Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe — five counties in southwest Alabama centered between Montgomery and Mobile — benefit from several profitable economic sectors, from wood products to automotive to technology and health care.
Known as the state’s wood basket, these counties are especially strong in wood and wood products, with very healthy recent growth. Many of the largest manufacturers in this sector have recently expanded and added jobs. The largest manufacturing employer in each of the counties is a lumber, wood products or paper products company, except for Conecuh County, which counts a large automotive supplier — Guyoung Tech USA — as its largest manufacturer, but still has a healthy wood products sector.
Also included in the largest economic sectors in the region are automotive and metals, agriculture, technology and aerospace, and the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, which owns several businesses in a variety of sectors. Wind Creek Hospitality — one of CIEDA’s ventures and home to Atmore’s Wind Creek Casino and Hotel and more — is the area’s largest single employer overall.
“Despite COVID, we haven’t lost jobs, and our small city has seen a lot of growth,” says Darlene Thompson, executive director of the Monroeville/Monroe County Economic Development Authority.
Health care has seen a large boost in every county — some from new facilities, some from new affiliations that make services more accessible.
In Clarke County, the Thomasville Regional Medical Center has opened with other new medical facilities anticipated. Also in Clarke County, Jacksonville city leaders approved a one-cent sales tax increase to help fund a new emergency room and other improvements at Jackson Medical Center.
In Escambia County, where D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital in Brewton and Atmore Community Hospital are under the same Escambia County Health Care Authority, a new urgent care site is in progress near the Atmore hospital.
Evergreen Medical Center in Conecuh County recently completed a new emergency room as did Monroe County Hospital in Monroeville. And Choctaw General Hospital in Choctaw County now benefits from a new collaboration between Rush Health Systems and Ochsner Health, both of which help provide leadership to Choctaw General.
These counties and cities take pride in their downtown areas, and many of them enjoy nearly 100% occupancy, thanks to revitalization efforts and investment. Counties have recruited new retail, hotels, lofts and other businesses. Amenities are important too, as parks, splash pads and event venues have been started or are being improved.
Thomasville has a new public library and career readiness center in progress and all the counties boast active workforce development programs in the schools and beyond.
The counties have branched off from an earlier economic development alliance, allowing them to better target each community’s assets while still supporting each other regionally.
“We have so many assets,” says Jessica Dent, director of economic development for Conecuh County. “We have an overall unified strategy in that we are strategically aligning the communities for growth and working together for economic development.”
Jess Nicholas, CEO of Centerfire Economics, which directs economic development for Escambia County, says the county’s position in the state makes it logistically ideal for development. “I would say we’re a best-kept secret, but that wouldn’t be accurate because the secret is already out. We expect to remain on a growth trajectory for many years to come and look forward to welcoming more development and opportunities for our citizens as that growth continues,” says Nicholas.
And Rosalyn Sales, executive director of economic development for Clarke County and nearby Washington County, adds, “We have been very blessed with a great team of people, who want to see the very best for their communities and citizens. We are also very fortunate to have a great working relationship with all the utilities, the Departments of Commerce and Revenue, ADECA and ALATOM Regional Planning Commission.”
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.
For more on Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe counties, see the links below:
This story appears in the March 2022 issue of Business Alabama magazine.