Spotlight on Autauga & Elmore: Economic Engines

Agriculture, automotive suppliers, aerospace and tourism anchor these two counties' economies

James Hardie, maker of fiber cement construction materials, is expanding in Prattville.

International Paper/Agriculture

Agriculture, forestry and related industries generate an annual economic impact in Autauga County of about $915 million and 7,328 jobs, says Kristi Pieper, director of economic and community development.

With 675 employees, International Paper’s (IP) Prattville containerboard mill is Autauga County’s largest manufacturing employer and is one of the world’s leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper.

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 boxes to ship a variety of products worldwide. This division makes up 85% of IP’s total business.

Automotive suppliers

With close proximity to automotive manufacturers in Alabama and neighboring states, this sector keeps growing. Both counties have a number of automotive suppliers among their largest employers, including Fras-Le North America Inc. and Kasai North America Inc. in Autauga County and Hanil USA, YESAC Corp. and AG Manufacturing in Elmore County. 

GKN Aerospace

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

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

Tennis courts, pickleball courts and more have opened at The Fields at 17 Springs.

Tourism/Economic Development

Since HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover” featuring Wetumpka aired in 2021 with the follow-up “Where Are They Now?” in December 2023, things have not slowed down for the region.

But even with that success, sports, entertainment and retail/dining has always been a part of the area’s priorities. With all of that comes tourism — and that is growing.

Elmore County is focused on the arts, creating venues for exhibits, events, classes and more. The city of Wetumpka is focusing on highlighting the tourism opportunities that exist in the area and is hiring a tourism director to direct those activities and develop a destination market organization that will help the area become a part of tour bus itineraries and more.

Downtown Wetumpka has a new mosaic art installation, murals, an art wall and a new home for the Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission with a visitor center. More is coming. The city has a major sports complex that draws many types of sports and tournaments and recently added tennis and pickleball courts and a new splash pad.

The city of Millbrook is pointing to the new 17 Springs, a project made possible by a partnership among the city of Millbrook, Elmore County Commission, Elmore County Board of Education, Grandview YMCA and the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. It is expected to create recreational, entertainment and retail opportunities.

Phase I recently opened, with 12 pickleball courts, 12 tennis courts, four multi-purpose fields, a grass practice area, a grilling station, a lower pond for YMCA programming and a concession area as part of The Fields at 17 Springs.

Phase II is under construction and will include the multi-use 86,000-square-foot The Fieldhouse at 17 Springs, an indoor event venue that can be set up to handle large events such as car or boat shows. It will have facilities for basketball, volleyball and more; two champion diamond turf fields with a visitor/diamond complex concession/restroom building, and softball fields, officials say.

Below the fieldhouse will be a bowl-shaped 6,000-seat stadium for high-school sports and more along with a championship track-and-field area. It also will be able to handle concerts and other events.

Millbrook also focuses on the arts, opening The Art Mill in a former residence.

Also in Wetumpka is the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, on the banks of the Coosa River. It employs more than 900 people and supports the community with meals for hospital workers, and donations to schools, hospitals and civic organizations.

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.

In the past two years, economic developers have focused on making tourism a major economic engine, sponsoring fishing tournaments and other events that bring in thousands of visitors.

Diverse manufacturers/sectors   

Both counties have diverse manufacturers making everything from medical products to cement fiber building materials to water meters. In Autauga County, Medline Industries in Prattville makes medical products, James Hardie makes cement fiber and continues to grow, Kinedyne LLC makes cargo control equipment, Inteplast Engineered Films in Prattville makes polyethylene film, and MRaine Industries in Autaugaville bottles artesian well water and is undergoing a major expansion.

In Elmore County, Madix Inc. in Eclectic makes store shelving, Neptune Technology Group makes water meters and AES Industries makes steel roof curbs.

The Alabama Department of Corrections already employs more than 725 in Elmore County to support men’s and women’s prisons. Right now, the DOC is building a replacement men’s prison in Elmore County, set to open in 2026, that will have more than 50 buildings and house 4,000 inmates. The state also has plans for a new women’s prison in Wetumpka to replace Tutwiler.

Business Briefs

December 2023: HGTV airs a “Where Are They Now?” episode in Wetumpka, after the success of “Home Town Takeover,” where hosts Ben and Erin Napier renovated 12 homes and businesses in Wetumpka. 

November 2023: Elmore County economic developers are working to bring a replacement hospital to the county.

November 2023: Guardian Credit Union announces it is moving its corporate headquarters from Montgomery to Prattville.

November 2023: As part of a new economic development strategy, the Elmore County Economic Development Authority has been serving as marquee sponsor for several major events in the county, including fishing tournaments and rodeos, for the past two years.

October 2023: The Wetumpka Crater Commission opens a visitor center downtown, recognizing the five-mile impact crater there.

August 2023: New panels highlighting the Wetumpka Impact Crater are displayed on the city of Wetumpka’s art wall in The Alley. The artwork was created by local artist Hope Brannon.

October 2023: The Autauga County Commission is investing in sewer expansion in the fastest growing area of the county at I-65 Exit 186, which includes Pine Level. It will be complete in spring 2024.

October 2023: Elmore County and internet provider Central Access have partnered to provide broadband to schools, businesses and homes along 20 miles of corridors 500 feet wide that can be expanded in the future.

October 2023: Autauga County schools completed a $3.9 million investment that includes an 18,000-square-foot expansion to its Autauga County Technology Center.

September 2023: Autauga County has a new town — Pine Level — after residents voted to incorporate.

September 2023: The Interstate Business Park in Prattville continues to grow with the opening of an expandable 50,000-square-foot industrial spec building. Also, a commercial park area opened with 15 ready-to-build commerce sites.

September 2023: The Alabama Department of Corrections is building a new men’s prison in Elmore County, slated to open in 2026, and is planning a new women’s prison in Wetumpka to replace Tutwiler.

April 2023: The new 17 Springs multiplex in Millbrook opens phase one, a tennis/pickleball complex and four multipurpose fields. Phase two, with a stadium and other sports facilities, is under construction.

August 2023: The new Tallassee High School opens, replacing the 100-year-old former high school. The $21 million school is almost a replica of the former high school but adds a 636-seat auditorium and a new band room, which also doubles as a storm shelter.

July 2023: Autauga County schools appoints Lyman Woodfin principal. A veteran of the school system, he previously served as Marbury High School’s principal.

June 2023: MRaine Industries LLC, in Autaugaville, received a $7.8 million Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program from the USDA that will help the artesian water bottler meet increased customer demand. It will double the size of the facility.

April 2023: The African American Entrepreneurs Association opens its first office/business incubator in downtown Wetumpka to help minorities and women develop businesses.

May 2022: Central Alabama Community College signs a partnership agreement with Intel to help with the development of artificial intelligence throughout the Southeast, the first such program in the state of Alabama and one of the first in the country.

March 2023: The town of Autaugaville opens a new $419,000 senior center and receives new rural transportation buses.

October 2022: Bella + Canvas, a Los Angeles-based apparel manufacturer with an emphasis on American-made products, opens a new fabric-cutting facility in Wetumpka. The $11.9 million investment is expected to create more than 500 jobs. The company is located in an 890,000-square-foot former Russell Brands building.

September 2022: Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, near Prattville, continues to lead the charge to provide lightning-fast broadband access to businesses and residents in Autauga County and throughout the region. An $82.45 million grant was awarded to expand high-speed services.

Sources: Economic development officials

This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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