In Alabama, Washington and the federal government made Huntsville what it is today.
Huntsville was little more than a cotton mill town until the eve of World War II when the U.S. Army selected it as the site of three major chemical munitions facilities. Chief among the reasons why Huntsville was chosen was cheap electricity provided by another federal program, the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The federal presence grew and evolved, and because of this Huntsville today is a leading location for companies involved in aerospace technology and engineering. The city boasts one of the best trained and highly skilled workforces in the state, an excellent public school system (including two state universities), fine hospitals, modern transportation facilities and most of the other amenities and advantages companies like Boeing seek.
Boeing is considering Huntsville as a relocation site because the Alabama city has what companies like Boeing want: reasonable price, access to transportation — railroad and highways in good repair, a trained or trainable labor force available, along with the institutional support to provide it. It’s located in a community with safe and clean neighborhoods, good schools, excellent health care.
Indeed, these very amenities and advantages are the reason Boeing already has a small factory in the city.
Unfortunately, Huntsville is not Alabama.
In Alabama, leaders reject federal programs because they fear that “strings” will be attached, and fear federal programs will make people dependent on government and turn them into “moochers.”
Yet, no one accuses Huntsville of mooching, least of all Huntsvillians, who are among some of the most conservative voters in the state.
There is the paradox of Huntsville. And the paradox of Alabama. The state’s quest for the Boeing facility is bringing that paradox to light.