Spotlight on Coffee, Dale & Geneva: Economic Engines

Aviation, agriculture, automotive suppliers and healthcare anchor these three Wiregrass counties' economies

A class at Alabama Aviation Center.

Fort Rucker

U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence

Fort Rucker’s 63,660 acres is located mostly in Dale County, but it has far-reaching impact on the entire region and the world. One of the largest employers in the state, Fort Rucker is home to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence. It is the primary training center for Army aviation. Fort Rucker assists in supporting the economy of surrounding communities, and just within a 50-mile radius has an annual economic impact of $1.97 billion.

Fort Rucker’s population includes 5,328 military, 5,306 military family members, 2,226 Department of the Army civilians, 1,376 civilians in other departments and 5,556 contractors. Military retirees within 50 miles number 7,768, with more than 25,000 retiree dependents.

In addition, Fort Rucker provides support to an additional 3,327 soldiers at Eglin Air Force Base and Camp Shelby.

At some point this year or early 2024, Fort Rucker will be renamed Fort Novosel, after Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Novosel Sr., a Medal of Honor recipient, Army aviator and Enterprise resident who flew missions during World War II, Korea and Vietnam and died in 2006.

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Fort Rucker has attracted several companies involved in this sector. Key in the field are M1 Support Services and Commercial Jet. Others in this sector are General Dynamics Information Technologies, an IT and aviation simulation company, and Arista Aviation.

Ozark is home to the Alabama Aviation Center, which has been a catalyst for growth in this sector.

Wayne Farms Feed Mill.

Agriculture & food production

All three counties rank among the top in total agricultural production in the state. Several area schools offer classes such as agricultural science and agricultural engineering to help boost employment.

Coffee County ranks high in poultry production, cotton and cattle. Larger employers in this sector include poultry processors Wayne Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride, peanut processor Sessions Corp., and food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith. The Texas-based Keith recently opened a $100 million food service distribution center in New Brockton to serve all of Alabama plus Eastern Mississippi, Western Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

Other larger companies in this sector in the three-county area include a Wayne Farms grain producer, SYSCO Food Services Gulf Coast, Olam Peanut Shelling Co., Sowega Cotton and Lincoln Fabrics. One of the newest companies, Brittanie’s Thyme, a new skin care company, is located in Dale County.

Automotive suppliers

Metal fabrication

The area has several Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers, due to its proximately to Hyundai in Montgomery and Kia in West Point, Georgia, but the reach is not limited to those two manufacturers.

In Coffee County, Hwaseung Automotive Alabama, HS Automotive and INZI Controls of Alabama are among the largest manufacturing employers.

All three counties also count metal fabrication as a thriving sector. Coffee County’s major employers include two companies that manufacture truck trailers, along with two more that are in the fabrication and die casting industries. Those include Dorsey Trailers and Alfab Inc., E&H Steel Corp., Quality Fab, Trailer World Manufacturing and Air Performance, Utility Trailer and Motobilt, which makes custom fabrication parts for Jeeps.

Geneva County has three companies that produce aluminum products among its larger manufacturing employers. Those include Reliable Metal Products, Air Performance and Outdoor Aluminum.

Health care

All three counties count hospitals and health care facilities among the top five employers in the area, and the facilities are growing to meet patient needs. Hospitals in the area include Medical Center Enterprise in Coffee County, Dale Medical Center in Dale County and Wiregrass Medical Center in Geneva County.

This sector is expected to have a further boost with the new Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home in Enterprise, which will employ about 200 people and house about 174 residents.

Business Briefs

January 2023: Dorsey Trailers, one of the largest employers in Coffee County, will open its new truck parts division, adding about seven jobs.

January 2023: A city-owned shopping center in downtown Ozark has been renovated and is the new home to the Ozark-Dale County Public Library, an indoor pickleball facility and the soon-to-open Jamison’s Restaurant. Construction has begun on a permanent farmers market pavilion next to the shopping center.

January 2023: The Dale County School System welcomed the first students to the Bridge Academy, a career tech facility.

December 2022: Fort Rucker will become Fort Novosel by 2024, renamed in honor of Enterprise native Michael Novosel Sr., a military aviator who received the Medal of Honor.

November 2022: Hecate Energy will operate a $96 million solar farm in Dale and Geneva counties. The solar energy will be sold to Alabama Power to provide enough energy to power 13,000 Alabama homes.

October 2022: The Ozark Technology Center added four new business incubator tenants within the past year for a total of seven startups.

October 2022: First Ozark Methodist Church broke ground on a new and expanded $1.8 million daycare facility.

October 2022: Pea River Electric Cooperative announced plans to expand broadband access throughout Dale, Barbour and Henry counties. They are investing $75 million into this three-year project.

October 2022: Oregon-based ISA Corp., which makes nitrile and latex gloves, announces it will open a production facility in a spec building at Geneva County’s industrial park. It should create 80 jobs over two years.

September 2022: Dothan-based KIH, which makes fire hoses and other products, expands into Geneva County.

August 2022: Ecore International announces its expansion from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Ozark. The company upcycles used truck tires into rubber flooring materials.  The company began its first line of production in November 2022 and plans to be fully operating in April 2023. Ecore will invest $25.5 million and create 84 jobs.

August 2022: The Ozark City Board of Education announced plans for a Career Exploration Center at D.A. Smith Middle School.

August 2022: Elba Health Care opens, a new clinic supported by Mizell Memorial Hospital in Opp.

June 2022: Ground is broken for the Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home in Enterprise.

May 2022: Sanders Capital Partners acquires a 70,000-square-foot hangar at Enterprise Municipal Airport, investing $9.2 million. The hangar is home to Arista Aviation, a military and civilian contractor that maintains and refurbishes a variety of Bell and Sikorsky helicopters.

May 2022: M1 Support Services and the Alabama Aviation College sign an agreement for a registered apprenticeship program at M1.

May 2022: The City of Ozark partnered with Alabama Power Co. to install electric vehicle charging stations in downtown Ozark.

January 2022: Ben E. Keith Foods opens its new food service distribution center in New Brockton in Coffee County.

September 2021: Jesse Quillen is appointed executive director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corp.

August 2021: Ozark was selected for the Alabama Communities of Excellence program for the Class of 2021.

July 2021: Brittanie’s Thyme, a manufacturer of organic skincare products and plastic containers, announces its relocation to the Ozark Industrial Park. This project involves an investment of $685,000 and the creation of 50 jobs.

March 2021: The Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Board appoints Holle Smith as its new president.

January 2021: Nemean Solutions announces it is expanding into Alabama to support the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker. The firm provides computer engineering, software development, risk management, cybersecurity and more.

September 2020: Amazon chooses Daleville for one of its newest “last mile” distribution facilities, located in the former Fred’s Building on U.S. 84 near All-In Credit Union.

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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