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Strategic approach to economic development helps frame Huntsville’s success in recruiting

If you want to define Huntsville and Madison County’s success for the past decade, the one word you can start with would be “strategic.”

That approach provides definition to the success experienced in its spurt of economic development during that time, according to the area’s chief economic development official Chip Cherry.

A simple definition of that word describes the community’s identification of long-term or overall aims and the means, or tactics, of achieving those strategies.

Chip Cherry is the CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. He offered some insights into the area’s success at economic development during a question-and-answer session with Yellowhammer News contributing writer Ray Garner.

Economic development in Huntsville/Madison County has had a tremendous run during the past 10 years. Is there a single factor that you can attribute to this success?

The key to our success is a public/private team that rallied around a number of strategic objectives. 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 over the past decade, but actually well before that, too. 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.”

Is this factor developed strategically by the community, or has it been developed as part of the progression of a growing economy?

“We have been strategic in identifying voids in our economy and recruiting companies that would fill those voids. We have also focused on cultivating relationships with existing companies to ensure that they were in a position to grow. And, we never lost sight of the importance of Redstone Arsenal and the missions of the tenants – working with our regional partners to ensure that we supported the core of our economy. We have tackled tough challenges here time and time again, and when we achieve the wins – we celebrate these as a team.”

Many of the new announcements include some of the top global brands. Some of those names are already located here (Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Toyota), but Huntsville’s industrial roster now includes a new presence (Amazon, Polaris and Meta/Facebook). Again, how has Huntsville been so successful in getting the attention of these global brand names?

“The short answer is a blend of mitigating risk and sharing the value our region’s partnerships. One of the key elements of the process of selecting a community for a new location or expansion is risk management. The decision makers ask themselves – will the community be our partner after the project is announced? Our best recruitment tool is a satisfied client. When one of their peers sits across the table and shares stories of how the community has been their partner through multiple expansions, that is a very powerful message. Any community can say they will do x, y or z – we demonstrate we have done it.”

We hear about how well the community works together when it comes to trying to lure these companies to Huntsville. Can you cite specific examples?

“With some of our recent announcements involving automakers, it has certainly helped that we’ve visited Japan multiple times. Sometimes our delegation size has been large, and other times small, but the key is consistency. Our group has included elected officials, chamber leaders, and company representatives of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, and these visits strengthened relationships with Japanese auto executives. These partnerships matter very much and commitments don’t just happen in 15-minute meetings or phone calls. There is a long process of communication, listening, and work toward mutual respect.”

Looking ahead, are there specific industrial targets that represent new areas of growth for Huntsville?

“We are fortunate that we can be selective, to a degree, to pursue the type of industry that makes the best sense for our area. We are certainly interested in growing the aerospace, defense and automotive sectors, but we are also seeing continued growth in the biomedical field. Additionally, we are working to grow our role in space science. With the recent announcement that the FAA has given Huntsville approval to land Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser here, we want companies (locally and nationally) to think about how they could use commercial space vehicles for research. Think of it – the Dream Chaser could be launched on top of a ULA Vulcan rocket built in Decatur – go up to space, bring your experiment back to Earth and land in Huntsville, where it could quickly be brought to your lab. From start to finish, that screams “Rocket City” – does it not?”

Where is the community in taking advantage of those future opportunities?

“Our team is working on a number of projects right now. These include new companies who have heard about our region and want to explore opportunities here, as well as existing companies in our market who are interested in expanding. We hope that some of these will result in announcements down the road, and we look forward to sharing more information as these develop.”

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News

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