Spotlight on Lauderdale and Colbert Counties

Lauderdale and Colbert counties, in northwest Alabama, are known as The Shoals, and include the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Shef-field and Tuscumbia. The counties are located on the beautiful Tennessee River.

Lauderdale County was established in 1818, a year before Alabama became a state. Florence is the county seat. Colbert County’s history dates back to the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians and early French traders. Settlers were attracted to the Tennessee River, and the section in the county earned the name “Muscle Shoals” because of the strength of the river in the area and several species of mussels. Tuscumbia is the county seat.

Once a heavy textile area, the economy now is based on a diverse group of industries that continue to grow, creating hundreds of jobs. It also enjoys valuable heritage tourism, as well as outdoor fun and recreation. Retail also is strong, as it is part of a tri-state hub that brings in many to shop, receive medical care and work.

A big part of the counties’ diverse manufacturing success comes from cooperation, say officials. “What has made us successful is the unity between the four cities, ” says Florence Mayor Bobby Irons. “We work together and do what is best to attract jobs. Since the Shoals have come together as a region, we have become a role model that other states are trying to follow. It has helped us move forward and progress. As a result of that cooperative spirit and the expansions we have had, people are getting jobs. In the Shoals, over the next 12 months, about 1, 500 more people will be working.”

Rogers Hall, in Florence, is an antebellum structure built in 1855 and is one of the oldest historic landmarks on the University of North Alabama campus. Originally constructed by planter George Washington Foster at the summit of Court Street, hence its original name Courtview, it was occupied by members of the Foster family until 1900. In the 1920s, the residence was acquired by Thomas M. Rogers Sr., whose family, in 1948, sold the structure to Florence State Teachers College, today known as the University of North Alabama.

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Photo by Hal Cain

Area Development magazine recently ranked the Shoals at No. 27 nationally among small metro areas, and tops in Alabama in terms of economic development. The Shoals area also has been touted as a great place to raise a family.

Forrest Wright, president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority, says regionalism works well. “We operate as a region in the truest sense of the word, ” Wright says. “Though many successfully practice regionalism with multiple entities coordinating their efforts with multiple communities, the Shoals operate as one organization serving multiple communities.

“Local leaders clearly understand that success in any single community quickly translates into success for all. It is not at all uncommon to have local political and community leaders from one city meeting with and supporting growth in a neighboring city.”

As yet another example of regional cooperation, SEDA officials plan to ask the Shoals Industrial Development Committee to dedicate about $7.6 million to purchasing available land in area public industrial parks, saying that placing the available unused land under one jurisdiction could expedite industrial recruiting efforts. Wright says that local governments and boards seem to be interested.

Local governments also are part of the Northwest Alabama Cooperative District, which is an advisory committee to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plans to sell part of the Muscle Shoals Reservation, about 1, 300 acres, for future development that has yet to be determined.

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

By Lori Chandler Pruitt

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