Cotton was king in Huntsville, Ala., until the middle of the last century, when the city took a giant leap for mankind. In 1950, the U.S. Army established the Redstone Arsenal to develop rocketry, and, in 1960, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center was dedicated. From this foundation, Rocket City launched a growing biotechnology industry. "Quite a journey within a couple of generations for a town in the Deep South," notes Timothy Packard, a senior partner at local firm Fuqua & Partners Architects. And one reason why Foreign Direct Investment named Huntsville a "Small City of the Future" last year.
But it's not all space-age technology down here. This onetime watercress capital of the world ranked 18th on Popular Science's 2008 list of greenest cities, prompting the U.S. Green Building Council's Alabama chapter to establish a Huntsville branch. More than 15 architecture firms are currently involved. "We want to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible and profitable," says Scott Beck, project engineer at Turner Universal's local office and the North Alabama branch chairman.
The Huntsville government is helping those outside the building industry become greener as well, with initiatives that include a comprehensive commercial and residential recycling program and the annual Air Pollution Control Achievement Award for businesses. These efforts, says Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Brian Hilson, have resulted in "a community that takes care of itself."
Population in 2007: 168,132; employment jumped 32 percent from 1999 to 2007.
In 2007, the 15.5-million-s.f. office market had a 7.25 percent vacancy rate, and Class A space went for $19.50/s.f., full-service gross.
Median price in June 2008: $149,500. Average time on the market: 114 days.
- Strong technology and military economy
- Low cost of living
- Highly educated and skilled workforce
- Worker demand outstrips supply
- Growth putting strain on infrastructure
- Housing affordability
"Huntsville has a diversified economy that seems to be recession-proof," says Mike Chapman, principal of locally based Chapman Sisson Architects. "I see [the city] continuing to grow."