Spotlight: Lee, Russell & Macon Counties

Lee, Russell and Macon counties are along the Alabama-Georgia border, benefitting from both states' quality of life, economic development, educational opportunities and more.

Downtown Opelika. Photo by Dylan Stewart – Auburn-Opelika Tourism.

Lee, Russell and Macon counties are in east-central Alabama along the Alabama-Georgia border. This means both states benefit from the quality of life in each other’s communities, and from each other’s educational opportunities, economic development and job recruitment.

For example, all three counties have automotive suppliers that work with both Hyundai in Montgomery County and Kia in West Point, Georgia.

There are several strong economic sectors in each county, from higher education and health care to agriculture, retail and tourism. Manufacturers range from plastics to paper products to vitamins. Many industries have continued to grow throughout the pandemic.

Lee County has recruited aggressively to get that diverse mix, working especially to attract automotive, aerospace, biotech, defense and high-tech manufacturing. “When we think about growth, one important sector of Auburn always comes to mind — industry,” says Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “During the pandemic, our industrial parks forged on, with the help of the city’s economic development staff, and many of our industries continue to expand and invest even more into our city.” Spec buildings have recently been constructed in anticipation of new industry.

Even during these last two years, Lee County industries have announced the creation of 796 jobs and a total capital investment of $357.7 million, Anders says. And in Opelika, the county seat, from 2010 to 2020, there has been $1.15 billion in capital investment and 2,380 jobs created, economic officials say.

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Officials in October broke ground for a new Buc-ee’s travel center, the third in Alabama.

Broadband and expanded technological access have been priorities for the entire region. AUBix plans to open a $120 million data center in Auburn to benefit communities across the state, offering a technological edge to businesses and individuals, plus enhanced access to high-speed internet. Broadband expansion also is occurring in Russell and Macon counties.

In Russell County, the emphasis is on recruiting industry but also on developing Phenix City’s riverfront district on the Chattahoochee River, says Shaun Culligan, economic development director. The city designated the area as an entertainment district in 2017 and has its first commitment — a brewery that will locate there, he says. “This will help spur more development,” he says.

The river is home to the RushSouth Whitewater Park, the longest urban whitewater course in the world. It has attracted a group of freestyle kayakers to the area to live from October to April, to practice their sport in the winter, he says. And the city is going to host two major whitewater tournaments in the next two years.

“We also are working to recruit automotive, metals, distribution/warehousing, and we also have small agricultural and chemical companies that are doing well,” Culligan says.

In Macon County, where the largest manufacturing employer is an automotive supplier that recently expanded, the emphasis has been to develop the five exits off Interstate 85 in Tuskegee, says Joe Turnham, director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority. To that end, the county has attracted at least two travel centers and is about to open a third one, Tuskegee Travel Center, which will include new restaurants, a fueling center, a convenience store and more. Such development is expected to spur more growth.

The historic Moton Field in Tuskegee, once the only primary flight facility for Black pilot candidates in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the home of the Tuskegee Airmen, is now a major economic development catalyst with a modern terminal and more improvements planned.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.

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

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

This story appears in the December 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.

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