Spotlight on Coastal Gateway
Rikard’s Mill Historical Park is the home of a water-powered grist mill and museum. Established in 1845 along the banks of Flat Creek, the mill has served residents in north Monroe County ever since.
Photo by Mike Qualls/The Monroe Journal
The five-county Coastal Gateway region between Montgomery and Mobile boasts plentiful hardwood and softwood forests, waterways for business and recreation, import/export opportunities through the Port of Mobile, access to American steel manufacturing, the automotive corridor and the Gulf Coast aviation corridor.
The Coastal Gateway region – which consists of Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe counties – markets itself for its lower cost of doing business, its highly-skilled workforce and its affordable cost of living.
The region is dotted by community college technical training programs with a national reputation for excellence and rapidly emerging partnerships between K-12 schools and colleges committed to developing a world-class manufacturing workforce.
“Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance (CGEDA) is the lead economic development agency for the region, but we really represent a network of regional and local economic developers who work as a team to develop every community and every business in the region,” says John Johnson, CGEDA executive director. “We are redefining regionalism every day, creating new partnerships throughout the region while focusing on the vitality and expansion of our existing industry and growing our industrial family with new companies from throughout the world.”
Within the region, there have been victories. New companies have moved in and existing ones have expanded, meaning more jobs. In an effort to tap the international trade that’s helped the economy in other parts of the state, Monroeville hosted the first Alabama/China Partnership — bringing several hundred people representing dozens of Chinese businesses — hoping to show potential business partners the benefits of small city locations.
“We are working hard to help our existing businesses succeed,” says Glen Haab, executive director of the Monroeville/Monroe County Economic Development Authority. “Retail is growing in the counties, especially near Interstate 65.” In Evergreen, county and city officials have opened a new development, Liberty Hill Park, which seeks to attract even more retail, restaurants and commercial businesses to its main interstate exit.
Cities are beefing up downtowns and parks — the city of Brewton, for example, just released its “Brewton Reborn” quality of life report — cities are adding new events and family fun to bring more visitors, and the city of Thomasville may soon have a new hospital to replace the closed Southwest Alabama Regional Medical Center.
Monroeville is the home of author Harper Lee and is the site of the “To Kill a Mockingbird” international performance each year. Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, in Atmore, just finished a world-class entertainment center that should help boost tourism in the area. Outdoor tourism is a priority here, too, with a birding trail, waterways and opportunities for canoeing, hiking and geocaching.
With Airbus under way in Mobile, the Coastal Gateway stands to benefit, Johnson says. “We expect Airbus to attract suppliers locally and around the world.”
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.