With the ThyssenKrupp Carbon Steel Mill on U.S. 43 less than an hour from Thomasville in Clarke County, the area is quickly becoming a “metals corridor, ” attracting suppliers including Lakeside Steel, Metals USA, SET Enterprises and Chinese copper company Golden Dragon and others, bringing millions in investment and hundreds of jobs, says Jim Searcy, executive director of the regional development alliance. “We are probably better positioned than five years ago with TK products, because you can use the steel for metal stamping and other automotive uses pretty easily. We have a foothold in this sector.”
Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day is working to create “Alabama’s Metals Corridor” on U.S. 43 between Mobile and Tuscaloosa. The industrial investment is coming along, with more than 600 new jobs, he says, with retail and other development soon to follow.
Glen Haab, executive director of the Monroeville/Monroe County Economic Development Agency, says the county will focus on the steel sector. “We also are looking on developing our airport and focus on the future there.”
Automotive suppliers also are another up and coming sector; the area has at least three suppliers, Searcy says.
Historically, this sector has been the region’s bread and butter and still is, Searcy says. Despite economic downturns, it’s still the county’s largest industrial employers, from Georgia-Pacific to Boise Paper. The Coastal Gateway is a prime lumber and wood products manufacturer. “We are encouraged to see our companies invest in new technology and be ready for the economic turnaround, ” Searcy says. “There will be pent-up demand for product.”
The area is a huge draw for eco-tourism. It is part of the Piney Woods Birding Trail, a culinary trail and many other outdoor attractions, including festivals and sports events.
Monroeville, home of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Nelle Harper Lee, has for more than 50 years presented the novel’s story for people who come from all over the world, and now has a brand-new amphitheater for the production. The county also is becoming a family arts destination with museums and other attractions.
The Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore in Escambia County is a major tourist draw, with a new wellness retreat. Creek Indian Enterprises employs more than 1, 300 people, according to the group’s economic development report, has paid more than $280 in taxes over the past four years and made a total capital investment of $375 million.
The city of Atmore in Escambia County is marketing Rivercane, a 440-acre site at Exit 57 from Interstate 65, for retail and commercial growth.
Recent Rivercane additions include a Holiday Inn Express and a Hardee’s, and a Hampton Inn will soon start construction, says Joe Webb, city of Atmore project manager. “We’re very convenient to Mobile and ThyssenKrupp, and the Wind Creek Casino is a good neighbor, ” he says. “Even though the economy has slowed we are poised for more development.”
Residential development includes the Old Towne subdivision in Atmore and Juniper Creek in Brewton, built around an 18-hole golf course designed by Jerry Pate.
Other new retail includes a new Super Walmart in Monroeville and a Marvin’s Home Center in Thomasville.
Hospitals in the five counties are major employers with a huge economic impact. The newest, Choctaw General Hospital, just opened in March. Those hospitals also produce spin-off businesses, such as home health, hospice and assisted living/nursing home care.
Conecuh County produces 25 percent of the state’s oil, says John Ralls, executive director of the Conecuh County Economic Development Office. “We have several companies with service locations here, and we are working with three different companies now.” The county also extracts natural gas and propane.
Up and Coming Sectors
Aviation-related industry is one sector the region hopes to capitalize on with upgrades to airports, hangars, runways and other facilities. And the region hopes to attract more distribution, call centers and automotive suppliers.
Choctaw County: 10.5 mills
Clarke County: 11.0 mills
Conecuh County: 18.0 mills
Escambia County: 11.5 mills
Monroe County: 11.5 mills
State of Alabama: 6.5 mills
Choctaw County: 3 percent
Butler: 2 percent
Clarke County: 1 percent
Grove Hill: 4 percent
Jackson: 4 percent
Thomasville: 4.5 percent
Conecuh County: 2 percent
Evergreen: 2 percent
Repton: 2 percent
Escambia County: 1 percent
Atmore: 5 percent
Brewton: 3 percent
Flomaton: 3 percent
Monroe County: 2.5 percent
Monroeville: 2.5 percent
State of Alabama: 4 percent
Source: Alabama Department of Revenue
By Lori Chandler Pruitt