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Huntsville, Madison County economic development team hitting on all cylinders

Huntsville and Madison County have long had a tremendous reputation when it comes to economic development success. The area has been a leader across Alabama in job creation and capital investment for as long as many can remember.

Nonetheless, the past decade has witnessed the area’s economic engine thrust into overdrive with the addition of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and a vastly improved unemployment rate.

The growth has been widespread both internally, with established companies expanding their existing operations, and external, with the recruitment of new companies. Many of the new members of the local industrial roster include some of the top brands on the planet.

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has played a role in that success, but several individuals interviewed for this story said the success is to be shared among the public and private sector.

“The key to our success is a public/private team that rallied around a number of strategic objectives,” said chamber chief executive officer Chip Cherry. “Our region truly understands the importance of working together toward a common goal, and we’ve been very fortunate to see a lot of successes during the past decade … We would not have gotten to this point without a team of people working together, focusing on common objectives, and not worrying about who gets the credit. Our team focuses on creating a dynamic regional economy.”

One member of that public/private team is Madison County Commission chairman Dale Strong. He served as a commissioner with the county commission before being elected as chairman 10 years ago.

Strong said North Alabama’s economy is hitting on all cylinders. “There’s been tremendous industrial growth but when you have thousands of crucial federal jobs added during the same time, such as the FBI, our success has truly been remarkable. That doesn’t take into account the anticipated transfer of the Space Force headquarters to Redstone. It’s really quite amazing, but it shows what is possible when you have smart people collaborating on attainable goals, like job growth.

“We’ve been very fortunate in this success, particularly during the past decade,” Strong added. ”It all starts with our workforce. Our region, not just Huntsville and Madison County, but all of North Alabama is blessed to have one of the best workforces in the United States. That’s true for Limestone, Morgan, Jackson and Lauderdale as well.”

Strong also said the brainpower in the region is an important factor as well. “Our workforce is one of the most highly educated in America. That is an important factor in helping create jobs at Redstone Arsenal, but also in private sector jobs in Cummings Research Park as well.”

Another key player who has become a leader in economic development experience is Tommy Battle. He has been Huntsville’s mayor since 2008.

“Growth of this magnitude and quality requires a strategic team-oriented approach,” Mayor Battle said. “It takes good governance, strong regional partnerships, and a clear vision of who you are and where you want to be.

“Our leadership team targeted the businesses we wanted to be part of our community — those that would offer good-paying jobs for every sector of Huntsville,” Battle added. “We recognize that not everyone is going to be a rocket scientist, and we were determined to provide a broader range of employment opportunities for our residents. I’m proud of what our local and regional team has accomplished and look forward to many years of prosperous, quality growth.”

This success can be translated with major job announcements each year during the past decade and an improving unemployment rate.

Since 2012 and through 2021, the community has announced at least 1,000 jobs per year. The biggest announcement of the past decade was the Mazda Toyota manufacturing plant in Huntsville annexed Limestone County in 2018 with 4,000 jobs. Toyota’s engine plant in Huntsville also announced more than 800 new jobs since 2012.

The Boeing Company also had the largest industrial announcement twice during the 10 years – in 2016 when the company announced in it was adding 470 jobs to its operations in North Alabama, and 350 jobs in 2013.

Huntsville and Madison County added new names to its industrial directory during the past 10 years – Remington in 2014 with the creation of 2,000 jobs and Polaris with 2,000 job openings in 2015.

Other top announcements were Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2017 – 805. Mazda Toyota supplier YKT of Alabama revealed 650 new jobs in 2019. The list included 170 jobs in 2020 with local company Dynetics expanding its workforce. Last year, Amazon topped the area’s industrial job announcement with an expansion of 750 new positions.

During the past decade, the average unemployment rate concurrently dropped annually. In 2012, the area’s unemployment rate was 7.1%. The rate dropped steadily during the past decade with the exception of 2020 as a result of the COVID19 pandemic when it rose to 5.5%. Last year, unemployment fell to 2.6%.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.