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Spotlight on Lee and Russell Counties

The Auburn Tigers take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the nation’s eighth largest on-campus stadium.

The Auburn Tigers take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the nation’s eighth largest on-campus stadium.

Photos courtesy The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The location of Lee and Russell counties in east-central Alabama along the Alabama-Georgia border has helped both counties develop their tourism and economic potential while offering plenty of amenities for residents.

Lee County is the home of Auburn University, the county’s largest employer and a huge economic, research and tourism engine. Russell County is home to the longest urban whitewater rafting course in the nation that has already exceeded expectations and boosted more growth, and both counties have an economy that has been brightened by suppliers that are locating, expanding and serving nearby automotive manufacturing companies, as well as retail, distribution, pharmaceuticals/cosmetics and other types of industry.

It’s a great place to live and raise a family, and to retire, according to noted publications, and the area is growing very fast. New census figures show that the Auburn-Opelika metro is the sixth fastest growing metro in the U.S. and the fastest growing Alabama metro. Lee County is the 60th fastest-growing county in the nation and the second fastest in Alabama.

The area is centrally located along the I-85 corridor between two state capitals, Montgomery and Atlanta, and two hours away from one of the world’s busiest airports.

Toomer’s Drugs is an original soda fountain-style diner that has been in business since 1896 in the heart of downtown Auburn.

“Without a doubt, it is the combination of the quality of life, superior public school system, excellent university, good-paying jobs and a prime location on the I-85 corridor that work in concert to drive growth in Auburn, and in the MSA as a whole,” says David Dorton, director of public affairs for the city of Auburn. 

Phenix City in Russell County, which is part of the GA-AL MSA, which includes Russell County and Columbus, Ga., was named one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live by Livability.com, and has been recognized as one of the top 50 metro statistical areas in the country by Area Development magazine. The GA-AL MSA is rapidly growing mainly due to the BRAC re-alignment at Fort Benning, Ga. Major employers  — such as the Kia plant in West Point, Ga. — are an easy commute from the border-hugging Alabama counties.

Higher education is a major economic driver for both counties. From the school systems to colleges, there are many ways for students to get the education they need whether they prefer a college degree or career-focused training. Auburn University is the largest employer in Lee County and Southern Union State Community College has campuses in the city of Auburn, Opelika and Valley. Russell County is home to the Phenix City branch of Troy University and Chattahoochee Valley Community College.

The Auburn Research Park will soon be home to a new branch of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. The park has many high-tech and research tenants and is still growing. The research park also has a very successful business incubator. The area also has technology parks for industry growth.

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

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