Covington, Butler, Crenshaw and Lowndes counties, located in southeast Alabama, are close to military bases, the capital city, water, rail and interstate, along with two automotive manufacturing plants.
The counties work hard to recruit and attract diverse industries, including the emerging sectors of aerospace and automotive manufacturing. Traditional sectors, such as carpet manufacturing, utilities, wood products and food processing and service, have remained strong.
In the traditional sectors, for example, carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries remains the region’s largest manufacturing employer with 1, 000 workers in Andalusia. And in the newer sectors, three auto suppliers and an aerospace supplier announced expansions in 2015 and a new supplier, Chowel, announced plans to open in Lowndes County.
The South Alabama Regional Airport, in Covington County, is a strong draw for aerospace companies. With proximity to Airbus in Mobile, along with the need for aircraft repair and maintenance, this sector is expected to continue growing. “It’s an exciting time, ” says John Bartholomew, mayor of Opp. “We are moving forward, our airport hangars are leased, and there is a lot of cooperation between our county and cities.”
Cooperation is a repeating theme in economic development discussions.
“We recognize the need for regional cooperation, ” says Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon. The economic development organization in Butler County also recruits for Lowndes County. Counties also work with utilities and other entities in economic development.
Each county has had major industry announcements, some of them new manufacturers coming in and some expansions that create more jobs. Retail is growing, especially in areas near Interstate 65.
Counties also are active in workforce development. Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and the K-12 school systems provide workforce development for high school students and adults, along with retraining displaced workers and working with industry as needed.
School systems offer academic and career dual enrollment, career academies and more. “Kids can really have broader opportunities now, and we want to offer them as many as possible; and give them the chance to graduate with credentials, ” says Amy Bryan, superintendent of Butler County schools.
Cities are adding amenities to benefit residents and attract tourists. Opp’s new pool complex will honor veterans and host swim meets; Fort Deposit has a new playground, senior center, library and farmer’s market, and Andalusia is looking forward to a renovated theater and new restaurant downtown.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.
Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt