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Spotlight on Lee & Russell Counties

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika offers two 18-hole championship courses.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika offers two 18-hole championship courses.

Photos courtesy of PCH Hotels and Resorts

Lee and Russell counties are located in east-central Alabama along the Alabama-Georgia border. Both have diverse economies, and residents enjoy a quality of life that’s heavily influenced by Auburn University and the counties’ other colleges.

Lee County is home to Auburn University, the largest employer in the county, and Southern Union State Community College, which has campuses in the cities of Opelika, Wadley and Valley. Opelika is the county seat. Its public schools are touted as among the best in the state and beyond. In Lee County, automotive suppliers have located to manufacture their products close to vehicle manufacturers Hyundai, Kia and others. In total, since 1984, nearly 6,000 jobs of several kinds have come to the county with a $944 million capital investment.

Auburn University is a major economic engine for the county and partnerships are key among the school, the city and other entities for job creation, research and entrepreneurship/manufacturing. The city has three technology parks and one industrial park, all growing, and its base is built around small to mid-sized value-added technology-based manufacturing. Auburn is getting an osteopathic medical school in the Auburn Research Park that expects to have about 150 students in its first class. 

In 1859, the original Samford Hall was built for the East Alabama Male College. It was known as Old Main. On June 24, 1887, Old Main burned. It was rebuilt in 1888 and officially named for Governor William James Samford in May 1929. It now houses Auburn University’s administrative offices. 

Photo courtesy of Auburn/Opelika Convention & Visitors Bureau

In Auburn and Opelika, schools are supported well, and recent sales tax hikes have allowed those systems to stay abreast of new technology and to keep facilities updated.

Russell County is known as “the county of forts” because of the many forts that once existed within its borders. Those include Fort Mitchell, Sand Fort, Fort Bainbridge and some of present-day Fort Benning, most of which is in Georgia. Its county seat is Phenix City, which also is its largest city. The county is home to the Phenix City branch of Troy University and Chattahoochee Valley Community College. 

Russell County benefitted from the Fort Benning, Ga. base realignment, and continues to recruit diverse businesses to the area. Phenix City also is looking to boost tourism revenue through riverfront development and development of the largest whitewater course in the nation that will flow through its downtown area on the Chattahoochee River.

The city of Phenix City just elected a new mayor, Eddie Lowe, the city’s first African-American mayor, who is a former University of Alabama football star and Canadian Football Hall of Fame member. He is a senior vice president of CB&T Bank of East Alabama.

Both counties consider economic diversity as a major goal and have attracted not only automotive suppliers, but also call centers, distribution centers, pharmaceutical companies, aerospace and retail.

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

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