The five-county Coastal Gateway region, centered between Montgomery and Mobile in southwest Alabama, is rich in natural resources for both recreation and industry.
The region — made up of Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe counties — is blessed with plentiful hardwood and softwood forests, rivers and lakes for recreation and business, a port reopened for business, several airports and a strong sense of community in cities that work hard to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors.
Huge expansions in sectors such as wood products, the largest economic sector in the region, have boosted employment. In fact, the area is the home of the National Center for Pulp and Paper Technology Training, housed at Alabama Southern Community College.
Other sectors are also growing, and workforce development is a priority, with programs aimed at K-12 students and adults.
The Coastal Gateway counties are close to Airbus in Mobile and to several automotive and steel plants. And health care continues to grow in the region. Diverse manufacturers include Gate Precast, which makes precast architectural concrete structures, as well as iSpice Foods Inc., a food manufacturer.
The Coastal Gateway Economic Development Alliance, which represents the region, has been involved in several initiatives that include fruitful partnerships, says Executive Director John Johnson. This year, the alliance will kick off a strategic plan that covers the five counties, as well as those south of the region. The plan was developed with the help of the Janus Institute in Atlanta and Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has designated the five Coastal Gateway counties and three neighboring counties as a Manufacturing Community. They are home to several industrial parks, three of which are EDPA AdvantageSites.
CGEDA also has taken the lead in a regional energy initiative that allows businesses, industries and farms to qualify for a free audit of their business energy usage. Once the audit results are in, owners can access an array of grant and loan funds to make improvements.
And, CGEDA has helped connect Monroeville, once the only Main Street city in the region, with the other seven member cities across the region in a network committed to creating jobs while keeping the character of historic downtown areas. As a result, many cities have seen improvements come their way.
“It’s really unusual for a region this large to work so well together, ” Johnson says. “We are much more connected across the region and have been able to create an economic vehicle in rural counties that’s distinctive.”
Another fruitful partnership is that between CGEDA and Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, which has properties that employ hundreds of Alabama residents, with each business contributing to the local economy. From tourism to a technology company, it has helped boost employment in the region and continues to grow.
Jefferson Davis, Reid State Technical College and Alabama Southern Community College will be consolidated with Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette, which is expected to make more programs available.
“It will open additional resources in this area, ” says Jess Nicholas, CGEDA assistant director of communication and research. “We are looking forward to what the consolidation has to offer.”
Counties have made efforts to ensure they are working for common goals. Recently, Clarke County consolidated its economic development efforts into one county department, which allows its cities to concentrate efforts in one place, says Jesse Quillen, who heads that office.
For more information, visit www.coastalgatewayeda.com.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt