I think often about the man whose vision and imagination did so much to shape our community, and indeed our world.
Dr. Wernher von Braun had a dream of sending man to the moon, and beyond. In leading the United States to great achievement in space exploration, he sparked the transformation of Huntsville from a small cotton town to a robust member of the global community.
But I wonder, as brilliant as Dr. von Braun was and as vivid as his imagination was, could even he have predicted where we would be now as a city and how high-tech our world has become?
The future is a wide, gaping hole that shadows the hopes and dreams for future generations. The optimist looks at the future as an opportunity not a challenge. They are impatient with the present and the past is history.
That perfectly describes Dr. von Braun – and I believe it describes most of the hundreds of attendees who’ll gather April 20 at the “Future & Beyond Symposium” at, quite appropriately, the Von Braun Center.
Simply the title – “Future & Beyond” – resonates deeply within the Huntsville community.
We are proud of our role in the U.S. space program as the home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. We helped build the Saturn V rocket that deliver man to the moon. We have been instrumental in the development and operation of many of NASA’s projects and we’re at the forefront in the next evolution with the Space Launch System.
On the campus of Cummings Research Park, another of Dr. von Braun’s initiatives, great things are being accomplished now in another frontier. Much as Huntsville led the way in space exploration in the 1960s, a half-century later we’re leading the way in genomic research.
Our strong suit has always been the ability to look ahead. Look to the future and have the right building blocks in place to ensure that future meets up with promise. Our community leaders had the foresight in the 1960s to build Cummings Research Park, which is today the second largest research park in America. We also established the Huntsville Symphony, Arts Huntsville and Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater, entities that still enhance our quality of life.
Looking ahead, much as our forefathers did, we have to look at community. I define community as a group that gathers for common goals and reasons. They can be defined as education, work, jobs, industry and quality of life. These common goals are the strength of our community. Whatever your position is in life, your economic standing, or your background everyone wants the same thing – a job, a good standard of living and a quality of life. A reason to want to be a part of a city.
That’s our continuing challenge, and it’s a major thread that will be woven through the “Future & Beyond Symposium,” to attract and retain a diverse population of high quality talent. That’s not merely talent to launch rockets into space. That may be the person who makes inroads in genomic research to cure a disease or the developer who creates something new and amazing for downtown or the next great brewer at one of our many brewpubs.
We are developing great talent through our educational system, from Huntsville City Schools to Drake and Calhoun Community Colleges to Alabama A&M and UAH. I’m always amazed when I visit elementary school classrooms and I see kids already learning how to code and learning about cybersecurity, or they’re building the Greenpower cars.
As a city, we need to make sure those students are cultivated and that we’re able to keep them here after they graduate. We need to continue to attract the best and brightest from elsewhere and here at home, to fill roles in everything from high-tech to advanced manufacturing. We’re doing so by continuing to look well into the future, to assure a strong infrastructure that will support growth, to plan wisely in that growth, to provide a lifestyle that makes Huntsville second to none. I know those topics will be part of the conversation at the “Future & Beyond Symposium,” and I look forward to hearing the ideas that come forward.
Huntsville’s workforce of the future is a broad, expansive group filled with people from all walks of life, just as it is today. Those “walks” are filled with people from every race, religion, creed and background found on this earth. It’s a diversity that is to be celebrated. It was the diversity of ideas and backgrounds, dating back to Dr. von Braun’s days, that transformed this community.
In turn, there is diversity in careers, in biotech fields, aviation, telecommunication, advanced manufacturing, missile defense, space exploration and engineering. The community that can attract the best and brightest workforce will be the community that will find success in the future. The community that proves to be inclusive of people from all walks of life will be the community to succeed. We want to assure that Huntsville is just that community, which is what excites me about this gathering of so many people of vision and imagination at the “Future & Beyond Symposium.”