Pioneers in propulsion – Aerojet Rocketdyne ignites Huntsville’s growing aerospace industry

single-meta-cal October 23, 2017

The art of bringing jobs to a region creates a highly competitive environment for recruiters and government leaders. So when Aerojet Rocketdyne recently chose Huntsville as the site to relocate both its defense headquarters and a new rocket engine production facility, it was a double home run for the City.

The company had been aggressively scouting locations across the nation for three major economic development projects. Competition was fierce. Huntsville’s economic development team believed the City had a good shot at getting a piece of the rocket work. But when Huntsville landed two of the three projects, it sent a strong message to competing cities, as well as other companies in the aerospace industry, the Rocket City is the place to be for innovation and manufacturing.

“Just one of the projects would have been a big win for us,” said Shane Davis, Huntsville’s Urban Development Director. “The fact we captured both is huge.”

Companies like Aerojet will continue our legacy – you can’t get to space without going through Huntsville.”

Mayor Tommy Battle believes Aerojet’s decision validates three important factors: Huntsville’s position as the propulsion capital of the world, the high level of confidence in the regionally skilled workforce, and the City’s high quality of life – meaning the ability to attract top workers to move here and make Huntsville their home.

“A big part of a company’s decision to move here is the number of relocation success stories from other expansions and transfers,” said Mayor Battle. “People get here and they stay here.”

Half of the people living in Huntsville are from somewhere else. People come here and they are welcomed in our churches, schools, and community organizations. “We have a great success rate in relocation and retention,” said Mayor Battle.

The shortest distance between two points

Even more exciting for the City’s economic development team is the tandem operations of the two major projects. Aerojet Rocketdyne is the first company to take advantage of the City’s decision to connect Cummings Research Park (CRP) and its newest industrial park in north Huntsville.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne just ‘got it’ when they came here and looked around,” said Davis. “They loved the site in CRP, but when we drove them up Research Boulevard to the North Huntsville Industrial Park, their eyes lit up. In just 10 minutes they could drive from their business headquarters to their manufacturing facility. Not something you can do in most places.”

CRP recently laid out a new master plan to reset its properties and rebrand its R & D focus for the next 50 years. In turn, the City doubled down on the newly expanded North Huntsville Industrial Park, located just nine miles east along the extension of Research Park Boulevard.

“We knew we needed different environments to support both engineering and design work and actual production,” said Davis. “When you’re competing for the most amazing companies in technology, you need a place to attract the best and the brightest.”

Reaching for the stars

As the City’s propulsion portfolio grows, the variety of aerospace companies strengthens Huntsville’s position in private ventures.

“Huntsville has always been strong on the government side of aerospace and defense, but the growing space transportation market can balance the government side with commercial work,” said Mayor Battle. “This is key. Companies like Aerojet will continue our legacy – you can’t get to space without going through Huntsville.”

During Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Oct. 24 groundbreaking for its new engine production plant, more than 100 of the company’s top leaders were on hand to take a good look at the place where they would continue to turn pioneering research and development in alternative engine fuels, from nanos to large scale reusable rocket engines, into actual products.

“To be part of these breakthrough technologies is exciting,” said Davis. “Aerospace continues to be Huntsville future. It’s what got us here and what will take us forward.”