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Burgeoning Regional Economy Ensures Everyone a More Valuable Slice of the Pie

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

Standing at city center, look outward in all directions toward the far edges of the pie crust – north toward the state line where visitors from Tennessee get their first glimpse of the city. South where many Huntsville businesses draw daily commuters. East across the mountain, west from neighboring communities and all points in between.

For Huntsville and Madison city leaders, this vision of the pie’s edge does not represent boundaries but, instead, corridors of growth.

“That’s always been our vision for Huntsville’s future and the basis for our regional economic strategy,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The first part of revitalizing your city is to take the center point, known as the living room of your city, and revitalize it to make it economically viable. Get one area going and stretch it out to other areas.

“Year after year, we have pinpointed growth corridors that help us grow both economically and residentially. The result is an economic revival like what you have been seeing in Huntsville and Madison the past 10 years.”

Private investment land developers have that vision too. During the 1990s, brothers Jim and John Hays and their nephew Jeff Enfinger of Enfinger Development opened a growth corridor to the southeast in Hampton Cove and the Hays Nature Preserve.

In 2000, that development led to the expansion of a residential growth corridor along Taylor Lane in Big Cove, and, by 2010, it had extended into the Goldsmith-Schiffman community.

Also during the 1990s, Huntsville opened a residential growth corridor off Zierdt Road in the Edgewater and Mountain Brook communities southwest of the city. In 2010, it expanded into the Williams community further south.

Battle said that by looking at the local economy like a pie, you will see their strategy unfolding.

“Instead of dividing the pie into fifteen different pieces that get smaller the more users you add, we made the whole pie bigger so we could divide it up differently with more restaurants, entertainment and activity venues, more places to spend retail dollars,” he said. “With a bigger pie, each slice is more valuable.”

The Western Corridor

The Town Madison development along I-565 between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway in Madison will open a gateway to the city.

Anchored by the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium, the development is surrounded by residential, retail, commercial, and entertainment components that have thrown open a west side growth corridor that never existed.

“The location off I-565 is perfect catchment for a broad audience across the Southeast,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “As the interchanges off the highway are completed, you can expect ease of traffic getting to and from the area.

“If people come for a game or event, we hope they stay and experience all that Madison has to offer, including our historic downtown that offers livability with local boutique shopping and dining.”

Finley also believes Madison’s central geography in North Alabama positions it perfectly to feel the positive impact from economic development in the whole state as well as southern Tennessee.

“Madison benefits from Huntsville’s growth with the FBI and other tech development workforce to our east, as well as from the Mazda-Toyota plant to our west. We look to collaborate with Limestone, Morgan and Marshall counties,” said Finley.

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

“Right on the interstate, convenient if you are coming from Cullman or Decatur, and where everybody who passes by can see it,” said Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison. “We are creating a regional destination with baseball, a food hall, and resort style hotels, similar to, but more diverse than Chattanooga.”

Open Southern Border

Recently, Enfinger and his uncles who are also developing McMullen Cove, announced the development of a multi-use Hays Farm development in South Huntsville that will replace the old Haysland Square and turn a 500-plus acre swath of undeveloped land into a new growth corridor to the south that will draw retailers and residents from Airport Road south to the river and beyond.

“There will be a commercial center all the way up to the Enfinger Building on South Parkway with a Village of Providence-type entertainment district surrounded by a city park, a ballfield, and 500-acre Hays Green with a passive walking park,” said Enfinger. “We’d like to maintain the natural green spaces. The Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove has been a regional draw for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Ceci believes that with population growth and so many people commuting here to work every day from other counties, we already have an active regional economy at work.

“You see workers buying groceries, going out to eat and shopping during the workweek, even if they live outside the city,” he said. “I think there is some pent-up demand for some of the development that is occurring.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who has developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre and developing MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, has been watching those employee migration patterns into Huntsville for more than a decade.

“We see the regional trade area as about 50 miles and incorporates the 14-county commuter hubs from which Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park draw its employment,” said Grelier. “As a result, Huntsville has become the region’s primary center for healthcare, civic, cultural, shopping, and dining activity.”

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

Add to all this, the annexation of a small portion of Morgan County to the southwest and a huge chunk of Limestone County due west of city center, and you can see the pie expanding!

“Yes, this annexation is a game-changer because it results in the ability to get infrastructure to certain areas and thus create major employment opportunities,” said Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty. His company has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue in downtown Huntsville, and is building a sister community, The Avenue Madison. “These new jobs will be an economic driver for the economy and create an incredible multiplier effect.”

The annexation is a precursor to the economic development that follows it, said Grelier.

“Annexing was necessary for the economic development of the Mazda-Toyota plant and other larger manufacturers,” he said. “It’s also helpful in attracting investment into commercial real estate projects across the metro area.”

“We’ve only made a foray into Morgan County,” said Battle, “The annexation of Limestone County where Mazda Toyota made a $2 billion land investment has seriously expanded our metro and opened an industrial growth corridor that is a win-win for both parties.”

City funds, thanks to Huntsville’s AAA credit rating from the S&P and Moody’s Investment Services, have pulled their share of the weight. With the power to borrow $85 million for city and countywide projects, of that, Huntsville will allot $25 million for the Mazda Toyota project infrastructure; and another $55 million for capital plans and schools.

Northern Exposure

Included is the revitalization of North Memorial Parkway. Since widening the well-worn highway into a viable parkway traffic corridor, it has encroached on many properties there, making them less viable.

“They don’t have enough depth to sustain retail, so we’ve taken them out and we’re turning that area into a park with greenways and walking trails,” said Battle. “Perception becomes reality.

“Instead of seeing boarded-up buildings when you enter from the north, you see it more as an entryway into North Huntsville – an economically viable area to move into and to be a part of.”

Among the projects is the upgrading of parks that will be instrumental in bringing in sports teams from all over the Southeast, including recreational rugby fields and soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse.

“We are putting money into the tennis center and into the golf course, which now has cross-country running and mountain bike trails. All of these things tie back to what we call ‘quality of life’ for our residents and activities for our guests,” said Battle. “Travel sports bring people and their families to our area from all over, where they compete, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in our stores.”

Quality of Life

Town Madison’s $12 million Pro Player Park project with 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields, the $22 million Huntsville Aquatic Center, and the expanding Huntsville Tennis Center are already national attractions for travel sports competitions and events.

“To have a viable and growing economy, we have to offer a ‘quality-of-life’ that attracts people to the area, and quite frankly, we have a lot of jobs on the table too,” Battle said. “To recruit highly-skilled, higher income workers requires a quality of life that is equal to or higher than where they are moving from.”

Battle said “quality-of-life” is found in Lowe Mill, in craft beer, in a vast array of recreation facilities, disc golf, pickleball, art museums and public parks.

“But we still have work to do because people are coming from around the world to work for companies like Blue Origin, Facebook, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Mazda Toyotas,” said Battle.

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

“As Madison grows our focus is making sure we are responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars by improving infrastructure and providing a good quality of life in every district of our community,” said Finley. “While areas to the West are experiencing booming growth and increased traffic, we need to not only keep pace with growth but foresee areas that will need improvements down the line.”

Huntsville is also adding hotels, apartments, and homesites as more people move into the city. With a goal of adding 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Von Braun Center, Battle said it will help draw larger conventions and business meetings.

“Part of the strategy for building smaller hotels instead of one big convention center hotel is to prevent people from living inside the hotel the whole time they are here,” said the mayor. “We want people to experience our city, eat in our restaurants, visit our museums, and shop in our stores.”

Enfinger believes that as we become a more affluent society, people’s wants, and expectations become more demanding.

“It looks like we are evolving in unison with the rest of the country as far as the type shopping we do and the kind of developments we build,” said Enfinger. “Our growth rate is higher than most cities, but I think we follow a national trend in the type developments we can sustain.”

Private Investment is Leading the Way

Private investment must still lead the way and developers such as Breland, RCP, Sealy, and Enfinger are leading the charge.

“When the City can support infrastructure needs or improvements, private investment can take those dollars further,” said Mayor Finley. “This is a win/win for both the City and for the investors. Ultimately, our citizens also reap the benefits of this growth and development.”

“Buy-in is good so far, but much harder than it may seem,” said Grelier. “Huntsville has a great story to tell, but many larger institutional investors are not aware of it or view the market as too small.

“Our team spends most of our time discussing and selling the regional market rather than the immediate project. A big part of Huntsville’s growth moving forward will be how the region is branded to compete for private investment and workforce internationally. It’s a regional story that should include our sister communities.”

He would also like to see the Gen Y & Z workforce move to the area because it’s a cool, fun place to live, and then find a job once they get here rather than moving here for the great job.

“Once this trend reverses, larger private investment and more economic development will follow quickly,” Grelier said.

From the city’s perspective though, Huntsville’s first mixed-use/multi-purpose development at Twickenham Square in 2014 has been a driver in enlarging the pie.

Join us for Part 2 of our series on Huntsville’s growing regional economy in the September issue of the Huntsville Business Journal as we investigate how multi-purpose/mixed-use developments are helping build Huntsville’s regional economy.

 

Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Wins Prestigious Award from Site Selection Magazine

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber has been honored with a Mac Conway Award, which was revealed in the May 2019 issue of Site Selection magazine.

The magazine’s Mac Conway Awards for Excellence in Economic Development recognize the top local and regional economic development agencies in the US for their roles in helping to deliver prosperity to their communities.

This year’s winners were determined by an index that examines corporate facility investment projects in US metro areas as tracked by Site Selection’s proprietary Conway Projects database in 2018. Scores are awarded based on six criteria: total projects, total investment associated with those projects and jobs associated with those projects; and those same three numbers calculated per capita for the metro area.


Lucia Cape, Senior VP of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber; and Chamber President/CEO Chip Cherry with Mac Conway Award. (Photo: Claire Aiello)

The Huntsville/Madison County area saw record growth in 2018, with five new companies adding 4,207 jobs and $2,363,367,600 in capital investment. The largest of these was landing Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, which includes 4,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in investment. Facebook also announced a $750 million data center. In addition, 13 companies added 982 jobs and $346,653,096 in capital investments.

“The foundation that led to the game-changing economic development wins in 2018 are the result of the foundation laid by many partners over a long period of time,” said Chip Cherry, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “The Chamber is proud to be part of an amazing team comprised of elected leaders, volunteers, partners, and a talented staff. The team has a common mission – to develop a world class economy that supports innovation and provides employment opportunities for our citizens, while ensuring that our quality of life is second to none.

“We are honored to accept the award on behalf of our partners and the community.”

The chamber cited support from many partners, including the state, cities of Huntsville and Madison, Madison County and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“The number of game-changing projects landing in Huntsville in recent years, capped by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, reflects the hard work of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The chamber team is highly professional, energetic, and willing to put in long hours to bring jobs and investment to the community. This is a well-deserved honor.”

“This economic development team has mastered the art of collaboration and partnership through a strategic vision that has been designed and executed by the Chamber, local government, and business,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The city of Huntsville is proud to be part of this partnership.”

“Our chamber gets it, and they have for a long, long time. Leaders from NASA, Redstone Arsenal, city and county governments, education, and health care take the lead from our chamber and partner with our community business leaders to help define our direction, build on our strengths, and look forward toward opportunity,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Individual viewpoints are synced, the steps to make those opportunities reality are defined, and our incredibly talented chamber team goes to work.

“We have accomplished this year after year, decade after decade, turning opportunity into jobs for our community.”

“Madison County is pleased to celebrate the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber for this much-deserved award,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong. “The Chamber has always played a pivotal role in positioning our region as an economic development leader as demonstrated by the 2018 growth and expansions throughout our region. In Madison County, Alabama we’re grateful for the collaborative approach by our chamber team to bring new and innovative opportunities to Madison County.”

“TVA congratulates the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber on its recognition as a Top Economic Development Group. We are proud to partner with the chamber as we work to foster job creation and economic growth in the region,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of economic development. “The results the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber have had speak for themselves, and we look forward to a continued partnership for years to come.”

Multi-use development planned for former Coca-Cola plant site

For some time, there have been questions and rumors about the site of the former Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue.

Now, the questions have been answered and rumors dispelled.

Rocket Development Partners of New York City owns the 13-acre property and have a vision for its use.

“There’s going to be a mixed-use development on the site,” said Mitch Rutter, a principal with Rocket Development. “It will be heavily residential with some office components. We’re not going to overload with retail.

“It will be a live-work facility … modeled after The Gulch area of Nashville.”

He said some of the residential units will be “geared toward artists’ and musicians’ housing” because of its proximity to the Von Braun Center and Museum of Art.

Rutter suggested that some companies with their main offices in Cummings Research Park may opt to also open an office in the project “to help with their recruiting.”

He did not dismiss the possibility of a hotel also being built at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, “if the right hotel came along. We’re not going to be building or operating it.”

Rutter credited Mayor Tommy Battle and city officials for being “very practical” and said the city’s team was a major factor in developing the project here.

“It’s not by chance; we have a process (on project decisions) … and study econometrics,” he said. “Huntsville is blessed with triangulating factors: job growth with good wages; population growth; and the leadership team.

“They have a long-term Huntsville vision. That long-term plan, which includes the Von Braun Center expansion, renovation of Pinhook Creek, greenways and bikeways, is geared to accelerate the growth of downtown.”

Rutter said his company has retained Huntsville architect Paul Matheny and Urban Design Associates, who developed the city’s long-term plan.

“We’re very focused to create the density to bring people who want to live and work here,” he said. “It’s really very exciting.” 

Huntsville is Mainstage for Worldwide Hackathon

With a pronouncement of “We are going to be to space travel what the Silicon Valley is to electronics,” Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, launched a press conference Tuesday of global proportions.

Huntsville has been named as the “Mainstage” for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, an annual worldwide hackathon. The Challenge is Oct. 19-21 and will feature coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers and builders who will address NASA-issued challenges on Earth and in space.

“Space Apps is an annual event … (held) at the same time in cities around the world,” said Toni Eberhart, executive director of Urban Engine, a local nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating STEAM-focused initiatives among the millennial startup community.

Last year’s Challenge reached more than 25,000 participants in 187 cities on six continents. The Mainstage sites were New York City and Palo Alto, Calif., but, this year, Huntsville is the only Mainstage and will feature local space and science professionals.

We are honored to be selected as Mainstage and host this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage the community in something that can have massive, global impact,” Eberhart said. Honoring Huntsville’s legacy in aerospace and aviation is something we’re so passionate about.

“To foster education and team collaboration in support of Space Apps, we’ll be providing a wealth of educational workshops at CoWorking Night which is designed to prepare teams and refine skills they’ll be using during the hackathon – and everything is being provided at no cost, thanks to our sponsors.”

Mayor Tommy Battle, who was introduced by Eberhart as Huntsville’s favorite “double millennial,” said the city is the perfect site because “we’re on NASA’s mainstage to get back to the moon and go to Mars.”

“This is a challenge that is made for Huntsville … to see our millennials and ‘double millennials’ working together.”

Hal Brewer, co-founder and chair of Intuitive Research and Technology – one of the event’s presenters, said this is a chance for businesses to take part for team building and “international exposure.”

In fact, he called out some local companies to answer the challenge.

“It’s a great opportunity to foster STEM research,” Brewer said. “If you sponsor this, you’re going to be getting international exposure.”

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber is also a presenting sponsor and is launching its new website – asmartplace.com – to tie in with the Challenge while helping with career exploration.

“The brand new asmartplace.com is the Chamber’s workforce development and recruitment initiative, focused on connecting students with a smart career and attracting smart people from around the world to be part of our dynamic and growing workforce,” said Georgina Chapman, workforce director at the Chamber. “We knew the NASA Space Apps Challenge would reach the most talented and motivated coders, creators and problem solvers in the world, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to reach them directly.”

For information on the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, visit www.spaceappshsv.com.

 

MidCity Huntsville posts Open Letter to Trader Joe’s

Open Letter to Trader Joe’s

Huntsville’s Rocket City legacy is based on the “right stuff” and the city’s newest entertainment/retail/dining complex is doing the “write stuff” to lure a business.

MidCity Huntsville has followed up a Facebook campaign with its own “Open Letter to Trader Joe’s”.

RCP Cos., the developers of MidCity Huntsville – the 100-acre mixed-use community on the site of the former Madison Square Mall on University Drive – posted the letter urging the food retailer to open a store here.

In fact, MidCity Huntsville even had an artist’s rendering of a Trader Joe’s at the complex.

The letter opens “Dear Captain Dan Bane & The Trader Joe’s Crew:

“You may have noticed a blitz on your website recently. That’s because the phenomenal people

of Huntsville, AL, want you to hear loud and clear how passionate we are about bringing Trader

Joe’s here.”

The letter to Trader Joe’s Chairman/CEO Dan Bane and his “crew” touts the city’s history, technology, education, rankings in national publications and lifestyle while also dropping a couple names that have joined the area, such as Jeff Bezos, Facebook and Toyota-Mazda.

It closes: “So this is an open letter to you, Captain Bane, and your outstanding Trader Joe’s Crew to set sail to Huntsville, the star of Alabama, and anchor down at MidCity. We’ll take care of the mini-lobster here.

“Over & Out,

“Your friends at MidCity Huntsville”

So, with or without Trader Joe’s, when completed, MidCity will include a total of 350,000 square feet of specialty retail, at least 150,000 square feet of high-tech office space, a wide range of inspired dining options, a 100+ room boutique hotel and 560 amenity-rich residential units. At least 70 percent of the businesses at MidCity will be new-to-market.

Rendering shows possible Trader Joe’s supermarket at MidCity Huntsville.

Woodbridge celebrates grand opening of Huntsville facility

The Rocket City is quickly becoming the Auto City.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Woodbridge Alabama officials cut the ribbon on the company’s plant in the Tanner community of Limestone County. (Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Photo)

On Wednesday, Woodbridge Alabama held a ribbon-cutting as it opened its Huntsville manufacturing facility.

The company is an automotive parts supplier and manufactures polyurethane seating foam for the Nissan Titan, Altima and Rogue.

Woodbridge Alabama recently established its newest location in Southpoint Industrial Park in Tanner, inside the Huntsville city limits of Limestone County.

Currently, the plant ships to its customers located in Tennessee and Mississippi. In 2019, Woodbridge will begin supplying armrest parts and seating foam for two additional customers.

Woodbridge Alabama created 130 jobs already and is looking to hire about 25 more teammates at various levels. People interested may send their resumes to: woodbridge_alabama_hr@woodbridgegroup.com or go online to apply at www.woodbridgegroup.com.

 

‘Strong community partner’ LG Electronics expands in Huntsville with solar panel plant

Life’s good in Huntsville – literally and figuratively.

LG Electronics, a long-time player in Huntsville has business announced plans for a $28 million solar panel assembly plant.

The plant will create 160 jobs and workers will assemble LG’s “Neon 2” series 60-cell modules. The high-performance solar panels will generate more than 17 percent more power than most conventional panels. The factory is the first solar panel manufacturing plant in the state.

“LG has a long history as a leading corporate citizen in Alabama. Now, LG is launching our state’s first solar manufacturing plant, which represents a major milestone both for Alabama and for the company,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “We look forward to seeing where this great partnership takes us in the future.”

The panels will be produced on two production lines at a building on the company’s 48-acre campus in Huntsville, where the company has had operations for four decades. The new jobs will increase LG’s employment by 60 percent, to more than 400 workers.

Starting in early 2019, the new plant is expected to produce 500 megawatts of high-performance solar panels annually.

“That’s over a million solar panels a year,” said Soon Kwon, global president of the LG B2B (Business-to-Business) Company.“LG has long called Huntsville home, and the solar panel assembly factory will add a significant new dimension to our Alabama campus.

“Huntsville’s high-quality workforce and LG’s established presence in the Rocket City point to a bright future for LG in Alabama.”

The new solar panel assembly plant in Huntsville underscores the company’s commitment to investing in the U.S. and to driving environmental sustainability, Kwon said.

“LG has been a strong community partner in Huntsville for many decades – a relationship that has deepened through visits to the company’s headquarters in Korea and successful advancements in technological innovation,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “LG chose Huntsville as the place to do business in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, and they’ve chosen Huntsville again as a place to prosper with the new solar module plant.”

The company’s new solar module plant builds on LG’s legacy of leadership in Huntsville. After starting as the company’s first U.S. manufacturing subsidiary in 1981, Huntsville became the home of LG’s service division in 1987, which expanded over the years to support LG’s growing presence in the United States.

“With the expansion of LG in the Huntsville-Madison County region, LG will utilize the latest technology in a high-growth market to produce these solar panels,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “The diversity and worldwide recognition of the Madison County economy demonstrates we continue to thrive with our finest hours still ahead.”

As the headquarters location for North American service operations in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport, the facility includes the technical call center, service training center, field service operations and parts warehouse.

“The Jetplex continues to grow with this most recent announcement from LG, a global leader in home appliance, consumer electronics and mobile communications,” said Rick Tucker, executive director of the Port of Huntsville. “LG’s sole customer service division for the North American market is onsite already, so to see the company make a further investment in our community by expanding at our facility speaks volumes and is very exciting news for us to be able to share with other business partners who are considering making North Alabama and the Jetplex Industrial Park their home.”