Out of loss came victory.
Out of loss came lessons and patience and perseverance.
Out of loss came the right game play, the right plays to run, the right audibles to call.
Forgive the sports metaphors. But on the day that Limestone County Commission Chair Mark Yarbrough deemed Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle “the quarterback” who is “somebody to rally behind,” it’s only appropriate.
The Battle-led team celebrated what he termed a “transformative project” in the announcement that Huntsville had attracted a $1.6 billion joint-venture facility to be shared by Toyota and Mazda. The plant will be in the Huntsville-annexed area of Limestone County.
After we lost the Volkswagen bid, we started talking about what we needed to do to be more competitive.”
“Quite frankly, it was a win for everybody,” said Battle, referring not only to Huntsville but Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties and the entire state of Alabama.
In July 2008, Volkswagen announced it would build a new plant in Chattanooga. Huntsville, by many accounts, was one of the three finalists of a reported 400 sites on the company’s initial list.
“We lost Volkswagen (and) that was the seed that made today possible,” Yarbrough said. “That made Polaris, that made GE Aviation, that made Remington. It showed this tri-county area could come together and work for a common goal.”
“Right after we lost the Volkswagen bid, we started talking about what we needed to do to be more competitive,” Battle said Wednesday night after returning from the announcement in Montgomery.
Making sure to be ready this time
He recalled a helicopter flyover of the site with Volkswagen officials, who asked pointed questions about soil impact studies, utilities and roadway plans.
“We weren’t ready,” Battle admitted. “That was the lesson off the loss of Volkswagen. And, quite frankly, today we’re happy with who we have. Toyota has been a great partner in our community the last 11 years (with its motor manufacturing plant in north Huntsville).”
Step one after the Volkswagen was acquiring an option on the property in the Greenbrier area. Then work began on the infrastructure – roads, sewers, utilities, etc. – that earned it classification as a TVA megasite, meaning it had become “shovel ready.”
“Looking back, the headline when we were announced as the TVA megasite was ‘Field of Dreams,’” Yarbrough said. “That’s something that Tommy worked so hard to get.”
“Everything was there and in place,” Battle said. “That was our job to make sure we were ready when somebody came along.”
Then came the call last August from Toyota, which was looking for a new site where it could partner with Mazda, with some 11 states reportedly in contention. The companies were looking at a five-month process to receive bids and make a decision, and it held to that timeline.
More work to go
The next steps will be to prep the site for construction, to grade the land, continue roadwork and add a bi-directional rail line among many items on an extensive to-do list so that Toyota and Mazda can begin rolling vehicles off the line in 2021.
Standing in the Huntsville City Council Chambers, where a day later he’d be presenting the development agreement for Council approval, the quarterback invoked the philosophy of his favorite football coach.
“Like Nick Saban says, we’ll take 24 hours to celebrate this,” Battle said. “Then it’s time to get back to work.”