Chilton, Dallas and Wilcox counties, in west central Alabama, are building new economic enterprises in a region, largely located in the Black Belt, that more often is recognized for its agriculture, historic sites and outdoor activities. Cities and towns are working to make downtowns, riverfronts and historic districts attractive to residents and visitors, while helping bring broadband service to rural areas.
In Chilton County, the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation will invest about $250 million in the new Centennial Park, a 527-acre agricultural-based event facility on land owned by the city of Clanton and Chilton County. Designed to host local and larger events, it will include the Alabama Rural Economic Center, a commercial center with hospitality and retail, and a Workforce Development Center.
The Center will have the potential to bring 300 to 400 direct jobs, 1,500 indirect jobs and $89 million in annual economic impact to the region, officials say.
“Chilton County’s central location, proximity to large cities and access to I-65 make this site ideal,” says Jimmy Parnell, president and CEO of Alabama Farmers Federation, Alfa Insurance and Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation. “There are few comparable ag centers in the United States, so this is a great opportunity for Alabama and Chilton County to attract visitors from across the region and country.” It also is a part of the federation’s centennial, to be celebrated in 2021.
Other strong county sectors include automotive, wood and paper products, health care, higher education and diversified manufacturing. The Chilton County Industrial Development Authority is working with local industries to take full advantage of state and local workforce development resources, says Whitney Barlow, executive director.
In Dallas County, there is a very healthy automotive sector, a health care hub, a growing airport industrial complex and other major sectors.
“Dallas County continues to show steady improvement in job creation, capital investment, industrial recruitment and workforce development,” says Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority. “And efforts continue in education to prepare the next generation to enter the workforce.” Target markets include aviation, automotive and wood related industries.
In economic news, Dallas County Solar LLC announced plans in February for a solar energy project to generate 80 megawatts combined with 80 megawatts of battery storage across approximately 550 acres. The project represents a $100 million investment and is expected to provide approximately $6 million in additional revenue to the county.
Wilcox County lists International Paper Co. in Pine Hill as its leading employer, followed by Golden Dragon Copper USA. Both have had expansions.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.