According to Inc. magazine, tech companies are feeling the pressure of rising costs in large coastal cities. Businesses and residents are leaving in search of opportunities in less expensive areas.
This is great news for Huntsville which, in 2018, saw new companies planting seeds, older companies deepening their roots, infrastructure branching outward, and the quality of life flourishing as active lifestyles demand more room to grow.
Inc. writer David Brown puts Huntsville No. 2 among the Top Six “Attention-grabbing Cities for Tech Start-ups.”
“NASA’s presence is largely responsible for the Rocket City’s high rankings on the opportunity scale for engineers. The city has also executed well in forging strong public-private partnerships and promoting a thriving technology industry. Software development, electrical engineering, and computer science are top fields, contributing to the city’s 309 percent year-over-year growth in tech jobs.”
With so many sensational “gets” for Huntsville and Madison this past year, the question is whether it is sustainable?
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Chip Cherry, president & CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, answer that question.
“We have spent the past 10 years with a focused, intentional plan to grow and diversify our job base, improve quality of life, and capitalize on the rich assets in Huntsville and North Alabama,” said Battle. “We’ve put an emphasis on workforce development in our schools. Our road projects are designed to keep traffic moving long into the future. We are making Huntsville more appealing and desirable for top talent to move here through parks, music and cultural amenities, greenways and bike lanes.
“We don’t plan just for the next year. We plan for the next 10 to 20 years. For example, we created the Cyber Huntsville initiative and worked with that volunteer group to land the State Cyber and Engineering School in Huntsville. This program, along with many others in our public schools and universities, will help prepare the tech workforce we will need for the future.”
Cherry agreed that diversification is the key.
“A diversified base of businesses coupled with a strong and diversified portfolio on Redstone Arsenal are key to ensuring that we have a dynamic regional economy,” he said. “The community’s economic development wins in 2018 will impact the community for generations to come.
“The blend of new locations and expansions will provide a broad range of employment opportunities as well as providing business opportunities for local companies to grow.”
Here are the Huntsville Business Journal’s top Madison County business stories of 2018:
Mazda Toyota Manufacturing
Of all the big business acquisitions and developments launched in 2018, Battle said that if he had to focus on a single mayoral accomplishment in 2018, the Mazda-Toyota announcement dwarfs all others because of its impact on our economy year in, and year out.
“I’ve often said the hard work on a project comes after the announcement, and the scale of this [Mazda Toyota] project was no exception,” he said. “It brought enormous challenges from its sheer size and scope. Clearing 1,200 acres, bringing in 7 million yards of dirt, putting a building pad in place with a solid rock foundation, building roads, and all the other challenges associated with a development – many times over.
“Fortunately, we worked in partnership with the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S. team. And we are able to navigate through the challenges together and meet our deadlines. Now the building is ready to go vertical and on track to produce cars in 2021. This plant will provide jobs for 4,000-5,000 workers, generational jobs that will impact our economy for decades to come.”
Being built by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, the sprawling site will produce 300,000 next-generation Toyota Corollas and a yet-to-be-revealed Mazda crossover model annually, beginning in 2021.
Investment in the Mazda Toyota plant is being split evenly between the automakers, allowing both automakers to respond quickly to market changes and ensure sustainable growth.
“While there were a number of things that placed our community in a strong competitive position to win this project,” Cherry said. “In the end, it was the ability of our team, and our partners, to be nimble and responsive that made the difference.”
Rocket City Trash Pandas
In early 2018, the City of Madison approved up to $46 million to build a baseball stadium, signaling minor league baseball’s return to the Tennessee Valley.
Highly visible from I-565 off Madison Boulevard at Zierdt Road, the ballpark will seat 5,500 baseball fans, and is part of the Town Madison project.
The team – named the Rocket City Trash Pandas in a voting contest – will officially move from Mobile to Madison after the 2019 baseball season and remain the farm team for the Los Angeles Angels.
Town Madison development, which held several groundbreakings in 2018 after nearly 2 years of dormancy as $100 million in new road construction was built to accommodate traffic flow to and from the development.
Town Madison will include 700,000 square feet of office space; over 1 million square feet of retail space; 700 new hotel rooms; over 1,200 luxury apartments; and 300 single-family homes.
“We’re very pleased to see groundbreakings underway in the Town Madison space,” said Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. “When complete, it will be a true destination spot, enabling families to spend the day enjoying entertainment, shopping and dining.”
Last February, HHome2 Suites by Hilton was the first to announce it was breaking ground on a 97 all-suite extended-stay hotel as part of the section called West End at Town Madison. The hotel is scheduled to open early this year.
Wisconsin-based retailer Duluth Trading Co. broke ground on its 15,000-square foot store in early December. The company is Town Madison’s first retail partner and will open this year.
As part of The Exchange at Town Madison, local developer Louis Breland broke ground last April on a 274-unit luxury apartment complex called The Station at Town Madison. It is slated to open in the summer.
In late May, Breland confirmed the development of a 150-room Margaritaville Hotel adjacent to the ballpark. It is set to open in 2020.
Madison Mayor Paul Finley said, “Margaritaville is an international brand known for high-quality and fun projects. Not only will this hotel attract guests from across the region, but it will add multiple new dining and entertainment options for Madison residents.”
The Heights and The Commons at Town Madison will provide a mixture of affordable single-family and multifamily homes, townhomes, spacious luxury apartments, and condominiums around a village square. Home prices will range from $250,000 to $500,000.
Certain to take significant shape throughout 2019, MidCity Huntsville is a dynamic 100-acre experiential mixed-use community right in the center of Huntsville. When finished, it will consist of a series of interconnected spaces and gathering places.
MidCity will feature dining, entertainment and recreation from names such as REI Co-op, Wahlburgers, Rascal Flatt’s, and High Point Climbing and Fitness.
Already in operation is Top Golf, a sports entertainment center with climate-controlled golf-ball hitting bays, a full-service restaurant and bar, private event spaces and meeting rooms; a rooftop terrace with fire pit, hundreds of HDTVs, and free wi-fi.
The development will also offer bike and walking trails, a park, an 8,500-seat open-air amphitheater, and The Stage for outdoor music and entertainment.
Area 120 is a science and technology accelerator with some 200,000 square feet of space for R&D and startups.
The Promenade with its hardscaped space will accommodate local farmers markets and Huntsville’s growing food truck fleet. You will also find luxury apartments and a hotel.
Two years ago, GE Aviation announced it had almost cracked the code to mass producing the unique ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components used in jet propulsion engines, and when they did, the company would build two facilities in Huntsville to produce them.
Last May, GE Aviation announced they will open a 100-acre factory complex, destined to be the only location in the U.S. to produce these ultra-lightweight CMC components, which can withstand extremely high temperatures.
Investment in the project is expected to reach $200 million. GE Aviation currently employs 90 people at the Huntsville site and is expected to reach 300 at full production.
Facebook will invest $750 million into a large-scale data center in Huntsville that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.
The Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval for Facebook to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million. They began construction on the 970,000-square-foot facility in late 2018.
“We believe in preparing our community for the challenges ahead,” said Battle. “Our Gig City initiative to provide city-wide high-speed connectivity is an example of that.”
The Downtown Madison Sealy Project
When the City of Madison announced that changes to the west side of Sullivan Street between Kyser Boulevard and Gin Oaks Court would pave the way for more commercial/retail space, it marked the beginning of a long-term improvement and expansion project for downtown Madison that would pick up steam in 2018.
Known as the Downtown Madison Sealy Project, it is the latest in a series of mixed-use developments about to hit downtown, extending from the east side of Sullivan Street to Short Street.
The city is making improvements to accommodate the 10,000 square-foot development which includes 190 upscale apartments and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space.
In April, Huntsville-based GATR Technologies announced it would be quadrupling its production capacity in Cummings Research Park to nearly 100,000 square feet.
The inflatable portable satellite innovator was acquired by Cubic Mission Solutions in 2016 and has grown from 80 employees in 2016 to 157 in 2018. GATR is projected to employ more than 200 people by October 2019.
GATR will soon be delivering systems by the thousands to the U. S. government, military, and any entity that benefits from deployable communications, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Electro Optic Systems
In June, Electro Optic Systems announced it will build its flagship production facility at on Wall Triana Highway in Huntsville.
The Australian aerospace technology and defense company expects to hire up to 100 fulltime employees in its first year and is scaled to grow to at least 250 employees quickly.
EOS has been producing software, lasers, electronics, optronics, gimbals, telescopes, beam directors, and stabilization and precision mechanisms for the military space, missile defense, and surface warfare sectors for more than 20 years.
BAE Systems, the third-largest defense contractor in the world, broke ground on a $45.5 million expansion of its existing facilities in CRP in July. The growth is expected to create hundreds of jobs.
The new 83,000-square-foot facility is the first phase of a multi-phase growth plan to expand its existing offices on Discovery Drive and develop a new state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility in CRP to increase their capacity. An unused adjacent 20-acre lot will provide room for yet more expansion soon. Construction of the new building is expected to be complete in 2019.
Employee-owned defense contractor Radiance Technologies broke ground in July on their first comprehensive headquarters in Huntsville.
The new 100,000 square foot building in CRP will, for the first time, allow the company’s 300 employees, all of whom have operated at remote locations in Huntsville since 1999, to collaborate under the same roof as they provide innovative technology to the Department of Defense, NASA, and national intelligence agencies.
South Memorial Parkway Expansion
The short but significant widening and redesign of the main line of South Memorial Parkway caused many headaches for residents and business owners over the past 2½ years, but in late July, that stretch between Golf Road and Whitesburg Drive officially re-opened.
The $54 million project opened a gateway of uninterrupted traffic through South Huntsville, providing easier accessibility to South Huntsville businesses, schools, and residential areas.
“South Parkway being fully open is a game-changer for businesses and drivers in South Huntsville,” said Claire Aiello, vice president of Marketing and Communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
Looking to 2019
“Our objective has been to build on the community’s traditional industries such as aerospace and defense, while creating more opportunities in the semi-skilled and skilled sectors of the economy,” said Cherry. “We excelled in all of these areas in 2018. The year will go down in the record books as among the most vibrant economic development years in our history. The companies that selected our community for their new location or expansion will create over 5,400 new jobs and invest over $2.7 billion in new buildings and equipment. These investments and jobs will have a profound impact on our quality of life for decades to come.”
“Cummings Research Park is now at 91 percent occupancy,” said Aiello. “We are making a big focus on new amenities for employees at CRP to keep them engaged and to give them things to do in the park besides work. That will be something to look forward to in 2019.”
And according to Battle, “2019 is going to be a good year. Let’s just keep it at that!”