Spotlight: Madison County

Madison County is home to a number of defense, space and research industries

Huntsville Botanical Gardens. Photo courtesy of Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Located in the heart of North Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, Madison County is the third-most populated county in the state.

Huntsville, the county seat, is now Alabama’s largest city, thanks to high scores in housing affordability, employment opportunities and quality of life. The city regularly earns national recognition as a desirable place to live, including ranking No. 1 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-2023 Best Places to Live and being named among the South’s best cities by Southern Living.

The neighboring city of Madison also gets its fair share of the limelight. Niche, a national research group that ranks communities based on quality of schools, education, crime and safety, cost of living, diversity and access to outdoor recreation, ranked Madison the second-best place to raise a family in Alabama. Madison City Schools also received an A+ ranking from Niche, making it the No. 1 ranked school district in the state.

Industry in Madison County centers on aerospace and defense, information technology, bioscience and advanced manufacturing.

With more than 60 federal organizations and contractor operations, Redstone Arsenal is the area’s largest employer, and agencies and program offices on the Arsenal employ more than 43,000 people. Marshall Space Flight Center, one of NASA’s largest field centers with 7,000 employees, is located at Redstone, and the FBI continues to expand its presence on the Arsenal and expects to have full-time capacity for 5,000 employees by 2028.

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Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park, is home to more than 300 companies. Its tenants, including Dynetics Inc., SAIC, Lockheed Martin, Redstone Federal Credit Union and Raytheon Technologies, are among the county’s other leading industrial employers.

Automotive manufacturing also is revving up in the region. The first Mazda CX-50 rolled off the assembly line at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant last year in neighboring Limestone County, and Toyota Alabama announced plans to create a new $222 million production line for four-cylinder engines at its facility.

Huntsville City Football Club.

But Madison isn’t all work and no play. New mixed-use developments that incorporate entertainment, retail, dining and other recreational amenities alongside work and living spaces are popping up all over, and more are on the way.

The $110 million Anthem House project will add 30,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of office space and 330 residential units to the MidCity District. The landscape of downtown Huntsville is preparing to be dramatically altered by Front Row Huntsville, a $325 million development on more than 11 acres opposite the Von Braun Center.

There’s plenty for non-locals to enjoy as well, making Madison the second-most visited county in the state. Along with long-time destination favorites like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the state’s top paid tourist attraction, Madison has some new rising stars.

The Orion Amphitheater opened last year and drew more than 150,000 patrons during its first season. The outdoor entertainment venue impressed performers, too, garnering praise from Stevie Nicks, Jason Isbell and Dave Matthews Band. Toyota Field, home stadium of the Rocket City Trash Pandas minor league baseball team, also hosts a variety of events during the off-season, including a holiday light show. And soccer fans are looking forward to kicking off the first season of the Huntsville City FC soccer team this year at the newly renovated Joe Davis Stadium.

Katherine MacGilvray is a Huntsville-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

For more on Madison County, see the links below:

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

This story appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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