Spotlight on Calhoun & Talladega Counties

Calhoun and Talladega counties, in northeast Alabama, are well known for attracting tourists by the thousands with their bountiful natural resources and NASCAR races, but they also enjoy a diverse and growing economy, including one of Alabama’s big four OEM auto manufacturers.

The largest employer in Calhoun County is the Anniston Army Depot, a maintenance facility that is recognized for its expertise with heavy combat vehicles and small arms weaponry. Along with this operation, which includes both military and civilian staff, are major companies that support its mission. With about 4, 000 employees, it has approximately a $740 million economic impact for the county, region and state.

In Talladega County, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama is the largest employer, with more than 4, 500 associates. It is the sole producer of the Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV, the Ridgeline truck and the Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle. The plant has the ability to produce more than 340, 000 vehicles and V-6 engines. Both counties also are home to automotive suppliers and metal manufacturers. Another company provides parts for New Flyer, a bus manufacturing industry in Calhoun County.

“We continue to try to attract these industries, as well as defense industries, ” says Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council. “We have had a strong metals sector, also. We believe our skill level of our workers is a drawing card to companies.”

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Hopper also cites the growing warehouse and logistics sector that is helped by the counties’ proximity to the I-20 corridor.

Calvin Miller, executive director of the Talladega County Economic Development Authority, adds that the county has seen a jump in companies that use calcium carbonate, the raw material of marble, in their products. Sylacauga is home to marble quarries, and there is a push to sell more worldwide. “We continue to recruit these companies and also continue our efforts for automotive suppliers.”

Both counties, plus Cleburne and St. Clair, participate in Core4, a regional economic alliance that presents a united front in attracting industry, Hopper says. Julia Segars, Alabama Power vice president of the eastern division, was instrumental in spearheading the group’s development. “It gives us the opportunity to build relationships with each other; jobs don’t end at the county line.”

Beyond the biggest employers and industries, the service sectors of health care and tourism are growing at pace with manufacturing. Looking to the future, the two counties are emphasizing workforce development, with programs for K-12 students and adults.

Both counties also see the importance of improving the quality of life for residents and are actively seeking more retail and revitalized downtowns. Anniston’s McClellan, the former Army installation that’s now a mixed-use development, continues to attract residents, companies, retail and commercial development. McClellan retains one of its former military functions as location of the Center for Domestic Preparedness — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s only federally chartered weapons of mass destruction training center.

Other communities are boosting existing attractions and building new ones, such as aquatic centers, sports parks and trails for biking and walking.

In Talladega County, the Civilian Marksmanship Program opened the $20 million Talladega Marksmanship Park to teach gun skills.

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

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