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Alabama could win Space Command on its lower cost of living

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By LEE ROOP | Alabama Media Group | Published: September 21, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — People were surprised this week to learn that Huntsville appears ahead in the competition to host the headquarters of America’s new Space Command. The “smart money” had been on Colorado, home to most of the finalist sites and a good amount of the command’s military resources.

The new command has the job of protecting American assets in space — mainly satellites — and the American homeland from attacks from space. It will also lead the military response to any space war that breaks out.

Quoting unnamed sources, the military news website Breaking Defense broke the news that Huntsville is leading. The writer joked that, “One knowledgeable observer quipped that Colorado would win because so many Air Force brass own homes there.”

What put Huntsville out in front? People close to the city’s recruiting effort point first to the city’s long experience in the missile and space business. Redstone Arsenal has been working on missiles for the Army and NASA for decades. But they also point to another part of the city’s proposal that may prove just as important: the comparative costs of living.

The independent website “Sperling’s Best Places” compared the cost of living around Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal to the five other sites. Four of those sites are in Colorado, and one is in California.

Huntsville was less expensive overall than the competition and less expensive on specific resident needs including housing, transportation, groceries. Huntsville was higher than the other competitors in health care costs and higher than all but one in utilities.

Overall, the study found Huntsville 41 percent less expensive than Aurora, CO. (home of one Colorado site); 23 percent less expensive than Colorado Springs (home of the other three Colorado sites) and 33 percent less expensive than Lompoc, Calif. (home of California’s site).

Mayor Tommy Battle said this week that his city does “85 percent of America’s missile defense work through the Missile Defense Agency sitting right here.”

The Army’s Space & Missile Defense Command and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are both in Huntsville, he said. And the Army is developing its plans to combat hypersonic space weapons in Huntsville.

Sperling also put Huntsville ahead of 16 other cities in science and tech jobs per 1,000 residents (160) and lower than the same cities in the cost of living. The cities included San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Raleigh, Austin and Denver.

If the report is correct that Huntsville topped the comparative survey, Alabama’s argument to win the headquarters will come down to this: The Pentagon took a close look at the candidate cities based on specific and general attributes, and Huntsville came out on top. How could site selectors justify putting the headquarters somewhere else?

“We are No. 1 if we base it on the criteria,” Battle said.

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