Spotlight: Greene, Hale, Marengo & Sumter counties

These west Alabama counties are focused on building a strong workforce to support industry

The city of Eutaw is the county seat of Greene County.

Greene, Hale, Marengo and Sumter counties in west Alabama are part of the Black Belt region of the state. While it is a paradise for those who love outdoor sports and activities, it is also in the business of building a strong workforce.

As an example, Wallace Community College Selma unveiled the state’s newest training center on the Demopolis campus in Marengo County in August 2023. The $4.7 million West Alabama Regional Training Center has classrooms and labs tailored to careers in welding, machine tooling, HVAC, industrial maintenance and computer training. Classes are offered to train commercial truck drivers. And the school has partnered with Whitfield Regional Hospital in Demopolis to offer health care training for LPN, RN and patient care. The center was financed by the Alabama Community College System and is open to anyone interested in the training offered.

“This center will provide tremendous educational opportunities for residents of Demopolis and surrounding areas,” says Marengo County Commissioner Freddie Armstead Jr. “Wallace Community College has played an integral part in the growth of new industries and the expansion of existing ones, and we appreciate the vision and support for continuing to move economic development in the Black Belt forward.”

K-12 school systems also are heavily invested in workforce development, including dual enrollment that allows high schools students to earn college credits as well as occupational certification programs.

Local officials also anticipate positive economic changes from the West Alabama Corridor Project — which turns Highway 43 into a four-lane, north-south corridor through west Alabama.

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A streetscape in Demopolis, the largest city in Marengo County.

Local officials also expect a major positive impact from the new Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences. Approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey this spring, the $62 million school will be a tuition-free, residential high school for students from across the state, who would like to start on the pathway to a health care career. Whitfield Regional Hospital and other local entities are partners in the project. The school is expected to open in fall 2026.

The region also benefits from the University of West Alabama in Livingston in Sumter County, a four-year liberal arts school that also plays an important role in workforce development. It recently reported record enrollment for its courses, both on-campus and online.

UWA also is home to the University Charter School, a school established in Lyon Hall in 2018 that now has about 690 students in grades preK-12. The school recently opened the $25 million Smith Campus to house grades 4-12. Plans are to expand and move all grades into the Smith campus.

The entire region continues to attract industry that beefs up existing sectors. The wood/forest products/energy industry is very strong and continues to grow. Enviva, a biofuel company and the largest wood pellet producer in the world, is building a manufacturing facility in Port of Epes Industrial Park in Sumter County. The plant will have a capacity of 1.1 million metric tons per year by mid-2024 and be at full operating capacity in 2025 with 100 workers. Wood and paper companies play an important role in the economy. Prystup Packaging Products in Sumter County is in the midst of a third expansion. And the region is poised to have solar power projects.

Health care also is a very strong sector, with hospitals adding or planning additions to provide more services. And cities and counties are investing in their downtowns and adding amenities.

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

For more on Greene, Hale, Marengo and Sumter counties, see the links below:

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

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

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