Houston County is located in the southeast corner of the state in the heart of the Wiregrass region. The county seat is Dothan, a hub for retail and medical services that brings in thousands of people per day within a 100-mile radius including parts of Florida and Georgia.
Dothan has a diverse economy, although it has long been known as an agricultural mainstay. The county is no. 1 in peanut production in the state, and there are several other sectors that are active and growing — from food processing to tire production, motor freight, textiles and aviation.
“All of our major industry sectors are on an uptick,” says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce. “Many of our up-and-coming sectors are expanding, too. There is a lot of good momentum here.”
The chamber, which is celebrating its 100th year of operation this year, is the economic development agency for the city of Dothan, Houston County and the Wiregrass area.
Houston County soon will become a major hub for first responder training as well, with the opening this fall of a regional public safety training center. The county and city are partnering on it, as well as the Wiregrass Foundation. The non-profit foundation awards grants to several projects in the community.
Economic growth is a team effort in Houston County. The city of Dothan operates several business incubators to help launch new businesses; the chamber’s Grow Dothan program is a partnership that helps raise money for economic development, and the Downtown Dothan Redevelopment Authority operates a retail incubator.
“We work with other counties and agencies on economic development and business growth,” Parker says.
Downtown is healthy and continues to grow, with all kinds of development, infrastructure improvements, pedestrian/bike trails and more. New tourism initiatives urge travelers to stop and enjoy what the city has to offer. Sports tourism is big here and continues to grow. Dothan just celebrated one of its residents, chef Kelsey Barnard Clark, who recently won on the “Top Chef” television competition. Clark owns a restaurant in the city.
Partnerships also are important in workforce development, as K-12 school systems work with colleges to provide students with more opportunities in career technical fields and dual enrollment, and in other projects around the county, from parks to new housing developments.
“We have great support in the city and county, and partnerships are very important for us,” Parker says. The chamber works with Southeast Alabama Works and other workforce development agencies in a 10-county area.
Adding to a very strong higher education and medical sector is the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, affiliated with Southeast Health and the Houston County Health Care Authority. The first class graduated May 2017, and the school is growing.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.