Limestone, Morgan and Lawrence counties in north Alabama are blessed with an abundance of natural resources and beauty, along with a quality of life expressed in community events and amenities that residents and visitors alike get to enjoy.
These three counties, once almost completely agricultural, now have diverse economies that also include all types of manufacturing, from automotive and steel to chemicals and aerospace. And it is home to several Fortune 500 companies.
Limestone County, whose county seat is Athens, was formed in 1818 and includes small portions of Decatur, Huntsville and Madison, but Athens is the only city completely within its borders. Traditionally an industrial recruitment hotspot, it was named the top county in the state for announced capital investment in 2011, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. Most of that investment comes from the $500 million Carpenter Technologies’ specialty steel plant now under construction in the southern part of the county. Total capital investment for 2011 was $539 million.
“We want to keep building on our local expansions and existing industries—that’s a major point of our focus and growth, ” says Tom Hill, president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association. “But we also are looking at new industries.”
Morgan County, whose county seat is the riverside city of Decatur, was founded in 1818 as Cotaco County, then renamed Morgan in 1821. It ranks just behind Limestone County in capital investment announced during 2011, which totaled $416 million. More than $1 billion in industrial construction is going on in Morgan County, including a new Polyplex plant, replacement of the tornado-destroyed Independence Tube plant and expansions at Hexcel, Bunge, Ascend Materials and Daikin America.
“Our proximity to Huntsville helps us complement each other, ” says Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association. “We are very diverse. We also are still seeing the trickle-down benefit of the BRAC move here.”
Lawrence County, also founded in 1818, is the birthplace and boyhood home of Olympian Jesse Owens. Strong in agriculture still—it is the leading county in Alabama for incorporating precision agriculture into farming and one of the top cotton producers in Alabama—it also boasts International Paper as its largest industrial employer. The county seat is Moulton.
All three counties use their highway, rail, air and water transportation systems as recruiting tools, as well as industrial parks that cities, counties and economic development organizations constantly improve and market.
All of the counties invest in their schools, from new construction to workforce development to new academic programs. For example, Hartselle in Morgan County will soon open a new high school, and Lawrence County schools has unveiled a new agriculture-based diploma track for the 2011-2012 school year to increase students’ awareness of the fields of agriculture.
“We are making a lot of effort to work with the county school system to help enhance their technology and resources, ” says Tony Stockton, executive director of the Lawrence County Industrial Development Board.
The area was hit hard by the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that killed 250 Alabama residents, of which 14 people were in Lawrence County.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
By Lori Chandler Pruitt