Spotlight: Houston and Henry counties

These Southeast counties boast a variety of industrial employers, medical facilities and recreational opportunities

James Oates Park in Dothan attracts baseball and softball teams to the area.

Down in the Wiregrass Region of Alabama, Houston and Henry counties sit as neighbors in the Southeast corner of the state, bordering Georgia and close to the Gulf Coast. And both counties’ leaders are on a mission to bring new businesses and tourism to their respective cities and towns.

Colton Cureton, vice president of economic development for the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, says several factors help distinguish the region.

“We’ve got a great structure for leadership, and our elected officials in the community really understand the importance of working together and working across city and county lines and doing whatever it takes to better our local economy and the Wiregrass Region and helping one another,” Cureton says.

In Henry County, the major industries include manufacturing, retail, agriculture, timber, construction, financial, entertainment and entrepreneurship.

The county is home to manufacturers like Great Southern Wood Preserving, which produces treated lumber, and industrial systems maker TriDelta Systems, two companies that are among the county’s largest employers.

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The key industries in Houston County include technology, health care, retail, construction, manufacturing, distribution and transportation, food processing, the college system and the Southern Nuclear Operations Co., to name a few. And through initiatives like Grow Dothan — a public-private partnership — the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce is working to secure incentives for companies wanting to expand or relocate to the area and assisting with workforce development planning.

“The population doubles during the day because people come here to work. People come here for health care and people come here for retail purposes. So, you’ve got a great community that really benefits from not only the people that are here, but also the people that are in the surrounding communities,” Cureton says.

In Dothan, Gateway Tire Southeast announced plans recently to expand its 200,000-square-foot warehouse in the Westgate Industrial Park by 100,000 square feet. The expansion will cost $9 million and bring 30 new jobs to the city.

Another company, SmartLam North America announced it would spend $62 million in Dothan to build a new 140,000-square-foot glulam manufacturing plant.

Meanwhile, Peak Renewables, out of Canada, announced it intends to spend $30 million to construct a new wood pellet production plant in Dothan.

To help train and prepare its workforce, the Wiregrass Region offers public and private educational institutions, like Wallace Community College, a two-year associate degree institution, and Troy University.

Dothan is also home to the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, an institution accredited through the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

Houston and Henry counties also have economic and community development initiatives in the works.

One of the initiatives is in Dothan, which is revitalizing its city center. According to the chamber, the project will be paid for with public and private funds and include renovating the Dothan Opera House, constructing a new arena to seat approximately 6,000 people — double the seating capacity of the current civic center — and the new Wiregrass Arts and Innovation Center for cultural and arts events.

And through the initiative Visit Dothan, efforts are underway to update other recreational venues, says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The city and Visit Dothan have done a good job developing recreation infrastructure, the ball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, clay court tennis courts, walking trails and everything. And we’ve hosted a lot of traveling sports activities,” Parker says.

In Henry County, Abbeville Mayor Jimmy Money says his city is working toward extending a runway at its municipal airport. The city recently obtained $236,700 in grant funding from the Federal Aviation Administration toward the project.

“We’re extending our runway up to 5,000 feet. We’re going to add 1,600 feet, which is going to make it convenient for larger planes to come in here,” Money says.

“Companies that are coming in and looking at our city and county are wanting to land at our airport, and it just can’t accommodate them on a 3,500-foot runway. So, we’re extending up to 5,000 feet,” he says.

“Time is money, and they want to fly in, look around and fly out. We’ve missed a lot of opportunities over the years not having a place for them to land and they are having to go to Headland. We’ve been fortunate to get some grants to help site that.”

Additionally, he says the Abbeville City Council recently voted to update the city’s rescue unit, which would bring the number of 24/7 rescue units to two and add more ambulances.

And Brandon Shoupe, chairman of the Houston County Commission, says his county is working to build up its quality-of-life bona fides.

“We recognize that there’s plenty of jobs out there, and people are choosing where they want to live before they choose where or who they want to work for. Today you can live in Dothan, and work for a software development company out of Silicon Valley if you want to, because there’s so much remote work,” Shoupe says.

“We want Houston County to be a place where people want to live because we have cultural opportunities, recreational opportunities and other amenities that people desire. That makes a more balanced life and makes life worth living.”

Gail Allyn Short is a Birmingham-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

For more on Houston and Henry counties, see the links below:

Economic Engines

In Focus

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

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

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