October 15, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Imagination, Accomplishments of Cummings Research Park Worthy of Celebration

Published: October 12, 2012

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The last time we as a community set afire a forest of candles atop a cake, figuratively speaking, was to commemorate last spring the 100th birthday of Dr. Wernher von Braun.

Cummings Research Park
Cummings Research Park in Huntsville is home to hundreds of technology companies.

Grab the lighter. Another birthday is here.

It's the big 5-0 for Cummings Research Park.

Which, what do you know, was one of Dr. von Braun's light bulb moments.

"Heeding a cue from von Braun (Milton Cummings and Joseph C. Moquin of Brown Engineering) had taken the first steps in 1961 to create a research park," Bob Ward wrote in "Dr. Space."

Ward noted that von Braun then "gently persuaded" other companies affiliated with the missile industry to move to the park.

Von Braun had an astounding imagination. He envisioned manned space travel to the moon. He envisioned us being on Mars by now.

I would submit this for your perusal:

Even the good doctor could not have imagined what Cummings Research Park has become, and what it does.

"Funny you say that," said John Southerland, the Director of Cummings Research Park. "I can't tell you how many times in various groups, with park companies and leaders, and they've talked about 'Wouldn't he be proud of what this evolved into?'

"He had very high standards," Southerland said. "But he'd be pretty impressed."

It's the second-largest research park in the country. More than 300 companies are located on the vast campus. It wasn't gentle persuasion that got most of them there. It was just common sense. This was the place to have a presence for any company related to space and missile defense.

What no one could have seen 50 years ago was the myriad facets of Cummings Research Park. Now it's not all about sending things up or blowing things up.

"Right now, the 'wow!' factor is definitely what Hudson Alpha is doing in the study of the human genome," Southerland said. "There's CFD and its work on the bio battery. It's the kind of discovery that's almost happening at warp speed here."

The growth of Cummings Research Park from an old farmland and cotton fields is visionary as the work that takes place there. What a leap of faith by the city leaders decades ago to buy up huge parcels of land, hoping or believing or maybe a little of both, that if you built it, indeed they'd come.

All that, clearly worth a celebration. There's a ceremony Monday morning, with all sorts of VIPs involved in the congratulation and self-congratulation. There's a concert Monday night at Bridge Street. There's a technology summit -- what? you expected a barn dance and a softball tournament? -- on Tuesday.

The celebration is a nice reminder because "I think sometimes (Cummings) is taken for granted," Southerland said.

Sometimes, too, it's just too much to comprehend, too complicated.

Many of the 25,000 folks at the research park are the ones those of us with FM radio frequency numbers for IQs never liked. They kept messing up the curve when it came to grades.

But, bless 'em. Thank them. Appreciate them. Envy them. Oh, that some of the rest of us spent more time reading "Popular Science" and less time reading "Mad." That we'd memorized the periodic table of the elements instead of the starting lineups of the entire American League in 1967, from Jerry Adair to Jerry Zimmerman.

Cummings Research Park and the people who make it go have made our city a little smarter and a lot better.

Now, blow out the candles.

Make a wish for 50 more years that can't be imagined.

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