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August 26, 2014 | Tom Ballard

“Energy Huntsville” all about economic diversification

Energy HuntsvilleBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Jay Newkirk credits the launch of the three-year old “Energy Huntsville” initiative to Tommy Battle, the city’s energetic and charismatic Mayor.

“He’s a visionary guy,” Newkirk says in describing the chief executive of the North Alabama city that many view as the epicenter of a region benefitting from tremendous growth in military spending.

As Newkirk explains the impetus for “Energy Huntsville,” it is the combination of how much Huntsville has grown with military expansion or relocation and how impactful any proposed cutbacks in Department of Defense (DoD) spending could be on the community.

“Tommy wanted us to reach out and touch companies making a living on DoD contracts and get them to target the energy sector,” Newkirk explained. “He wanted an economic development initiative to focus on diversification.”

So, for the last several years, the retired corporate executive and consultant has turned his part-time, volunteer role into a more than full-time job as Executive Director of “Energy Huntsville.”

“I have been able to be free to do this,” Newkirk laughingly said.

The initial group of 10 volunteers the Mayor convened has grown to 250 to 300 people who are on the “Energy Huntsville” mailing list. It is not just a Huntsville area initiative. Many of the companies call Tennessee home.

Newkirk and Deborah Barnhart, Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, will be in Oak Ridge on Friday (August 29) to speak at the weekly meeting of the East Tennessee Economic Council.

“We have some real interest from Oak Ridge companies,” he explained.

So, you might logically be asking the “how” and “what” questions.

“Energy Huntsville” is a 501(c)(6) organization that Newkirk characterizes as something like a trade association. It holds monthly meetings with anywhere from 60 to 100 people attending. The sessions are typically in the morning, programmed for two hours, and feature a variety of presentations plus ample time for networking.

The organization has “Energy Areas of Interest” that include Research and Development, Community Energy Programs, Energy Production and Renewables, Energy IT and Data Centers, Facilities and Installation Energy Management, and Energy Production and Renewables.

“Everything we are doing is to support our members,” Newkirk says. “We are really serious about taking this to the next level.”

In that vein, “Energy Huntsville” recently implemented a formal dues structure that will provide monies to support additional activities, paid staff, and operations.

One upcoming undertaking is a “Geo-Energy Huntsville Summit & Educational Forum” set for November 12 and 13 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Newkirk noted that the “Energy Huntsville” initiative has been helped by a strategic decision made by the U.S. Army a couple of years ago to “run its bases and garrisons as effectively and efficiently as possible.” That goal has translated into all contracting for energy-related work worldwide to be handled through the Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville.

He describes the mandate and the fact that the contracting is coordinated in Huntsville to be “blessings.” In some cases, the solution can involve new technologies. In other situations, it might be a new use for an existing technology.

To illustrate the opportunity for local companies, Newkirk cited a female business owner who relocated her company from St. Louis to Huntsville as a result of the last Base Realignment and Closure Commission. She was providing a product to the aerospace industry that she has now adapted for use in the energy sector.

Newkirk is no stranger to the Huntsville business community or the energy sector. He was a Senior Principal Engineer and Operations Manager for Advanced Technology, Inc. before serving as a Co-Founder of Computer Systems Technology, Inc. Later, he bought controlling interest in a commercial energy intelligence, energy management and control company focused on the utility “smart grid” market. Newkirk re-incorporated the company into Carina Technology, Inc., focusing on software, database and endpoint control hardware devices for energy optimization. More recently, he co-founded a veteran-owned spinoff company, Government Energy Solutions, Inc., to offer these and other energy management products and solutions to federal and state governments.

Those wanting to know more about “Energy Huntsville” can contact Newkirk at

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