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Spotlight on Tallapoosa & Chambers Counties

Kowaliga Restaurant on Lake Martin is a local institution that goes back 60 years.

Kowaliga Restaurant on Lake Martin is a local institution that goes back 60 years.

Tallapoosa and Chambers counties in east-central Alabama have abundant natural resources and an economy that has shifted in the last decade from textiles and apparel to automotive manufacturers supplying assembly plants in Montgomery and nearby West Point, Georgia. 

Tallapoosa County, established in 1832, has Dadeville as the county seat, but its largest business center has long been Alexander City. Not long ago, the economy was balanced on textile manufacturer Russell Corp., which once employed thousands. Today, although Russell is still a major employer along with other textile companies, diversity has entered the marketplace. Automotive suppliers are the top two industrial employers now, and that sector is expected to continue to grow. Wood products also are an important sector. 

“We also are working to attract more food suppliers, because of our wastewater treatment capacity in Alexander City,” says Don McClellan, executive director of the Lake Martin Economic Development Alliance. “We also want to attract more corporate IT headquarters.” The county has an abundance of industrial sites and buildings, thanks to redevelopment of the vast Russell complex and the county’s efforts to make access there much easier. Recently, Aprinta, a screen print and decoration company, announced it will locate in one of the buildings. 

Chambers County was established in 1832. It is bounded on the east by the Chattahoochee River, and its county seat is LaFayette. Other cities include Lanett and Valley, also historically tied to a now diminished textile industry. Kia, located in West Point, Georgia is only five miles from the Chambers County line. As a result, automotive suppliers have located in both counties and account for hundreds of jobs. Suppliers also build components for Hyundai in Montgomery and other manufacturers in the state. 

Workers displaced from the textile industry have been able to transition to high-skilled jobs in the auto sector, says Valerie Gray, president of the Chambers County Development Authority, which is now planning for expansions in other target industries. 

“We are interested in the food and beverage industry, because we have MeadWestvaco, a top employer that makes food packaging, as well as metal stamping and other auto related industries,” Gray says. “But we also are interested in taking care of existing businesses.” An important example of that is the reopening of Knauf Insulation, which shuttered in 2011 but recently reopened with more than 100 jobs and more to come. Chambers County stayed in touch with Knauf throughout the process. 

The counties have beefed up their airports with longer runways and more hangars to be ready for more industry.

Lake Martin is the crowning natural resource of the area, with many residents calling it home and many more finding it a great vacation destination. Outdoor activities and attractions abound, creating an excellent quality of life around the lake and throughout the surrounding region. 

Lake Martin also is a major facet of the economy. In Tallapoosa County, Lake Martin properties account for half of that county’s assessed value.

And there’s another plus. Many residents did not leave with the downsizing of Russell Brands Corp., instead finding new jobs in construction and other industries related to Russell Lands On Lake Martin, builder of several beautiful communities along the lake, as well as Russell Crossroads, a popular town center with many amenities. Russell Lands, which is still building in the lake area, also is a major community supporter.

“All of our hospitality businesses are doing well, we are hosting more weddings, which has become a major driver for us, our country club membership is increasing, our marinas have enjoyed record sales, we are adding and selling lake home sites, which means more construction jobs, and out of town businesses are looking to expand here,” says Steve Arnberg, vice president of sales. “It’s been a great year and a bright subject to talk about with the continued loss of Russell Brands textiles.” 

Health care also is a main driver in the counties, which are home to three hospitals. 

The two counties also invest heavily in workforce development, with both county school systems operating technology centers. Tallapoosa County schools have a free tuition program for Benjamin Russell High School graduates, a program that school officials tout as K-14 education. 

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

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