Spotlight: Etowah, St. Clair & Blount Counties

These three central Alabama counties are known for natural resources, automotive suppliers and other manufactures, agriculture and more

The Etowah Memorial Bridge on Broad Street in Gadsden was opened in 1927.

Etowah, St. Clair and Blount counties, in central Alabama, boast diverse manufacturing, educational opportunities, comprehensive healthcare facilities and robust quality of life.

They are convenient to interstate, rail and air transportation and also near larger metro areas. In fact, two of the counties are included in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area.

It’s a region of great natural resources, with lakes, rivers and forests. Many downtowns are picturesque, and many are growing. Local officials are working hard to capitalize on those resources.

Each county has several community projects underway to offer more amenities to residents — from sports facilities to new subdivisions to renovations, public gathering areas, multi-purpose centers, new and redone parks, riverfront development and more.

All three counties are strong in several sectors, including automotive suppliers/metals, agriculture and food service, higher education, health care and tourism. New companies have come in, and many existing ones have expanded.

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To that end, workforce development focuses on the areas that need qualified workers, both for K-12 systems and adults. County and city school systems offer an array of workforce programs to help prepare students. Several cities are investing proceeds from newly approved property taxes in school improvements.

Higher education in the county continues to grow to meet the demands of a changing workforce. In 2022, Gadsden State Community College announced that it will construct a 50,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Center on the East Broad Campus in Gadsden. The facility will provide work and training space for students embarking on extremely high-tech careers that are in high demand. Programs that will be housed in the AMC are mechatronics, industrial automation, precision machining, mechanical design technology, additive manufacturing and electronics engineering. Construction starts this spring.

Counties are working to make sure there is plenty of product for economic development. Etowah County is marketing its renamed and remarketed Northeast Alabama Mega Site, located in Rainbow City. It sits adjacent to I-59 and has a nearly 200-acre pad-ready site. The county is partnering with many entities, including Alabama Power, Norfolk Southern and the city of Rainbow City.

“This is great for us, because it allows the city to play a role,” says Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor. “This site is the only megasite in the state that doesn’t have a tenant, yet, and there are so many possibilities.”

Another huge announcement came in December 2022 and involves the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber property in Gadsden. An affiliate of Phoenix Investors purchased the 3 million-square-foot property with plans for a multi-tenant design, with hopes of attracting a variety of tenants, including manufacturing facilities. Up to 40 companies could be located there, with up to 1,200 jobs, says David Hooks, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority.

“Phoenix has a history of handling industrial property,” Hooks says. “We expect this to be used for companies in light manufacturing, logistics, distribution and the like.”

The city of Gadsden has opened a new sports park on the Coosa River.

Residents and visitors to St. Clair County have an abundance of entertaining venues to explore, like this show including Marc Martell and the Black Jacket Symphony live at Logan Martin.

In St. Clair County, part of the Birmingham-Hoover Statistical Area, there are new industrial parks and commerce parks providing sites for a good while, officials say. For example, in February the Kelly Creek Commerce Park opened in Moody, designed to house company headquarters, manufacturers and distribution companies. It is a 172-acre park and has prepared sites.

Also, a project long anticipated coming to Pell City started last year on a former hospital site. A private developer will build 100,000 square feet of retail that will include Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx, Old Navy and more. A couple of new restaurants have already located, and there will be more, officials say.

Community Canvas, a local artist showcase in Oneonta in Blount County.

Blount County also is part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area. The county is building a new multi-purpose building in the center of the county that will house the Alabama Cooperative Extension Center, the Blount County Economic Development Council and much more. The center also will have an agricultural science classroom to boost interest in that sector, in conjunction with Blount County schools’ already robust career technical programs.

Oneonta is the county seat and is home to a growing satellite campus of Wallace State Community College that already has resulted in growth in the county and more opportunities.

The city has been using a $10 million bond issue to overhaul its parks system, Oneonta Mayor Richard Phillips says. The city opened a new aquatics facility, is about to open a new football/soccer facility and there are tentative plans to form a partnership to build an amphitheater.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.

For more on Etowah, St. Clair and Blount counties, see the links below:

In Focus

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

This story appears in the April 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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