Spotlight on Marion, Fayette & Lamar Counties
Lakes and rivers complement other area attractions to bring tourists to the region.
Photo courtesy of C3 of Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance
Marion, Fayette and Lamar counties in northwest Alabama land on several lists for great places to live, raise a family and work. With affordable housing, beautiful natural resources and jobs in diverse manufacturing and the private sector, this is a region on the move.
The communities are built around picturesque downtowns and parks. They are known for great schools with six of the region’s high schools listed on the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools in Alabama for 2015, and many other schools ranked in the top 20 statewide in Alabama Reading and Math scores and the Alabama Writing Assessment. And the region celebrates its history.
With the last mile or so of Interstate 22 in Birmingham expected to open later this year, state officials say this area is poised to become “the next hot region in the state of Alabama,” and it’s already well on its way.
In 2010, the counties had 27 available spec buildings for rent or sale; in 2015, there are only eight. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 855 jobs have been created in the region, according to C3 of Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance, an agency incorporated in 2010 as a cooperative marketing effort among the three counties. C3 has played a role in many partnerships and helping development move quickly, while preserving the region’s best qualities.
“We are building on the positive,” says David Thornell, C3 president and CEO. “We are midway between Tupelo and Birmingham, we have lots of outdoor activities, rolling hills and business success. All of this has attracted positive attention that has been perfect for success.”
Many existing industries and private sector businesses have expanded, creating new jobs. Some sectors, such as metal fabrication and manufactured housing, are booming. Local schools, industry and higher education work to ensure students have the training for available jobs and dual enrollment, and officials have crossed county lines to ensure that industrial parks are ready for business. There is a strong work ethic here. Alabama Department of Transportation moved an office into Fayette’s industrial park as part of the agency’s West Central Region, adding 135 jobs.
Some of the cities are designated as Alabama Communities of Excellence, and many have beautification boards, Main Street organizations or historic preservation boards that help preserve and grow their cities. This rural region is friendly to small business, and some cities have aggressively revitalized their downtowns and built popular attractions in their city parks, such as water parks, splash pads and playgrounds, that also bring in tourism. Retail continues to expand, and another hotel opened recently.
Speaking of tourism, major rivers and lakes offer great fishing, canoeing, campgrounds and more. The region is first in the state for deer hunting. Waterways include the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Sipsey Valley River Wilderness Area and Bear Creek Lakes.
“This region is friendly, welcoming and safe with a clean environment, and it’s hard for folks not to find something to like here,” Thornell says. “It’s good that we can all pull together and make things happen.”
The city of Hackleburg, in Marion County, devastated by a series of tornadoes in 2011, celebrated the opening of the new Hackleburg High School, a new city hall and police complex, a new grocery store and more, says Mayor Waymon “Whitey” Cochran. A pavilion and farmer’s market also are planned. The Wrangler distribution center in Hackleburg reopened in 2013 and has already surpassed its employment target of 200. The new facility was a team effort from state and local governments, C3 and a loyal workforce.
“We’re doing great, and we’re thankful,” Cochran says.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.