Economic Engines: Health Care, Agribusiness, Aviation, and more

Health Care
With more than 3, 880 people working for the two largest hospitals in the area, health care is far and away the largest economic sector in the county. Southeast Alabama Medical Center, the largest employer, has 2, 526 employees, while Flowers Hospital has 1, 359. Houston County also has a healthy rehabilitation/nursing home sector.

SAMC’s Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, set to receive its first class in August 2013, is expected to have a major economic impact over the next several years. Overall, SAMC supports annual economic activity of nearly $640 million in Alabama. It has a $138.4 million annual payroll, generates about $26 million in local and state government revenues and provides about $130.8 million in uncompensated care annually.

Flowers Hospital has an annual payroll/benefits of more than $75 million, provides more than $36 million per year in charity and uncompensated care, and pays nearly $4 million in property and sales taxes.

HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Dothan is working on a major addition and renovation of its facilities.

Agribusiness/Peanut Production
Peanut production is big business here. Houston County ranks second in peanut production among all Alabama counties, and the state ranks third in the nation for peanut production.

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Agribusiness is important in this area, with a diverse number of crops that also include livestock, poultry, cotton, corn and soybeans. Three of the county’s largest employers purchase agricultural products from area farmers for poultry processing, snack foods and milk distribution.

Dothan is located on “South Alabama’s Aviation Business Corridor, ” and, in April, it landed aviation maintenance company Commercial Jet. The company, based in Miami, announced it will convert the former Pemco Aeroplex building for its operations, resulting in 500 direct jobs.

Commercial Jet is projected to create 1, 500 other local jobs to support it, and over 10 years, the company’s investment in Dothan will create $740 million in wages, along with nearly $23 million in sales and property taxes, both indirectly and directly, according to a Troy University study.

As a result, the Dothan Houston County Airport Authority will spend more than $13 million to renovate the Pemco facility, with other airport improvements that will be paid for with state and federal grants, along with a bond issue.

“We had a great opportunity, ” says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, the area’s economic development arm. “We will also track potential suppliers.”

In Henry County, city officials have applied for federal funding to expand the runway and other improvements at the Abbeville Municipal Airport, says Pam Ward, Abbeville city clerk/treasurer.

In addition, Fort Rucker, only 30 miles away, has an estimated $1 billion impact on the Wiregrass area and is a major job generator not only for military personnel, but for civilian contractors and other businesses that serve it.

Houston County is no. 1 in retail sales per capita, says Steve Turkoski, the chamber’s project manager. The city’s population grows to about 131, 000 people daily — many more on the weekends — from people coming from a 100-mile radius to shop, go to the medical facilities and eat out.

With two malls, many national chain restaurants and a variety of retail stores from big boxes to regional stores, Dothan is on the map for potential retailers. The area just opened an Academy Sports, and Cabela’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods recently have announced plans for Dothan stores.

Houston County reaps the benefits from such commerce. “The highest percentage of income for municipal operations comes from sales tax income, ” says Turkoski. “About 10, 000 people in our MSA work in retail, second only to health care.” And Dothan’s sales tax collections are 1.7 percent higher than the state average.

Manufacturing/ Distribution/Transportation/Timber
The area has at least eight industrial and business parks and has attracted a diverse group of manufacturers. The area has several distribution centers and plans to recruit more. Houston County has a business park that is ideal for distribution and call center use. And Henry County is actively recruiting for a tenant to fill the former West Point Pepperell building, which would lend itself to development.

Trucking in the area has helped with distribution recruitment. The Houston County Distribution Park has large lots to serve distribution-related projects up to 1.2 million square feet in size. AAA Cooper Transportation is one of the largest employers.

In Henry County, Great Southern Wood Preserving is one of the major employers, and this area is one of the state’s largest timber producers.

Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt

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