“This labor market assessment may be unprecedented in its scope and scale. Our team conducted 94 employer interviews in north Alabama, including major public employers as well as companies across numerous industry sectors. The insights and findings from this type of in-depth study will help the region prioritize strategies to enable it to improve the flow of future workers and encourage more in-migration in order to close talent supply/demand gaps.”
– Darin Buelow, Global Location Strategy Leader, Deloitte
The first part of that is happening now. We’ve built the economy – north Alabama is seeing rapid growth in a wide range of sectors. The region’s growth strategy is working, which is very good news for everyone.
To fully capitalize on our success, we must now focus on enhancing our workforce development and recruitment efforts. Many of the new workers will come from the region. The new jobs will present many people across north Alabama with the opportunity to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. For this to happen, we must make sure students and the un/underemployed are aware of and prepared for these opportunities. Many of the jobs that are being created will require that we recruit new people to our communities, and we must be more active and strategic in these efforts.
Launch 2035 recently conducted an extensive labor market assessment to evaluate our competitive position and readiness to support future growth. This assessment was completed by a team from Deloitte, who interviewed 94 stakeholders from five priority sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace & Defense, Information Technology, Bioscience, and Service Professionals. Of those, 89 percent were private companies and 11 percent were federal entities, including military commands on Redstone Arsenal.
The companies are located in Madison, Morgan, and Limestone counties, and pull their workforce from our 16-county region. Currently, approximately 25,000 people commute into these three counties daily, and this is where the primary job growth is anticipated.
The interviews were organized around three topics:
■ Current Supply & Demand – labor issues that are impacting employer operations in the Huntsville region
■ Future Talent Supply & Demand – factors that may impact the sustainability of an employer’s future talent supply
■ Talent Draw – factors that impacted or may impact an employer’s ability to attract talent from outside the region
The region has many bright spots for employment growth. The north Alabama region is home to a wide range of industries, with employers that are on the cutting edge of technology – as shown in the following infographic:
Simply put – what we’re doing is working. The majority of our companies are doing well, and 67 percent say they anticipate growing. The 94 companies interviewed report they will make approximately 14,000 new hires in the next three years, and these will stimulate another 11,000 indirect jobs such as restaurant servers, real estate agents, lawyers, and accountants to accommodate the growth. This adds up to 25,000 new jobs in the region by 2023.
Deloitte estimates that if all those jobs were to be filled by people moving into the region and to account for those who have families, the influx of new people into the region could be 50,000.
Those are big numbers.
Companies made the decision to come to north Alabama because they wanted to expand and grow. They are doing that, and we will continue to support them. This is our commitment, to help them be successful. The findings of this study allow us to make sure we have the programs and infrastructure in place to address employers’ needs while preparing people to secure quality jobs.
It’s important to note that while the 14,000 jobs identified in this study will be added in the three-county study area, the population growth and increased quality of life will be spread among our 16-county laborshed.
On November 13, regional partners gathered for a workforce summit at the Alabama Center for the Arts in Decatur. This meeting included elected leaders from Morgan, Limestone, and Madison counties, as well as regional Chambers and economic development stakeholders.
The summit included a presentation on the workforce study by Darin Buelow, Global Location Strategy Leader for Deloitte. Buelow is a site selector and has studied Huntsville extensively over the years.
“This is generally a good news story, with you needing to tweak some things to keep the ball rolling,” said Buelow. “This is a place that is at the envy of much of the economic development world in the United States.”
The labor study recommended three next steps:
1. Initiate a multi-year, multi-pronged approach to increase net migration
This includes educational grants, home-buying subsidies, student loan support, diversifying the housing supply, and developing a nationally branded affinity marketing campaign about the Huntsville region.
2. Identify alternative approaches to finding in-demand talent
This includes more communication among HR managers to prevent poaching of talent, and to
learn what other markets HR managers have had success recruiting talent from to the Huntsville area.
3. Increase investment in early education
The region must continue to invest in educating parents and students on the alternatives to a four-year degree; also, companies should collaborate to support programs at the high school and middle school levels to increase awareness and familiarity of skills in high demand (cyber, IT, applied engineering) – for example, more corporate support of FIRST Robotics teams and similar programs.
After the presentation, stakeholders were assigned to work in groups and discuss solutions. Ideas included more career coaches for schools, refining career tracks for students, and increasing overall quality of education. Many suggested increasing recruiting efforts in colleges throughout the Southeast and beyond by promoting recreation, entertainment and dining options as well as jobs. Others suggested finding creative solutions for childcare, housing and transportation issues to enable more people to enter the workforce.
The labor study puts some definitive numbers to our projected growth, but this is a situation we planned for, so work has already begun. In 2018, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber launched a campaign to prepare students for local career opportunities and to promote the region to college graduates, skilled workers, and retired military. The portal at asmartplace.com includes a job site and a curriculum for the State’s required career prep class, taught mostly in ninth grade. The job site and curriculum are free to employers, job seekers and teachers across the region. Also in 2018, the City of Huntsville unveiled The Big Picture (bigpicturehuntsville.com), its comprehensive master plan designed to direct the future of economic growth, neighborhood redevelopment, parks and greenways, transportation, and quality of life within Huntsville. And as early as 2013, Mayor Battle began the Restore Our Roads campaign and subsequent investments in infrastructure to position the City for our anticipated growth. Restore Our Roads resulted in a $250 million cost-sharing agreement between the City of Huntsville and the Alabama Department of Transportation to complete major road projects in key corridors throughout the City.
In Decatur, the Best and Brightest (bestandbrightestdecatur.org) student-loan repayment incentive provides up to $3,000 per year ($15,000 maximum) for STEM graduates to move to Decatur, regardless of where they work. The program also supports professional networking and community engagement for the graduates to help them make the most of their new home.
And in Muscle Shoals, professionals in the tech industry who make more than $52,000 per year and can work remotely can get up to $10,000 for relocating to the Shoals. The program was developed to highlight the quality of place in the Shoals for workers who can choose to live anywhere.
There is plenty more to come on this topic, and it will take the whole region working together to be successful. Look for updates very soon!
“Growing our area to fill the jobs created by our economic success is a great problem to have. It’s a challenge we embrace as a regional team working through a strategic partnership plan, just as we have met challenges in the past –- by working together.”
– MAYOR TOMMY BATTLE, CITY OF HUNTSVILLE
“Over the last several years our collaborative and calculated efforts to let the country and world know our capabilities here in Huntsville/Madison County has proven to be the right move. Deloitte’s workforce study concludes that our region’s efforts are producing quality jobs and careers for all of North Alabama that will sustain our economy for generations to come.”
– CHAIRMAN DALE STRONG, MADISON COUNTY COMMISSION
“It remains a joy working with our regional partners as we continue planning and preparing for the workforce opportunities that will have an historic impact on our communities, economy and quality of life for years to come. Get ready to make new friends!”
– MAYOR TAB BOWLING, CITY OF DECATUR
“Each time the wonderful ‘problem’ of growth has occurred in our community we have answered the bell with positive results. Whether it was rocket engines in the 60s, BRAC wins in the 90s and 00s, or recent manufacturing growth, our community has defined what is needed and developed our plan for success.”
– MAYOR PAUL FINLEY, CITY OF MADISON
“We have been blessed with the recent creation of so many new jobs in our county. Limestone County stands ready to work with our regional partners to continue to grow and develop our strong and outstanding workforce that has earned global recognition.”
– CHAIRMAN COLLIN DALY, LIMESTONE COUNTY COMMISSION
“The exciting growth coming to North Alabama makes us proud of our regional partnerships and eager for the opportunities we have all worked so hard to bring to fruition throughout our region.”
– JEREMY NAILS, MORGAN COUNTY EDA & DECATUR MORGAN PORT AUTHORITY
“In today’s highly competitive economic climate, communities who are able to effectively demonstrate their ability to develop, grow and retain a qualified workforce is critical. TVA is proud to be a partner in assisting the region capitalize on the opportunities identified throughout the labor market study and further our mission to serve the people of the Valley by fostering economic growth.”
– HARRY SCHMIDT, TVA ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
“Huntsville Utilities is very interested in our region’s labor needs because people fill jobs, and people live in homes and shop at businesses, and homes and businesses require a robust and resilient utility infrastructure. We are excited and challenged by the growth coming to our region, and Huntsville Utilities and our region’s other utility providers will rise to meet this challenge.”
– WES KELLEY, HUNTSVILLE UTILITIES
“The opportunity we currently have as a region is a once-in-a-career moment. We must plan together and work as one to maximize this opportunity.”
– JOHN SEYMOUR, DECATUR MORGAN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
“The region continues to find ways to collaborate together and find joint solutions to the great opportunities we have throughout the region. The economic success we are enjoying took years of thoughtful planning and hard work. Seeing our regional leaders focused on our workforce opportunities shows the strength of the relationships in place that will deliver on our workforce needs of today and in the future.”
– BILL MARKS, LAUNCH 2035
“Workforce attraction, retention and development is every bit as critical to the federal sector as it is to the commercial sector and that’s why I think it was important to include Redstone in the regional workforce assessment. Redstone Arsenal is growing significantly. The current workforce is over 41,000 with plans to grow to nearly 45,000 in the next few years. We’re delighted that the Alabama Military Stability Foundation was able to support this effort.”
– ROBERT LA BRANCHE, ALABAMA MILITARY STABILITY FOUNDATION