several agreed that ensuring the viability and safety of the nation is not a partisan issue.

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RELATED: Madison County leads Department of Defense spending in Alabama

They pointed out this is not the first time the military has faced budget pressures. The Army has gone through this in the past, they noted, as recently as 2012-2013 when the United States was involved in conflicts on several fronts.

When viewing the Department of Defense budget, the executives point out it is largely broken into three areas – readiness, sustainability and modernization. Even when the nation was involved in a couple of wars, the modernization efforts kept pace, they said. If modernization remains a priority, then the impact won’t be devastating. They added a key factor is having the right balance of people in the room when those decisions are being made.

The executives also agreed there are two overwhelming threats currently facing the nation, one is internal and the other is external.

COVID is an internal threat that cannot be avoided, they said. Differing administrations will view these threats differently and will allocate resources differently based on their perspective. Bills are being considered to deal with COVID relief but one of the executives pointed out there is going to be a day of reckoning where it will be paid for, as well as other areas of the budget and the nation has to be prepared for that.

Then, of course, there are external and emerging threats to the United States that will not be going away anytime soon. Again, the group of executives say those external threats are really non-partisan issues. They pointed to national security threats from our adversaries – such as hypersonics, cybersecurity and space.

Programs at Redstone Arsenal are front and center at combating these threats. Reducing spending on these modernization efforts would create an even greater advantage for America’s enemies, the executives said.

There are six modernization priorities for the military. Several priorities are headquartered, or most of the work is carried out, through Redstone: Future Vertical Lift; Long-range Precision Air and Missile Defense; and Assured Position Navigation and Timing.

Some of the Army’s enabling systems and technologies are managed by the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, which serves to expedite critical capabilities to the field to meet combatant commanders’ needs. That office is under the direction of Army three-star Gen. Neil Thurgood.

One of the high points of the roundtable discussion was Alabama’s political strength when it comes to protecting the federal mission of the agencies on Redstone Arsenal. While acknowledging the change in leadership in Washington, the executives felt comfortable in that U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) will remain in office for at least a couple of years. There was agreement among all of the participants on the call that Sen. Shelby has an excellent reputation for helping develop what is good for the country. They acknowledge he works collaboratively with others from a federal spending perspective.

They also pointed to the influence of U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), who holds a key position on the U.S. House appropriations committee. They described him as always helpful and his role will become even more important when Sen. Shelby decides not to seek reelection after his current term.

The consensus of the small group also revolved around how well the community worked together from local government to industry. Most everyone is very supportive of the entire Alabama delegation. To hear one executive, “they are very well aligned with the priorities of what is taking place at Redstone.”

The closing remark of the 30-minute Zoom call touched on the community’s effectiveness in defending Redstone Arsenal. While the military is not in the position to be an advocate for the community, they always have opportunity to “grade our papers” on what is provided to Alabama’s congressional delegation.

“One of the keys to our community’s success is that everybody pulls in the same direction; whether it is industry, government or academia,” said Ward.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

4 months ago

Madison County leads Department of Defense spending in Alabama

(Ray Garner/Facebook, YHN)

The Department of Defense released defense spending for Fiscal Year 2019, and the amount of money spent in Alabama produced no real surprises in many of the categories tracked by the Local Defense Community Cooperation (OLDCC) — formerly the Office of Economic Adjustment.

Madison County, home to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, dominated many of the categories. The best way to describe Madison County’s share of DoD spending in Alabama is with the “B” word – billions.

“It comes as no surprise that Redstone Arsenal is the economic engine that drives not only Madison County’s economy but the entire north Alabama region,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “The continued growth and development of Redstone and the many agencies on this federal campus, as well as the corporations that support these agencies, is paramount to the success of our regional economy.”

However, Strong points out that Redstone’s role in global affairs is also a crucial element of protecting America’s vitality and fortunes.

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“The specific missions that exist at Redstone assures that our nation keeps America prepared against our enemies both domestic and abroad. You can’t put a price on defending our freedom and security,” he stated.

Madison County led the state with $9.2 billion in defense contract spending during FY19. That places Madison County as one of the highest totals in DoD spending in the United States — seventh, to be exact. A Dallas suburb, Tarrant, is number one with $17.6 billion.

Others in the top 10 were: 2) Fairfax, Va. with $17.4 billion 3) San Diego with $14 billion 4) Los Angeles with $13.1 billion 5) St. Louis $10.5 billion 6) Dallas had $9.3 billion followed by Huntsville. Hartford, Conn. was No. 8 with $8.5 billion, King County, Washington was 9th with DoD contracts totaling $8.3 billion and Jefferson County, Ky. rounded out the top 10 with $7.5 billion.

Breaking down those numbers and looking at how the Department of Defense dollars flow into Alabama shows the money is spread around several communities across the state.

The top 10 Alabama counties in defense contract spending for FY19, compared to FY18 figures, were:

1) Madison – $9.2 billion, up $400 million
2) Mobile – $1.5 billion, up $100 million
3) Dale – $857.2 million, up $61.8 million
4) Montgomery – $269.7 million, up $8.11 million
5) Calhoun – $269 million, up $98.5 million
6) Limestone – $94.2 million, up $18.33 million
7) Talladega – $87.3 million, up $8.6 million
8) Jefferson – $71.3 million, down $6 million
9) Marshall – – $48.4 million (not ranked top 10 in 2018)
10) Dallas – $41 million (not ranked top 10 in 2018)

Despite the dominance of Madison County in DoD contract spending, the largest defense contractor during 2019 was located in Mobile County. That would be Austal USA with contracts valued at $1.4 billion. Austal is a global ship builder and defense contractor with capabilities in military and commercial vessels.

Austal USA announced last year it is expanding the capacity and capability of its Alabama shipyard. The company is looking ahead to future business in unmanned, amphibious shipbuilding programs.

Austal is followed closely by The Boeing Company with $1.3 billion in contracts. Key programs underway in Huntsville include Ground-based Midcourse Defense; PAC-3 Missile Seeker and other missile defense systems; the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM); NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System; and the International Space Station.

Other top contractors in Alabama include Northrop Grumman, M1 Support Services, SAIC, Torch Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Science and Engineering Services, KBR and Parson Corp.

The report also documented the top defense personnel locations within Alabama. Montgomery and Dale Counties have the largest concentrations of active-duty personnel in Alabama.

Dale County, home to the Army’s Fort Rucker, has 3,837 active personnel to lead the state. Dale also has 2,180 Army civilian employees plus 52 Guardsmen and 146 in the Reserves for a total of 6,215 DoD personnel, ranking Dale County third in Alabama for total DoD employees.

Montgomery County ranked second in front of Dale County with 3,161 active-duty personnel, mostly at Maxwell Air Force base. Add 3,185 Army civilian employees, 2,686 National Guardsmen and 2,220 Reserves and Montgomery County has 11,252 DoD.

Meanwhile, the makeup of the personnel at Madison County’s Redstone Arsenal shows 727 active-duty employees, 461 in the national Guard and 776 in the Reserves. However, Redstone also has 13,767 Army civilian workers. That provides a total of 15,731 DoD personnel putting Madison County in the top spot for DoD personnel.

The top 10 Alabama counties in DoD personnel spending in FY19 and compared to FY18:

1) Madison – $1.6 billion, up $100 million
2) Montgomery – $629.7 million, up $29.8 million
3) Dale – $439 million, up $11.2 million
4) Calhoun – $264.2 million, up $26.7 million
5) Jefferson – $156.1 million, down $2.8 million
6) Mobile – $933.2 million, up $2.3 million
7) Coffee – $14.9 million, down $700,000
8) Tuscaloosa – $14.1 million, down $1.2 million
9) Houston – $13.6 million, down $8.7 million
10) Lee – $12.8 million, down $3.6 million

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

6 months ago

Ray Garner: Watching for the ‘Christmas Star’

(NASA/JPL-Caltech, YHN)

It is a celestial treat for amateur astronomers as well as those interested in tying the heavens to religious events. It’s the annual planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that should be easily viewed in the early evening sky. The event is also called the Christmas star.

The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years. Actually every 19.85 Earth years. It’s a natural occurrence because Jupiter takes 11.86 years to orbit the Sun and Saturn 29.4 years. This means they will appear to pass each other in our night sky from our point of view despite being many millions of miles distant from each other.

This phenomenon will peak on the evening of Monday, December 21.

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What makes this year’s spectacle so rare? It will be the closest great conjunction since July 16, 1623, and the first to be easily observable since March 4, 1226, thus allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”

Henry Throop, astronomer in NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said the closest alignment will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and last for a few days. On the 21st, the planets will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky. The planets will be easy to see with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.

From our vantage point on Earth, the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth.

Each December, planetariums and astronomers across the globe speculate on the origin of the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem.” As the story in the Gospel of Matthew goes, a bright star rose after the birth of Jesus Christ that the wise men then followed to find him.
Some believe it was a comet or a supernova. It could have been a conjunction of two planets? It is a detail that remains open for debate.

For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do:

  • Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
  • An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
  • The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

6 months ago

Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center names Kimberly Robinson next CEO

(@RocketCenterUSA/Twitter, YHN)

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, a 31-year veteran of NASA, has been named the chief executive officer of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The hiring was announced Tuesday by the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission, the state agency that oversees the operation of the center. She will begin her new role on Feb. 15, 2021.

Her background provided the perfect match for the position, according to a news release issued by the Space & Rocket Center.

“Dr. Robinson brings to the position a background that includes leadership, public engagement, engineering, education, flight crew training and hands-on experience shaping the nation’s space program,” the release outlined.

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Currently, Robinson serves as NASA’s utilization manager for Advanced Exploration Systems. She was formerly the payload mission manager for Artemis.

She succeeds Louie Ramirez, who has served as executive director and CEO of the center since January 2020 following the retirement of Dr. Deborah Barnhart. Ramirez will remain in a part-time capacity as chief operations officer.

Robinson completed her Ph.D. and master’s degrees in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and her Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering from Vanderbilt University.

“Along with her vast experience with NASA, Dr. Robinson brings an innovative spirit and the leadership skills needed to guide the Rocket Center as we plan for the future,” stated Joe Newberry, ASSEC board chairman. “Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and brought her to the top of a rigorous and exhaustive search for our new Executive Director and CEO.”

“I look forward to joining the remarkable team at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to inspire our next generation of explorers,” Robinson said in a statement. “The Rocket Center is a vital part of our community that honors the Rocket City’s storied accomplishments and helps shape tomorrow’s space industry. I am excited to bring my knowledge and experience from three decades in the field of space exploration to the Rocket Center and help plan for our vibrant future.”

Robinson has taught at Oakwood University and UAH.

RELATED: Space and Rocket Center saved by public support

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

7 months ago

Rapid disease pathogen identification is one step closer following successful demonstration by GeneCapture

Dr. Krishnan Chittur, professor emeritus in UAH’s Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, cofounded GeneCapture to commercialize a breakthrough technique for rapid identification of genetic signatures from pathogens. (GeneCapture/Contributed, YHN)

Soon it could only take an hour to find out what pathogen is making you ill following the successful demonstration of the world’s first multi-pathogen identification using non-amplified RNA detection by GeneCapture, a company cofounded by researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

GeneCapture has licensed a molecular binding technology from UAH, and the company’s CAPTURE PLATFORM is on track for commercialization within two years.

The GeneCapture team has briefed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its approach and has begun to prepare for the clinical testing required for FDA clearance. It is in discussions with industry leaders for various applications in health care rapid infection detection.

“We made history today – this is the first time an automated rapid pathogen identification has been reported directly from the RNA of the sample, with no modification or amplification of its genetic source, in about an hour,” said GeneCapture CEO Peggy Sammon. “We envision a future where finding out why you are sick can be solved almost anywhere, in an hour, and without being chained to a lab.”

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The company’s unique disposable cartridge and portable reader platform enables rapid, inexpensive multi-pathogen detection at the point of care. Whether the illness is bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoan, a single test that’s estimated to cost around $20 will pinpoint the cause.

The novel technology consolidates sample prep and molecular signature detection in one plastic cartridge with a one-button portable reader.

The initial molecular binding concept was conceived by researchers at UAH and licensed exclusively to GeneCapture. The co-inventors on the original patent included Dr. Krishnan Chittur, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering; Dr. Joseph Ng, professor in the Biological Sciences Department; Dr. Mark Pusey, UAH adjunct professor; and Jeff Dowell, who at the time was a student in UAH’s graduate program in Biotechnology Science and Engineering. In 2016, GeneCapture was awarded $100,000 in Alabama Launchpad’s inaugural LEAP Alumni Competition for local start-ups.

The partnership with GeneCapture is an example of a truly groundbreaking technology developed at UAH and being made available for the benefit of all, said Kannan Grant, director of UAH’s Office of Technology Commercialization.

“I would term this as a disruptive technology and not merely an incremental improvement to the current state of the science,” Grant stated.

“UAH research has been at the cutting edge of technology development,” he added. “UAH has always shown responsible stewardship so the fruits of taxpayer-funded research are being made available for public consumption at the earliest possible time.”

Since its founding, the company has filed an additional 11 patents, automated the process in a cartridge, built prototypes and performed successful pre-clinical validation tests. In addition to the commercial applications, the company has been awarded multiple Department of Defense contracts to mature the technology for potential military operational use.

GeneCapture’s CAPTURE PLATFORM has a closed cartridge that accepts a direct sample of urine, blood or a sample from a swab and then concentrates and exposes the pathogen’s RNA fragments to custom DNA probes on an array. Once the RNA is captured, the specific probes activate an optical sensor. The pattern across the array identifies the pathogen. Limits of detection have been validated and are currently clinically relevant for most bacterial infections. They are now being optimized for low-load viral infections.

Infection detection will soon be portable, fast and inexpensive, GeneCapture officials have advised.

“Just as the shift from relying on central computers to desktop and handheld devices enabled entirely new markets, so will decentralized, portable multi-pathogen infection detection enable new point of care markets,” Sammon explained.

A rapid diagnostic solution will fill a critical need, noted Dr. Louise O’Keefe, Ph.D., the director of UAH’s Faculty and Staff Clinic and an advisor to GeneCapture.

“Our industry needs a breakthrough in turnaround time for diagnostic results,” Dr. O’Keefe said. “GeneCapture’s approach will transform the challenges we deal with every day.”

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

8 months ago

Huntsville, Auburn named in list of 100 best places to live for 2020

(Wikicommons, Josh Hallett/Flickr, YHN)

In a world that has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, a pair of Alabama cities have been ranked in 2020 among the 100 best places to live in the United States: Huntsville and Auburn.

For the past seven years, Livability.com has released a data-driven list of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.” Livability crunches 40 data points to come up with the best small- to mid-sized cities in the U.S.

Every year, the list changes; the publication does surveys and studies, adjusts algorithms and adds in new variables and data points. Livibility stated this year’s circumstances that have been taken for granted have been replaced with a new set of questions about where and how we live:

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  • What if you could work remotely and live anywhere?
  • What if paying thousands of dollars a month to live in a big, expensive city wasn’t worth it anymore?
  • What if the things that have always mattered — affordability, opportunity, safety, community — mattered more than ever?

Livability analyzed more than 1,000 small- to mid-sized cities on factors like safety, affordability, economic stability, outdoor recreation, accessibility and community engagement. This year’s list also included a new metric: an “opportunity score” used to determine each city’s landscape of opportunity, including variables like job numbers, broadband access, economic resilience and growth.

All of that data crunching settled on Huntsville and Auburn as two of the top 100 cities.

Huntsville (Population: 205,061)

The publication centered on the city’s notoriety of space.

“Known as the ‘Rocket City,’ Huntsville… has a thriving aerospace industry.”

Huntsville grew to notoriety during the 1960s space race and is now the fastest growing city in Alabama. But it isn’t all out space exploration and rocket science — Huntsville is a diverse city with a great food scene, repurposed buildings and history on every corner, Livability added.

The publication also cited the location of Huntsville’s two research universities  — The University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M University.

The website further pointed out that the cost of living in Huntsville is below the national average.

The article outlined specific highlights, such as the economy — with top industries in Huntsville being aerospace and military technology.

Also noted were local amenities:

  • Best Coffee Shop: Alchemy
  • Best Local Beer/Brewery: Yellowhammer Brewing’s Groovy Don’s Groovy IPA is a must-try.
  • Must-Have Meal: The BLT of Curtis Loew from the I Love Bacon Food Truck. Yes — Huntsville has an entire food truck devoted to bacon and it is just as amazing as it sounds.
  • Best Meetup Spot (When Meeting Up Is a Thing Again): Meet up with your group at any of the bars or eateries located inside of Campus 805, the “coolest middle school in the nation.”
  • Creative Hub: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is the largest, privately-owned arts facility in the South and the re-worked building now houses 150 working studios for more than 200 artists, seven art galleries, four performance venues, a multi-use theater and restaurants.
  • Favorite Weekend Activity: Huntsville is the craft beer capital of Alabama and the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail is the best way to sample what the city has to offer. Enjoy any (or all!) of the 11 local breweries on the map, including Rocket Republic BrewingStraight to Ale and Salty Nut Brewery.
  • Local Dream Job: Counselor at Space Camp, because who didn’t dream of being an astronaut when they grow up?

Auburn (Population: 64,620)

Of course, citing Auburn in a comparison of small- to mid-sized cities begins and ends with Auburn University.

The article cites Auburn as one of the best college towns in the South. The article mention it’s also an amazing place to live. This Alabama city is full of small-town charm, cozy traditions and, yes, lots of team spirit. Auburn’s location gives residents quick access to major cities in the surrounding area, like Atlanta, is close to Chewacla State Park and is just a few hours away from the beach. If all that wasn’t enough, the Auburn-Opelika area is one of the fastest-growing metros in the country.

Livability also notes affordable housing, an award-winning school system, and a growing business sector make life in Auburn appealing – not to mention the cultural and sports perks of living in a top college town.

Auburn University is the largest employer, and housing options span from the eclectic downtown and historic neighborhoods to the rapidly growing outskirts and amazing things to do. With courses like The Grand National in Opelika, part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the area is also known for great golf.

Nationally, the top 10 small- to medium-sized cities were shaped by colder environments:

  • Fort Collins, Colo.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Madison, Wisc.
  • Portland, Maine
  • Rochester, N.Y.
  • Ashville, N.C.
  • Overland Park, Kansas
  • Fargo, North, Dakota
  • Durham, N.C.
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

1 year ago

Zellner will highlight UAH MLK commemoration

(EMU.edu/Contributed)

The University of Alabama in Huntsville will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday, January 16, at 3 p.m. in Room 112 of the Student Services Building.

Bob Zellner will be the special guest and featured speaker during the commemoration program on the UAH campus. Zellner is the son and grandson of Ku Klux Klan members, but he risked his life – and nearly lost it – many times in the fight to achieve The Second Emancipation.

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As an organizer of The Freedom Rides of 1961 and the first white southerner to serve as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks and many other civil rights leaders.

Famous for battles with the KKK, segregationist lynch mobs and violent police, Zellner is now the individual that a new generation turns to with questions on the racial, historical and cultural assumptions on which they were raised, as they ask themselves, “What is my place in this struggle?”

Zellner captivates audiences with the untold stories of the Civil Rights Movement and his dedication to fighting for the rights of others. Drawing on decades of experience guiding the movement and his ongoing active role, he presents a modern-day message for combating deep-seated racism, discrimination and prejudice and sparking widespread social change.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

2 years ago

UAH to host 50th anniversary lunar landing events: Fireworks show will highlight week’s activities

(NASA/Contributed)

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) will host a variety of events and activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

UAH has played a key role in America’s space program since Marshall Space Flight Center Director Dr. Wernher von Braun helped create the university’s Research Institute in the early 1960s. Since that time, UAH has become a leading research university in aerospace engineering.

UAH ranks fifth in the nation in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, according to the National Science Foundation. The campus is also 11th in the U.S. in NASA-sponsored research, according to the NSF.

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Anniversary events and activities include:

Sunday, July 14, 2 to 5 p.m.

Open House: UAH M. Louis Salmon Library Special Collections and Archives
The UAH Library Archives and Special Collections invite the north Alabama community to enjoy an afternoon of Apollo history from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event will include behind-the-scenes tours of the archives, a showing of documentary “When We Were Apollo.” The film’s producer Zach Weil will give a brief talk. There will be an opportunity to record personal memories of the Apollo 11 mission and a history exhibit curated by UAH Archives and Special Collections staff. Light refreshments with a 1960s theme will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

July 14-July 31

UAH Library Exhibit: “To Land on the Moon: Huntsville and the Apollo Program.” M. Louis Salmon Library Art Gallery
This exhibit highlights the roles of Huntsville and its inhabitants and their contributions to the early space race and the Apollo program. The majority of the materials on display are housed in UAH Special Collections and Archives.

July 15-19

Unguided Tours: Von Braun Research Hall, UAH campus
The North Alabama community is welcome to take unguided tours of Von Braun Research Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Posters line the walls of VBRH to chronicle the 20 years Dr. Wernher von Braun lived in Huntsville. Copies of Dr. Wernher von Braun’s speech to the Alabama Legislature creating the UAH Research Institute will be available.

July 19, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Radio Interview: UAH Head of Special Collections Reagan Grimsley talks Space History on Science Friday, on WLRH Radio 89.3 FM/HD and nationwide on National Public Radio.
Listen in as Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviews Reagan Grimsley, of UAH Special Collections and U.S. Space and Rocket Center Curator Ed Stewart on the topic of collecting space history. Segment was pre-taped on May 21 and will be broadcast as part of Science Friday’s Apollo 50th anniversary programming.

Saturday, July 20

Fireworks Display: UAH campus – 50th anniversary of the lunar landing
A fireworks show beginning at 8:30 p.m. will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. The North Alabama community is invited to park on the UAH campus for the show, which is expected to last 10 minutes.

(Courtesy the University of Alabama in Huntsville)