HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - For many, this is a season of reflection. A chance to look back at the previous year's struggles and successes, while also looking ahead to opportunities in the coming year.
As we get ready to say goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, we sat down with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle to get his thoughts on everything from economic development to road construction to the urban living model to high-speed rail.
Here's some of what the mayor had to say.
On overall growth:
"If 2018 was the announcement year, 2019 was the year you really had to do the work. If you've been out to Greenbrier lately and seen 84 acres coming up under roof, seen the road work that's being done, everything to be ready for the Mazda Toyota production.... anybody who hasn't passed an orange cone lately, probably has not been looking, because there are orange cones everywhere, but, it just means we're growing."
On Huntsville becoming the 2nd largest city in the state:
"The biggest is just a number. The best is a quality of life. Do you provide for everybody? Are you a community that has offerings across the board and are you a community that someone wants to move to and be a part of? Those are some of the key issues that we're going to be facing over this year. Workforce development is going to be key. Every business that we're talking to right now is in expansion mode."
The mayor specifically referenced the North Huntsville Industrial Park, the new home for the Facebook Data Center, Aerojet Rocketdyne's advanced manufacturing facility, and the Toyota Motor Manufacturing expansion; the growth of PPG Aerospace and Mitchell Plastics at Chase Industrial Park in East Huntsville; Mazda Toyota to the West; Sanmina to the South; and in City Center - the continued growth of Research Park and Downtown Huntsville.
Mayor Battle pointed to the workforce study showing 14,000 jobs coming into the community over the next three years. He says North Alabama's 1.2 million person labor pool will be able to fill many jobs, especially those in advanced manufacturing. However, some jobs will require recruitment. For example, some specialty positions in fields such as IT, cybersecurity, and aerospace.
On the topic of recruitment, he says, "we're going to have to go to colleges and universities. We're going to have to go to other communities that maybe have a little bit of unemployment and bring people in."
On the changing Downtown and how that aids with attraction:
"When we look back on our city three years from now, we'll see four new hotels. We'll see apartments that are up. We'll see more parking decks. We'll see all the things that we're talking about now will have come to fruition and actually be on the ground."
"We're building a new city hall... we will have a master development that ties into city hall and we'll have more of... the urban living style. We had an urban living study done two years ago and it came out saying we needed 7,000 apartments in the downtown area. I said, '7,000. You have got to be kidding,' but that urban living style is the style that some of our young Millenials are looking for... even some of our double-income, no kids (DINKS). They're tired of doing the gutters. They're tired of trimming shrubs, cutting the grass, and they say, 'man, if I lived downtown, I could do everything I want to."
On projects that still need attention:
"We have to work on 72 West which is probably 20 years overdue. We have a lot of work to continue to do and we also have to get the State Department of Transportation to understand, we're going to have to put more money into it."
The mayor added there is road construction ahead, with the final projects of the Restore Our Roads campaign coming to fruition. Work on the Northern Bypass is slated to begin in 2020. It's expected to take six years for completion. Work will also begin on the Mastin Lake Overpass, a three-year build.
He says other items on the transportation needs list include:
- Easing congestion on Memorial Parkway with an Arsenal Connector - coming off Interstate 565, skirting Redstone Arsenal and coming out to the Hobbs Road, Green Cove Road area
- Another outlet for 72, possibly at Hobbs Island Road
- Improvements to I-565, where it becomes 72
Looking even further ahead, Mayor Battle says the city wants to lay the groundwork now for what might come decades down the road, including more bike and pedestrian lanes, High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, even possibly, a magnetic train system.
That means preserving necessary rights of way, even air rights, "so we can have high-speed rail, that goes from one community to another. It's not anything that will happen in the next five years or 10 years, but something that will happen 20 years, 25 years from now."
On his outlook for the new year:
"2020 I think will be a great year for us. We will be working hard to play catch up on workforce and roads but we have the plans in place that, if we can make them come to fruition, we'll look great."