I went to the State of the City address today to see how Huntsville, Alabama is doing. Our newly elected Mayor, Tommy Battle, spoke for about 20 minutes. Huntsville is doing quite well in light of the current economic downturn. (Forbes just voted us the best place in the country to weather the economic downturn). Here are a few notes from the address [with editorial comments]:
- The address started with a new video featuring the new mayor and other civic leaders discussing how we got to where we are today, the strengths of our city, and what we are going to do to meet the needs of the future. [I still get chills every time I see the Saturn V rocket and realize that engineers from Huntsville were responsible for putting a man on the moon].
- Of all the economic development activities pursued by the state, BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) will have the largest economic impact. BRAC will bring close to 10,000 jobs to North Alabama over the next three years. The average salary for these jobs is $80K. This is significant economic potential.
- We have to address specific infrastructure needs in order to accommodate the influx of people over the next three years. We need the state to invest in roads and schools to help get Huntsville ready. The state invested over $430M in incentives to get the Mercedes plant (2100 jobs) in Tuscaloosa, the Hyundai plant (1800 jobs) in Montgomery, and ThyssenKrupp (800 jobs) in Mobile. The state has only invested $3M in BRAC. We have to make our needs know to the state legislature and the federal government. [The Alabama state legislature has always assumed that the federal government will take care of North Alabama due to Redstone Arsenal and NASA Marshall space flight center. This all started when TVA took control of the Tennessee River. Here is a good book on our history].
- Mayor Battle is dedicated to working with all of the other regional mayors and county commissions to sell the region. It is going to take leadership from all regions in North Alabama working together to make the limited tax dollars stretch in order to meet the needs of the impending economic growth. The city of Madison also elected a new mayor in the last elections. Mayor Battle and Mayor Finley have met many times in the forty-four days since the election and are demonstrating a willingness to work together on many issues including infrastructure improvements and shared services. [This is a stark difference with the previous mayoral administration that used cold war tactics to try to stymie the development of other areas surrounding Huntsville].
- The city budget for 2009 is slimmed down from the previous year. Combining and streamlining certain departments allows the city to maintain the same level of service to the city. Mayor Battle says he is looking forward to educating the citizens of Huntsville on the services that the city provides.
Overall, Mayor Battle delivered a warm address of the city. Huntsville has many challenges to face in the next few years, but we have a solid workforce and industry base to help us get through the current economic situation. Hopefully, Mayor Battle’s spirit of cooperation will create a larger sense of community in the region that leads to more efficient government and continued economic growth. Huntsville is a great city! Come visit – We will probably try to convince you to stay and fill one of the jobs moving to the region.]