Autauga and Elmore counties, in south-central Alabama, are crisscrossed with major waterways that provide recreational opportunities for residents and tourists alike.
Historic downtowns are center points for growing suburban areas. Both counties have attracted increasingly diverse economies, while many of the major industries have expanded in recent years.
Autauga County is older than the state, established in 1818. Prattville, the county seat, is named for Daniel Pratt, an entrepreneur who based his enterprises on the manufacture of Pratt-patented cotton gins. Prattville is known today as the state’s “Birthplace of Industry.”
Its largest employers include the Autauga County Board of Education, International Paper, Walmart and Bass Pro Shops, highlighting the county’s successful retail growth. It has a growing automotive supplier sector.
Elmore County was created by an act of the Alabama Legislature in 1866. The county seat is Wetumpka. The largest city is Millbrook. Elmore County also has some of the most navigable and recreational waterways in the state – including Lake Martin and the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
The county recently received a $30, 000 grant to help promote and expand tourism.
One big tourism expansion is already spinning. Wind Creek Wetumpka opened its expanded and new luxury casino on the banks of the Coosa River in December. The property will be a duplicate of the Wind Creek Atmore location, which has a AAA Four-Diamond Rating. Both the Atmore and Wetumpka locations are owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and operated by the tribe’s PCI Gaming. The new development features five restaurants and an 85, 000-square-foot gaming floor with 2, 520 machines. The luxury hotel opened in early 2014 and features 283 rooms.
Elmore County’s largest employers include Elmore County schools, GKN Aerospace and Neptune Technology Group Inc.
Workforce development is a priority here. In Elmore County, the local extension office formed a youth workforce council to improve communication between education and industry, says Leisa Finley, executive director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. “Since Airbus came to Mobile County last year, aerospace and automotive suppliers will be the next big expansion on the horizon here, ” she says. “We want to be poised to better partner with neighboring counties as part of the Montgomery MSA to attract these industries.”
Retail also is a big deal here. Carol Thompson, economic development director for the city of Millbrook, says the goal is to attract businesses that enable residents to shop locally as much as possible. “We try to go the extra mile to recognize and assist businesses of all sizes here, ” she says.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt