Published on September 29, 2021 at 4:41 p.m.
by Gabrielle Jolly.
The Rocket City soared to great heights after receiving third place in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Places to Live. Over the past decade, Huntsville, Alabama, experienced an astounding period of growth in population, job opportunities and infrastructure that attracts newcomers around the nation. Alabama’s now largest city serves as a model for cities looking to improve their brand identity.
The growth process
This tremendous growth spurt certainly didn’t come as a shock to any of Huntsville’s leaders. “Our growth was intentional and strategic,” said Kelly Schrimsher, director of communication for Huntsville’s Office of the Mayor. “It’s great because we enjoy the perks of a mid-tier city without all of the headaches of a larger metropolis.” Schrimsher remarked that the mayor and other city leadership teams developed a master plan, The BIG Picture, in order to achieve their goals and mitigate the obstacles that come with rapid growth.
Another key element to the city’s growth process involved market research. Schrimsher mentioned that the various community departments studied other successful cities and how they were able to attract and retain different publics. “We focused on what makes Huntsville unique and looked at ways to build on the strengths and talents that are here,” said Schrimsher. “That led to a music initiative to ensure a vibrant music scene was part of the economy.” Due to this observation, a new year-round amphitheater is set to open in Huntsville by 2022.
Huntsville’s ability to envision a future with specific goals and objectives aligns perfectly with two key components of good public relations — knowledge and preparation. With this thoughtful approach, Huntsville met the needs of its community members while enforcing its own personal brand.
When asked to describe Huntsville’s brand, many of the city’s key leaders expressed a similar answer — a smart city with flare. “We like to think of ourselves as a lovable geek,” said Kristen Pepper, director of marketing for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re a strong science and technology community, but we’re also a creative and artistic city.” Pepper noted the impression that artists and various creators have made on the city with so many new localized and creative businesses.
Lucia Cape, senior VP of economic development at the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, emphasized the important shift from being a STEM city to a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) city. In addition to celebrating its role in the aerospace industry, the city encourages a diverse workforce by offering an increasing amount of creative opportunities.
Along with Huntsville’s reputation for an intelligent workforce, community members noted the consistency that remains despite years of reinvention. David Hitt, a Huntsville native and current blogger for the #iHeartHSV blog, highlighted the way the city “manages to hang on to the good things about being a small town, while [also] adding the great things about growth as a city.” Although Huntsville is evolving, Hitt proclaimed that certain elements will remain the same. He recalls the city skyline looking identical for decades, and how every change still manages to align with Huntsville’s identity.
Building a brand
Many key leaders involved in Huntsville’s growth process noted how the city’s collaborative effort contributed to its developmental goals. Brands aren’t built overnight, and collectively understanding the end game plays a critical role in a city’s brand identity. “Something we like to ask ourselves is: If Huntsville was a person, what would our personality be?” said Pepper. “What comes to mind when people think of Huntsville?”
Pepper also stressed the need for community involvement and establishing a close relationship with the citizens of the city. She added that local support is crucial in order to reinforce a strong, consistent brand identity. Pepper emphasized the necessity of local buy-ins when deciding who the city is and wants to be in the future.
Huntsville’s leadership teams collectively implemented all of the steps needed to create and enforce a consistent brand. Leaders formulated a mission with specific goals, implemented research-backed initiatives to meet those projections, and then continued to monitor progress made on a consistent basis.
The future of Huntsville
The future of Huntsville certainly puts the STEAM in full steam ahead. Community leaders express nothing but optimism when envisioning a future for the Rocket City.
“If I could tell you the future of Huntsville, it wouldn’t be Huntsville,” said Hitt. He explained that the city remains resilient despite facing many challenges — proving itself to be better than before with a consistent theme of reinvention.
The leading city’s unique personality and unified culture allow for the perfect brand identity. The “lovable geek” has certainly made a name for itself, and the possibilities stretch far beyond Huntsville’s city limits.