Covington, Butler, Crenshaw and Lowndes counties, located in southeast Alabama, have worked hard to recruit and attract diverse industries, scoring strong in aerospace and automotive manufacturing.
With Airbus coming to Mobile – guaranteeing the need for more suppliers – officials are ready to serve their southwestern neighbor. “Those suppliers to Airbus do not have to locate within a certain mile radius, so there is a good chance for some to locate here, ” says Robyn Snellgrove, of the Crenshaw County Economic and Industrial Development Authority (CCEIDA).
The counties are located close to two military bases – Fort Rucker in Alabama and the Naval Air Station in Pensacola – as well as the capital city of Montgomery and automotive manufacturing plants, spurring those sectors’ growth. They also have water, rail and interstate access.
Counties hope that their industrial recruiting will mean that more of the regions’ young people are able to stay in their hometowns to live while working at well-paid jobs. In the effort to reach that goal, they co-operate on workforce development projects at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and within the local school systems.
For example, Crenshaw County schools have been without a career technical center for approximately 20 years. Now CCEIDA, Crenshaw County schools and the city of Luverne are working to convert a former slacks factory into a career technical center, says Randy Wilkes, Crenshaw County schools superintendent.
The facility will provide space for the district’s new welding program, with plans for several more technical offerings, including health occupations classes, Wilkes says. Local businessman Tim Folmar also is interested in the effort.
In Greenville, in Butler County, Mayor Dexter McLendon says his area is creating a workforce development program for high school students.
Each county has generous natural resources, and its family atmosphere is evidenced in events and festivals. Cities are proud of their heritage, yet also are making improvements for families, such as Opp’s new pool/splash park.
Covington County’s seat and largest city is Andalusia, noted as one of the best small towns in America. It is about 85 miles south of Montgomery, and U.S. 29, U.S. 84 and Alabama 55 lead straight to it. Opp is working on attracting more retail and tourism.
Butler County’s seat is Greenville, located just half an hour south of Montgomery, where I-65, U.S. 31 and Alabama Highway 10 converge. It is home to one of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses, Cambrian Ridge. The town of Georgiana is the boyhood home of Hank Williams Sr. Known for timber and wood products, it also has attracted automotive suppliers, such as Hwashin America Corp.
Crenshaw County’s seat is Luverne, known as the “Friendliest City in the South.” Other significant towns include Brantley and Highland Home. It is a center of the timber industry, but more recently it has attracted automotive suppliers. It hosts the annual “World’s Largest Peanut Boil” festival.
Lowndes County’s seat is Hayneville, and its largest city is Fort Deposit. It is home to the Calico Fort Arts and Crafts Festival, one of the oldest and largest such events in the state. A highly agricultural area, it has of late attracted automotive suppliers, but more industry is needed to offset a too-high unemployment rate, officials say.
In answer to that, earlier last year, the county, local governments and business/industry leaders formed the Lowndes County Economic Development Commission as a unified effort to bring in more industry. Butler County is assisting the effort.
“We are just in the front end of this right now, but we are very encouraged by it, ” says Thomas Ellis, president of the group and co-owner of Priester’s Pecans. “We have had a need for this type of alliance, and we are all on board. We are going to take care of our future.”
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
text by Lori Chandler Pruitt