As we start a new year, we also embark on a new decade, and I am going to make a prediction right now that by the end of the decade, Huntsville will rank as Alabama’s largest city. In fact, I anticipate that it will be the largest within five years.
During the past several years, Huntsville has been growing rapidly — about 2,000 people or so per year—while Alabama’s three other largest cities, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile, have been stagnant or lost population. In fact, Huntsville started the decade as the state’s fourth largest city but ended as the second largest, behind only Birmingham, according to AL.com and WHNT-TV in Huntsville.
At the end of 2018, Huntsville’s population was estimated at just under 200,000 (199,800-plus) and Birmingham’s was just over 210,000.
Many years ago, when I lived in Huntsville, officials used to say that if Madison County were a separate state, its people would be the most educated and highest paid of any state in the nation. I do not know if that would still be true, but I am aware that there is a progressive community spirit in Huntsville, sort of like in Auburn, that few cities of that size have.
And I think it will be good for Alabama for Huntsville to be the state’s largest city. Huntsville is known for rockets and an eye on the future, while too often Montgomery and Birmingham are identified with racial strife and civil unrest — sometimes to the extreme and a bit undeserved, in my opinion, because the race climate there today is about as good as in other parts of the country. Give us credit for progress we have made.
Those cities are still somewhat identified with George Wallace and Bull Conner. Huntsville never produced such a demagogue. Huntsville’s most famous politician probably was five-term U.S. Sen. John Sparkman, who was thought highly enough of to be on the 1952 Democratic ticket along with presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson. And the late Wernher Von Braun, who was key to development of the nation’s space program, probably was the city’s best known resident and number one cheerleader.
Huntsville’s growth can be attributed to many factors, but I would put quality of life near the top. Good jobs, good schools, beautiful countryside, clean community.
Currently under construction is the giant $1.6 billion Mazda-Toyota plant that could bring up to 4,000 jobs when it is completed in 2021. Also, Marshall Space Flight Center, which helped put man on the moon 50 years ago, continues to boom and remains the center of the local economy, anticipates securing at least part of the rewards from the new Space Corps branch of the military.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has not slowed in moving departments to Redstone Arsenal and may eventually employ up to 4,000 there.
In short, Huntsville goes after, and gets, high-paying jobs.
My wife, Carolyn (Nikki), grew up in Huntsville, part of the time a few doors down from Sen. Sparkman, and she talks about how the residents and schools would be warned when rocket blast tests were to be conducted at Marshall, because the walls would shake and the children would crouch.
Those rocket tests may have been a nuisance to the schoolchildren and the community, but they paved the way for a modern, progressive city that will soon be Alabama’s largest.
Retired Auburn Attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager newspaper and the online publication, auburnvillager.com. Before going into law, he was state Capitol reporter for The Huntsville Times and state editor for The Columbus Ledger. In college, he was sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman. Email him your comments about the newspaper to firstname.lastname@example.org.