He’s a computer systems analyst for one of the world’s largest defense contractors by day. By night, he works over a hot grill serving up fresh tacos for the masses.
Like many Huntsville transplants, Armando Guerrero migrated to the Rocket City from Austin five years ago for a job. Since then, he and wife Priscilla have launched Crave Heat, a Tex Mex food truck that has become a staple at street food gatherings and a sight for sore eyes among Huntsville’s homeless community.
It’s been hard for the couple with three young sons to live more than 800 miles from the only home they’ve ever known, but Armando Guerrero, a Texas native who never imagined he would one day live in Alabama, believes his family unit is stronger because of it.
“We’ve faced many challenges here without family, but it’s been a great place to strengthen our family as a family,” he said. “Our faith has increased a good bit, as we miss family and feel distant at times.”
Using 2010-11 Internal Revenue Service data, AL.com is taking a look at where residents are moving from into the state, and where Alabamians are going when they leave. A year after Guerrero landed a job in Huntsville, 16 people from the Austin area moved into Madison County and brought $523,000 in income with them.
Another high migration area was Fairfax, Va., which lost 209 people and more than $10 million in income to Madison County. During that same time frame, King County, Wash. lost 33 people and $1 million to the Huntsville area, San Diego County 93 people and $1.9 million and El Paso County, Colo. 90 people and $2.9 million.
Unlike other metro counties across the state, Madison County’s per capita income of newcomers is $1,790 higher than the people who are leaving. Mobile, Jefferson, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Shelby counties all have a negative per capita income relationship between comers and goers.
‘A commonality of culture’
Lucia Cape, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, wasn’t surprised by the IRS migration data. Cape said the Chamber launched an aggressive recruitment campaign through the Base Realignment and Closure period from late 2006 through 2011.
The Chamber spent a lot of time in the Washington, D.C. and Fairfax area recruiting newcomers during BRAC, a process that brought 4,600 government positions to Huntsville.
Col. John Hamilton, who migrated from Fairfax into Madison County in 2010, didn’t come to Huntsville for BRAC. Instead, he was offered the garrison commander post at Redstone Arsenal.
Hamilton, who admits Huntsville “was kind of an unknown place” before moving here, said the city has grown on him and his family.
“When you get into a town like this, if you’re someone like me who moves around a lot, this is a town you can just step right into and be comfortable in,” he said. “If you go around to cities like these that have a significant military presence, they all tend to have similar characteristics – a comfort level, a commonality of culture.”
Hamilton retired last year after a long military career to assume the role of Huntsville’s city administrator. Hamilton, who is raising two young children in Huntsville’s medical district, said the transition was easy for his family.
As Remington prepares to take over the former Chrysler building near Huntsville International Airport and Verizon brings in 300 new workers to its call center in Thornton Research Park, Hamilton said infrastructure and acceptance will be vital for continued growth in the community.
AL.com reported earlier this year that 45 percent of Madison County’s population is made up of residents who are not natives of the state, while the area is also on a short list of Alabama counties where more than 5 percent of the population was born outside the United States.
With the promise of 2,000 new Remington jobs in Madison County, Cape said that migration pattern is likely to continue in the years ahead.
“That kind of trend is strong,” she said. “It shows you can organically support workforce growth but you also have the characteristics to bring people in from outside, which continues to strengthen us a community.”
Curse, a gaming information company that moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Huntsville in 2013, is expanding this year with 20 new jobs at its downtown office. The business grew 60 percent in 2013, which was in part fueled by “the great talent” Curse has found in the Rocket City.
“It’s a pleasant mix of technical minds, and people that really understand our products and are all members of the new digital age,” said Vice President of Marketing Donovan Duncan.
Justin Sacks and David Cho, two young professionals from out west, packed their bags and left sunny southern California to take full-time jobs with Curse.
Sacks, who came directly from San Diego, was operating a small business in the competitive gaming industry when an opportunity to work for Curse came available last spring. Now a sales and business development manager for Curse, Sacks said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by Huntsville at every turn.
“I definitely had a perception on what the South and specifically Alabama would look like,” he said. “Huntsville has blown those away. … San Diego is probably the most amazing place in the world to live, so it would be hard to beat that, but it’s been pretty awesome here. I definitely have no plans to leave anytime soon.”
Cho, who is from Huntington Beach, said Curse offered to fly him out to Huntsville before offering him the job so he could take a look at the city. He declined.
It’s taken some time for the video editor to get acclimated to Alabama, but Cho said the environment and housing market for young people “have been much better than expected.”
“I definitely had some preconceived notions coming in to be perfectly honest, but once you actually come to Huntsville, physically speaking it’s not what you expected – in a good way,” he said. “It really is a thriving city, and it’s just great to be a part of the growth.”
Huntsville newcomers share what brought them to the Rocket City | AL.com.