These four counties in northeast Alabama share much natural beauty—from birding trails to the Talladega National Forest. And with some of their major cities located on the interstate, they also share economic success with large employers that draw from the entire region.
From the Anniston Army Depot in Calhoun County to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County’s Lincoln—easily the counties’ largest employers—these counties also are reaping the benefits of spinoff employers, such as defense contractors and auto suppliers that help bring in much-needed jobs.
Sectors such as health care and higher education help round out their economic powerhouses. And in cases where the economic downturn may have resulted in fewer new industry announcements, counties also turn to tourism—birding is a $1 billion a year industry, for example—to increase their bottom line. To that end, many cities are investing in their infrastructure and amenities while building new attractions.
The Anniston Army Depot in Calhoun County, easily the largest employer in the area—is still a powerhouse. However, like many other Department of Defense installations, there are workload reductions with attrition, voluntary retirement and other factors that have lowered the number of workers. And there likely will be layoffs in some areas, although the situation may improve since the depot is the only place in the world the DOD has to repair certain equipment. And the depot recently has built new facilities.
“We are putting the mechanisms in place to help any workers who are displaced by this, ” says Donna Fathke, principal planner for the East Alabama Planning and Development Commission, a multi-purpose agency that includes
Talladega, Calhoun, Clay and Cleburne, as well as six other counties. “We have received a grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment to help with the personnel reductions. We will develop a strategy.”
Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, in Talladega County, continues to grow and has made the region a powerhouse in automotive suppliers, officials say. HMA will soon add the Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle to its lineup.
In Clay County, broadband is coming, which means not only wi-fi service for residents and businesses, but also a chance to boost economic development. And in Cleburne County, the county seat of Heflin has made many improvements to increase tourism and quality of life for its residents.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
By Lori Chandler Pruitt