September 15, 2011
By Amy Guckeen Tolson
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala., — While Thursday marks the deadline for Base Realignment Commision moves, newcomers will be knocking at the door of the Tennessee Valley for years to come.
The growth from Base Realignment Commision, or BRAC, -mandated moves has not necessarily come in one spurt, but rather as a consistent pattern over the past several years as residents have flocked to the Tennessee Valley. Huntsville saw the largest population increase over the past 10 years, according to the latest census data, increasing by 21,889 residents, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the state.
Now the fastest growing city in the state and the 10th largest, Madison saw a 46.4 percent growth from the 2000 census, with today’s population hovering near 43,000. For area leaders, the growth is both a blessing and a call to action.
“Our biggest challenge in the city of Madison and this entire area is a challenge most areas wish they had,” Madison mayor Paul Finley said. “How do you manage the continued growth that’s coming? Most folks would trade places with us in a heartbeat if that was their only problem.”
For the Huntsville and Madison area, two of the biggest areas of concern for accommodating the growth are infrastructure and education.
“Redstone has demanded and our local governments are aggressively responding to the need to improve roads and schools,” Joe Ritch, chairman of the Tennessee Valley BRAC Committee, said. “The type of employees that are moving with BRAC demand outstanding schools and all of the area school systems are adjusting to provide quality education from kindergarten to graduate school.”
Madison continues to focus on the strengths that brought new residents in — a strong school system and the city’s proximity to the jobs — and is working with Huntsville and the surrounding community to get the projects done that will help the community absorb the continued growth in the area, such as road projects like putting in an I-565 interchange at County Line Road, and Madison’s new James Clemons High School that will open in August 2012, an additional educational institution that was needed to keep the quality of education high.
New retail opportunities, including a Target on Highway 72 slated to open March 11, 2012, and a new downtown building at 14 Main Street which will include retail space are underway, in addition to the current construction of a Holiday Inn Express at the northwest corner of Madison Boulevard and Wall Triana, and a Redstone Credit Union branch in progress on north County Line Road. Madison Hospital will also open in February on Highway 72.
“BRAC and associated moves of specific commands to Redstone Arsenal have continued to keep growth happening in our overall community,” said Amy Furfori, director of community development and planning for the city of Madison. “When speaking to and working with national developers, retailers and other businesses, they hear and see how the steady growth in our area remains somewhat of an anomaly compared to the national trends.”
“It’s been very consistent growth in the city of Madison proper, which brings rooftops,” Finley said. “Rooftops in turn have helped us bring more retail development. Retail development brings quality businesses and sales tax dollars, which improve the quality of life. It’s a huge impact in the city of Madison.”
While the deadline for the 2005 BRAC is Thursday, the impact and growth from BRAC is far from over, according to Ritch, who expects Redstone Gateway to be an attraction for companies and other government organizations in the years to come.
“The impact has been very close to what we expected,” Ritch said. “All the construction at Redstone was completed on schedule and 4,651 positions will have moved in advance of the Sept. 15 deadline. Area schools have added about 6,000 students since 2005 and the roads are more congested. All this sets the stage for new and existing defense contractors to expand in the years to come.”
“The current delays in the finalization of the 2012 Defense Budget has likely delayed some non-BRAC growth, but most experts expect a final bill to be approved in the near future and that should result in additional hiring,” Ritch continued.
“The impact that we’ve seen so far is just the direct jobs,” Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle said. “I have a feeling that what we’re expecting over the next one, two, three, four years, we’ll have many companies that want to be close to AMC and MDA. What we’re seeing at this point is pretty much what we expected out of the move. The follow on to this move is actually the support personnel moving here and setting up shop in the Huntsville area.”
While a lot of the impact associated with BRAC is about dollars and cents — the average salary is now above $80,000, according to the Garrison Transformation office — the lasting legacy of BRAC may have nothing to do with money, but rather the way the nation views Redstone Arsenal and the surrounding community.
“One of the most positive changes has been the increased appreciation by our state legislators and communities in the Northern Alabama and Southern Tennessee area of the major impact Redstone Arsenal has on the Tennessee Valley,” Ritch said. “Redstone is a key part of our nation’s defense and its importance is likely to grow in the years to come. Redstone produces thousands of jobs and millions in tax dollars and our state legislators and local community leaders all over the Tennessee Valley have become aggressive advocates for Redstone.”
“I don’t think our community has realized the importance of having this many general staff officers in one place and not in Washington, D.C.,” Battle said. “I think we’re going to see across the board this has stepped up the role of Huntsville in the defense of our nation.”
It’s not just the impact Huntsville has on the nation, but also the impact the nation has on Huntsville and Madison County, where more than 35,000 workers go to work each day on Redstone Arsenal to support the Soldier, as do countless others in the community.
“While we don’t have the uniforms per se, many folks take such great pride in national defense and their jobs on Redstone that support the warfighter,” Finley said. “It’s neat to be a part of a community that shouts patriotism. There are a lot of communities that are struggling with the nation’s sense of being and that’s not the case here.”