Houston and Henry counties are located in the southeast corner of the state, the heart of the Wiregrass region. Both border Georgia on the east and Houston shares its southern border with Florida.
Houston County and its surrounding areas make up the peanut capital of the U.S., along with cotton, corn and chicken production. However, it has a very diverse economy that helps it weather economic storms. Retail is big business for the county, especially in the city of Dothan. And developers are looking for more, particularly with the announcement that Commercial Jet is coming to Dothan, bringing 500 jobs.
“We’re after aviation, fabricated metal, chemical companies and looking at food processing to add to our distribution park, ” says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce. “What’s interesting, though, is that, because of our infrastructure, we have a good, diverse manufacturing sector, and we can accommodate many types of industry.”
Houston County’s largest overall employer is Southeast Alabama Medical Center, followed by Dothan City and Houston County schools, Flowers Hospital and the city of Dothan. The county’s largest manufacturing employer is the Farley Nuclear Plant, operated by Southern Co., followed by Wayne Farms, a poultry producer, Michelin tires and Twitchell Technical Products. In between are distribution and transportation companies and a variety of other industries.
Dothan is progressive on community investment, with a spectrum of development projects downtown and in outlying areas that are set to improve the quality of life in the area. And the region is known for cooperation.
Recently, three community development organizations — Education Foundation for Dothan’s Future Inc., Yes We Can! Dothan and Adopt-a-School! Dothan — merged into one, so they could work more efficiently to improve student achievement for all Dothan City School students, maintain continuous school improvement and engage Dothan citizens in the public school system. The foundation is an independent, non-profit organization that helps pay for special projects.
“It made sense, because we all are involved with education, and together we can accomplish a great deal, ” says Tami Culver, director of the Dothan Education Foundation. “We do many things to get the community more involved in our schools, even if they do not have children in the schools, and make them aware of what our schools offer.”
The foundation — supported by grants and donations from the public — also awards grants to help teachers develop special projects. Teachers have applied for grants for everything from a butterfly garden to a weather station, Culver says.
“We are unique in what we do, because we can bridge the gap between business, the community and the schools, ” she says. “We can engage business to help with projects, and our adopt-a-school program has many chances to enrich schools.” The foundation also can help with something as simple and important as a winter coat drive.
The city school system’s technical center is being revamped to include a pre-engineering program and welding program.
In Henry County, the largest industrial/manufacturing employers include Great Southern Wood Preserving, Golden Peanut and American Machine and Manufacturing, a steel maker. The largest employers are the Henry County Board of Education, Henry County Health and Rehabilitation and the Henry County Commission.
“Farming and timber are two forces that drive us more than anything in this county, but we also have a strong health care sector, and our county and schools are large employers, ” says Probate Judge and Commission President David Money.
A spirit of cooperation exists in both counties between chambers of commerce, government entities and private foundations, along with local businesses and industry leaders who help recruit and offer incentives. “We have a lot of good, progressive people here, ” Money says.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt