It is time to prepare for a new year. As a community, it is important for us to look back and reflect on a year of news and events that have brought us to where we are today. At times, the news around us is full of conflict, which often drowns out the news we should celebrate. There is much happening in Decatur-Morgan County that shows our high quality of life, and we need to tell that story. 

With that thought in mind, the Chamber would like to share the top five stories from 2018 that make us excited to be in Decatur-Morgan County.

Mazda-Toyota announcement impacts the entire region
Just after the New Year, Japanese automakers Mazda and Toyota announced a partnership to build a $1.6 billion manufacturing facility in Limestone County just 10 miles from downtown Decatur. Once fully operational, the plant will directly employ 4,000 people and produce 1 2 3 4 5 fingers300,000 vehicles annually – including the Toyota Corolla and a new small Mazda SUV. Not only will those numbers create a dramatic economic impact, the plant has the potential to attract two and a half times the original job number announcement in the form of suppliers, contractors and construction crews. Alabama – tied for fifth as the largest producer of vehicles in the U.S. – winning the national competition for landing the facility speaks to our region’s business-friendly environment, our highly trained and technical workforce, and our area’s high quality of life. The ripple effect of Mazda-Toyota will reap benefits for generations in our housing markets, our schools, our infrastructure and our local tax base.

Decatur Morgan Hospital transforming
In January, Decatur Morgan Hospital – part of the Huntsville Hospital Health System - announced what became a more than $50 million capital improvements plan to both increase the quality of patient care and enhance the public’s experience at the main campus on Somerville Road. When the upgrades – which are currently underway – are complete, the hospital will include more private rooms, a new MRI suite, waiting and reception areas and a newly designed and expanded emergency department. The investment by the System in Decatur-Morgan County and the more than 1,400 employees will ensure that quality healthcare options are available locally for our region.

OneDecatur is our city’s roadmap
The Decatur City Council in February adopted the OneDecatur comprehensive plan as the roadmap for future growth and development of our community. The plan, which includes feedback from more than 1,000 residents and nearly a dozen public meetings and information sessions, is the result of a multi-year agreement with municipal consultant PlanningNext to address community topics such as land use, residential growth, city branding, efficient government and zoning guidelines. Since February, portions of the plan have already been implemented and produced positive results, including the selection of award-winning national branding and advertising agency Big Communication of Birmingham to lead a rebranding initiative for the city. The OneDecatur plan provides a vision of how our city will grow together as our region transforms over the next decade.

New schools, new campuses, new future
August marked the beginning of a school year where approximately 60 percent of Decatur City Schools students found themselves attending classes on a new campus. From late May to early August, six schools moved to different – and in some cases, new – locations around our city, a feat never accomplished in the system’s history. The new state-of-the-art Austin and Decatur High Schools, with a combined size of more than 440,000 square feet, welcomed students where each had for the first time their own separate football stadiums. The new Career Academies of Decatur was established at the renovated former Austin campus as a career tech center, Oak Park Middle became Decatur Middle at the former Decatur High campus, Somerville Road Elementary moved from the recently closed Brookhaven Middle campus they shared to the former Oak Park Middle campus and became Oak Park Elementary, and the Brookhaven Middle student body was realigned to the already existing Cedar Ridge Middle and the newly created Austin Junior High. The new facilities, the campus moves and the realignment of the feeder patterns for the entire system have provided new opportunities to develop the more than 8,700 students in the system to be the next generation of leaders.

Relationships improve our quality of life
In June, Sen. Richard Shelby announced Wheeler Wildlife Refuge was to receive a $5.4 million grant as part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual construction projects operating plan. The award will improve refuge access, construct a handicap-accessible wildlife observation tower, add new restroom facilities and other improvements that will add to our quality of life and attract visitors to support our local economy. The grant was one of the largest awards ever from the Fish and Wildlife Service. And in December, Sen. Shelby announced a more than $14 million federal grant for the construction of an overpass bridge on Alabama Highway 20 in the city-annexed portion of Limestone County. The project includes access roads, entrance and exit ramps, and accommodations for pedestrian access. With the 2018 announcement of the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing USA plant locating just a few miles east, along with approximately 4,000 direct jobs, this infrastructure improvement will be a critical part of supporting that economic development. The grant – which was awarded on the first submission attempt – will open up areas north and south of the project to commercial and residential development, the latter of which the Chamber is currently spearheading with a collection of regional business leaders with the goal of creating a healthy environment for growth. Both projects and the long-lasting impact they will have on our quality of life are a testament to partnerships and communication between governing bodies, elected officials and those who they represent.