Spotlight on Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia & Monroe: Community Development

Downtown revitalizations, medical park and business expansions, workforce development programs and more are ongoing in these five counties.

The Choctaw County School System offers students a variety of career technical academies.

Choctaw County

Since the recent revitalization of the city of Butler, the county seat, downtown retail occupancy has ranged from 95% to 100%, says Nick Harrell, chief industrial development officer for the Choctaw County Commission and executive director for the Choctaw County Chamber of Commerce.

The county’s hospital, Choctaw General Hospital, a Rush Health Systems hospital, will now also be affiliated with Ochsner Health in an arrangement to be finalized later this year. It builds on a strategic partnership agreement the two health systems arranged in 2019.

The county is served by the Choctaw County School System with four schools. Career technical academies at the system’s two high schools offer a variety of programs.

The county recently opened a branch of the Alabama Career Center in the town of Gilbertown, a result of a partnership between the county, Coastal Alabama Community College, the Alabama Department of Labor and more.

In Choctaw County, the popular Bladon Springs State Park, a major recreational destination, is also a stop on the state’s Black Belt Birding Trail.

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An interior view of Thomasville Regional Medical Center, which opened in 2020.

Clarke County

Clarke County schools are working to build a new athletic field house at Clarke County High School and a new gym at Jackson Middle School. The system offers career technical programs in fields that include business, education, health science, industrial maintenance, law enforcement, marketing and welding.

Grove Hill, the county seat, is renovating its town hall and building a new police station, officials say.

In January, the Jackson City Council approved a one-cent sales tax increase, which will provide some of the funding for a new emergency department at the 67-year-old Jackson County Hospital, along with other repairs and renovations.

Of the one-cent tax, 75% will be used for the hospital and 25% will be used to establish an ambulance service, says Mayor Paul South. “The hospital’s roof is leaking, and their CT scans and other equipment have been housed in outside trailers,” he says. “We want to get all that inside.” Public hearings showed widespread support.

The city of Jackson has an incentive package for new business, South says, and in the last few years the city has attracted more than a dozen new businesses, from Tractor Supply Co. to restaurants to a new bank. The city is recruiting a new hotel and a national chain grocery store.

The city also is making improvements to the industrial road at Jackson Port and is looking to recruit an industry to go into an existing building.

In March 2020, the city of Thomasville opened the much-anticipated Thomasville Regional Medical Center and Medical Park. The $36 million, 29-bed acute care hospital in Clarke County is also the anchor facility for a 35-acre Medical Park development. The hospital has been in the works for several years, ever since the only hospital in north Clarke County closed.

Also, the new Thomasville Career Readiness Center and Public Library is underway. The $3.2 million project will renovate a donated building into a career readiness center and a new home for the public library. The project started construction in January 2021. The Alabama Career Center will operate an office from the facility.

Thomasville city schools also offer several career technical programs.

Wrights Sheds, in the Evergreen Industrial Park, manufactures portable buildings.

Conecuh County

The city of Evergreen, the county seat, is adding several amenities. For example, the Evergreen-Conecuh Chamber of Commerce purchased a dilapidated building downtown and renovated it for a Community Hall. This new event venue seats 241 people and has plenty of parking, says Susan Coleman, city of Evergreen economic development director at the Evergreen-Conecuh Chamber of Commerce.

Through a grant, the chamber also united with local artist Joy Wilson, the Conecuh Extension office and the Hillcrest High School football team to create a downtown mural. The city also has added a splash pad to its municipal park.

The county has five I-65 interstate exits, which has fueled growth. The city’s Liberty Hill shopping center is growing, with Conecuh Monroe appliance store, and Conecuh Sausage opened a gift shop.

Conecuh County schools operate a workforce development center for grades 9-12 that includes programs such as agriscience, business, health sciences, information technology, JROTC and welding. Students can also take advantage of dual enrollment, co-op education and STEM programs. In addition, students can learn through programs such as academic contests, community service leadership development and more.

Atmore Community Hospital breaks ground on its Urgent Care facility.

Escambia County

In Brewton, the county seat, a $6.5 million headquarters for Provalus, a tech service and support company, opened. The company trains rural Alabama workers for high-tech jobs.

In June 2021, the city also opened a new pool at Dogwood Hills Park and a new splash pad at Rev. Dr. Willie James Blue Memorial Children’s Park at the John L. Fisher Center.

Along U.S. Highway 31, several new local businesses have opened, and a new Best Western Brewton Inn opened.

The city of Atmore is working to build a new streets and sanitation department facility. Plans call for a 6,800-square-foot, pre-engineered metal building that will replace the current 60-year-old structure. Cost is expected to be about $1 million.

Atmore Community Hospital has opened a new primary care facility and a new urgent care clinic is in progress at Rivercane, the city’s multipurpose development. And a new Starbucks has opened at Wind Creek Casino.

West Escambia Utilities is also building a new headquarters, while the Pride of Atmore is beginning restoration of the Strand Theatre and the former Atmore Hardware Store building — just two examples of revitalization that has brought new restaurants and retail to downtown.

The city also is working on a center that will be home to the local farmers market and include restrooms, a gazebo for events and a community garden.

Escambia County schools and Brewton City schools share the Escambia Brewton Center, which offers several career technical programs.

Monroe County Hospital has 94 beds.

Monroe County

The city of Monroeville, the county seat, and home of a variety of events honoring the late novelist Harper Lee, is working to update its strategic plan, says Mayor Charles Andrews, the city’s first Black mayor. Monroeville is an Alabama Community of Excellence, and there always are plans to add amenities and services, along with more events to attract visitors.

The city is adding a pavilion to Veterans Park and modifying its splash pad. In addition, the city is renovating the lake at Whitey Lee Park and widening roads. Efforts are being made to modernize the city gateway on the west side of the city.

In downtown Monroeville, there are more lofts being built, Andrews says. New restaurants are opening, and new businesses are coming in.

The city of Monroeville’s Downtown Redevelopment Authority has been very active, offering façade and redevelopment grants to businesses and more.

Monroe County schools have an active career technical center, with options for national credentialing and dual enrollment. Additional support for workforce development is the Monroeville Career Center, a part of the state’s career center system. The area is now offering commercial driver license programs.

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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