Spotlight on Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia & Monroe: Economic Engines

Wood products, automotive, defense contracting, aerospace, solar and more make up the industrial base in these five counties

Georgia-Pacific Corp.’s Naheola Mill in Pennington.

Wood products

This is by far the largest manufacturing sector in the region, and it’s still growing. These counties have among the largest hardwood and softwood forests in the world. Products include lumber, paper, packaging materials and more.

Every one of the five counties counts a firm engaged in lumber, wood or paper products among its largest employers. In Choctaw County, the largest manufacturing employers include Georgia-Pacific’s Naheola Mill, with 900 employees. It is a national supplier of paper products such as Angel Soft tissue and Sparkle paper towels. Mid Star Timber Harvesting is also in Choctaw, along with Lassiter Lumber in Cullomburg, one of the oldest in the county.

In Clarke County, not only are most of the largest manufacturers in this sector, but it’s also growing. “We are forestry,” says Rosalyn Sales, economic developer for Clarke and Washington counties. “Even though we also have a lot of diverse industry, we are No.1 in forest products companies in the Southeast.”

Those larger manufacturers include Packaging Corporation of America, Scotch Lumber/Plywood, Louisiana-Pacific, Canfor Southern Pine, Westervelt and Browder & Sons. Many have expanded in recent years.

Just opened this year is Jackson Pellets, a wood pellet company that started production in March 2023 in the city of Jackson’s port on the Tombigbee River. It is owned by CM Biomass, based in Denmark, and ships wood pellets, popular for heating and generating electricity in Europe and in some parts of the U.S. Also this year, Canfor, a sawmill in Fulton, announced a $22 million expansion.

- Sponsor -

Preliminary work is proceeding in the town of Fulton in Clarke County to build a forestry museum.

Weyerhaeuser in Castleberry is among Conecuh County’s largest employers. The Seattle-based firm works in timber, land and forest products.

In Escambia County, Georgia-Pacific’s Brewton containerboard mill, one of the largest in the region, has twice been named an Energy Star by the EPA for efficiency. The mill is investing $160 million capital to add and replace equipment and facilities. T.R. Miller Co. in Brewton and Swift Lumber in Atmore are also key players in Escambia County.

And in Monroe County, Georgia-Pacific’s Alabama River Cellulose is the largest manufacturer in the county, and Harrigan Lumber and Scotch Plywood also are listed among the largest. Both Sterling Packaging in Monroeville and Owens Lumber Co. are working on expansions valued at around $3 million each.

Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority

In the heart of Alabama, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has emerged as a major economic engine, here and well beyond its Atmore roots.

CIEDA oversees a diverse portfolio of 16 companies in five key market sectors: retail, tourism, hospitality, manufacturing and government services. Projects range from its gaming operations, hotels and resorts to support services for aviation, aerospace and defense.

Just last year, its Federal Services division won a $217 million NASA contract to manage communication services for the agency. The division employs more than 900 people across Alabama and the United States.

Muskogee Technology, another key element in the CIEDA family of businesses, has been honored twice recently. The Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce presented it with the Hometown Hero Award for its quick pivot from airplane parts to personal protective gear at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Business Council of Alabama named it the 2021 Small Manufacturer of the Year.

PCI Support Services has been renovating Head Start and Early Head Start facilities to improve options for youngsters. And in 2017, CEIDA kicked off its new amusement park, OWA Parks & Resort in Foley.

While CIEDA focuses on non-gaming ventures, Wind Creek Hospitality is the principal gaming and hospitality entity for the Tribe. It operates 11 properties in the U.S. and Caribbean, blending gaming, luxury accommodations, dining, entertainment and family activities.


This region is well positioned along the Interstate 65 and U.S. Highway 43 corridors to support all of Alabama’s growing automotive industry needs.

Automotive suppliers and metals firms currently operating in these counties include Guyoung Tech USA, which is the largest manufacturing employer in Conecuh County; Alto Products in Atmore, which makes clutch plates; Grede LLC, a ductile iron pipe foundry; Brewton Iron Works, a family-owned company that makes mechanical components; and Parker & Son Inc. in Atmore, a pipefitting and construction company.

The region also boasts available sites that are suitable for metals and automotive facilities.


Provalus, an IT solutions and software development company in Brewton, has grown to 300 employees. The company works to bring high-tech jobs to underserved parts of the Southeast by training local workers.

Other major companies in this sector include Frontier Technologies, Muskogee Technology and PCI Aviation.


Hospitals in the five counties are major employers with a significant economic impact.


Conecuh County ranks among the top oil-producing counties in Alabama.

Among the largest employers in Choctaw County is Gibson Oil Co., which operates a chain of convenience stores and gas stations and also does some refining.

Up and Coming: Solar

Although this sector doesn’t generate many jobs in the long run, solar facilities generate tax money to benefit schools and other services. Three of the region’s counties have solar facilities in progress.

The Clarke County Commission has approved tax abatements for Florida-based Origis Energy, for a $400 million solar energy project on 5,000 acres in the southern part of the county this year. Two other projects also are in the works, officials say.

In Conecuh County, the cities of Evergreen and Castleberry will be home to 80 MW clean energy solar facilities that will each occupy about 460 acres of land. EcoPlexus is investing $100 million and is expected to bring in more than $18 million in tax revenue of which $5 million will go directly to schools for the first 10 years. Construction should start in 2026. 

And in Monroe County, Frisco Solar has announced plans to invest $80 million in a solar panel farm in Frisco City. The company is part of Samsung Electronics.

Business Briefs:

November 2023:  Georgia-Pacific’s Brewton containerboard mill is named a 2022 Energy Star Facility by the EPA for its energy efficiency.

November 2023: EcoPlexus has announced plans to invest $100 million to build 80MW solar facilities in Evergreen and Castleberry, both in Conecuh County. Construction should start in 2026. 

January 2024: Preliminary work is proceeding in the town of Fulton in Clarke County for a statewide forestry museum that will be financed with public and private money.

December 2023: The Atmore City Council approves the purchase of a small triangle of land and authorized options to purchase another 125 acres under a possible Alabama Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy (SEEDS) Act grant to use to attract new business and industry.

December 2023: Land acquisition is almost complete for the Southwest Alabama Regional Airport in Thomasville, with plans to have a working facility in 2028.

November 2023: Canadian Pacific Kansas City and CSX Rail acquire portions of Meridian & Bigbee Railroad to establish a new freight corridor for shippers that connects Mexico, Texas and the U.S. Southeast. The line between Meridian and Montgomery crosses the northern portion of Choctaw County.

November 2023: The Clarke County Commission approves tax abatements for Florida-based Origis Energy for a $400 million solar electricity project.

November 2023: Pensacola-based SkyWarrior Flight Support Inc. will take over the day-to-day operations at the Atmore Municipal Airport.

October 2023: Work is in progress on the West Alabama Corridor, upgrading Highway 43 to four lanes from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa. Part of the route from Thomasville to Mobile is already complete.

November 2023: The Kossie R. Powell Municipal Complex opens in Grove Hill in a former National Guard Armory. It will house the utilities and police departments.

November 2023: Poarch Band of Creek Indians and wireless provider BearCom activate the Tribe’s $5.5 million project to provide high-speed internet services to about 500 people on and near tribal land. The network covers 38 square miles.

September 2023: Georgia-Pacific is investing $160 million in its Brewton containerboard mill to add and replace equipment and facilities.

August 2023: Diamond Gas of Atmore sells 20 south Alabama convenience store/gas stations to Vernon-based Midstates Petroleum. The deal includes all four Diamond stores in Atmore, four Brewton stores and one store in Monroeville plus others.

July 2023: The city of Atmore begins annexing several miles of property along Alabama Highway 21 North into the city limits, and also agrees to annex the JFTMA Rail Site west of the Atmore Industrial Park along U.S. Highway 31. The 215-acre site is bordered by both the CSX mainline and U.S. 31.

June 2023: Frisco Solar LLC announces its plans to invest $80 million in a solar panel farm in Frisco City in Monroe County. The company is part of Samsung Electronics.

June 2023: The city of Thomasville opens a $3 million career readiness center downtown, along with a new site for its public library and museum.

May 2023: Ground is broken for a meat processing plant near Atmore under the Perdido River Farms brand. It’s a project of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and provides a place for tribal and nearby farmers to process cattle.

April 2023: Sterling Packaging in Monroeville, which designs and manufactures folded paperboard cartons for a variety of industries, announces a $3 million expansion and 10 new jobs.

April 2023: Owens Lumber Co. Inc. announces a $2.6 million investment including 14 jobs.

March 2023: Evergreen business owners Tom and Erica McLendon purchase Connie Manufacturing Luxury Textiles in Evergreen, a longtime cut-and-sew custom drapes business.

March 2023: Jackson Pellets starts production at the city of Jackson’s Tombigbee River Port. The plant is a $21 million project of CM Biomass, based in Denmark.

March 2023: Attorney and rural health care operator Quentin Whitwell is named CEO of Thomasville Regional Medical Center. Whitwell, the CEO of Progressive Health Systems in Mississippi and a founding partner in the law and advisory firm Musgrove Whitwell, PLLC, has the option to acquire the hospital.

March 2023: Canfor, a sawmill company in Fulton in Clarke County, announces a $22 million expansion to improve its log yard and add two kilns.

JANUARY 2023: In Brewton, Steve Creamer, owner of Creamer Dozer Services, purchases the Downing Property from the city of Brewton, a 77-acre, rail-served industrial site, and begins preparations for developing it as a rail and logistics park.

JANUARY 2023: Farm Fresh Cattle Co. locates in Monroe County with a $1.5 million investment and 14 employees.

July 2022: GP Cellulose is investing about $80 million to add fluff capacity at its GP Cellulose Alabama River mill near Monroeville.

May 2022: The Monroeville/Monroe County Economic Development Authority announces that the organization will receive a $2.5 million Rural Utility Infrastructure grant from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. The natural gas line between the communities of Peterman and Beatrice will expand existing service and provide access to residents and industries.

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

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox