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Members of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce gathered at the Von Braun Center Feb. 6 for the chamber's 83rd annual membership meeting. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Huntsville/Madison County Chamber installs new chair, presents Distinguished Service Award

HUNTSVILLE — The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 2018 achievements and passed the gavel to a new board chair at their 83rd annual membership meeting Feb. 6 at the Von Braun Center.

Kim Lewis, CEO of PROJECTXYZ Inc., became the chamber’s first African-American woman to fill the role of board chair when Gary Bolton, 2018 board chair, handed off the gavel to her.

“It’s my honor and privilege, and I greatly appreciate this historic opportunity,” Lewis said. She thanked many, including her family, her PROJECTXYZ team and other members of the chamber. “Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to represent this community that we all love and want to continue to see grow.”

Lewis has been involved with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber since her company joined in 2007. Between then and now, she has attended several chamber events and served the chamber in several capacities, including chamber ambassador, GRC team member and vice chair of membership.

In the community, Lewis serves with such organizations as HEALS Inc., the National Children’s Advocacy Center and the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

In addition to her achievements with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, Lewis is the 2017 recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Woman-Owned Business Achievement Award.

Lewis expressed her excitement for 2019 and credited the chamber for their contributions in pushing the region forward.

“We all know that a ship only runs smoothly because of a great captain and crew, and this crew is the ones that make it happen and make our job as chair so much easier, so I thank each of you for your daily commitment to this community,” she said.

In relinquishing his chair duties to Lewis, Bolton remarked on the chamber’s and the community’s achievements in 2018.

“2018 was an amazing year for the chamber and for our community,” Bolton said. “It’s been a tremendous honor and a privilege to serve with such a phenomenal chamber team. … It’s my honor to turn the gavel over to your new chair.”

Before handing off the gavel to Lewis, Bolton recapped the chamber’s 2018 successes and touched on Huntsville’s rise as a powerhouse city before members heard from keynote speaker Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI.

According to the chamber’s annual report, Huntsville earned the following rankings in 2018: sixth in the nation for job growth, seventh-best place to live in the U.S., one of the top 25 most educated cities in America and the third-best place to move to make the most money.

“Given all the jobs we’ve created here, this is a great place for people to move,” Bolton said.

Cummings Research Park is now at 91-percent occupancy—the highest it has been in the last five years. Five major companies also announced in 2018 that they would be joining the area, the largest being Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. Inc. and Facebook. Together, these companies will bring more than 4,000 new jobs to the region.

Thirteen existing companies in the area also added nearly 1,000 jobs in 2018 with $346 million in capital investment.

Other noteworthy updates include the completion of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new facility, NASA’s new heavy-life space launch system, new test stands at the Marshall Space Flight Center and the continued growth of Redstone Arsenal. This growth includes the FBI’s expansion and the arsenal’s increasing missile defense footprint.

“Sen. Richard Shelby was a huge supporter for many of these items,” Bolton said. “He’s also led the efforts to secure critical funding for NASA, the National Space Foundation, the FBI and the new federal courthouse that will be built downtown.”

In addition, Alabama was featured in American Way magazine’s state spotlight in December, which was available in every seat pocket on American Airlines flights.

Bolton also presented this year’s Distinguished Service Award, the highest award the chamber presents. The chamber established the award in 1957, the first recipient being Dr. Wernher von Braun. Since then, the award has gone to U.S. senators, newspaper publishers, captains of industry and community leaders, to name a few.

“Today’s distinguished service recipient has built a phenomenal business that excels in its market and is achieving impressive growth and attracting world-recognized leaders that have joined the company,” Bolton began. He noted the recipient’s strong reputation as both a successful business leader and “great person,” though he said those qualities are not necessarily going to put someone on the short list for the award. “This award recognizes volunteer leadership on challenging projects that shape the future of our community.”

Bolton presented the 2019 Distinguished Service Award to Alicia Ryan, CEO of LSINC Corporation, who he said has done a “tremendous” job in her role at the chamber and in establishing the first state cyber technology and engineering school in the country.

Ryan, fighting back tears, said she was “truly speechless.” She also praised the Huntsville community for welcoming her and LSINC several years ago.

“We moved here about 13-14 years ago, and I told Mayor Battle at that time after we started our company that I could not think of any other place in the entire United States that would welcome somebody that was not part of their culture and allow us to build a company that made such a big difference, and so I want to thank all of you for being that culture,” she said.

On behalf of Adtran, Bolton also presented a $10,000 check to Ryan for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. The Huntsville magnet school, to serve more than 300 students in grades 7-12, was mentioned in Gov. Ivey’s 2018 state address and is projected to open in 2020.

The school is now accepting applications for its first president. More information can be found at alabamaschoolboards.org. The deadline to apply is Feb. 18.

For more on the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, visit hsvchamber.org. The 2018 annual report can be viewed here.

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