Special Report: Huntsville, Alabama

A look at what makes the ‘Rocket City’ one of the healthiest job markets in the nation and what we can do to try to catch up.

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Space race: Why Huntsville, Ala., is beating the Springs

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — More than 8,000 engineers in this city lost their jobs in 1995 with a single stroke of Bill Clinton’s presidential pen.

Clinton had ended the so-called Stars Wars missile defense program, throwing Huntsville’s economy into a tailspin. With the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs, nearly every sector of the city’s job market was affected. [...]

Huntsville’s charms surprise newcomers every day

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — When Mirian Dyns moved from Stanford University in California to Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute, she was worried about the schools, about activities for her three boys and about making the small Alabama city home after life in California.

Two years later, those worries have been put to rest. [...]

As NASA’s fortunes rise, fall, so do Huntsville’s

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — You can find uncertainty mixed with optimism in this town.

The optimism comes from studies that find aerospace companies plan to hire 15,469 people nationwide this year. A good share of those jobs is likely to land in Huntsville. [...]

German innovation transformed city into powerhouse

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Were it not for the efforts of a former Nazi scientist, Huntsville today might still be what it was in the 1950s: the watercress capital of the world. [...]

How they stack up

The aerospace and defense industries in Huntsville account for nearly 158,000 direct and indirect jobs in a city of slightly more than 405,000. In Colorado Springs, population 380,000, the total is estimated at 80,000, representing the largest single sector of the economy.

Wages in Huntsville grew by 4.2 percent last year, slightly higher than the national average. Huntsville’s total payroll increased by 6 percent. In comparison, wages in Colorado Springs grew 2.2 percent in 2009, while overall payroll declined 2.7 percent as a result of workforce reductions and a shrinking pool of high-paying, high-tech jobs

Huntsville
Population: 406,000
College graduates: 38 percent
State income tax: 6.5 percent
Sales taxes: 8 percent
Average housing costs: $222,137
Average household salary: $71,267

Colorado Springs
Population: 543,000
College graduates: 35.4 percent
State income tax: 4.63 percent
Sales taxes: 7.5 percent
Average housing costs: $266,836
Average household salary: $56,253

Voices of Huntsville

“There is a strong economic development emphasis here, from the chamber of commerce, the Alabama Congress, city staff, mayors — it’s all be a top priority for all groups. Not just in northern Alabama — for the state as a whole. It’s a concentrated group effort, there are strong voices, strong cooperation.”
­— Larry Lamb, site director for Mitre Corp. in Huntsville
“Huntsville changed my mind about moving here. What I found was a research park that’s bigger than anything in eastern Virginia, where I was living. It suggested to me that I think twice about this place. They sold themselves. It’s a good program, gaining reputation every day.”
­— Dr. Kader Frendi, director of the aerospace and mechanical engineering programs at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
“Huntsville has more diversity of government customers here. The Springs has one huge customer, the Air Force. The diversity here includes the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the Materiel Command, NASA. There are defense missile and space intelligence agencies here. Nearly every Fortune 500 company is here, and they provide opportunity for big contracts.”­
— Marc Bendickson, CEO of Dynatics Corp. in Huntsville
“Huntsville has cracked the code. It can and is growing a knowledge-based economy. There’s a strong sense in the city’s ability. Very smart people — physicists, engineers, scientists are using what they know to develop industries we all want to be involved in.”
­— Dr. O’Neal Smitherman, executive vice president of HudsonAlpha

Related Links

Huntsville economic and population demographics
Industry sectors targeted by the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce
An overview of the aerospace and defense industry in Huntsville
List of Huntsville aerospace and defense companies
60Thirtyfive implementation matrix (PDF)
60Thirtyfive action plan (PDF)
60Thirtyfive press conference (PDF)
60Thirtyfive Colorado Springs market assessment (PDF)
Colorado Springs local industry list
The EDC’s five-year-plan (PDF)