They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. When Dr. Wernher Von Braun, a German-American pioneer of rocket technology and space science, addressed a joint session of the Alabama Legislature on June 20, 1961, he stressed the importance of having a community filled with smart people and a community with exceptional quality of life. Doing this would lead to economic development and many other great things. Now as we celebrate 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, it’s interesting to note how similar the needs of Huntsville are today.
Nearly 60 years ago, von Braun presented [with slides…of course] to the Alabama Legislature his ideas for developing aerospace industry in Huntsville, its impact on the state, and the importance of sustaining its growth. Von Braun spoke of the possibility for great discoveries in aerospace engineering in a place like Huntsville. Given all the innovation that occurred in the Tennessee Valley in the early 1960s, there was great potential for monumental breakthroughs in rocket propulsion to happen here.
However, von Braun knew that growth was required in more crucial areas to foster that potential.
If Alabama does this, then the prosperity and culture of the entire state will grow and flourish.”
He recognized the need for more highly-skilled and highly-educated employees to operate Redstone’s facilities to meet President Kennedy’s “Moon Shot” challenge. This meant attracting workers, many of whom would need to come from outside of Alabama. Von Braun, the consummate engineer, saw an efficient way to do this by investing in its own people.
He asked the Legislature to invest in education. He believed job growth, economic development, and innovation couldn’t occur without the necessary brainpower. Von Braun called on the Legislature to invest in the University Center and Research Institute in Huntsville which would eventually become UAH. Smart people, he claimed, would want to get smarter, and the more educational institutions available to them, the more likely they would continue their education in a local setting. In his remarks on the importance of creating a climate of brainpower in the city, Von Braun stated, “If Alabama does this, then the prosperity and culture of the entire state will grow and flourish.”
Finally, von Braun called for making Huntsville an attractive place for anyone looking to research and build, making the Tennessee Valley a mecca of innovation which would ultimately benefit the entire state.
Sixty years later, these are the same ideals the City champions to make Huntsville a strong, economically prosperous, and inclusive community. Through the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber’ ASmartPlace campaign, recruitment of the best and brightest from around the nation is taking place as well as a renewed emphasis on developing local talent at local schools and higher education.
Investment in training to develop the local and state workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow has spawned new facilities like the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering and the Invention to Innovation Center at UAHuntsville. The City wants to make Huntsville the most attractive place it can be in order to make these new workers feel welcome, and that Huntsville can be a place they and their families can be a part of. Investing in people and for people is where growth begins.
While much of what’s going on in Huntsville today feels very new, the mentality behind it with an emphasis for education and innovation hasn’t changed in the slightest.