Houston and Henry counties are located in the southeast corner of the state, close to the Gulf Coast and parts of Georgia and Florida, in the heart of the state’s Wiregrass region. Both counties are working to provide quality of life and job opportunities for residents while encouraging tourism.
“Our diverse economy has helped us weather a challenging time with COVID, and our tax collections have jumped this year even from last year’s collections, even with the impact we’ve had on our economy,” says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce and Grow Dothan, the economic development arm of not only Houston County, but also Henry, Dale and Geneva counties.
Both counties have new community development projects coming online this year — an entertainment center called Hangar 38 in Dothan and an interactive STEM and history museum called ATTA in Abbeville. The city of Headland, in Henry County, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, with many events planned.
Houston’s county seat is Dothan, which serves as a major hub for retail and medical services. It also is a popular location for sports tourism of all kinds, from Travel Ball USA to golf, archery, soccer, mountain biking and more. Dothan jumped much higher in the Milken Institute’s report on top-performing cities in 2021, ranking 60th from a 2020 ranking of 138th.
“Our major push for sports tourism came last August when the governor allowed us to play sports again,” says Aaron McCreight, president and CEO of the Dothan Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We got to work and we have 65 events scheduled so far in 2021. This has allowed our hotels and restaurants to function, and we were able to ramp up.”
In Houston County, major economic sectors include agriculture and wood products, health care, aviation, retail/tourism, transportation, distribution, finance/banking and higher education. Henry County shares many of these, as well. Both counties have seen significant industrial growth. In Dothan, Global Resources International plans a medical manufacturing facility with 70 workers and SmartLam North America has acquired the former IB XLam facility. In Henry County, Abbeville Fiber opened its $43 million sawmill employing about 100 people.
“We expect more announcements this year,” Parker says. In fact, Houston County has partnered with the state, the city of Dothan and Grow Dothan on an as-yet unnamed industrial project at the Sam Houston Industrial Park, a 67-acre project.
Partnerships also are important in workforce development, as K-12 school systems work with colleges to provide students with more opportunities in career technical fields and dual enrollment, and in other projects around the county, from parks to new housing developments. The chamber works with Southeast Alabama Works and other workforce development agencies.
Adding to a strong higher education and medical sector is the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, affiliated with Southeast Health and the Houston County Health Care Authority.
This story appears in the July 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.