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Southeast Alabama Economy Counts on the Three A’s

The Southeast Alabama region includes key industry sectors in agriculture, aviation and automotive.

By Kevin Litwin on October 14, 2014

Southeast Alabama’s economy keeps getting stronger thanks to the three A’s – agriculture, aviation and automotive.
The region includes Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes and Pike counties. Each has its own economic strengths and attributes, but all share a spirit of cooperation and optimism.
“I think the strong agricultural heritage is a common thread running through the Southeast Alabama region,” says Wiley Lott, director of economic development and governmental affairs for the Southeast Alabama Gas District. “The stable, dedicated workforce knows what it is to work hard and that has carried through in all of the major industries in the area.”
Keeping Southeast Alabama Growing
Agriculture remains a strong sector in the regional economy, with more than 7,600 farms producing farm commodities exceeding $1.5 billion annually. Cattle and poultry are the major livestock in the region, and cotton, peanuts, soybeans and corn are the major crops.
With such a strong agricultural core, a host of food production companies have located in Southeast Alabama, specializing in  poultry, pork and peanut products, among others. The aviation and aerospace sector has had a major presence here for decades with world-class companies like Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky Bell Helicopter and Vector Aerospace having key operations in the region.
Nearby Fort Rucker and its U.S. Army Aviation Center has had a major influence on the industry, and the new Airbus manufacturing plant, under construction in nearby Mobile, is expected to favorably impact Southeast Alabama as well. The automotive sector has had a strong influence in Southeast Alabama in recent years. Major automakers Kia, Mercedes, Toyota and Hyundai have manufacturing plants in close proximity, creating a growing supplier network.
“We are located in one of the fastest-growing areas of country, and we enjoy a great diversity few areas can match,” says Lott.
To support these industries, large utilities, such as the Southeast Alabama Gas District, PowerSouth Energy, Constellation Energy and Alabama Power, not only provide reliable, inexpensive electricity and natural gas, but assist communities and companies in their recruitment and expansion programs.
“I think the available labor force and the modest cost of living are two of the biggest selling points to a prospective company considering Southeast Alabama,” says Caleb Goodwyn, economic development representative for PowerSouth Energy.
Goodwyn sees the forestry products industry as a growing segment in the area due to the available timber and the growing demand for wood pellets in Europe.
Workforce Programs Aid New Business
A number of community colleges nearby offer specialized training for companies who want to provide additional skills for their employees.
Alabama also has aggressive programs at the state level to help train prospective employees and make it easier for employers to recruit skilled workers. The state’s College & Career Ready Task Force brings together the education and business communities in an effort to prepare students for the workforce. The goal is to keep more college graduates in Alabama.
The Alabama Industrial Development Training program provides a full range of customized technical training programs offered at no cost to employers and to the trainees.
Logistics is another competitive advantage the region offers. Interstate and state highways are easily accessible, and ports along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico are less than half a day’s drive away. Major cities like Birmingham, New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville are also just a few hours away. The cost of living in Southeast Alabama is also attractive for employers and employees alike, and Alabama is a low tax state. Incentive programs offered through the Alabama Department of Commerce are available to help companies relocate or expand in the region.
The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama provides a database of available sites and buildings for prospective companies interested in the region. It also helps communities with their strategic planning and making their sites attractive to prospective firms.
“There is a strong sense of partnership and collaboration among the communities in Southeast Alabama with government entities, utilities and our organization,” says Steve Sewell, executive vice president of EDPA. “That environment of cooperation is very attractive to a company considering a move to the region.”

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