Economic Engines

Cummings Research Park, in Huntsville, is the nation’s second oldest and second largest research park, behind only Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The park has 3, 843 acres of developed and available land and is adjacent to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal.

The 300 companies with offices in the park have more than 25, 000 employees and a combined payroll of nearly $2 billion. The Huntsville metro area has the highest concentration of engineers in the country, based largely on the technology companies headquartered at Cummings.

By any measure, Cummings has a significant impact. Most of the firms listed among Washington Technology’s top federal contractors have offices in the park  — all of the top 12, 22 of the top 26 and 56 of the top 100.

Cummings was founded in 1962 as Huntsville Research Park and celebrated 50 years of operation in 2012. Its key industries include aerospace and defense, computers and electronics, engineering and government services, hardware and software development, information technology, life sciences and biotechnology, modeling and simulation and research and development. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is a major tenant.

Employment payroll generates about $280 million annually in state and local taxes from direct and indirect employment. The state of Alabama has invested more than $200 million in the park.

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“By no means was all this done on our own, ” says John Southerland, director of Cummings. “The state has been a constant partner in this park.” Many companies added jobs and capital investment in the park in 2012, including COLSA Corp., Analytical Services Inc., InQ Biosciences Corp. and Wyle CAS Group.

Cummings boasts more than 11.4 million square feet of office, research and development and manufacturing space. Since 2003, almost 5 million square feet have been developed. In the last five years, there have been 165 new and expanding companies in the park, representing 8, 827 new jobs with a $251 million investment.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a cornerstone of Cummings Research Park, covers 155 acres with a synergistic cluster of biotechnology talent made up of science and business professionals. HudsonAlpha opened a third building on its campus in 2012.

CRP also is the home of the Bridge Street Town Centre, a mixed-use office, retail and hotel development that brings in significant revenue to the area.

Redstone Arsenal is a 38, 000-acre secure U.S. Army complex — a center for research and development, testing and engineering, and home to the Army’s missile, missile defense and aviation programs, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and NATO’s MEADS program.

Redstone is the principal location for Army materiel management, logistics and foreign military sales. Arsenal agencies and program offices currently employ more than 36, 000 people, who manage more than $100 billion in annual federal budgets.

A recently released study by the University of Illinois at Chicago says that Redstone Arsenal, with a 3.1 billion dollar payroll, channels billions of dollars of federal spending into the Huntsville metro area and surrounding region. In short, the arsenal sends an entire state’s worth of defense contracting into the nation’s 120th largest metro area.

That same report estimates the total annual impact of Redstone Arsenal at 90, 500 jobs and $10.56 billion in economic output — approximately 5.9 percent of the total 2010 GDP for Alabama and nearly half the $21.56 billion GDP of the Huntsville metro area.

As a result of the Base Realignment and Closure of 2005, Redstone became the site of the Army Materiel Command’s four-star general headquarters, the state’s first. “It puts us in an entirely different league, ” says Kelly Schrimsher, Huntsville city spokeswoman. The BRAC is nearly wrapped up, but officials expect even more growth in the coming years. “We expect a trickle-down effect in jobs and services, ” says Mayor Tommy Battle. Millions in sales tax have been realized from the move, and it has jump-started home construction.

The Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, is one of NASA’s largest field centers, occupying more than 1, 800 acres on Redstone Arsenal.

Madison County: 1.5 percent
Huntsville: 3.5 percen
Madison: 3.5 percent
New Hope 3.5 percent
Triana: 2 percent
Gurley: 2 percent
Owen’s Crossroads: 3 percent
State of Alabama: 4 percent

Source: Alabama Department of Revenue

Marshall employs more than 6, 000 people — 2, 500 civil service personnel and 3, 500 contractor employees — with an annual budget of about $2.6 billion.

MSFC has the program and project lead responsibility for development of the nation’s next heavy lift vehicle, which will enable continued U.S. exploration of deep space. Marshall’s economic impact exceeds $1 billion in Alabama alone. It is the second largest individual employer in the Huntsville/Madison County area.

“NASA and the Saturn V rocket is Huntsville’s icon, ” says CRP’s Southerland. “It was our tipping point — and from there, everything took off.”

The three main entities that comprise the 7, 000-acre Port of Huntsville include the Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center and Jetplex Industrial Park. The port represents more than 24, 000 jobs and exceeds $942.8 million in payroll.

Port officials describe FY2012 as “record breaking, ” adding that the port is furthering economic development in the Tennessee Valley region.

In FY2012, more than 200 million pounds of air cargo passed through the airport, an 11 percent increase from 2011. Overall flights carrying cargo also increased, with a monthly record of 134 flights in November 2011. 

For the 15th consecutive year, Huntsville International Airport passed the FAA’s annual inspection without a single discrepancy.

An economic development study by Deloitte Consultants for the TVA deemed Jetplex Industrial Park a favored location for a data center. The 4, 000-acre Jetplex Industrial Park has more than 60 companies.

Other developments include:

  • Panalpina, a third-party logistics provider, begins landing 747-8s at the airport.
  • Four Points by Sheraton, a hotel at the airport, completed a $4.5 million renovation in early 2012.
  • The airport entered the final phases of its $92 million capital improvement program in 2012, replacing the old baggage claim and improving escalators and elevators.

The total tax impact of the port is estimated at $241 million.

Recently, the North Alabama International Trade Association (NAITA) awarded the 2013 International Trade Advocate Award to Rick Tucker, executive director of the Port of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Airport Authority.

Huntsville has several software companies that focus on areas other than aerospace, says Andrew Bailey, president of Cabinet, a developer of document management, workflow and content sharing solutions for the legal, finance, healthcare, insurance and human resources industries, among others. 

“There’s quite a few software companies that do not focus entirely on aerospace, ” Bailey says. “When I go on the road and talk to others, I realize that we have more of these companies per capita than Silicon Valley.”

Companies like Dealnews, SolidEarth, DeepTarget, PointClear Solutions, OAR Corp. and GeoCue develop software for fields as diverse as healthcare and aerial mapping. Software-hardware companies include Adtran, Intergraph, Avocent, Digium, GE Intelligent Platforms and Southern Vision Systems.

City officials and economic developers have pinpointed several industry sectors they want to attract to continue a diversified economy such as electronic communications, modeling and simulation, geospatial, energy, cyber security, robotics and small satellites.

Developers are also on the lookout for more companies making military-themed and training games, says Ethan Hadley, the chamber’s vice president of economic development. “We have all types of modelling and simulation — constructive, training and engineering simulation, ” he says. “Huntsville has one of the largest concentrations of the ‘creative class, ’ and we want to see more of that.” 

Officials calculate the economic impact of health care at some $785 million, with major facilities employing more than 8, 000 people.

Madison County is home to the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama A&M University, two major community colleges and several additional institutions, making higher education a key economic engine.

For more information on businesses mentioned in this article, please visit the following resources: 

Cummings Research Park,  Bridge Street Huntsville – Cummings Research Park,  Port of Huntsville/Huntsville International Airport,  Redstone Arsenal,  Marshall Space Flight Center

Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt

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