Spotlight: Madison County

Madison County, Huntsville
Huntsville Museum of Art.

Madison County, in North Alabama, is one of the fastest growing counties in the Southeast. It also ranks high for many measures of job growth and livability — such as high-tech jobs, advanced manufacturing, housing, amenities, working from home and education. 

It’s best known as home to one of the nation’s leading defense, aerospace and technology clusters.

The largest employer is U.S. Army/Redstone Arsenal, which is predicted to have 50,000 employees by the year 2025. 

Other large employers include NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Boeing Co., Dynetics Inc. and SAIC. Recently, Redstone was named the preferred location for the U.S. Space Command. And the FBI, which already has 800 personnel at Redstone, is building an additional complex with hundreds more employees expected.

Madison also is home to very large manufacturers, from ATV manufacturer Polaris to engine maker Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama to the newest element in Alabama’s strong automotive sector, a nearly completed $2.3 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, where some 4,000 workers are expected to assemble some 300,000 vehicles a year.

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Health care, education and local government also figure into top employment sectors, with Huntsville Hospital, city and county school systems, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the city of Huntsville among major employers.

“About eight-and-a-half years ago, we discovered that we had an underemployment issue, especially when we saw that 10,000 people had applied for 200 jobs at Toyota,” says Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, which handles economic development for the region. “We dug deeper and realized we needed to provide more opportunities in different areas.” 

This effort led to the recruitment of Polaris, Mazda Toyota and other advanced manufacturing companies — along with a push to provide the skills for those jobs. “We support our core business — our heritage, our history of propulsion — and created a balance,” Cherry says. 

And where the jobs come, people come. More homes were built in 2020 in Madison County — even during a pandemic — than at any time earlier, with 4,000 homes. 

A new statewide cyber technology school is under construction. The county’s three school systems rank among the best, and there are many options for earning certificates, degrees and training. 

An amphitheater will be underway soon, more green spaces and parks, entertainment venues, business incubators, co-working and collaborative spaces and lifestyle enclaves are springing up. Fiber internet is here and growing, attracting many who are able to work from home — a plus during the pandemic and beyond. 

Tourism is a major sector as well, with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center ranking as the state’s top paid tourism attraction.

“In these past few years, we’ve done a much better job of letting the rest of the U.S. and world know our capabilities and all we have to offer,” says Dale Strong, Madison County Commission chairman. “Many companies have relocated here, and others are expanding. We know we have a seat at the head table, but we also know we need to work together to make it happen.”

This story is featured in the May 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine. 

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