Coffee, Dale and Geneva counties are part of the Wiregrass region of the state, known for aerospace, agriculture and a lot more in between.
This area is home to Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, the primary training facility for military helicopter pilots worldwide. It provides thousands of military and civilian jobs in aerospace, helicopter training and simulation and related industries. It’s also home to the Alabama Aviation College in Ozark.
Fort Rucker assists in supporting the economy of surrounding communities, and just within a 50-mile radius has an annual economic impact of $1.97 billion.
Significant investment of all kinds continues in this area. In 2022, ground was broken for the Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home in Enterprise. The home will employ about 200 people and house about 174 residents.
Manufacturing and other development continues, too. One of the largest investments is a new Ben E. Keith Foods foodservice distribution center, opened in 2022 in New Brockton. Already a major employer, the new facility serves eastern Mississippi, western Georgia, the Florida Panhandle and all of Alabama.
Major economic sectors include agriculture and food production, automotive suppliers, metal fabrication, health care and distribution. Workforce development is of utmost importance here, from K-12 programs to adult education and retraining. Every government and agency supports it through career exploration, job fairs and more.
“In the era of workplace shortages, we have several programs for military spouses and young military retirees to help them with workforce transitions,” says Holle Smith, president of the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corp.
Many school systems already have or have opened career technical centers. In the works is a career exploration center at an Ozark middle school, with plans to introduce younger students to regional job opportunities through STEM and robotics programs.
The city of Enterprise and Enterprise State Community College also plan to add a $10 million workforce development center to meet business and industry needs, training students in fields such as automotive, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, composites, nursing and welding.
And Geneva County schools, Geneva city schools, industry partners, the Alabama Community College System and the Alabama National Guard recently converted a former armory in Geneva County that houses the guard and the school systems’ career technical programs.
Quality of life is important here, too. Many communities have grasped the concept of community and tourism development as a vital part of economic development. Family fun features and events are being added, features that also attract people from other areas.
For example, the city of Enterprise, in Coffee County, broke ground for a multi-million-dollar recreation and aquatics center that will include a competition-ready swimming pool, a kiddie pool with beach entry and play structure, five basketball courts that can be converted into volleyball or pickleball courts, activity rooms, locker rooms and more.
The city of Ozark, in Dale County, just broke ground on a new farmer’s market, and its city-owned shopping center property has new life with a new restaurant coming, the city’s new library space and more. The city also is refurbishing its outdoor tennis courts and is adding indoor pickleball courts.
And in the city of Geneva, in Geneva County, new soccer fields are underway as well as a new city park downtown that will include a splash pad, amphitheater, all-accessible playground and walking trails. Another park is being developed for campsites.
This area also is known as a route to Gulf beaches — so some cities are adding EV charging stations, with the hope that travelers will eat at local restaurants and shop in picturesque downtowns while charging their vehicles.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.
For more on Coffee, Dale and Geneva counties, see the links below:
This story appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.