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More Than Moore: Alabama’s Political Show Overshadows Effort to Embrace Modern Knowledge Economy

There’s More to Alabama than Moore

David Royse | LedeTree

For many Alabamians who are trying to develop a knowledge economy in the state, the U.S. Senate race that ended with Tuesday’s election of Doug Jones over conservative firebrand Roy Moore couldn’t have ended too soon.

It wasn’t necessarily Roy Moore and the controversies that rode in with him that were a problem. He and others with similar views have been around in the state forever. It was the national attention drawn to Roy Moore and those controversies.

Conservative politicians are everywhere. And in this often split-down-the-middle country, they’re half popular in lots of places, not just Alabama or the Deep South. But the national attention on Roy Moore and his brand of conservatism risked perpetuating a stereotype that those who want to see Southern cities – and particularly Alabama cities – participate in the modern economy have been trying to shed for decades.

There is obviously an Alabama that appreciates at least some of what Moore stands for –he got 48 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s race for the seat opened when former Sen. Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general.

But if you think that’s the whole picture, you’re not getting the whole picture.

Here’s something that didn’t get much coverage in the millions of words written about Moore vs. Jones.

Take a guess as to what ZipRecruiter considered the top tech town in America this year. THE TOP TECH TOWN.

Huntsville, Alabama.

Huntsville, in the northern part of the state, saw a growth rate of over 300 percent in its tech industry last year. And that’s not artificially high because it was starting from nothing – Huntsville’s been a high-tech city for decades in large part because of the rocket industry that’s been a mainstay of the local economy since World War II. This is not hardscrabble Dixie – the median mid-career pay in Huntsville is nearly $100k, about the same as in Phoenix.

Huntsville, which was known a long, long time ago as the nation’s watercress capital,  is now known as Rocket City. It outpaced the growth of tech industry darlings like Salt Lake, Denver, and Seattle this past year, but has long been known as an engineering city, thanks to NASA, the Army and Boeing.

And it’s rocketry and space travel – this time in the private sector – that’s behind this year’s tech boom in Huntsville, as well. The city’s most recent big tech news was a decision by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to make its BE-4 rocket engine in the city. Blue Origin is one of three companies, along with Space-X and Boeing, trying to get a ship to Mars. That’s created more than 300 new tech jobs there.


But the biggest development this year, from a tech industry growth standpoint, was the announcement in April that Aerojet Rocketdyne was bringing 800 new jobs to Hunstville to produce its new rocket engine. You know Aerojet Rocketdyne must be a big deal because it somehow managed to get the web address www.rocket.com.

It’s not all boosters and nose cones. Huntsville also has a major genomic medical clinic. 

STATETECH: HOW DID HUNTSVILLE BECOME FASTEST GROWING TECH HUB? INDUSTRY-GOVERNMENT COOPERATION

Huntsville Mayor Thomas Battle has been a huge proponent of the high-tech knowledge economy. He pushed for Huntsville to boost high-speed internet access and touts the city’s early tech education in its schools. And Battle is running for governor of Alabama on a promise of trying to spread Huntsville’s high-tech success to other parts of the state.

Ironically, perhaps, while Battle wants Alabama to look to the future, he decided to endorse Moore, who more than once has echoed Donald Trump’s longing for returning to the past, most recently with an Election Day promise to “Make Alabama good again.”

Battle has taken heat for that endorsement, but said since he’s a Republican he felt it was natural to support the Republican candidate.

While Battle apparently doesn’t think Moore’s candidacy hurt his effort to change the perception of Alabama, others who want to move the state past negative images of the Civil Rights era did think so. That includes another Republican, the state’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Shelby.

Shelby said recently that the image Moore projects threatens a decade or more of trying to convince outsiders that Alabama is becoming a place that’s welcoming to modern, high-tech companies that bring good jobs and a higher quality of life.

“It’s not 1860. It’s not 1900. It’s not 1940. It’s not 1964 or 1965. It’s 2017,” Shelby told reporters recently. “And Alabama in a lot of ways is on the cutting edge, on the cusp of a lot of good things.”

About David Royse

David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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