Spotlight on Lauderdale & Colbert Counties

Lauderdale and Colbert counties in northwest Alabama are known as the Shoals and encompass the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. The counties are located along the Tennessee River. 

This area continually receives accolades nationally for being a great place to live, work and raise a family. School systems, many among the top in the state, focus their efforts on preparing students for college or careers, and work with business, industry and higher education to help graduates stay in the area with a good job. 

“This is such a unique area, ” says Forrest Wright, of the Shoals Economic Development Authority. “Clearly with our musical heritage, quality of life and other great benefits, people want to visit, relocate and stay here.” 

Downtowns are on the move and have few vacancies, a new hospital is being built in Florence, parks and amenities are continually improved, and tourists come not only for the Muscle Shoals Sound, historic attractions and outdoor beauty, but also sporting events. Cities and counties cooperate on road and park projects. 

Cooperation extends to economic development also. In fact, the Shoals Economic Development Authority owns all of the industrial and business parks and works with both counties, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, local schools, business, industry and higher education as well. That cooperation has proven beneficial as the counties recover from three companies that shuttered a few years ago. 

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“While there is still some recovery to do, we have been fortunate in that many of our companies have expanded and hired many of those displaced, especially skilled workers, ” Wright says. 

The area does have a lot of skilled workers, and SEDA has a program that pays companies a certain amount per new full-time position created. Also, the Shoals Economic Development Fund, made possible through a half-cent sales tax, helps pay for speculative buildings, incentives and other assistance. 

The Shoals is home to the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, open since 1992. The incubator has graduated 150 businesses and created 1, 500 jobs, and the economic impact is $98 million annually, says Giles McDaniel, director. One of the initiatives, Shoals Shift, is an effort to expand digital technology companies, McDaniel says. 

The success has spurred more incubators, such as the University of North Alabama’s student business incubator, The Generator. “We (SEDA) also are redefining our entrepreneurial efforts in that we are not just leasing space, but becoming a mentor also, ” Wright says. 

The area has a very healthy port on the Tennessee River, expanding to accommodate more agricultural shipping, and that will likely continue to grow. There are new multi-use developments planned, healthy retail and homebuilding is active. 

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

Text By Lori Chandler Pruitt

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