Spotlight on Etowah & St. Clair Counties
Legend has it that Noccalula was in love with an Indian brave, but was promised to another by her father. On the eve of her arranged marriage, she jumped to her death at Black Creek Falls.
Photo courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department/Marc Golden
Etowah County, located in northeast Alabama, is blessed with natural beauty, including Noccalula Falls Park and Lookout Mountain, along with the Coosa River that runs right through downtown Gadsden, its county seat.
Its natural resources make it a logical host for several events, including Riverfest and Christmas at the Falls. Gadsden’s downtown is 92 percent occupied, a major accomplishment among most downtown areas.
In Etowah County, the largest overall employer is Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., with 1,650 employees, followed by Gadsden Regional Medical Center with 1,200 employees. The largest manufacturing employer is Goodyear, followed by Equity Group of Alabama, a poultry processing facility.
Major economic sectors also include automotive suppliers, health care and education. Gadsden State Community College and its offerings help power the economy as well as provide, along with high schools and employers, needed specialized training for the area’s workforce. In the last five years, the area has seen more than $300 million in capital improvements, as well as 3,800 jobs that have either been saved or created, says Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton.
“We’ve been moving forward when many areas have not been,” he says. “We are very blessed with good cooperation that gets things done.”
The Northeast Alabama Regional Airport in Gadsden now has a 6,800-foot runway with a new fire station and other improvements, Guyton says.
Etowah County is undergoing a redistricting plan for its county commission seats.
St. Clair County, located in north-central Alabama at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, is older than the state. It was officially established in November 1818.
It has two county seats—Ashville, located in the center of the county, and Pell City, which was established decades ago. In the past, the two seats were established because the county is cut in half by Backbone Mountain, which made travel difficult.
Pell City is the largest city in the county and the industrial center. The county has several other municipalities, including Springville, Moody and Steele.
St. Clair boasts outdoor beauty with two dams, the Neely Henry and the Logan Martin, along with the Coosa River. Logan Martin Lake offers camping, fishing, skiing, swimming, sailing and many other water activities.
St. Clair is the third-fastest growing county in the state. Two interstates run through it, 59 and 20, and it has two railroads. Economic engines include health care, automotive suppliers and other industry sectors.
In St. Clair County, the largest overall employer is the St. Clair County Board of Education, with 965 employees. Wal-Mart, with locations in three cities, comes in second, also with 965 employees. The largest manufacturing employer is automotive supplier WKW Erbsloeh with 650 employees.
In the past two years, new industry and expansions represent close to 393 new jobs and over $23 million in capital investment in St. Clair County.
In the past few years, the county has undergone an aggressive campaign to attract higher education, health care and other related business to the area. In a new park, it has brought a branch of Jefferson State Community College, a replacement facility for the St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital and under construction is a major project that will bring a state-of-the-art Veterans Administration home to the area.
“We have taken a long-term approach to develop a park that would create new jobs, strengthen our tax base and be an economic engine in the county,” says Don Smith, executive director of the St. Clair Economic Development Council. “We intended for this park to have anchors in the education and medical areas.”
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.