Lauderdale and Colbert counties, in the northeast corner of Alabama, are known as The Shoals. The counties and their four main cities — Florence, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals and Sheffield — put a lot of effort into improving quality of life for residents and visitors.
Tennessee River waterfront, pretty downtowns and major projects that add amenities for all ages are common here. Many throughout the world have heard of the Shoals’ music heritage, Tuscumbia is the childhood home of Helen Keller, and W.C. Handy, the “father of the blues,” hailed from Florence. All of these provide a rich historical backdrop and give context to popular events, attracting visitors from around the world. The Shoals region is known for sports tourism, as well.
While economic developers have targeted technology, advanced manufacturing, automotive and aerospace industries, another very tangible target is music and film production, says Kevin Jackson, president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority. To that end, SEDA this summer launched the Shoals Music Makers Recording Incentive, to support and provide a point of contact for those who wish to record or film in the area. Eligible applicants for the incentive program can receive up to 30% of their budget back, Jackson says. “We really wanted to incentivize music and film production here, and thus generate even more economic development,” he says. “We have a rich heritage.”
SEDA is also in the fourth year of its Remote Shoals program — offering incentives for people working remotely to relocate to the Shoals. The program has attracted more than 3,000 applicants.
SEDA owns all of the industrial parks in the two counties, and its work is supported by a half-cent sales tax that goes into the Shoals Economic Development Fund to support construction of speculative buildings, incentives and other assistance.
The Shoals is home to many diverse industries but also is known for entrepreneurship — and there are several programs that encourage this.
The five largest manufacturing employers in The Shoals include auto supplier North American Lighting, aluminum product maker Constellium, paper products company Essity, insulated copper wire maker Southwire and vinyl flooring maker Tarkett Alabama.
Another major economic engine is the Florence-Lauderdale County Port Authority, handling tons of material, storing and shipping products locally and beyond. The port continues to grow, as does the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, which is the sixth largest airport in the state.
Not far from the Huntsville metro area and the Tennessee state line, the Shoals is a health care and retail hub for parts of three states and has several school systems and higher education facilities that work closely with each other to provide opportunities for K-12 students and adult learners. The University of North Alabama in Florence, with about 9,500 students, is the fastest growing university in Alabama.
Cities are always busy with improvement projects. The Tennessee River provides a beautiful backdrop for riverwalk parks, trails and other amenities. The city of Sheffield is working on Inspiration Landing, expected to include a marina, amphitheater, a town center and more, focusing on the Shoals’ musical and cultural history. New housing is going up to accommodate population growth.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.
For more on Lauderdale and Colbert counties, see the links below:
This story appears in the October 2022 issue of Business Alabama magazine.