Spotlight: Lee, Russell & Macon Counties

These three east-central Alabama counties offer a variety of industries to work in and communities with amenities to live in

Samford Hall at Auburn University.

Lee, Russell and Macon counties are in east-central Alabama along the Alabama-Georgia border. Both states benefit from each other’s quality-of-life amenities, educational opportunities, economic development and workforce development.

For example, all three counties have automotive suppliers, many of which have continued to grow. And more are coming because of Hyundai in Montgomery County, Kia in West Point, Georgia, and others.

With highly ranked K-12 school districts, workforce development partnerships, stellar amenities and new housing, this area is growing.

Lee County is home to Auburn University, an ever-growing economic engine for the region and beyond. It is a major research university that attracts many high-tech businesses, offering more opportunities for students.

The county’s diverse industrial base has been built around small to medium-sized technology-based, value-added manufacturing companies employing more than 4,700 people. The industrial base includes 46 companies housed in four different parks producing a wide variety of parts including aviation components, engines, filtration parts, power transmission parts, medical plastics, plastics packaging, wireless technologies and automotive parts that range from axles and drive shafts to solenoid valves and textiles.

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In Opelika, the county seat, the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park is strategically located on I-85 within the city limits and has all the needed infrastructure in place. Several industries and distribution companies call the park home, and there is room for more, officials say.

The area provides a healthy environment for entrepreneurs and new businesses. The Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s Forward Opelika campaign, which enables the chamber to tackle big issues facing the community, is renovating the former Opelika Library into a business incubator, visitor center, training facility and offices for both the Opelika Chamber and Auburn Opelika Tourism.

Another new incubator, Opelika Main Street’s downtown retail incubator and resource center, opened in a former gift shop. The back half of the property is the Opelika Main Street office.

Opelika has several quality-of-life projects under way or recently completed, including pools, pickleball courts and a new fire station. Opelika is a retail hub for the region, and that sector is growing.

The city of Auburn has several robust entrepreneurial programs, made possible through the city’s partnerships with Auburn University and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. Those include the New Venture Accelerator, the Auburn Center for Developing Industries, the Auburn Incubator for Manufacturing and the Additive Manufacturing Accelerator. The Yard is a new resource for local startups.

The city is wrapping up improvements to the Auburn Soccer Complex. Projects underway include a new community center, a public safety training center, roadwork and park renovations. The city’s new inclusive playground facility was selected as the 2022 Facility of the Year by the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association.

In Russell County, Phenix City, the county seat, is getting a downtown makeover that will create more urban design for the city, says Shaun Culligan, an economic development manager for the city. Improvements are underway, and it will be done in phases.

New retail is underway as well, including two new developments.

The city’s Public Safety Building on Broad Street has undergone complete renovation and expansion to include a larger city council chamber, an updated municipal courtroom, additional office space and renovated existing office space. The city also plans a new fire training facility with classrooms, bay storage, burn building and drill tower behind Fire Station One.

Phenix City and neighboring Columbus, Georgia, are home to a whitewater park  — according to the cities the longest urban whitewater course in the world and a major tourist attraction.

In Macon County, Regional East Alabama Logistics (REAL) Park has announced its first tenant — Trendco USA, a nitrile glove maker that announced in August that it plans to invest $43 million in the plant that will have more than 250 employees.

The park, which lies along I-85, has 700 acres and expects more than $450 million in total economic output. It also lies in a Qualified Opportunity Zone, which means there are federal, state and local incentives available. It’s located in the fast-growing corridor between Kia’s plant in Georgia, and Hyundai in Montgomery, and the entire corridor is growing.

“We are targeting aerospace and forest products as well as warehouse, logistics and manufacturing,” says Joe Turnham, director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority. “We have had so many inquiries, and we’re confident that this park will be successful.”

Other economic news involves another automotive supplier, Samkee Corp., announcing in February 2023 it plans to invest $128 million to locate its first U.S. factory in the Tuskegee Commerce Park and provide parts to Hyundai.

The county already has had some success in recruiting businesses, including travel centers, for its five interstate exits and is working on more, he says.

In Tuskegee, the county seat, a lot of excitement is centered around a new community park. International recording star Lionel Richie, a native of Tuskegee and American Idol judge, visited the area and announced HELLO Park, one of 100 community projects that will be finished this year as part of Lowe’s Hometowns, a five-year, $100 million commitment from Lowe’s to rebuild and revitalize community spaces nationwide. Richie donated an undeveloped plot of land that his family owns.

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

For more on Lee, Russell and Macon counties, see the links below:

In Focus

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

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

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