As students continue to flock to the University of Alabama (UA), which saw record high enrollment numbers again last fall, a group of Tuscaloosa officials is working on strategies to entice them to stay after graduation.
The Tuscaloosa County Economic Development Authority (TCEDA) in partnership with Innovate Alabama, a local coalition made up of the TCEDA, Visit Tuscaloosa, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, and the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport, is developing the strategies — showing off the county’s economy and lifestyle to interns and others.
So, what does Tuscaloosa County have to offer?
For starters, the TCEDA’s commitment is to attract and grow emerging industries by showcasing the area’s steady economic growth, major existing industry, skilled talent pipeline, low cost of living and excellent quality of life.
Leading the advanced manufacturing sector is Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), which has invested more than $7 billion in Alabama since 1997, including a recent $1 billion investment to open a battery systems factory in neighboring Bibb County — in support of the auto manufacturer’s commitment to go all-electric — as well as logistics centers and upgrades to the production line to make electric vehicles. The Tuscaloosa plant employs around 4,500 people and secures an estimated 11,000 jobs with suppliers and service providers in the region.
MBUSI’s pivot to EVs is just one example of Tuscaloosa County keeping its eye on sustainability. The university is also home to the Alabama Transportation Institute, which researches sustainable transportation issues.
Tuscaloosa County’s higher education institutions are also leading the way in information technology. The University of Alabama Cyber Institute focuses extensively on AI and machine learning, critical infrastructure protection, cybercrime, cyber infrastructure and cybersecurity. Earlier this year, the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded Stillman College $2.7 million to develop a cybersecurity and information technology training center to support its cybersecurity degree program and serve as a community hub for IT certificate programs in cybersecurity, IT, cloud computing and other areas. And Shelton State Community College offers a wide variety of practical and theoretical training opportunities in the computer technology industry.
The presence of these institutions and a growing research and development sector have made Tuscaloosa County a hub for innovation, and facilities like the EDGE Incubator and Accelerator, a partnership among the University of Alabama, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the City of Tuscaloosa, that supports entrepreneurial collaboration, continue to make it an appealing option.
When it comes to recreation, Tuscaloosa County has a lot to offer, and the tourism industry, which accounted for more than 9,854 jobs in 2022, is expected to continue growing.
Attractions like the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail, the Moundville Archaeological Park, the Alabama Museum of Natural History and a number of art galleries and theaters celebrate the area’s rich history and culture, and several new destinations are under development.
The Saban Center, located across the street from the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, will be an innovative hub that unites STEM programs with theater, literature, outdoor recreation and interactive learning. It will also house two of Tuscaloosa’s most storied institutions — Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre and the Children’s Hands-On Museum — which will be renamed IGNITE.
Next door in Northport, three major recreational projects are in the works: an 11-acre water park, an outdoor adventure park and the Kentuck Sports Complex.
Tuscaloosa’s popular Riverwalk is expanding. The Randall Family Park and Trailhead at the Northern Riverwalk opened last summer, and in May the city broke ground on a Western Riverwalk extension that will provide additional access to the waterfront and recreational amenities. A pedestrian bridge will connect River District Park to the future Saban Center.
The county also boasts 177 miles of shoreline for hiking, fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, waterskiing, birding and camping.
And, of course, there’s football.
Katherine MacGilvray is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville.
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This story appears in the September 2023 issue of Business Alabama.