Autauga and Elmore counties, in south central Alabama, are known for their great quality of life and growing communities that add amenities for their residents, as well as visitors.
Both counties are actively involved in infrastructure projects to pave the way for industrial and commercial development.
For example, Autauga County has expanded the Interstate Business Park in Prattville with a large spec building and a commercial park area with 15 ready-to-build sites. It also is bringing sewer and other infrastructure to the fastest-growing area of the county off Interstate 65.
Also in Autauga County, the city of Prattville has ongoing projects that include a new engineering building and a new public safety building and has a $17 million renovation underway at the city-owned Stanley Jensen stadium, to develop new home stands, restrooms, locker room and more.
Elmore County has partnered with internet provider Central Access to provide broadband to schools, businesses and homes along 20 miles of corridors 500 feet wide, which can be expanded in the future. The Elmore County Board of Education also will provide some funding for school access and the project will be overseen by the Elmore County Economic Development Authority.
These projects, along with other growth in retail and downtown redevelopment, are also bringing rooftops, with new housing underway. And another focus — tourism — is marking its growth here through the arts, sports and more.
“We’ve shifted our focus in the past two years,” says Lisa Van Wagner, executive director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. “While we are recruiting industry and boosting existing ones, there is a major shift toward sports events, rodeos, fishing tournaments, national level events.”
The ECEDA has been a marquee sponsor of many major events that have been great for the county and have boosted the region’s economic impact. Recent ones include the Southern Rodeo Company 2023 Brush Poppers Cowboy Church Pro Rodeo, the Great Alabama 650 race, River Region Kayak Anglers Big Fish Challenge and the Alabama Crappie Trail State Championship.
While HGTV put the city of Wetumpka on the map with its “Home Town Takeover,” which spurred continuing growth in the area plus a follow-up show that aired in December, it’s only part of the plan, says Lynn Weldon, Wetumpka’s economic development director. “We know HGTV will not last forever, and while we still get many visitors, over the years that will change,” Weldon says. “We have a lot to offer. We are blessed with tremendous beauty and a river, and we have a great quality of life here.”
The city now has a tourism map and is hiring a tourism director to maximize the area’s exposure through bus tours and other opportunities, she says. “We are working to build a destination market organization to contain all of our tourism resources to be represented. We are everything tourism now.”
In nearby Millbrook, the big ongoing project is 17 Springs, a multi-purpose project made possible by a partnership among the city of Millbrook, Elmore County Commission, Elmore County Board of Education, Grandview YMCA and the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. Phase I recently opened, with 12 pickleball courts, 12 tennis courts, four multi-purpose fields, a grass practice area, a grilling station, a lower pond for YMCA programming and a concession area as part of The Fields at 17 Springs.
Phase II is under construction and will include a multi-use 86,000-square-foot The Fieldhouse at 17 Springs, an indoor event venue that can be set up to handle large events, officials say. Below the fieldhouse will be a new stadium with a championship track and field area. Also coming is an 18-acre city-owned property named The Marketplace at 17 Springs for dining, hospitality, entertainment and shopping.
Both counties have strong school systems that recently have boosted their career technical and academic offerings through new facilities to house career-specific classrooms for their students.
An EF3 tornado with winds of more than 150 miles-per-hour swept across the Old Kingston area of Autauga County and in parts of Elmore, Tallapoosa and Chambers counties on January 12, 2023, resulting in at least seven deaths. It caused widespread damage, and officials credit neighboring agencies for helping in several ways, hauling off storm debris and more, along with volunteers who helped.
“Many surrounding counties came to our aid during this devastating time when we needed them the most,” says Kristi Pieper, director of economic and community development for Autauga County.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
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This story appears in the December 2023 issue of Business Alabama.