By Claire Aiello
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber
August 1, 2018
Warren Averett, a CPA firm in downtown Huntsville, recently added a group of younger employees to its team. Five are auditors, and some are from the local area while others are brand new to the South. All are between 25 and 35. We sat down with them recently to get their take on what’s happening here as well as how they’d like to see our city evolve.
At 26, Ford Burke has seen a good bit of the world already. He is from Athens, Alabama but attended Randolph School in Huntsville, then went to the University of Alabama. His master’s is in Accounting but he also had the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo, focusing on international business and Japanese.
Burke liked the big city feel and moved to Washington, D.C. He later moved to Columbus, Ohio to work for a large accounting firm in their Japanese practice, and his primary clients were subsidiaries of Japanese auto manufacturers and companies who supplied parts to Honda.
“I enjoyed it a lot, but I wanted to get back to my Southern roots. It’s much warmer down here,” said Burke. “The entire time I was gone from the area – like, 5 or 6 years total, I’d come back to visit family once or twice a year, learning about all these new opportunities and developments. At first, BRAC was the first big expansion for the city, then I started hearing about the Polaris plant, then the Remington plant, and Alabama in general… the Boeing plant in Mobile. It sounded like the state was booming, in terms of new manufacturing capability.”
When we asked his thoughts on Mazda-Toyota selecting Huntsville, considering his background working in the Japanese automotive industry, he chuckled and said “it keeps following me.” He added he looks forward to auditing some of the suppliers expected to locate here in the coming years.
Burke said he would like to see more condominium-type living units built downtown for individuals who are single and just starting out. He currently lives about 20 minutes from work, but would love to move closer. “I’m interested in moving back downtown if it became more affordable,” Burke said. He added he’d like to see restaurants serve food a little later in the evening. “I went somewhere the other night and the last pizza order was at 10. I don’t stay out too late, but being able to order food up until 11:30 would be great.”
Jordan Beckstead, 29, was born in Fresno, California. He said he recently moved from Salt Lake City, Utah because of the job opportunity, the cost of living, and the fact that his wife’s family lives here.
“Growing up in the northwest, I never heard of Huntsville. Alabama never even crossed my mind until I met my wife,” said Beckstead. “On one hand, I think Huntsville should be known a lot better than it actually is, and I don’t know quite how that gets resolved, especially outside of the southeast, but especially if you’re an engineer, you should know about this city.”
Beckstead graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho and suggests more recruiting at colleges could help. “It just takes an introduction of something new. Here are the companies, meet the firms. I think I had 15 of my classmates move to Missouri because a large accounting firm came and did some recruiting there.”
In his spare time, Beckstead likes to do road biking. He said he’d like to see more shoulders added to roads to increase safety for riders, or longer greenways. “[Greenways] really need to be 30, 40 miles to make it worth it,” he said.
Beckstead said he loves the food, loves how green it is and the fact that we’re centrally located. “We’re an hour and a half away from Nashville, four hours from Atlanta, five hours from the beach, six hours from New Orleans. Here, that may seem like a long drive, but if you go out west, four hours is not a long drive,” he added.
Vaughan Holland is 35 and was born in Jackson, Mississippi. She and her family have lived in several cities due to her husband’s role as an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. “We go wherever the bishop sends us,” she said. Recent stops include Birmingham and Lexington, Kentucky.
The Hollands have two children, ages 2 and 5 and live in Blossomwood. They enjoy hiking – they can walk to nature trails within minutes. Holland adds that she likes the small town feel of Huntsville with the conveniences of a big city.
“There’s a lot of cultural events happening here, and that not only will keep growing, the more industry that comes, the more money that comes into the community,” said Holland. “You don’t have to go to Nashville to hear the symphony, or go to a theatre show. You can stay right here.”
Holland said she is also impressed by the community’s support of the school system. She added she would like to see more restaurants in the downtown area.
A few in the group chimed in about the restaurant comment, including Beau Eiland, 26, a graduate of Mississippi State University and a native of Starkville.
“I like Humphrey’s a lot. Downtown, specifically around Big Spring Park – there’s a few places, but nowhere near what Birmingham and somewhere larger has. But I think that will come with time,” Eiland said.
He said he selected Huntsville because it offered good opportunity and a lot of his college classmates moved here, too. He said a similar job paid less in his hometown, and he found a better cost of living here. Eiland added that the best job offer came from Warren Averett. He now does auditing work for defense contractors.
“There is a lot of young success in Huntsville. I have met great friends here, and the local brewery scene is great as well.”
Brady White, 25, is homegrown. He graduated from Madison County High School in 2011 and earned his undergraduate and Masters degree from the University of Alabama.
“I was in Tuscaloosa for almost six years. I loved every minute, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but after it was over, I felt like there wasn’t a better place for me than to come home,” said White. “And not only was it home, but the rapid expansion from the time I left to the time I decided to come back was unbelievable. I just felt like this was the best opportunity for me and the beginning of my career.”
White now lives in Maysville. He enjoys the outdoors, including walking trails and golfing. White said he was disappointed Huntsville didn’t push harder for a minor league baseball team. “Downtown Huntsville would have been the absolute perfect spot for a minor league team… I know there’s a lot of factors that we probably don’t know about, but it would have been nice to see,” he said.
White says Huntsville must build on recent accolades and rankings to keep the momentum going.
“When people talk about the top places to live, Huntsville is popping up on those lists. Every single time. It’s awesome to see, especially being from here,” he said. “We are a place that engineers come, we are a place that accountants come, we are a place that doctors come,” he added.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.