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By John Wesley Brooks | Broker in Hampton Cove, AL

Top 5 Cities Leading Economic Recovery

Huntsville cited as one of five Communities Leading the Economic Recovery

by aburks on October 30, 2011 in RSS Feed

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The city that built America’s moon rockets is racking up accolades.

Huntsville, Ala., takes off as Forbes magazine just named Huntsville one of the top 10 places for business and careers. It was named America’s fourth-strongest building market by BusinessWeek in September, the nation’s top midsize city to launch and grow a business by Fortune Small Business magazine in November, and one of the world’s top 10 smartest cities by Forbes in December.

The area has one of the USA’s best job-growth rates, according to Moody’s Economy.com.

“I’m getting very good at ribbon cutting,” says Mayor Tommy Battle.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 8.4% after peaking at 8.9% late last year. City sales tax receipts, which were down 3% to 4%, are now off 0.1%, Battle says.

The city plans a new 470-acre office park. Extensive renovations are underway on the art museum and the sports arena. Downtown sidewalks are getting a face lift.

Defense spending is a major reason that Huntsville, home to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, is rebounding.

The military is moving nearly 5,000 jobs here by September 2011, a shift that’ll eventually generate 10,000 jobs. Redstone and Marshall are the top employers, with more than 32,500 mostly civilian jobs. Redstone awards $32 billion a year in contracts. About $5 billion stays in the area.

Huntsville has diversified its economy. In the late 1970s, military spending accounted for 80% of the local economy. Today, it’s about 50%. Fifty Fortune 500 companies are here, says economic development director Joe Vallely.

The main industries are defense, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, information technology and life sciences.

Before 1950, Huntsville was indistinguishable from a hundred other Alabama farm towns.

Then rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun and a team of scientists moved to Redstone to build missiles for the Army. He later became Marshall’s first director and chief architect of the Saturn V rockets that carried Americans to the moon in 1969.

People here say the von Braun legacy of innovation and research fuels today’s success. Huntsville has the USA’s highest per-capita concentration of engineers. “You’ve got this community of smart people, and … they get involved,” says Rick Davis, director of Cummings Research Park.

From 1990 to 2009, metro Huntsville accounted for 24% of Alabama’s population growth.

“Once you come here, you see the energy of the place, and it’s a very easy place to sell,” says David Williams, president of the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

By Larry Copeland

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