Capturing the Tennessee Valley’s innovative culture

single-meta-cal June 1, 2017

Three hundred participants. Five states. Ten congressional districts. More than 400 miles from one corner to another.

And one essential thing in common: Innovation.

That’s the thread that Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says weaves together the geography and the brainpower of what has been officially labeled the Tennessee Valley Corridor, and which brought its annual two-day summit to Huntsville.

It was an opportune time for Huntsville to do a little button-bustin’ bragging, what with the seminar title of “Huntsville and the TVC: Smart. Innovative. Collaborative.”

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center hosted the event, with a bazaar of booths and displays stretched out underneath the Saturn V rocket dangling from the Davidson Center ceiling and with all manner of networking and knowledge-absorbing going on in the auditorium and hallways.

Representatives were gathered from the five areas: eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern and middle Tennessee and northern Alabama. These were leaders in business, academic and government facets of their communities.

While there is great diversity, there is the shared goal of continuing to grow and enhance the global image of an area of the country that is not always held in highest regard, and with a dedication to work together within the Corridor to lure more jobs. Were you to collect a nickel for every time you heard the word “synergy” on Thursday, you’d be well on the way to picking up the dinner tab for the whole table.

Redstone has an annual $12.9 billion economic impact on the Huntsville economy, which amounts to a staggering 6.9 percent of Alabama’s GDP

Synergy was part of Mayor Battle’s pep talk, but before he addressed the audience at the Davidson Center, City Administrator John Hamilton provided a power-point tour of Redstone Arsenal. Perfect selection. Hamilton, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, spent three years as Garrison Commander at Redstone. Few people know every corner of the 38,000 acres of Redstone as well as Hamilton.

To familiarize the visitors with Redstone, Hamilton referred to the facility as “a federal research campus” that hosts a “very diverse mission.”

He noted the various tenants at Redstone – Army Materiel Command, Missile Defense Agency, NASA, FBI, ATF, Defense Intelligence Agency and countless others doing research and development.

Redstone, Hamilton reported, has an annual $12.9 billion economic impact on the Huntsville economy, which amounts to a staggering 6.9 percent of Alabama’s GDP.

There are 40,000 jobs on the arsenal, but twice that in jobs related to Arsenal business, and it creates some $46.7 million annually in tax revenue to Huntsville. As Hamilton put it “a powerful economic engine.”

Battle stressed the importance of “innovation-based communities,” which is something shared throughout the corridor. It’s innovation that must be inspired at the grassroots level.

“All of us in the Tennessee Valley have to thrive on education, on STEM education,” he said.

“Innovation will drive this whole corridor. That innovation is what will make us be a step ahead of everybody else,” Battle said.

The combination of innovation, work ethic and cost of living gives the Corridor a unique advantage over other, more populated parts of the country and enables it to compete for jobs.

“The Corridor will lead the nation in the future, in jobs, in economy but also in innovation,” he continued. “We’re on a worldwide platform for jobs. As we bring in those jobs, we not only do ourselves a favor but improving our economy, but we do the world a favor with our innovation.”