Etowah and St. Clair counties Take The Spotlight

Etowah and St. Clair counties in north central Alabama have the enviable benefits of very easy interstate, rail and air access for business and industry, as well as being one of the most favored residential areas in the state.

The two counties work together to attract industry and share strong economic sectors, such as automotive suppliers, metals, health care, higher education and food services. The counties have enjoyed success in new and expanded companies, and 2015 is off to a strong start. 

The two counties are working together to get the Little Canoe Creek Industrial Park designated as an AdvantageSite. The property is between I-59 and U.S. Highway 11, accessible by several road routes and by rail, while the Northeast Alabama Regional and Birmingham airports are nearby. The site also has fiber optics close by.

The counties are working to develop infrastructure for the 1, 000-acre site.

Etowah County is known for its natural beauty, including Noccalula Falls Park and Lookout Mountain, along with the Coosa River that runs through downtown Gadsden, its county seat.

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Goodyear Tire & Rubber is the top employer in Etowah’s diverse economy, which also boasts strong automotive supplier, health care and education sectors. The county is seeking to broaden its economy even more with metal working, regional distribution, plastics and product development/value-added assembly operations, says Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority. 

According to the Alabama Department of Commerce’s annual report, Etowah County attracted two new companies in 2013, bringing in 150 new jobs and an investment of $350, 000. Eight existing companies expanded, bringing 311 additional jobs and a total investment of $47.1 million.

At the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport, the 7, 000-foot runway was repaved and the 5, 000-foot runway was restriped, along with taxiways and other improvements, says Fred Sington Jr., airport director. Long-term plans include more taxiway and hangar repairs, and eventually replacing the terminal. The airport industrial park houses several businesses and the 20th Special Forces Reserve, with 35 full-time personnel and training facilities.

The statue of Emma Sansom depicts the 15-year-old girl’s bravery during the Civil War when she led Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to a crossing on Black Creek during his pursuit of Union forces.

Photo courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department

Recognizing the importance of workforce development, the Gadsden City and Etowah County Career Technical Centers — working with the assistance of the local Industrial Development Authority — applied for and received funding to begin new programs in additive manufacturing, also called 3-D printing, and in mechatronics/industrial equipment maintenance.

Last year, Gadsden State Community College began its fall semester with more than 600 students enrolled in technical training classes, and the Gadsden Center of the Alabama Technology
Network (ATN) offered free training for employees of local companies.

St. Clair County, at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, is older than the state. It was officially established in November 1818. It is the third fastest growing county in the state, and some of its cities are growing very fast. Part of that is due to two interstates that run through it – 59 and 20. Natural beauty also abounds here, and outdoor recreation is popular.  

It has long had two county seats – Ashville and Pell City — dating from the days when Backbone Mountain made travel difficult. Now, officials say that population growth continues to make the two seats of government helpful to residents.

St. Clair County is a hot spot for all kinds of development — residential, commercial, industrial and retail. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce 2013 report, St. Clair County attracted four new companies that brought 46 jobs and a $7.7 million investment. Also, six companies expanded, creating 161 new jobs and $16.2 million. 

The St. Clair Economic Development Council works closely with existing industries, governments and those who provide workforce training to ensure a strong, skilled workforce. The county’s education partners include Jefferson State Community College, St. Clair County schools and the Pell City school system, along with state agencies AIDT and ATN.

“We work very hard to cultivate a great relationship between our industry partners and educators, so that the educators are teaching the skills needed to meet the demands of the job market, ” says Don Smith, executive director of the EDC. 

The St. Clair EDC actively recruits automotive, infrastructure and metals manufacturers, distribution and logistics companies, healthcare services, enabling technologies and corporate operations. 

St. Clair also partners with Talladega, Calhoun and Cleburne counties in a new economic development partnership tagged CORE4, which works to attract industry through the Interstate 20 corridor through eastern Alabama.

In St. Clair County, the largest industrial employer is automotive supplier WKW Erbsloeh. In the past few years, the county has been very aggressive in attracting development in a new industrial park. 

Recent openings include a campus of Jefferson State Community College, the new St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital and a Veterans Administration home. 

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham. 

text by lori chandler pruitt

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