Spotlight on Limestone and Morgan counties
The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic draws up to 100,000 people to Point Mallard Park in Decatur each May.
Photo from The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Limestone and Morgan counties in north Alabama have an abundance of natural resources and beauty, a high quality of life, healthy job growth, major transportation routes and available land that attracts a diverse number of industries.
There’s also no doubt that both counties benefit greatly from proximity to high-tech Huntsville and Madison County, with major industry announcements that are bringing thousands of jobs. In turn, that means more partnerships between education and industry, preparing the next generation for skilled jobs.
Polaris is a great example. The off-road vehicle maker announced earlier this year it will develop a 505-acre site along I-565 in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County. The 630,000-square-foot plant will include a research and development center close to the highway, plus a large test track. Polaris, based in Minnesota, estimates the project at $142 million, with plans for 400 full-time employees working in Huntsville by the end of 2016, and up to 1,700 by 2020. This site also is very near Decatur in Morgan County.
These counties also have a healthy economic base in aerospace, chemicals, metals, automotive and the like. More jobs bring more rooftops and, in turn, more retail and amenities. School systems build and renovate facilities to accommodate more students and also develop career academies.
Cooperation among counties is important for economic development, officials say. Morgan and Limestone both contributed to an incentive package for Polaris.
“It takes all of us working together,” says Mark Yarbrough, Limestone County Commission chairman. “We have worked together on incentive packages for other industry coming here. We all benefit from it — the economic impact is great.”
The seat of Morgan County government is the riverside city of Decatur. Strong in industry, making all kinds of products, it also has a very active downtown and surrounding areas that provide amenities for its residents.
Decatur’s first five-year strategic plan for downtown has resulted in 451 new jobs, more than $10 million in annual payroll, $23 million in capital investment and a net increase of 65 new businesses. Phase 2 is about to begin with the downtown Alabama Center for the Arts, a joint project between Calhoun Community College and Athens State University. And also downtown, the Cook Museum of Natural Science is under way, which will be a major tourism attraction and education center.
Limestone County’s county seat is Athens. The county includes small portions of Decatur, Huntsville and Madison, but Athens is the only city completely within its borders. Athens is opening a new city hall, has opened a new library and is continuing to add amenities to its downtown and surrounding areas. Limestone County has been named by niche.com as the No. 2 best county in the state to raise a family and is among the best communities nationwide. It is the fifth-fastest growing county in Alabama and the 65th-fastest growing in the nation.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.