HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - It's been an eventful year for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
WHNT News 19 recently sat down with the mayor for his perspective on 2018 and his thoughts on what 2019 will bring.
Asked what word he would choose to sum up the past year, Mayor Battle responded, "growth. We have had incredible growth, industry, jobs...people moving into the area. One of the things we try to do, that we work on every day, is make sure we don't have exponential growth; that we have measured growth, that comes along segment by segment, so we can keep up with it."
Of course, growth can be painful at times. Mayor Battle acknowledged that when asked about Cecil Ashburn Drive, which is scheduled to close on January 7.
"If you remember South (Memorial) Parkway when we started it, we were really worried about it because we were going to have to close down the parkway at certain times...the gain was that a lot of people in South Huntsville or beyond were saying, 'I cut 15 minutes off my commute time.' Cecil Ashburn will be another one, it will be painful but there will be a gain out of it. In 10 months, we'll be riding on it and it will be two-laned. In another six months, it will be four-laned and we'll be able to alleviate some of the traffic that is coming over Governor's Drive and Cecil Ashburn...as you do that you're going to have some pain but as you ride on those roads, you see the gain for the whole community."
When it comes to economic growth, the mayor says Huntsville has much to celebrate.
"We've got Mazda Toyota, Facebook. We've got Blue Origin, Aeroject Rocketdyne. Going on back, we got Remington, GE, Polaris, in here. All of those are growth but that does not take into account the organic growth we've had. You know, Dynetics grew by 300 employees last year. Boeing grew by 400 employees. The FBI coming on Redstone Arsenal is going to grow by 1,000 employees. All of that spells growth for the area. The nice thing about that growth is no matter what the economy does...we've brought in enough jobs and we have enough forward movement on that, that we're taken care of for the next five to 10 years. So if there's a recession in 2020-21, we won't feel it like the rest of the country feels it."
Mayor Battle says the city's job now is deciding what to work on for the future.
"Is it quantum computing or is it block technology? What do we sink our teeth into and what do we make as something where we put the flag in the ground and say this is what Huntsville stands for?"
Whatever the next big step, Mayor Battle says the city's school system will be key.
"I have a lot of faith Christie Finley will do a great job as the superintendent of our schools."
"Failure is not an option in your school system. You've got to support your school system."
"We've gone through redistricting. You know, we hadn't done it in 25 years and we could see why we hadn't done it in 25 years after it happened. The first year was tough because the expectations were tough. The second year was a little bit less but there were still some rough patches. Third year was better and fourth year, we're starting to really get where we can gain."
Battle knows a thing or two about taking the long view. Now halfway through his third term, he's spent 10 years as mayor of Huntsville. A job he says he was proud to return to after this year's failed gubernatorial bid.
"This is a great time to be here...we're very fortunate. We've had a great run for the past 20 to 30 years with some of the things we've been able to put in place and I think we'll have a great run in the next 10 to 15 years. If we do the right things for generations to come, then I think we'll have jobs here."