Spotlight: Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia & Monroe Counties

These five southwest Alabama counties offer quality of life amenities coupled with job opportunities in agriculture, forestry, automotive, metals and aerospace sectors

The old Monroe County Courthouse, which serves as a museum today.

Five counties in southwest Alabama between Montgomery and Mobile — Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe — are well known as the wood basket. Each county has companies in this sector, and many are among the largest employers. Expansions are common, too.

“Even though we have diversity in industry, we are forestry,” says Rosalyn Sales, executive director of economic development for Clarke and nearby Washington counties. “We have so many companies and continue to add to them.”

Hundreds of people work at these companies, and they continue to invest in their operations and in community service. For example, longstanding companies such as Georgia-Pacific’s Brewton containerboard mill in Escambia County, with more than 450 employees, have been making major investments to improve energy efficiency — and the Brewton mill has been named an Energy Star twice by the EPA. The county is also home to T.R. Miller Mill Co., Swift Lumber and others.

Georgia-Pacific’s Naheola mill in Choctaw County has 985 employees and is one of the largest manufacturers of tissue products in North America. It also has implemented several initiatives to improve energy efficiency. It’s one of the largest overall manufacturing employers in the region.

The largest manufacturer in Clarke County is Packaging Corporation of America, which makes corrugated cardboard, followed by Scotch Lumber/Plywood, Louisiana-Pacific and Canfor Southern Pine, all of which are involved in lumber production and wood products. Westervelt and Browder & Sons sawmills also make the list. And one of the newest companies in this sector, Jackson Pellets LLC, started wood pellet production in the city of Jackson’s port in Clarke County. And in Monroe County, Alabama River Cellulose, which makes wood pulp, is the largest manufacturer.

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This area also has a healthy automotive/metals sector. In Conecuh County, the largest manufacturing employer is Guyoung Tech USA, an automotive supplier, and Escambia County has representation in this sector as well.

Also included in the largest economic sectors in the region are agriculture, technology/aerospace, and the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, which owns businesses in several sectors. CIEDA’s Wind Creek Hospitality operates the Wind Creek Atmore Casino and Hotel and is the area’s largest single employer overall.

Each county has industrial parks and all are working to prepare additional sites and attract business and industry.

Workforce development is a high priority in this area. K-12 schools offer programs and partner with higher education to help students complete their career path or earn a degree.

In the city of Thomasville in Clarke County, the Thomasville Career Readiness Center and Public Library is a “one-stop” shop aimed toward adults of all ages who want to find a career or advance in their chosen field, says Ryan Johnson, the center’s full-time career coach.

“We are not competing with any existing services; we are offering help for those who need support in several areas related to workforce development,” Johnson says. “We help adults who need resume help, apply for jobs, how to stay at their current jobs and ask for more responsibility or advancement, and even how to quit a job and finish well,” he says. “We walk people through the process and help them find what they need.”

These counties and cities take pride in their downtown areas, and many of them continue to add amenities. New retail, lofts, hotels and other businesses help boost the local economy.

And officials are greatly anticipating the continuing construction of the four-lane West Alabama Highway on Highway 43, which already connects from Mobile to Thomasville. The new extension, in phase one now, will connect Thomasville and Tuscaloosa.

“It’ll be a great benefit for the region, and it should be finished in the next five years,” says Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

For more on Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia & Monroe counties, see the links below:

In Focus

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

This story appears in the March 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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