Spotlight: Fayette, Lamar & Marion Counties

These three northwest Alabama counties offer a small-town quality of life coupled with multiple job opportunities

Living in Fayette, Lamar and Marion counties offers tranquil settings coupled with job opportunities in an array of industrial sectors.

Marion, Fayette and Lamar counties in northwest Alabama offer a highly desired small-town quality of life along with close proximity to two interstates, large metro areas and job opportunities.

Target industries include advanced manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, food production, logistics, distribution and warehousing, metal fabrication and wood products. About 30% of the workforce in this area is employed in manufacturing that requires industry-specific credentials and experience.

Manufacturers make products from automotive and forklift parts to cabinets, reflective signs and tile. The metals section is growing, and several of those companies are among the largest in the area.

Although many workers commute out of county for manufacturing jobs, more are coming to the three-county region. A potential game changer is a project underway by Warrior Met Coal — a $154 million investment in Fayette County to facilitate the option of railcar transportation for its Blue Creek coal reserves from the company’s longwall mine in northern Tuscaloosa County.

Once completed, it will reinforce the company’s position as the premier U.S. pure-play producer of premium metallurgical coal products. Production should begin in 2025, with a job count of 400-500, officials say.

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The move is expected to generate substantial tax revenues for Fayette County’s school system, officials say, as an above-ground conveyor system will be located near the town of Berry in Fayette County. Fayette County commissioners granted a 10-year tax abatement for the conveyor system, but those abatements do not affect education taxes, so schools will benefit.

Shane Hughes, vice chair of the Fayette County Commission, says the move also helps the county’s goal of adding more rooftops. “This is a 40–45-year project and there will be a lot of opportunity for us,” he says.

Nearly 100% of all three counties will have high-speed fiber optic internet, which will continue to help drive economic development. And communities that have a direct connection to Interstate 22 from Birmingham to Memphis also benefit. The city of Fayette is still anticipating a four-lane West Central Alabama connector between the city to the interstate and three industrial parks.

School systems and higher education are developing career technical programs for students and arranging for dual enrollment with nearby community colleges — all aiming to dovetail higher education with local industry needs.

One of the newest endeavors is in Winfield City Schools in Marion County. The system is renovating the former 85,000-square-foot Sitel call center building into a career technology center to serve local students and those from neighboring counties.

And Bevill State Community College recently launched the CertifyNow: Fast-Track Your Success initiative that includes a wide variety of online workforce certification programs.

Several of the region’s cities are planning improvements to parks, sports facilities and downtowns, hoping to attract residents and visitors. Festivals and events help boost community spirit. These counties also have a great deal of interest in preserving the historic integrity of the area.

The cities of Fayette, Sulligent and Guin were chosen for the Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative, a program led by the University of Alabama that works to improve health and recreational spaces for physical and mental health outcomes. ENI also works with the communities to develop a local health equity plan, draft a health resource directory and develop “healing zones.”

In the city of Sulligent, for example, the healing zone will include walking paths, lighting, seating and a gazebo, along with a sensory-friendly area, officials say. The zone will be in the middle of the city on the site of a former historic home, says Bradley Long, city administrator.

Tourism is important here, as well. This region is already popular for ecotourism. It is No. 1 in the state for deer hunting, and major rivers and lakes offer great fishing, canoeing, campgrounds and more. Waterways include the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Sipsey Valley River Wilderness Area and Bear Creek Lakes.

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

For more on Fayette, Lamar & Marion counties, see the links below:

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

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

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