Tuscaloosa County Takes The Spotlight for Commercial

Denny Chimes, an enduring symbol of Alabama’s first public university, was erected in 1929 to honor President George H. Denny, under whose leadership the University of Alabama gained national prominence.

Tuscaloosa County is rising rapidly from the April 2011 tornado that destroyed 12 percent of the city of Tuscaloosa. Just about every sector, from housing to commercial to retail, is experiencing growth, closely following the city’s Tuscaloosa Forward plan for redevelopment. 

Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, the county’s largest employer, with record enrollment and continuing growth. The diverse economy also includes Mercedes-Benz U.S. International and its surrounding suppliers. 

According to the latest Alabama Department of Commerce report, Tuscaloosa County was third in the state in the number of jobs announced in 2014, with 1, 264. Public and private partnerships thrive, from government projects to workforce development to entrepreneurship. The EDGE, Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, has been so successful that it will break ground this fall on a $9.3 million facility on 10th Avenue, one of the gateways into the UA campus. UA will take the lead in managing and operating the multi-agency facility. 

Another example of partnering is a bill recently passed that overhauls Tuscaloosa County’s sales tax structure to secure more local funds for education, transportation and local government services. The bill combines the county’s 2-cent sales tax, shared among five local governments and DCH Regional Medical Center, and a 1-cent temporary sales tax for school construction. 

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The 1-cent sales tax is now permanent and the rest that has been allocated now includes the new Tuscaloosa Road Improvement Authority, which will address road and growth needs. 

“I don’t know of another community that has taken a proactive stance to take control of transportation issues, ” says Jim Page, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “It is the vision of all of us to do this — to make roads safer, enhance our economic development efforts and work smarter, not harder. We will be able to do tens of millions of new and improved road projects in the county.” 

Tuscaloosa is seeing rapid downtown development, with a new federal building, five-acre Government Park, a new intermodal facility with 450 free parking spaces, a new amphitheater with 7, 500 seats, streetscaping, the Riverwalk development and a multi-use river market. New hotels have added 270 rooms with more to come, several residential projects with more than 800 bedrooms and 60, 000 square feet of retail space.

Sweet Home Food Bar offers a homegrown dining experience in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa.

In other areas of the city devastated by the tornadoes, new retail is going up, along with new multi-family housing to accommodate growing student enrollment and housing for young professionals. 

The largest overall employer in the county is the University of Alabama, with 10, 722 employees, followed by DCH Regional Medical Center. The largest manufacturer is Mercedes-Benz U.S. International with 3, 400. Since 1993, when Mercedes-Benz announced it would build in the Tuscaloosa County community of Vance, MBUSI has been a game-changer, offering good jobs and an emphasis on community service. 

Earlier this year, the chamber hosted an  economic development summit, which included reports from several entities, including UA, which has become even more active in city and county growth. 

“We are enthusiastic to be partnering on so many things, ” says Carl Pinkert, UA vice president of research and economic development. “We’re team players…and we know these shared endeavors will facilitate growth across our state. We have several target areas on our economic development radar, and a number of exciting things are going on.” 

For more information, visit tuscco.com.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

Text by Lori Chandler Pruitt

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