Marion, Fayette and Lamar counties —located in northwest Alabama — have a rich history and a strong spirit of economic and regional cooperation.
With a diverse economy that includes many different types of manufacturing, a healthy environment for small and large private companies to locate and thrive, revitalized downtown areas and a large public sector, this area offers an affordable lifestyle and the definite possibility of more job growth as existing industries expand.
Two cities are designated as Alabama Communities of Excellence, and many have beautification boards, Main Street organizations and historic preservation boards that help preserve and grow their cities.
This region works together for economic development, the most obvious sign of that being the formation of the C3 Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance, an agency incorporated in 2010 as a cooperative marketing effort among the three counties to grow the area.
C3 includes a strategic plan steering committee that builds from the Accelerate Alabama Strategic Plan developed by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, a program that focuses on recruitment, retention and renewal in economic development. C3 also has four subcommittees made up of education, business and community leaders from the three counties, says David Thornell, C3 president and CEO.
“It’s really like a one-stop shop for business and industry, ” Thornell says. “We believe you gain more to work as one. Our people have a strong work ethic and we have a very good workforce pool, and we would love to have even more of our residents not have to commute to work elsewhere.”
Fayette Mayor Ray Nelson agrees that cooperation is essential. “We have a global economy, and competition demands that our communities band together and promote our region, ” he says. “We share our culture and values, we have a stable population, a great workforce and we are all excited about the possibilities for growth.”
Nelson and other officials expect their counties to benefit from Interstate 22, which has put them on the map for economic and commercial development. The new highway from Birmingham to Memphis has nine exits in the region, and has already prompted some commercial growth in the past few years. Counties and cities have built spec buildings, developed industrial parks and more on this route. The area also has four EDPA AdvantageSites, and two cities have airports that have seen expansions in recent years.
School systems in the three counties consistently rank in the top 20 statewide for their scores on tests covering reading, writing and math. And Bevill State Community College offers dual enrollment for high school students, transfer courses and adult continuing education, and plays a major role in workforce development and training.
These three counties also offer a lot of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Rivers and lakes — including the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Sipsey Valley River Wilderness Area and Bear Creek Lakes — offer great fishing, canoeing, campgrounds and more. The region is No. 1 in the state in deer hunting. In addition, some cities have built popular attractions in their city parks, such as water parks, splash pads and playgrounds, which are popular with residents and attract visitors from outside the region.
The area was hit hard in 2011 by massive tornadoes. Eighteen people were killed in Hackleburg in Marion County and many public and private buildings were damaged or destroyed. A new K-12 school is being built to replace the destroyed one, and grants from FEMA and other sources are helping rebuild city hall, public safety facilities and infrastructure.
“We have survived and are getting better each day, ” says Hackleburg Mayor Whitey Cochran.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
text by Lori Chandler Pruitt