Madison County Takes The Spotlight in Aerospace and Technology

Madison County in north Alabama is one of the fastest growing counties in the Southeast and is home to a leading defense, aerospace and technology industrial cluster. For a county that was mostly agricultural until the early 1950s, this change has completely transformed every facet of life there.

From high-tech jobs to new and expanding industry and business of all kinds, along with new rooftops, major mixed-use and retail developments, infrastructure improvements, quality of life upgrades and well-supported, stellar K-12 and beyond educational opportunities, Madison County’s success seems to have no limits.

“We provide jobs for not only people here, but a 14-county region, and our growth also allows people to spend their money here, and our schools are the big winners, ” says Dale W. Strong, Madison County Commission chairman. “Our schools also are a draw to attracting all kinds of growth. To see all that has transpired here over the last 24 to 26 months has been phenomenal.”

Madison County’s major cities, Huntsville and Madison, consistently rank high nationally among the best places to live and work. Natural resources abound, and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the state’s No. 1 tourism attraction. Both cities are home to new, large-scale, mixed-use developments under construction.

Redstone Arsenal, home of the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s four-star general headquarters, is the principal location for Army materiel management and is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and many more installations and agencies. It is easily the area’s largest employer with more than 38, 000 workers and an annual payroll of about $3.2 billion. Marshall has the program and lead responsibility for development of the Space Launch System, the nation’s next heavy-lift vehicle that will enable continued U.S. exploration of deep space. To date, the nation’s Base Realignment and Closure efforts have been kind to Huntsville,  moving in more than it has moved away — a boon to the city’s host of defense contractors as well.

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Beyond the space and military presence, the most recent game-changer for the region was the 2014 announcement that Remington Outdoor would locate at the Huntsville International Airport. Remington expects to create 2, 000 jobs and invest more than $110 million as the company develops its next generation of products.

Then, 2015 started off with the announcement that Polaris, a global leader in off-road vehicle production, would be opening an advanced manufacturing facility in Huntsville, performing research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of Razor and Ranger ATV vehicles and creating up to 2, 000 jobs over the next seven years. It is the first major economic development project in annexed portions of Limestone County, emerging quickly as a major growth corridor. Economic developers hope that the Polaris announcement, coupled with a Boeing Co. decision to establish an R&D center in Huntsville, will attract even more ventures to the region.

“Not only are these announcements game changers, but the spinoff industries that will result from these new companies will provide our economy with years of growth, ” says Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

With Huntsville being the epicenter for STEM opportunities and salaries in the state and a constant need for a well-trained workforce, K-12 and higher education has kept up with the need. Calhoun Community College is building a 90, 000-square-foot math, science and computer science building, a $34 million project that will house labs, classrooms and faculty offices. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is the anchor tenant in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second oldest and second largest research park, creating wide-ranging opportunities for students. And J.F. Drake State Technical College is heavily involved in workforce development and many programs to meet the needs of local employers and workers.

Many other companies, from more traditional manufacturing to software development to data centers, have expanded in Madison County as well, creating hundreds of jobs. With a strong showing in 2014 and a fast start to 2015, the community is poised to take advantage of its position in the coming year.

As of March, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked the Huntsville metro area as second largest of all Alabama’s metro areas. And, according to Moody’s, the Huntsville metro is forecast to experience strong long-term growth over the next five years, capitalizing on its base of government and defense activity, as well as its ability to attract an educated and younger population. Diversified manufacturing will also be a key to local growth.

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Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham

text by lori chandler pruitt

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