Spotlight on Lauderdale & Colbert Counties

The Ritz Theatre in Sheffield opened in 1928 as a silent movie house.

Tucked into the northwest corner of Alabama are Lauderdale and Colbert counties — together known as The Shoals. Key cities are Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia.

The area is a health care and retail hub serving three states. Partnership is the name of the game, as higher education has partnered with industry, government and more to create as many opportunities as possible. School systems are known for innovation and workforce development. The Shoals also has a rich musical history and is the birthplace of Helen Keller, both of which attract visitors from all over the world.

Economic development is not only focused toward existing sectors, but also to attracting technology, advanced manufacturing and aviation. “We are interested in 21st century economic development, and as such we have recruited technology companies in different ways,” says Kevin Jackson, president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority.

In fact, SEDA and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce have recently partnered to rebrand and promote the area. “We have worked from within the same building for more than a decade, and we’ve both focused on bettering the Shoals through economic development efforts,” says Caitlin Holland, chamber president.

Their efforts include increasing the tech labor force, building a business database and social media outreach, Jackson says. One of those programs is Remote Shoals, started in June 2019 to entice remote tech workers with up to $10,000 to help them relocate to the Shoals. The program selected 10 recipients in the first year and hopes to have 25 recruits in year two, chosen from hundreds of applications.

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SEDA owns all of the two counties’ industrial parks. Its work is supported by
a half-cent sales tax dedicated to the Shoals Economic Development Fund to to fund spec buildings, incentives and more.

The Shoals boasts a diverse range of manufacturing. Its five largest manufacturing employers make automotive parts, aluminum, railroad freight cars, paper products and insulated copper wire.

Water and air transportation are important to the economy. Facilities at both the Florence-Lauderdale Port Authority and the North Alabama Regional Airport continue to grow.

Overall large employers include hospitals, higher education, school systems, government and distribution. Cities are at work on improvement projects. The Tennessee River provides a beautiful back-drop for riverwalks and other amenities. The city of Sheffield is working on Inspiration Landing, expected to include a marina, riverfront homes, restaurants, amphitheater, a town center and more, focusing on the Shoals’ musical and cultural history.

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

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