Spotlight on Lee, Russell & Macon: Economic Engines

Automotive, education, agriculture, retail and tourism anchor these three counties' economies

This suspended airplane is on display in Hangar #2 at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Automotive suppliers

This sector is very strong in all three counties, with new companies coming in and many more expanding. This region’s close proximity to automotive plants in Alabama and Georgia guarantee much more growth.

In Lee County, automotive suppliers are well represented among the largest manufacturing employers, creating hundreds of jobs. Those include Mando America Corp., Hanwha Advanced Materials America, SCA Inc., Seohan Auto USA Corp., Shinhwa Auto USA Corp., Daewon America, KOAM and Donghee Alabama LLC.

New companies in this sector, who have announced or have projects underway, include INICS Battery Solutions Corp., an electric vehicle battery component manufacturer, announcing plans to build a new facility in Auburn Technology Park West; Schmidt Automotive, which announced a production expansion and up to 25 additional jobs and Rausch & Pausch, a German auto supplier, that plans an expansion.

Russell County is home to Daechang Seat Co. and ILJIN Alabama, both automotive suppliers. Daechang has announced a $23.4 million expansion that will provide 300 new jobs at Phenix City Industrial Park. The county is also home to trailer maker Pitts Trailers in Seale.

Macon County’s largest industrial employer is Hanon Systems, an automotive supplier in Shorter. The list also includes LogisAll, a facility that serves the busy Interstate 85 automotive manufacturing corridor with quality testing, inventory and distribution of auto parts.

- Sponsor -

Huge news for Macon County is the announcement in February 2023 that South Korean Tier 1 automotive supplier Samkee Corp. will invest $128 million to locate its first U.S. location in the Tuskegee Commerce Park. The company will provide parts to Hyundai, creating about 170 jobs, with plans to open in 2024.

The Park at Auburn

The Park at Auburn is a dynamic hub of innovation and discovery immediately adjacent to the main campus of Auburn University and only 90 minutes from Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport. Established by Auburn University, the City of Auburn, the State of Alabama and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, The Park’s more than 170 acres are a convergence zone where Auburn faculty and students connect with business expertise to bring knowledge-based solutions to market in a setting that encourages engagement, partnership and entrepreneurial endeavors.

An ever-growing number of research and mixed-use facilities call The Park home. The Park’s buildings include laboratory and executive office spaces, executive meeting spaces and an event center, as well as a new restaurant and bar. The Via College of Osteopathic Medicine is located in The Park, along with East Alabama Health’s Auburn Medical Pavilion, the Thomas Walter MRI Research Building, Big Blue Marble Academy (a child development center), and The Park’s own Research and Innovation Center. In November of 2022, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service broke ground in The Park on a multi-million-dollar research facility, which will house the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory. Existing buildings encompass some 480,000 square feet of space and companies there employ more than 1,000 people.

The 7,000-square-foot New Venture Accelerator (NVA), housed in the Research and Innovation Center and operated jointly by the Harbert College of Business and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, assists student entrepreneurs, faculty and staff startups as well as early-stage commercial ventures with business development — everything from building business plans to prepping for pitch competitions. To date, startups associated with the NVA have raised more than $81 million in funding, facilitated more than $4.3 billion in transactions in 22 countries, worked with more than 1.6 million business-to-consumer customers/users and more than 6,400 business to business customers. NVA startups have done business in all 50 states, have hired more than 400 employees and have been featured in Forbes magazine.

Auburn University Regional Airport/Moton Field

Auburn’s airport, owned and operated by Auburn University, has strong partnerships with the cities of Opelika and Auburn and the Lee County community, serving as a vital link in transportation and a gateway for economic development. Its annual economic impact is more than $24.4 million, says Bill Hutto, airport director.

The airport has completed a new T-hangar for smaller aircraft, rehabilitating an aircraft apron and finishing a rehab on the main north-south runway, Hutto says. “We have really grown in the last three years in the number of corporate aircraft,” he says. It is now working on runway safety by adding more ramp space for parking aircraft, as well as a new corporate aircraft hangar, he says.

The airport has recruited two new flight schools — RD Aire teaches fixed wing aircraft flying for the public and South Atlanta Helicopter teaches rotor wing flying, also for the general public, Hutto says. “These schools help meet the demand for many in the community who want to learn to fly,” he says. The airport also added JetEffect, a new tenant and aircraft broker.

While the airport is seeking funds to build a new control tower, last year it was accepted as a candidate into the Federal Contract Tower Program, he says. Based on the operations and types of users, the FAA will pay a contractor to provide an air traffic controller. “The push now is to find the funds for the tower. The cost is anticipated to be about $8 million,” he says. Until then, the airport has a temporary tower on wheels that it contracts to use from the FAA for home football weekends.

Auburn University also has a robust aviation program, the School of Aviation at the airport, which has attracted 639 students who are seeking a professional flight degree and 244 students who are pursuing aviation management, he says. 

In Macon County, the historic Moton Field in Tuskegee, which was a training facility for the ground-breaking Army Air Corps Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, has a new terminal building and many other improvements, and is hoping to build more hangars because there is a waiting list for such services. The city of Tuskegee now owns the airport.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at the airport attracts many visitors. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Agriculture/Paper/Food production/Diverse manufacturing

This is a large sector in all three counties. Auburn University opened the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center that prepares graduates for an array of careers within the hospitality industry, with a restaurant, hotel and food hall.

Also in Opelika, Niagara Bottling LLC, a family-owned beverage manufacturer, announced in 2022 it would locate in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park along Interstate 85, a $112 million investment that creates 85 jobs.

Another major development is the recent donation of the late Pat Dye’s Crooked Oaks, a 415-acre homestead, to Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

Lee County also has Golden State Foods, a major employer, and Aptar CSP Technologies Inc., which makes specialty plastics packaging. Another is Cumberland Plastic Solutions, which makes plastic injection molded parts for several sectors.

Russell County has several companies that are involved in this sector, including MeadWestvaco, which makes kraft container board in Phenix City. Johns Manville makes insulation, MV Corp./The Game is a manufacturing/licensing sports production company, and Vectorply makes reinforcement material.

Russell County also has JVL Laboratories, which makes liquid cosmetics and other products.

Macon County has turf farms, agricultural research, Bonnie Turf Farms, Lifetime Natural Organic Farms, Moore and Davis Nurseries and EV Smith Research Center.

Diverse industries include Fiblast, which makes fiberglass technology, and Turner Hat Co.

A major announcement for Macon County in August 2023 is Trendco USA’s plan to invest $43 million to launch manufacturing of nitrile medical gloves in the Regional East Alabama Logistics Park off I-85 in Macon County, locating in the park’s first spec building. It is expected to create 262 jobs over five years.


Retail is big business in this region. Opelika is a retail hub that includes major shopping centers like Tiger Town, the largest outdoor shopping area in the county.

Some recent announcements include GolfSuites, the year-round golf entertainment franchise that will bring its fourth national location to Opelika. Also, a new retail shopping center is coming that will feature 12 to 16 businesses, including a Publix store, that is about 15 minutes away from Auburn University.

Recent announcements in Phenix City include plans by Lindstrom & Company, a real estate development firm, to develop 11.6 acres off U.S. 280 that will bring a mix of well-known brands and essential services to the community. Those include Starbucks, Chipotle, Outback Steakhouse, Valvoline and Peachtree Immediate Care.

And Eighty West, a new retail development underway on Highway 80, already includes a Dollar Tree, Taco Bell, Popeyes, Sonic and Snappy Express full-service car wash. Other new restaurants are underway.

Tuskegee has five exits on Interstate 85, and Macon County is attracting new development as well.


This area is a popular tourism destination for outdoor enthusiasts and youth sports. Add to that Auburn University football and all types of historical attractions, community events and more, and this sector has a huge impact.

Phenix City and neighboring Columbus, Georgia, are home to a whitewater park, which they dub the longest urban whitewater course in the world. The park also has ziplines, disc golf, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing and more. The two cities were awarded the 2022 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Freestyle Kayak World Cup and the 2023 ICF World Championship, which drew competitors from around the world and thousands of spectators.

In Macon County, many attractions honor the Tuskegee Airmen, who made history as the first African American fighter pilots in World War II.


Business Briefs:

Lee County

October 2023: Clear Springs Properties in Opelika announces an $8.3 million expansion that will create nine new jobs.

August 2023: Shinhwa Auto USA Group announces it will invest $114 million to expand its electric vehicle parts production in Auburn Technology Park West, adding 170,000 square feet and 50 jobs.

August 2023: INICS Battery Solutions Corp., an electric vehicle battery component manufacturer, is building a new facility on Innovation Drive in the Auburn Technology Park West, investing $14 million and creating 30 jobs.

August 2023: Manufacturing company Car Tech announces a $26.9 million expansion to its Opelika facility, adding 38 jobs. Car Tech is a Tier 1 supplier for the BMW Group.

July 2023: A trust of the late Pat Dye, Auburn University’s former head football coach, has given Dye’s 415-acre property, Crooked Oaks, to Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

June 2023: Donghee America is investing $63 million to expand its Auburn Technology Park West plant, where it will make EV battery pack cases, adding 195,000 square feet and 100 jobs.

May 2023: The city of Auburn’s Economic Development team celebrates the grand opening of The Yard, a new resource for local tech and manufacturing startups.

March 2023: PLF Ltd. purchases real estate in Opelika and is leasing the property to Orr DC LLC, which plans to build two warehouse buildings totaling 345,000 square feet, a capital investment of nearly $18 million, and creating about 120 jobs.

February 2023: Cumberland Plastics in Opelika announces a $2.3 million expansion that is expected to add 10 jobs.

January 2023: Schmidt Automotive, a member of the MAT Foundry Group, announces a $7.7 million expansion, adding highly automated equipment and creating about 25 jobs.

January 2023: Rausch & Pausch LP (RAPA) announces it will invest $25 million and add 70 jobs in its Auburn Technology Park West plant, where it makes pneumatic and hydraulic chassis and transmission components.

January 2023: Opelika Main Street opens a new small business incubator, downtown resource center and headquarters for the organization.

March 2023: Hanwha Advanced Materials America LLC is investing $20.3 million in an expansion of its Northeast Opelika Industrial Park plant, adding equipment to support the firm’s EV business and adding 50 employees.

March 2023: Pharmavite, which makes nutritional supplements, celebrates its 10-year anniversary in Opelika with a $6.5 million expansion that adds 81 jobs.

November 2022: Ground was broken at Auburn Research Park for a facility housing the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory. The $220 million project is expected to employ more than 1,000 people.

March 2022: Niagara Bottling LLC, a family-owned beverage manufacturer, announces it will locate in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. The $112 million investment is expected to create 50 new jobs.

Russell County

May 2023: Sierra Pacific Windows is expanding its high-end window and door production in Phenix City. The 610,000-square-foot manufacturing and warehouse space allows the company to add production capacity and meet demand.

July 2022: Masterbuilt, a grill company owned by Middleby Outdoors, opens operations in Phenix City in a 334,000-square-foot former textile plant. It’s a $1.5 million investment and will lead to 100 jobs.

May 2022: Daechang Seat Corp. USA breaks ground for an expansion in Phenix City Industrial Park. The $23.4 million investment is expected to create 300 jobs.

Macon County

August 2023: Trendco USA, which makes nitrile medical gloves, announces it will invest $43 million to launch a manufacturing operation in the Regional East Alabama Logistics (REAL) Park in Macon County. It expects to create 262 jobs over five years.

July 2023: International recording star Lionel Richie, who grew up in Tuskegee, is spearheading an effort to create a community park in the city, called Hello Park. It is one of 100 community projects that will be finished this year as part of Lowe’s Hometowns, a five-year, $100 million commitment from Lowe’s to rebuild and revitalize community spaces nationwide.

May 2023: Regional East Alabama Logistics (REAL) Park, a 700-acre, Class A industrial park in Macon County, opened for business with its first spec building, a 168,000-square-foot structure. The entire master-planned project lies in a Qualified Opportunity Zone and offers federal, state and local incentives.

May 2023: A partnership that pools state grants, private investment and philanthropic funding has given many businesses and homes in Macon County the capability of connecting to a next-generation fiber broadband network. Point Broadband, Macon County Economic Development Authority, Connect Humanity and Rural LISC teamed up for the project.

February 2023: South Korean Tier I automotive supplier Samkee Corp. announces it will invest $128 million to locate its first U.S. factory in the Tuskegee Commerce Park. It will be the city’s first auto parts manufacturer. Samkee will provide parts to Hyundai Motor Co. It is expected to begin production in 2024 and will create 170 jobs.

November 2022: The Big Dogs and Small Rescue Ranch opened its second location at a former greyhound training facility in Shorter. The rescue, rehabilitation and adoption center for neglected and abused dogs is expected to create 50 jobs.

This article appears in the December 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox