Spotlight on Etowah & St. Clair Counties
Noccalula Falls attracts visitors from near and far to Gadsden to see 90-foot Black Creek Falls, the bronze statue of Cherokee maiden Noccalula, the botanical garden, petting zoo and more.
Photo courtesy of The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Etowah County is located in northeast Alabama. It is blessed with natural beauty, including Noccalula Falls Park and Lookout Mountain, along with the Coosa River that runs through downtown Gadsden, its county seat.
Its natural resources and vibrant downtown make it a logical host to events, including Riverfest and Christmas at the Falls.
Etowah County has a diverse economy, with automotive suppliers, health care and education topping the list. Its largest overall and industrial employer is Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., with 1,600 workers, but there are many other sectors that are strong.
According to the Alabama Department of Commerce’s annual report, in 2012 Etowah County attracted two new companies that brought 60 new jobs and an investment of $27.5 million. Seven existing companies expanded, bringing 212 additional jobs and a total investment of $24.8 million.
According to Area Development magazine, among Alabama’s 11 metro areas, Gadsden ranked No. 2 in manufacturing job growth as a percentage of population, No. 3 in employment growth as a percentage of population and No. 3 in reduction in local unemployment rate.
Industries, governments and education leaders work together to ensure that its workforce is ready. For example, the city of Gadsden helped fund a Career Technology Center at the new Gadsden City High School, says Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority.
Gadsden State Community College offers associate degree and certificate programs in technology-related fields, including electronic engineering, industrial automation, mechanical design and machine tool. European-style apprentice ships programs, registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, are offered for mold makers, machinists and tool & die makers. The GSCC campus houses the Alabama Technology Network, which helps companies with continuous training and improvement.
Etowah County is working to develop the Etowah County Mega Site, an 800-plus acre industrial park adjacent to Interstate 59, says Patrick Simms, county manager. The site has Norfolk Southern Rail access, high-pressure gas lines, power lines, fiber optics and more. It also has access to Highway 11. Construction is set to begin next year.
St. Clair County, located in north-central Alabama at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, is older than the state, established in November 1818. It is the third fastest growing county in the state. Two interstates run through it – 59 and 20. Natural beauty also abounds here, and outdoor recreation is popular.
It has two county seats – Ashville and Pell City – established decades ago because the county is cut in half by Backbone Mountain. Population growth has kept the need for two now, officials say.
St. Clair has a diverse economy. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce report, in 2012 St. Clair County attracted one new company, 60 new jobs and new investment of $6.9 million. Seven industries announced expansions, bringing 177 more jobs and an investment of $29.6 million.
“One of the keys to our success is that different organizations and governments will work together for the benefit of the entire community,” says Don Smith, executive director of the St. Clair Economic Development Council. “We take a lot of that cooperation for granted.”
Pell City is the largest city in the county and the industrial center. The county has several other municipalities, including Springville, Moody and Steele.
In St. Clair County, the largest industrial employer is automotive supplier WKW Erbsloeh with 600 employees. In the past few years, the county has been very aggressive in attracting new development in a new park. Recent openings include a branch of Jefferson State Community College, a replacement facility for the St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital and a state-of-the-art Veterans Administration home.
Auto suppliers have grown in the area, but the county also has a strong food service sector, along with metals. “Each of our sectors have broken out and expanded rapidly,” Smith says.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.