Made In Alabama asked Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle to outline his economic development priorities for 2016 and provide insight on why the city has been able to land a series of major projects in the past couple of years.
Here are his remarks.
Q: What are your economic development priorities in 2016 and what would you like to see happen?
A: Our success in the advanced manufacturing sector has helped us diversify our federal economic base, and we expect Huntsville will benefit for decades to come from the spinoff businesses related to our newest partners at Remington, Polaris, and GE Aviation.
Looking ahead, however, we plan to return to our roots and focus more on research and development. These are the jobs that vaulted Huntsville from a cotton town in the 1950s to a rocket city. We have the highest concentration of engineers in the country and our highly specialized workforce is already geared for positions in robotics, biotech, cyber security and computer programming. Our research park, second largest in the U.S., just celebrated its 50th anniversary and we are master planning to position it for the next 50 years to accommodate more start-up companies and live, work, play options.
We will also continue emphasizing redevelopment in our core and that includes public-private partnerships that benefit downtown, our primary retail corridors and other quality of life amenities for citizens.
Q: What industries in Huntsville are best positioned for growth?
A: We expect more suppliers to enter our market as they support the advanced manufacturing sector. This includes automotive suppliers for Polaris and Toyota and new industries related to commercial space applications such as small satellites.
HudsonAlpha’s biotech campus has the first genomic medical clinic in the world and will attract more biotech companies. GE Aviation’s new plant will be the first of its kind to produce ceramic matrix composites. The expansion of the composite manufacturing field in Huntsville will boost companies in aviation, missile manufacturing and deep space exploration. 3D printing, as designed by NASA, is drawing global attention.
And, finally, from high tech to master brewing, the craft beer business is rapidly expanding to include dozens of microbreweries and brewpubs. Lots of diversity from genomics to composites to craft brews — Huntsville’s conversations are never dull.
Q: What strengths can Huntsville build on in 2016 to advance economic development?
A: Our greatest strength has to be teamwork. Huntsville is blessed with competent leadership and regional partners that work together for the greater good. We believe in smart planning, keeping up with our infrastructure – and that includes fiber – and holding government bureaucracy to a bare minimum.
As a result, we have a high quality of life, good schools, a smart workforce, low cost of living and an average 18-minute commute to work.
Q: What are the 2015 highlights for you?
A: We’ve seen years of hard work and strategic planning come together with major announcements from Polaris and GE Aviation. National retailers such as Whole Foods, Cabela’s and At Home opened their first regional stores here.
Huntsville’s entrepreneurial community has taken off with a host of incubators and we landed three of the state’s top five finalists, and the winner, in the recent Alabama Launchpad competition with a $50,000 purse for a new business start-up.