Tallapoosa and Chambers counties in east-central Alabama have an abundance of natural resources — with Lake Martin, the crown jewel of the area, plus many other attractions, jobs and amenities for residents.
Industrial plants have sweetened the regions’ economy, which had grown dormant with the demise of the textile era. Several automotive suppliers have located in the area, feeding the parts needs of auto plants in Alabama and neighboring Georgia, while helping the local economy find new diversity.
Economic development is high priority. In Tallapoosa County, the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance focuses on industrial recruitment, with target areas including agribusiness, marine motors and parts, food industries and wood product industries. The alliance’s offices are housed in Central Alabama Community College’s Technology Center, working closely with the college’s director of workforce development and others.
Because of the importance of worker training in the recruitment process, CACC President Susan Burrow and the alliance’s executive director, Don McClellan, are part of the initial contact team with prospects. Both entities work to bridge the gap between existing industry and CACC training programs, offering what is needed.
In Alexander City, a new business incubator, a partnership between the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce and USAmeriBank, has opened and already has a healthy number of businesses. The center, offering workspace and high-speed internet, is also a convenient stop for business people who come to the area for the day to work.
In Chambers County, the Chambers County Development Authority has embarked on a new marketing/awareness campaign with social media promotions, print advertising and print articles. The authority releases regular information about its successes and goals, says Valerie Gray, executive director. Southern Union State Community College, with a campus in Valley, meets the needs of students and workforce development.
School systems in both counties are heavily invested in career technical education so that their students can begin working quickly during and after high school. Both also collaborate with community colleges to offer dual enrollment in academic and career technical programs. The Alexander City Chamber Foundation Inc. administers The Gateway to Education Scholarship Assistance Program, which provides up to 64 credit hours of college tuition for Benjamin Russell High School seniors who meet the entrance requirements to Central Alabama Community College.
Three hospitals serve the two counties, and they are constantly growing and adding services and equipment to meet the needs of residents.
Lake Martin attracts full-time residents, second-home owners and vacationers, helping tourism grow in Tallapoosa County.
Russell Lands On Lake Martin, developer of several lakeside communities, is a major economic engine itself, providing jobs for construction and contractors who build homes in the lake neighborhoods.
“One of my real estate broker friends says Lake Martin is the best lake market he’s seen,” says Steve Arnberg, Russell Lands vice president for real estate sales. “We’re in rural Alabama, and it is amazing to see what this place has become.”
“We are thankful for Ben Russell and his vision and the plan he put forward,” says Roger Holliday, vice president of Russell Lands.
Automotive Manufacturing Suppliers
The automotive industry continues to be an important economic engine in Tallapoosa County. Situated in the middle of the triangle of Kia in nearby West Point, Georgia; Hyundai in Montgomery, and Honda in Talladega County, Tallapoosa County has become a hub of Tier 1 suppliers.
Alexander City is home to several auto suppliers, including C&J Tech, Korens USA and the county’s second largest manufacturing employer, SL Alabama. Five suppliers are undergoing large expansions. Further southeast in the county, the city of Dadeville is home to the county’s top manufacturing employer, SJA, and a second Tier 1 supplier, KwangSung America.
In Chambers County, most of the county’s largest manufacturing employers are automotive suppliers, which continue to expand and add new equipment and employees. The largest employer in the county, AJIN USA in Cusseta, is a metal stamping company and automotive supplier that employs 600. It has had several expansions. Others include Knauf Insulation, Wooshin USA, Daedong Hi-Lex of America, Saehaesun Alabama Inc., Leehan America and Kmin USA Inc.
Russell Lands On Lake Martin
Russell Lands, one of the largest property owners in the county, is located on 280 miles of shoreline along Lake Martin. The lake covers more than 40,000 acres and has 880 miles of shoreline, making it a major recreation destination and economic driver.
Lake Martin is one of the larger second-home markets in the state, with one of the average highest sales prices. And, Lake Martin homeowners provide half of Tallapoosa County’s total ad valorem tax base yearly.
Property values are on the rise, with the median price for residential property in August increasing 16.7 percent over the same period in 2017. The average price of residential properties increased 13.9 percent.
While the number of transactions dropped 9.4 percent, the actual total dollar volume of sales increased 3.2 percent for the last year.
“The increase in property values is due to how much people want to be here,” says Roger Holliday, vice president of Russell Lands. “It’s incredible what we have here.”
Russell Lands includes hiking, biking and equestrian trails; four marinas; Willow Point private golf and country club; a new microbrewery, and Russell Crossroads, which is the town center for Russell Lands, with restaurants, a grocery store and more. Russell Lands owns all the development’s amenities from restaurants to the marina, making homeowners feel more secure in their investments.
The recently completed Larry Furlong-designed Diamond View show home in the South Ridge Harbor neighborhood was featured in Birmingham Home & Garden magazine, and in 2017, it partnered with Country Living magazine to build and showcase the 2017 Country Living Lake House of the Year, the magazine’s first-ever. Ticket sales benefitted Children’s Harbor on Lake Martin.
Russell Lands at Lake Martin also hosts the Alex City Jazz Festival at the amphitheater, a free concert in conjunction with the city of Alexander City. The annual July 4 boat parade also is a popular event.
Three hospitals in the two counties, along with ancillary facilities, make health care a major economic driver.
Russell Medical Center in Alexander City has a $136 million economic impact on the local economy, with 1,223 total jobs created in the area as a result of the hospital. Statewide labor income generated by the hospital totals $54 million. It is one of the county’s largest employers with 626 team members.
This past year, Russell Medical opened a new Total Healthcare facility, which houses four primary care doctors and an urgent care facility.
On the southern end of Tallapoosa County, Lake Martin Community Hospital in Dadeville has 46 beds and employs more than 200.
In Chambers County, EAMC-Lanier Hospital in Valley is among the largest employers in the county. It provides $425 million in revenue, with charity care valued at more than $62 million in fiscal 2017. It also has a 103-bed nursing home under the same roof.
WestRock in Lanett is the second largest manufacturing employer in Chambers County and has been part of the community for several years. It prints cartons for the food and beverage industry. Most of the firm’s 380 employees are Chambers County residents. The company has expanded over the years, most recently in May 2018, when the company announced plans to expand the Lanett operation and add 50 new jobs. Also, the company plans a 375,000-square-foot distribution center in Valley Industrial Park, less than two miles from the present WestRock facility.
Although Tallapoosa County has seen success within the automotive industry, it is also home to a diverse manufacturing base as well. Russell Brands continues to have a presence in the area, with a distribution center that employs approximately 350 people. Wellborn Forest, in Alexander City, has grown to become a leading manufacturer of semi-custom cabinetry.
Robinson Iron, also located in Alexander City, specializes in custom bronze, iron and aluminum casting and pattern making and has completed restoration and installation projects all over the world. These are only a few of the diverse companies that call Tallapoosa County home. The Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance has an aggressive existing industry program in place to support all Tallapoosa County’s manufacturers, assisting in areas such as workforce development, human resources, taxes and legal issues.
In Chambers County, economic developers have launched a new marketing campaign that highlights both lifestyle and economy, and the county is working with site selection consultants to recruit more food and beverage companies.
John Soules Foods, based in Texas, earlier this year announced it has purchased a 266,000-square-foot facility in Valley for its new Alabama operation. During Phase 1, the company plans to invest $40 million and add 300 more jobs in Chambers County. John Soules makes ready-to-cook and fully-cooked beef and chicken products.
The region is home to two community colleges — Central Alabama Community College and Southern Union State Community College — both among the state’s five original two-year institutions.
Central Alabama, with 325 employees and 1,787 students, has a main campus in Alexander City in Tallapoosa County, with additional locations in Childersburg, Talladega and Prattville.
Southern Union State, with 150 faculty and 4,829 students, has a location in Valley in Chambers County, plus sites in Wadley and Opelika.
Both colleges are heavily involved in dual enrollment for high school students who want to earn college credit before graduating from high school, career technical programs, academic transfer to four-year universities, adult education and workforce training and retraining.