Spotlight on Autauga & Elmore Counties: Economic Engines

Autauga and Elmore counties have attracted numerous manufacturers, from International Paper to automotive suppliers. In addition, tourism is becoming an economic engine, as well.

Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Wetumpka.

International Paper

With more than 600 employees, International Paper’s (IP) Prattville Containerboard Mill is Autauga County’s largest manufacturer, producing 1 million tons of paper annually in Prattville.

The mill sits on about 6,700 acres and is part of IP’s Industrial Packaging division. The facility purchases pine and hardwood from throughout the region and manufactures linerboard that is used to make shipping boxes. This division makes up 85% of IP’s total business.

In 1967, the Prattville Mill began operation as Union Camp with a $50 million investment, 300 employees and one paper machine producing 273,000 tons of paper. A second paper machine was added in 1980, doubling the mill size, and modernization of the original paper machine was completed in 1988.

The mill became part of International Paper’s containerboard business when IP purchased Union Camp in 1999. In 2016, IP invested in the modernization of the second paper machine, saving costs and increasing production.

International Paper is headquartered in Memphis and is a leading producer of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper.

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Automotive suppliers/diverse manufacturing

With close proximity to automotive manufacturers in Alabama and neighboring states, this sector has grown. In Autauga County, at least two suppliers are listed among the largest manufacturing employers, and in Elmore County, at least three suppliers are among the largest employers.

These counties also are known for diverse manufacturers. In April 2021, James Hardie Building Products, which produces cement fiber board materials, began production at its $298 million plant in Prattville. The project is expected to employ more than 200.

The county is also home to makers of cargo control equipment, medical products, custom roping, polyethylene film, water meters, store shelving, steel roof curbs and portable buildings.

GKN Aerospace

Elmore County’s largest manufacturer, British-based GKN Aerospace, has two plants in Tallassee and is a major part of the region’s growing aerospace sector.

GKN is recognized as one of the world leaders in the design, testing, manufacturing and assembly of high-performance composite structures for military, commercial and space programs.

Tourism/Economic Development

HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover” featuring Wetumpka has been a game-changer for the entire area. Since the city was chosen out of 2,600 other small towns for the show, things have not slowed down, even after the six-episode show aired earlier in 2021.

The show followed Erin and Ben Napier of the show “Home Town” as they worked with the city, other HGTV stars and local contractors to renovate six homes and six commercial spaces.

Lynn Weldon, economic development director of the city of Wetumpka, says the city is creating a destination experience. “The show has attracted many unique businesses, restaurants, galleries and more, and we are seeking those things that offer an experience.”

Even before HGTV, Wetumpka was investing in sports tourism, building and expanding a sports complex. Wetumpka is a stop on the Great Alabama 650 paddle race, billed as the world’s longest annual paddle race. And, the city already had focused on the arts, resulting in several galleries, an art walk held the first Friday of each month and more.

Also in Wetumpka is the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, on the banks of the Coosa River. It employs more than 900 people and works in the community, and to support schools, hospitals and other civic organizations.

The Fields at 17 Springs master plan.

In the city of Millbrook, only a few miles away, the city is working on Fields at Seventeen Springs, a $50 million project that will include youth sports facilities, hotels, restaurants and more, says Ann Harper, economic development director.

“We want this to be a very defined area for people, as in, ‘we want to go to Seventeen Springs for dinner,’” Harper says. “We feel it is our catalyst project.”

Prattville, in Autauga County, is the site of the Robert Trent Jones Capitol Hill facility, part of the statewide RTJ Golf Trail.

Both counties have a multitude of rivers, lakes and more natural resources that attract visitors and events.

Prattville Baptist Hospital recently invested $6.5 million to open a new 22-bed wing for inpatient psychological and behavioral care.

Health Care

In both counties, hospitals and associated health care facilities, such as rehab, physician offices and more, are among the largest employers, are community assets and are continually expanding services to residents.

In Autauga County, Prattville Baptist Hospital is one of the county’s largest employers. It offers a full range of health services to residents of Autauga and Elmore counties. In 2021, the hospital invested $6.5 million to open a new 22-bed wing designed for inpatient psychological and behavioral care for older patients.

In Elmore County, two hospitals provide services — Community Hospital in Tallassee and Elmore Community Hospital in Wetumpka, an Ivy Creek facility.

In June 2020, Ivy Creek opened River Oak Medical Complex in Wetumpka. The complex, which offers a variety of specialty medical services, a pharmacy and more, was made possible through a partnership with a medical coalition of Ivy Creek Healthcare, the Elmore County Commission and the city of Wetumpka.


Business Briefs:

November 2021:  Tallassee City Schools is building a new $21 million high school next door to its current 100-year-old high school, school officials say. The new school is financed by a city sales tax that was passed several years ago, a city bond issue and a state bond issue.

November 2021: Elmore County Economic Development Authority announces it is working on four as-yet unannounced projects that could bring in 650 new manufacturing jobs and $180 million in capital investment in 2022.

October 2021: Central Alabama Community College announces plans to move its Prattville campus from the Pratt’s Mill Shopping Center to a permanent location at the former East Memorial Baptist Church property, a 50,000-square-foot, 124-acre property. The Prattville City Council and the Autauga County Commission contributed a total of $4 million to the college’s expansion.

October 2021: The Autauga County Board of Education presents a plan for several capital improvement projects, including a new high school, to be financed with a 15-mill property tax increase if voters approve.

October 2021: The Alabama Legislature approved a plan to build two new prisons, one for men and one for women, on state-owned land in Elmore County. The economic impact from construction is expected to be about $175 million over the next four years, with a $200 million impact annually after completion.

October 2021: Lisa Van Wagner is appointed project manager for the Elmore County Economic Development Authority.

September 2021: MRaine Industries LLC, producer of Eleven86 Real Artesian Water, reached a milestone with more than 20 million bottles shipped from its Autaugaville plant since production began in 2018. The plant represents a $6.5 million investment.

September 2021: The city of Wetumpka opens a $6 million municipal football stadium with artificial turf, part of a 175-acre sports and recreation program in progress.

August 2021: Elmore County is honored for placing 96 broadband hotspots around the county.

July 2021: Prattville Baptist Hospital opens a 22-bed Geriatric Behavioral Health Unit, a $6.5 million project.

March 2021: James Hardie Building Products, which produces cement fiber board materials, begins production at its $298 million plant in Prattville.

April 2021: UnicusID opens its $2 million corporate headquarters and starts production in the Tallassee International Business Center located in the Tallassee Industrial Development Park in Elmore County. The firm makes biometric wrist bracelets that track a person passively and actively, an advantage over traditional ankle monitors.

January 2021: Affinity Chemicals, a Dallas-based company that produces aluminum sulfate and other specialty chemicals, locates in Prattville.

December 2020: A building that once housed Russell Athletic is acquired by Phoenix Investors of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a commercial real estate firm. It is being marketed as a commercial business park.

August 2020: The Elmore Board of Education breaks ground on three projects funded by a $50 million bond issue. Stanhope Elmore High School has a new band and choral department; Elmore County Technical Center is undergoing a $9 million expansion to open in 2022, and the new Redland Middle School should be finished in 2022.

July 2020: The Fields at Seventeen Springs, a $30 million sports complex, is being developed by a partnership including the city of Millbrook, Elmore County government and schools and Grandview YMCA.

July 2020: The city of Wetumpka is chosen out of 2,600 other U.S. small cities to be featured on HGTV’s six-episode “Home Town Takeover” show. The program remodeled six homes and six commercial spaces.

June 2020: River Oak Medical opens in Wetumpka with specialty medical services, a pharmacy and more — a partnership among Ivy Creek Healthcare, the Elmore County Commission and the city of Wetumpka.

April 2020: Autumn Tree LLC builds a $2 million facility in Prattville’s South Industrial Park to make chemicals for International Paper and other customers.

March 2020: The Prattville/Autauga area is certified as an AEROready community, signifying it’s ready to support the aerospace industry. The Prattville Airport-Grouby Field serves the region.

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