By Kim West
A throng of government officials, business leaders and well-wishers packed the Sykes Building to commemorate the first aerospace engineering services company to locate in downtown Athens.
About 50 people attended Tuesday afternoon’s ribbon-cutting ceremony sponsored by the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce and squeezed into the second-floor lobby to listen to a welcome by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
Brooks said he hopes “it will help continue the revitalization of the downtown area.” He characterized the company as a “pathfinder” and “the first stop among many stops to follow” for Limestone’s economic development.
Onyx Aerospace, which is across from Wildwood Deli near the railroad tracks on West Market Street, opened for business four months ago and already has 11 employees.
Onyx co-owners Kendell Phillips, 48, and Norm Brown, 52, are both Athens residents who decided to trade in the daily commute to their engineering jobs in Huntsville to launch a local venture.
They said one of their primary goals is to trigger growth. Phillips said “ideally we want to aid other businesses to help them expand and provide contacts for them” within the aerospace industry.
“This is an engineering services business, which provides support to large government system development,” Phillips said. “Some of our focus is directed to private development companies, such as Lockheed, Boeing and Raytheon.”
The company’s downtown location is classified as a HUBZone, or a Historically Underutilized Business Zone. The program is sponsored by the Small Business Administration, which requires businesses to operate and employ at least 35 percent of its workforce within the zone.
“In two years, we would like to employee 50 workers,” said Phillips. “We will be looking for workers in logistics, scheduling and computer-aided design.
“We’ll also need people with expertise in what is known as missiles when dealing with (Army) Missile Defense or rockets when you’re talking about NASA.”
He said some positions would only require a technical training background, while others would call for both job experience and a college degree.
Brown said he relishes being able to work in his own community. He said a frequent breakfast topic among fellow colleagues that commuted was the need for a local aerospace company.
“I’ve lived in Athens since I was 3 years old, and it is so cool to work and support the community on the same street where I grew up watching the Christmas parade,” Brown said.