Jackson, Marshall, DeKalb and Cherokee counties in northeast Alabama nestle in a high-tech corridor that stretches from the Huntsville area to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Lake Guntersville, one of the top five bass fishing lakes in the world, plus Little River Canyon, Weiss Lake, Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain make tourism a major force in the area.
Agriculture, especially poultry production, drives this area, but diverse manufacturing also makes it strong in industries that include auto suppliers, plastics and paper, aviation, carpet, textiles, food products, fire hydrants and more. School systems in all four counties are active in career technical programs, where students can work with community colleges and industry for a number of dual enrollment and training programs.
Google is still working on its $600 million data center in Jackson County on the site of the former Widows Creek Power Plant owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It should have lasting regional economic impact.
And, recently, TVA at auction sold the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant for $111 million. Nuclear Holdings LLC, of Washington, D.C., bought the property that includes buildings and 1, 600 acres of land on the Tennessee River. The company plans to use the site for a nuclear facility.
“We are optimistic about the future of Bellefonte and the economic impact its completion will bring to Jackson County, ” says Shelia Shepard, president and CEO of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority.
Marshall County had a great year in economic development in 2016, ranking fifth in the state for new job announcements, says Matt Arnold, president and CEO of the Marshall County Economic Development Council. “In 2017, our unemployment rate has fallen as low as 3.7 percent. We have seen major job growth among our manufacturing companies.”
Although textiles have been on the decline for many years, DeKalb County received very good news on that front. The Renfro Corp., the single largest producer of socks, landed a four-year commitment from Wal-Mart to purchase an additional $250 million worth of U.S. products. The company plans to add 442 jobs to its 600-member workforce.
Cherokee County continues to recruit in several areas, and just this year, the Leesburg Industrial Park received the Alabama AdvantageSite designation from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. It is very strong in automotive, textiles and greenhouse/nursery.
The counties are looking to attract more automotive suppliers, data centers, warehouse/distribution, retirement services, aerospace and biotech.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.