Huntsville’s shift in economic development strategy shows
promising results

single-meta-cal May 8, 2020

A recent report from the Alabama Department of Commerce offers some good news for the City of Huntsville.

In 2019, new and expanding industries in Huntsville announced $1.86 billion in Capital Investment and the creation of 3,025 new jobs, according to the latest figures from Commerce. Huntsville projects accounted for 26 percent of the state’s total capital investment and 15 percent of its jobs.

These numbers are in addition to the record numbers in 2018 of $2.71 billion in Capital Investment and 5,189 new jobs in the industrial sector.

Huntsville has been one of the state’s largest contributors to new and expanding jobs for the past decade. In fact, since 2009, Huntsville has provided 15 percent of the state’s new job announcements. Huntsville’s role in contributing substantially to capital expenditures (CAPEX) is a rather new phenomenon—one that has only been made possible with a shift in economic development strategy.

Renewed focus

As part of Mayor Tommy Battle’s economic diversification efforts, the community began a renewed focus on pursuing manufacturing projects and commercial industries. The results have been staggering. Nearly every year since 2015, Huntsville has landed a headline-grabbing recruitment project.

graphic of industry names

“We know not everyone in our community wants to be a rocket scientist,” Battle said. “Some people like building things and getting their hands dirty. We moved toward manufacturing to give our residents more opportunities to support their families and to provide ladders of advancement.”

“Whether it’s connecting people to nature in Polaris ATVs or the rocket engines that will help connect humankind to the cosmos at Blue Origin, it’s happening here in Huntsville. We are not just designing products now – we are building them.”

More importantly, existing employers have continued to re-invest and bring new work to the community. Examples include ADTRAN, Boeing, Dynetics, Navistar, SES, Torch Technologies, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, and many more, including local breweries and startups. Roughly 80 percent of all jobs and investment projects come from established businesses.

“We must continue to make sure the companies that have gotten us to where we are today are successful,” Battle said. “If your local industry base isn’t successful, nobody will be successful.”

What makes Huntsville’s track record unique is the amount of capital investment in addition to the new jobs. With a move toward advanced manufacturing over the past six years, that has changed considerably, as the following chart demonstrates.

graphic of CAPEX

With the addition of capital-intensive projects to an already impressive array of tech-focused economic development, Huntsville’s share of overall growth in Alabama’s economic development success story becomes even more pronounced, as seen in the below chart.

graphic of CAPEX

Team effort

Battle said the success we’re enjoying as a City is the result of a great team effort.

“We work with the State,” he said. “We work with our Congressional delegation. We work together as a region – with Madison County and Limestone County, with Madison, Athens and Decatur, and with our partners at the Chamber of Commerce and a host of other community groups and champions. Our education partners are critical as well.”

As we look back at our economic wins these past few years, many people want to know, “What’s next for Huntsville?”

“We are likely set for manufacturing jobs over the next few years,” Battle said. “We are now focused on providing the workforce to make these companies successful. We’ll begin pivoting back on the types of projects that Huntsville is known for in high tech-fields like you see at HudsonAlpha and Research Park and in critical defense projects like what is happening on Redstone Arsenal. Diversification is all about making sure your community is resilient regardless of the direction markets and technology take. That has to be your focus always.”