HUNTSVILLE — The federal agencies and the companies at Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park have tremendous responsibilities for the security of our nation and the lives of more than 332 million Americans as well as a leadership position in the United States’ space exploration program and homeland security.
Thus, the advanced workforce that populates this economic zone is crucial to these
organizations. The future viability of our nation is dependent on the brainpower of thousands of individuals who report to work every day in this economic zone. This collective endeavor provides a tremendous challenge for community and higher education leaders.
Advanced Workforce – Growth on the Horizon
Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park together create the largest economic zone in Alabama. The economic impact totals $18 billion annually, which is equivalent to 10 percent of Alabama’s Gross Domestic Product.
The federal agencies and program offices currently employ more than 44,000 people. That number is expected to grow to 50,000 jobs by 2025, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Army. One of Redstone’s newest major tenants, the FBI, gave a community update in late 2022. FBI Deputy Assistant Director Drew Watts reported the FBI has 1,508 employees at Redstone Arsenal with a long-term plan to have full-time capacity for 5,000 employees by 2028.
America’s mission in space exploration at Redstone appears solid with the launch last year of Artemis 1. Marshall Space Flight Center is providing the lead for management of the SLS
engines, the most powerful space vehicle ever built. It is destined for more crewed flights into deep space thus extending the critical NASA workforce for those missions.
Meanwhile, Cummings Research Park is the second largest research park in the country and
the fourth largest in the world. CRP is home to more than 300 companies and greater than
26,000 employees. It is one of the world’s leading science and technology business parks with a mixture of Fortune 500 companies, local and international high-tech enterprises and U.S. space and defense agencies. Raytheon Corp. and Blue Origin announced expansion plans in 2022 and will be adding hundreds of positions.
Thousands of jobs are headed to the RSA/CRP economic zone beginning immediately and
going through at least 2028. Opportunities for “fresh out” college graduates are enhanced when one considers the turnover taking place because of retirements or transfers. A tremendous challenge exists for the Tennessee Valley area in maintaining a high quality, advanced workforce. Replenishing those members of the advanced workforce jobs are crucial for thefuture of the north Alabama region.
Redstone plays role in a troubled global environment
America continues to face challenges to its security at home and interests abroad from
countries and organizations that have: 1) interests that conflict with those of the United States; 2) sometimes hostile intentions toward the U.S.; and 3) in some cases, growing military capabilities that are leveraged to impose an adversary’s will by coercing or intimidating neighboring countries, thereby creating regional instabilities
- Russian’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 has created the most unstable security
environment in Europe since World War II. Redstone’s Army Materiel Command has a
role in supporting Ukrainian sovereignty by providing $6.8 billion in weapons and
supplies since the invasion started. Similar geographic threats are being manifested at
hot spots around the globe, i.e., China/Taiwan, Iran and North Korea
- China is proving to be a recent active provocateur on the global stage. Earlier this year,
China launched a surveillance balloon that traversed the nation notably in areas of
strategic importance to the nation’s military
- NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed concern to the United Kingdom’s Metro News in January China may claim the moon as its own territory and prevent the U.S. from landing there again. “It’s a fact, we’re in a space race. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that (China) says, ‘keep out, we’re here and this is our territory’.”
- America is also being exposed to emerging threats in a variety of technological
developments as well, such as: cybersecurity; hypersonics; directed energy (lasers); and artificial intelligence. All represent key threats to America’s security. These troubling
technologies are under scrutiny by various commands and laboratories for the Army at Redstone
- Another threat closer to home includes domestic terrorism. A broad array of terrorist
groups remains the most hostile of any of the threats to America, as well as active
internal threats. The FBI is serving as a lead to counter domestic terrorism and mitigate
threats by such groups.
RSA/CRP – ‘Bullish on brainpower’
The single most unique characteristic of the RSA/CRP economic zone is the high level of
brainpower that exists to support the 78 federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal and the
hundreds of corporations in Cummings Research Park.
Estimates reveal that more than 80% of the workers at the Army agencies have at least a bachelor’s degree while many of them also hold advanced degrees. Meanwhile, that figure reportedly exceeds 90% the Marshall Space Flight Center as well as the companies in CRP.
Brainpower was a phrase often cited by rocket pioneer Dr. Wernher von Braun as an essential component of Alabama taking advantage of Space Age opportunities. That’s true for both the missile defense and space exploration components of the regional economy.
During an address to the Alabama Legislature in 1961, he said: “It’s the university climate that brings the business. Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s not water, or real estate, or labor or cheap taxes that brings industry to a state or city. It’s brain power.”
Universities supply brainpower
Within the area surrounding the RSA/CRP economic zone, four universities supply brain power to generate success and viability for the zone for the regional economy: Athens State University, Alabama A&M University, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and
the University of North Alabama.
Athens State University is the oldest institution of higher learning in Alabama being
founded in 1822, thus celebrating its bicentennial moment last year. The campus is in downtown Athens and is a short commute (20 miles) to Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.
Athens State has offerings in Arts & Sciences and Business, at the bachelor and master’s degree levels. These can meet the needs of the students who are pursuing jobs and careers in this economic zone and helping meet the advanced workforce requirements of the federal agencies and companies.
A few specific examples include: acquisition and contract management;
bioinformatics; aerospace systems management; advanced manufacturing;
computer science; criminal justice; humanities; cybersecurity; homeland security;
corporate security; logistics and supply chain management; information systems
management; and management of cybersecurity operations.
There are other broad-based courses, programs and degrees that fit the needs of
entities in this economic zone – chemistry, psychology, sociology and biology.
Alabama A&M University offers several programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. level
degrees that provides its graduates with an education related to the RSA/CRP economic
AAMU’s College of Engineering, Technology and Physical Sciences offers bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. The
university’s College of Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics has bachelor’s degrees
in physics, and chemistry as well as a master’s and Ph.D. in physics. A&M also offers a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering and a degree in logistics and supply chain management.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville is the anchor tenant of Cummings Research Park
and was established in 1950 to support Redstone Arsenal.
UAH offers nine undergraduate engineering programs: aerospace; chemical, civil,
computer cybersecurity; electrical, industrial and systems, as well as mechanical and
optical. UAH offers graduate engineering degrees in any of these areas.
UAH’s College of Science has bachelor’s and graduate programs in six disciplines:
atmospheric & earth science; biology; computer science; mathematics; physics & astronomy.
The University of North Alabama is on the western edge of Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, so
it is a little more distant to Redstone and CRP – about 75 miles. However, the campus has shown healthy growth under its current leadership, including the expansion of academic programs that can be viewed as supportive of the regional economy, including Redstone and Cummings research Park.
Examples include engineering technology in the Department of Engineering and
Industrial Professions, and the Executive Doctor of Business Administration.
These four universities are well established institutions of higher learning in the Valley. Each plays a crucial role in providing an advanced workforce through various academic programs that will help fill the crucial need of Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park. The success of their graduates will contribute to the security and viability of the United States today, tomorrow, and long into the future.