4 months ago

Kim Caudle Lewis is a 2020 Woman of Impact

Kim Caudle Lewis, born and raised in the small southern Madison County town of Triana, has been devoted to North Alabama her entire life.

An entrepreneur and trailblazer, her hard work and intentionality have combined over the years to foster a personal brand built on innovation.

Lewis earned a Computer Information Systems degree from John C. Calhoun State Community College. She then embarked on a career specializing in healthcare information technology consulting.

That foundation was key to Lewis in 2002 starting Project XYZ in partnership with Larry Lewis, who is now her husband. With his experience in government contracting and her expertise in IT and technical solution services, the company has flourished with Mrs. Lewis serving as CEO.

Indeed, ProjectXYZ has grown from a concept into a national leader with more than 100 employees. The company provides customer support in engineering, logistics, information technology and alternative energy sectors, including the Rocket City’s bedrock aerospace and defense industries.

The company’s success under Lewis’ exemplary leadership has brought about national accolades.

For example, Project XYZ over the past decade was named to Inc. 5000’s annual list of the United States’ fastest growing companies four separate times.

The company has further been honored for its quality of work. This includes being recognized as the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in 2015; earning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Blue Ribbon award in 2016; and being named the U.S. Chamber Women-Owned Business of the Year in 2017.

However, it has not always been easy going, as Lewis explained in a recent interview with Yellowhammer News. She spoke about the unique hurdles in being a black female in traditionally male-dominated industries.

“It took time to prove that you could do the job and to get out there and do it in a way that you felt comfortable with,” she explained. “So, it was challenging at first.”

However, as she and the company proved themselves, navigating those obstacles became smoother. Lewis also said that the environment has improved — and continues to get better — with the Huntsville’s area booming growth. This is something she has been able to witness over the years being a native of the area.

“You’re seeing more diversity, you’re seeing more inclusion of people from all walks of life. … We’ve got a long way to go to make sure it’s completely equal for all parts, but I think it’s slowly striving to get to that point,” she advised.

Lewis explained that having a diverse team working on projects has tangible positive benefits for businesses, saying diversity opens “a world of opportunity.”

“When you’ve got a lot of people in the room with different ideas and different ways of thinking, there may be an easier, smarter, simpler way to do it [that you find],” she noted. “I think the more voices you have in the room — voices from different communities, different backgrounds, different experiences — helps.”

While her stewardship has worked wonders for her company, Lewis has been equally active and successful in her extensive civic and non-profit endeavors in and around Huntsville.

Perhaps the highlight of her CV in this regard was being chosen as the first black woman in history to serve as the chair of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, a position in which she served with distinction last year. In that role and others, Lewis continues to champion workforce development efforts, which are key as North Alabama and the state as a whole looks to advance its 21st century economy and prepare future generations for even greater successes.

Lewis told Yellowhammer News that it was a tremendous honor to serve as chair of the chamber in 2019.

“The chamber’s doing great things here in the community,” she remarked.

She has also served in various active volunteer leadership roles, such as a board member, of too many organizations to list; these organizations include the Calhoun Community College Foundation, Cummings Research Park, the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, the Huntsville Botanical Garden, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, the Women’s Economic Development Council, Women in Defense, the National Defense Industrial Association and the North Alabama International Trade Association.

This broad spectrum of involvement aligns with another theme of Lewis’ career: diversification.

As if ProjectXYZ was not enough, Lewis’ business portfolio in recent years has been aggressively and strategically broadened to include multiple other upstart ventures.

This includes Kim’s Kloset, an online retail store specializing in trendy clothing, accessories and other fun lifestyle items.

Lewis and her husband are integrally involved with BizTech, a leading local business incubator for technology companies; the couple also recently bought an area television station and worked to bring celebrity chef Darnell Ferguson’s nationally renowned Superhero Chefs restaurant to Tuscumbia –with a second location already planned for Huntsville. Moreover, the Lewis family now owns a plastic injection molding company in the Shoals to serve North Alabama’s automotive manufacturing industry.

Looking back on her burgeoning career thus far, Lewis stated that one of the most rewarding aspects has been doing things in a way that is not necessarily traditional.

“I grew up the youngest of 10 kids,” Lewis said, “and never thought that I would be in the position I am in now to run a company that has — I think the last I counted — 243 employees total [across her ventures].”

“It’s a blessing. Because it’s not something that I ever dreamed about or thought that I would be doing now. But this position, it’s God-sent. That’s the best way to explain it,” she continued.

Her advice to young people looking to follow a similar path?

“Just realize, it is going to be a lot of sleepless nights — it is going to be a lot of times where it seems like the door is going to shut in front of you,” Lewis concluded. “What I’ve learned throughout the years is just because one person says ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean that’s ‘no’ to whatever your dream is. … If it’s something you truly believe in and you really want to work at, you’ve just got to keep going and keep trying.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Kim Caudle Lewis a 2020 Woman of Impact.

WATCH:

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Mobile native Hank Aaron, the greatest ever to play baseball, passes away

Native Alabamian Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, widely regarded as one of history’s best ever baseball players, passed away on Friday at the age of 86.

Born and raised in Mobile, Aaron spent most of his childhood in Toulminville. Growing up in a poor family in the segregated South, his family could not afford baseball equipment, so Aaron practiced the game he loved by hitting bottle caps with sticks. He would also create his own bats and balls out of materials he found on the streets.

As a teenager, he started rising through the ranks as a member of the Mobile Black Bears, a semipro team at the time in the Negro Leagues. At age 20, he made his Major League Baseball debut with the then-Milwaukee Braves.

Over the course of his 23-year MLB career, Aaron became a giant across the country. He would end his legendary playing days as the all-time leader in home runs, RBIs, total bases reached and extra-base hits. He won a World Series in 1957 with the Braves and was the NL MVP that season.

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Among a litany of honors, Aaron was selected to an All-Star team 25 times, which is the most by any player in MLB history. His No. 44 is retired by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Atlanta Braves. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1982 on the first ballot and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

Aaron spent much of his post-playing career in Atlanta as an executive with the Braves. He made the city his own for decades, and passed away in his home there on Friday morning, according to Georgia’s CBS 46.

Governor Kay Ivey mourned Aaron’s death in a tweet.

Hank Aaron Stadium immortalizes the late, native Mobilian in his hometown. This is the former home of the semipro team now known as the Rocket City Trash Pandas, when the team was the Mobile Bay Bears.

UPDATE 11:10 a.m.

Ivey has ordered flags in Alabama be flown at half-staff immediately to honor Aaron. Flags should be flown at half-staff until sunset on Friday.

Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01), who represents Mobile in the U.S. House of Representatives, released a statement.

“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Hank Aaron’s passing,” said Carl. “A Mobile native, ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ was a baseball legend respected not only for his performance on the field, but also for his personal integrity and character. Hank Aaron never let his humble upbringing and lack of access to baseball equipment as a young boy hamper his growth or dedication to the game. Throughout his storied career, he would ultimately smash multiple baseball hall of fame records, most notably shattering Babe Ruth’s home run record by hitting 755 home runs. I’m proud to call him a fellow Mobilian, and I know his family and friends take comfort knowing his memory lives on in the lives of so many. My prayers are with the family and friends of Hank Aaron today.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Gen. Lloyd Austin confirmed as secretary of Defense with Shelby’s, Tuberville’s support

U.S. Army General Lloyd J. Austin (Ret.) on Friday was confirmed in a bipartisan 93-2 vote by the United States Senate as the next secretary of the Department of Defense.

Austin, who is a native of Mobile and currently serves on the Auburn University board of trustees, becomes the first black defense secretary in American history. He was nominated by President Joe Biden for the post.

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) voted to support Austin’s confirmation.

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Tuberville said in a statement, “Retired General Lloyd Austin is a son of the great state of Alabama – born in Mobile and an Auburn University alumnus and Trustee – who understands the critical role our state’s five military bases play in supporting America’s armed forces. General Austin’s decades of service make him well-positioned to lead the Department of Defense and confront the threats facing our country. I look forward to working with him for the benefit of Alabamians, Americans, and all of our men and women in uniform to advance the safety and security of our great nation.”

The Senate vote came after both chambers of Congress the prior day granted him a waiver to the law requiring that the secretary of Defense either be a civilian or someone who has been retired from the military for seven or more years.

After a nearly 41-year decorated military career, Austin retired in 2016 as a four-star general. Some of his former posts include service as the commander of U.S. Central Command, commander of the Combined Forces in Iraq and Syria, and as the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army.

Austin is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds master’s degrees from Auburn and Webster University. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn, and his wife, Charlene, is also an Auburn graduate.

Additionally, the retired general currently serves on the board of directors for Raytheon Technologies and Nucor, both of which have significant Alabama presences.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.

In a tweet, Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03), who represents Auburn in the U.S. House of Representatives, applauded the confirmation. Rogers is ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Congratulations to General Austin on his historic confirmation. I appreciate his longstanding commitment to our military, and I look forward to working with him to provide our men and women in uniform all the resources they need to successfully defend our nation,” said Rogers.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Two Alabama Democrats file lawsuit, claim Doug Jones tried to ‘give control of the Alabama Democratic Party to Whites’

Two members of the Alabama Democratic Conference have filed a lawsuit against Tom Perez, the national Democratic Party’s former chair. They claim he and former Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) attempted to “give control of the Alabama Democratic Party to Whites.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Randy Kelley and Janet May. Both are affiliates of the Alabama Democratic Conference, a group that describes itself as the “Black Political Caucus of Alabama” and operates independently of the official state Democratic Party.

The case stems from a years-long dispute over Democratic leadership in Alabama.

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney who was has supported the Perez-aligned faction of Alabama Democrats that now controls the party, attacked the validity of the lawsuit.

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“The Plaintiffs are just sore losers, who can’t accept their defeat and who now recklessly scream ‘racism’ because they know that neither the law or the facts support their legal claims,” Ragsdale said in a statement to Alabama Media Group.

The lawsuit is the latest action in an extended legal imbroglio that began in 2018.

Then-Senator Doug Jones, unhappy with a state Democratic party infrastructure that he felt was ineffective, attempted to install a personal friend and ally as chair of the state party during a party meeting.

That effort failed, and Nancy Worley was reelected to the position of state chair with the backing of the Alabama Democratic Conference and its longtime leader Joe Reed.

However, a group of Alabama Democrats asserted there were irregularities in how the party’s internal election was conducted.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) examined the allegations of improper conduct and found them to be valid, ultimately ordering the state party to conduct new elections.

After much intraparty fighting, which led to an extended court battle, State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) emerged as the party chairman.

England, who is the state party’s first black chairperson, had the backing of Jones and the DNC.

Worley ultimately stopped pursuing her claim to be party chair in the spring of 2020 after a state judge dismissed a last-ditch suit.

The new England-led regime at the Alabama Democratic Party passed new bylaws that govern the state party and set out how the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) is elected.

Those changes, backed by England, Jones, Perez and the DNC, are the subject of Kelley and May’s lawsuit filed in recent days.

The suit names Perez, England and the SDEC as defendants.

Kelley and May say the changes do not comply with a 1991 federal court order that required black members of the party receive proportional representation on the executive committee to their share of Democratic votes cast.

“After Blacks became a majority of the SDEC, the governing body, Perez joined with Senator Doug Jones and others to weaken Black’ influence and give the control of the Alabama Democratic Party to Whites,” Kelley said in a release posted publicly by the Alabama Democratic Conference.

The new bylaws do change the method of ensuring a proportional amount of black members are on the executive committee. Similar to the previous arrangement, black individuals are added as at large members to ensure proper representation numbers.

However, in the new bylaws, the executive committee as a whole selects the at large members instead of leaving the selection of the at large members to the minority caucus.

Joe Reed and the Democratic Conference leadership had control over the equivalent of the minority caucus in the version of the party that existed before 2019. They regularly used the ability to select members as a tool to assert influence over the state party.

The Alabama Democratic Conference said in its statement that it believes the 2019 changes to how the executive committee is composed amount to “undermining, diluting, and discriminating against Black Democrats.”

Ragsdale pushed back on the assertions by Kelley, May and the Democratic Conference, telling Alabama Media Group that the plaintiffs “can’t accept that their side lost after an open and fair election.”

Ragsdale continued, “At its core, this most recent lawsuit is anti-democratic and an attack on the values of inclusion and diversity that guide the Democratic Party.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Alabama’s unemployment rate dips to 3.9%, lowest point of pandemic

The Alabama Department of Labor on Friday announced that the state’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted December unemployment rate was 3.9%, the lowest mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The latest figure came in the final full month of President Donald J. Trump’s administration and was down from November’s rate of 4.4%. December’s rate represented 87,534 unemployed Alabamians, compared to 100,374 the previous month.

While the latest rate is much improved from April’s bleak 13.4%. it is also still above December 2019’s rate of 2.7%, showing significant work is needed to get back to year-over-year parity.

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Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said in a statement, “This is the lowest unemployment rate Alabama has seen since the pandemic began, and I’m glad to see us close out 2020 on a good note.”

“While we are pleased to see our rate continue to drop, we know there is still a lot more work to be done,” he continued. “More than 26,000 Alabamians are unemployed now than at the same time last year. We are still down more than 34,000 jobs from last year. Our work in 2021 will be focused on continuing this recovery.”

Wage and salary employment grew in December by 6,200. According to a release, monthly gains were seen in the trade, transportation and utilities sector (+7,700), the leisure and hospitality sector (+3,000), and the education and health services sector (+1,100), for example. Over the year, the biggest losses in wage and salary employment came in the leisure and hospitality sector (-19,400), the education and health services sector (-16,400), and the government sector (-9,700), among others.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates in December were: Cullman County at 2.1%; Shelby, Marshall and Franklin Counties at 2.2%; and DeKalb and Cleburne Counties at 2.3%.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were: Wilcox County at 10.6%, Lowndes County at 10.2% and Perry County at 7.8%.

Meanwhile, major cities with the lowest unemployment rates were: Homewood and Vestavia Hills at 1.7%; Alabaster at 2.0%; and Madison at 2.1%. Major cities with the highest unemployment rates were: Prichard at 11%; Selma at 9.0%; and Bessemer and Anniston at 7.0%.

(Click for high-quality image)

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

7 Things: Biden and Ivey keep masks on, cautious start for coming legislative session, Alabama Dems must want Mo Brooks to be a senator and more …

7. Biden’s plan for vaccinations is already on pace

  • For as much as the incoming Biden administration proclaimed the previous administration was a disaster on the coronavirus, you would think that they would set goals that far outpace the criticized output for vaccine rollout, but this is not the case. Vaccine delivery is already on pace for 100 million vaccines in 100 days.
  • Despite this fact, which angered President Joe Biden, some in the Biden administration claim that the administration is starting their distribution program from scratch. Dr. Anthony Fauci denies this.

6. Just stop with impeachment

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  • As if the nation hasn’t suffered enough from phony and politically-motivated impeachments, freshman U.S. Representative  Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has already filed articles of impeachment against President Joe Biden over his interactions with Ukraine. This is going nowhere.
  • Greene said, “President Joe Biden is unfit to hold the office of the Presidency. His pattern of abuse of power as President Obama’s Vice President is lengthy and disturbing.” She cited Biden’s threat to withhold a loan to Ukraine unless a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden as part of the younger Biden’s scheme  “to siphon off cash from America’s greatest enemies Russia and China” using his dad as leverage, was fired.

5. Keystone Pipeline shutdown wipes out up to 11,000 jobs 

  • In a move that made American liberals and foreign governments very happy, President Joe Biden decided that the previously-approved Keystone Pipeline should be stopped mid-construction. 
  • Biden’s campaign slogan was “Build Back Better,” but the cancellation of the 1,700-mile pipeline stops 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. This is a costly decision because it ends around 11,000 American jobs that would have generated $1.6 billion in wages.

4. Alabama Democrats hammer Mo Brooks

  • Coming off his controversial speech that took place six hours before the U.S. Capitol riots, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) has drawn fire from the Alabama Democratic Party and former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Huntsville).
  • The Alabama Democratic Party is selling “No Mo Bullshit” merchandise to raise money from their email list, and Griffth recorded a YouTube video with 23 views, as of this writing, saying that Brooks should resign. He stated, “He chose to support domestic terrorism over the Constitution and has showed no remorse for his actions. Mo Brooks has become dangerous to democracy. He has disgraced and embarrassed the state of Alabama. Mo Brooks must face the consequences of his actions.  Congress must act now to expel him.”

3. Two-week pause after the beginning of the legislative session

  • The legislative session for the Alabama Legislature will begin on February 2, and now House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has said that they will take a break after the first two weeks to assess the coronavirus pandemic situation and how it’s impacting work.
  • This will also be done to make sure that there isn’t an outbreak of cases, and it’ll be time to figure out which legislation needs to be prioritized. It appears that discussions surrounding re-upping economic incentives, coronavirus liability immunity for responsible businesses and gambling matters are all on the table, along with the normal business of passing operating budgets.

2. Biden: Take a mask with you to travel (like you already were)

  • President Joe Biden is planning to require people to wear masks when they travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, a vast majority of people are already doing this as airlines require it.
  • Biden is also looking to increase vaccine supply and testing for the coronavirus. The White House official directing the national response to the pandemic, Jeff Zients, said, “We need to ask average Americans to do their part.”

1. 15 more days to stop the spread for 6 more weeks

  • Governor Kay Ivey has announced that the statewide mask mandate will be in effect until at least March 5 at 5:00 p.m. There were no other major changes to the statewide emergency health order. Ivey said that the masks remain “the one step that we can all take in order to keep some balance in our daily lives, and stay healthy and safe.”
  • One change in the order was allowing more flexibility in recruiting poll workers for upcoming elections across the state. Although, in her statements, Ivey focused on the high number of hospitalizations the state has seen. She said that “of the 1,600 ICU beds in our state, 1,561 were occupied” last week.