Ten Comeback Kids
It’s utterly American to love a comeback story. Defeating the odds and turning the ship around is always an encouraging read. When it comes to economic turnarounds in recent years, these ten southern communities top our list and are worth a closer look.
Alamance County, North Carolina
The local economy in Alamance County was once dominated by textile manufacturing but, in recent years, it has changed to include warehousing and distribution, metal and plastics manufacturing, and medical testing. In addition, population growth in the county has increased employment growth in the local healthcare, government, education and retail sectors.
Since 2012, new and expanding industries have announced more than 1,200 new jobs and over $250 million in capital investments in Alamance County. These include: Walmart perishable goods distribution center, Sheetz production kitchen and distribution center and CAMBRO injection molding and distribution center.
Alamance County, situated in north-central North Carolina on the booming I-85/I-40 corridor between Charlotte and Raleigh, has become home to a number of national and international company headquarters and manufacturing operations.
Catawba County, North Carolina
Catawba County is in the midst of a community-wide transformation. Community leaders created an actionable plan to revitalize their county by way of a program they’ve labeled “Innovate Catawba.”
It has resulted in an economic and aesthetic renewal that has changed the face of the area. Recently, four Innovate Catawba redevelopment projects have generated $31 million in new tax base and more than 500 jobs locally. Innovate Catawba has undertaken to change former mill buildings into offices, restaurants and entertainment spaces – demolishing obsolete structures.
Innovate Catawba is also investing in the future workforce there by working with Catawba Valley Community College to increase skills, foster entrepreneurship and prepare students with the skills they’ll need in the marketplace.
“Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” (Mama Said Knock You Out, LL Cool J)
The economic development leadership in Conway was equal parts honored and confused when told they were on this list. They don’t consider themselves “comeback kids” at all. In fact, since 2000, they have experienced some of the nation’s fastest job and population growth. That doesn’t seem to be slowing, either, with an expected $400 million in commercial construction spread across the retail, health care and higher education sectors during the next three years.
Conway is home to nationally-recognized tech companies like Acxiom and Hewlett-Packard, as well as three colleges and a diverse manufacturing base that continues to grow.
Dalton/Whitfield County, Georgia
Long known as the carpeting capital of the world, Dalton has emerged from the recession as a diverse and viable economy. In recent years, local leaders have invested in improved infrastructure, workforce training and education, manufacturing refinements and logistics.
Dalton was named the 2014 Small Market of the Year by Southern Business & Development for three significant corporate announcements (Engineered Floors, Mohawk Industries and Shaw Industries), which brought more than 2,500 new jobs and nearly $600 million in investment to the community.
With a workforce of more than 1.3 million people within a 60-mile radius, Dalton has grown to include automotive production, plastics and chemicals in recent years. It is the third largest manufacturing community per capita in Georgia. It is within a day’s drive of half of the U.S. population, and proximity to both Chattanooga and Atlanta is a huge benefit.
Jackson County, Mississippi
Jackson County has been the beneficiary of a number of corporate expansions over the past five years. $2.8 billion in corporate investment in the county has resulted in nearly 4,000 new jobs and about $231 million in salaries there. It is a sure sign that companies like BP, Northrop Grumman, Rolls-Royce and Ingalls Shipbuilding see Jackson County as a viable option for their operations.
The Port of Pascagoula itself supports nearly 40,000 jobs, about half of which are in Jackson County. Consistently ranking in the national top 20, it moves more than 38 million tons of cargo a year, employing 19,000 people.
Long a manufacturing center, Jackson County has branched into petrochemical, marine science and the energy sector in recent years, successfully recruiting and sustaining corporate presence in a growing number of fields.
Martinsville/Henry County, Virginia
The local economy in Martinsville has undergone a transformation in the last decade. A community whose economy was once built primarily on the furniture and textile manufacturing industries, Martinsville has branched into plastics, logistics and distribution.
Last year, Kilgour Industries announced it was investing $27.3 million in its first U.S. operation – located in Henry County. The U.K.-based supplier of aircraft airframe and engine machined products is creating 155 new jobs in the county. It was what Governor McAuliffe called a “tremendous win” for a “region that is continuing to rebound economically.”
Martinsville has added several international companies in the past several years, continuing to move its economy from traditional manufacturing to global enterprise.
Melbourne/Brevard County, Florida
In December, the Orion spacecraft took off on its maiden orbital test flight – headed to Mars. It was the culmination of years of work that started well before the 2006 announcement that Lockheed Martin had selected Florida’s Space Coast as the site for final assembly and checkout of Orion.
Landing the Orion program created a substantial boom for the area – providing hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in economic impact. It was, in some ways, the launching pad for economic growth to this area.
With an infrastructure that includes the world’s only “quadramodal” transportation network (land, air, sea, space), and a workforce that offers 48 engineers per 1,000 workers, the Space Coast continues to expand its international presence with significant local investment from companies like Boeing, Bertram Yacht and General Electric.
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Not just a tourist destination anymore, Rocky Mount has become a community of small businesses. While tourism continues to bring in $195 million annually, this area has created a diverse set of employers, with facilities and manufacturers in the aerospace, elevator, food service and hospital products industries. As a matter of fact, 93 percent of the local economy comes from small business.
In addition, the area provides first-rate accessibility, with a regional rail hub, and the juncture of two major highways (I-95 and US Hwy 64). Rocky Mount has become known as “Gateway to the Eastern Seaboard.”
Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
GE has had a presence in Clearwater for nearly 40 years. In July, the company announced it was expanding operations there by investing $50 million in a new 190,000-square-foot manufacturing Center of Excellence.
It is part of a growth trend in the Tampa Bay area that has this area ranked 20th in the country in job growth in recent years. That growth curve represents a wide variety of market diversification as well, as Pinellas County has expanded in a number of sectors, including advanced manufacturing, aviation and aerospace, financial services, information technology and life sciences.
Tishomingo County, Mississippi
In 2012, Southern Business & Development named Tishomingo County one of our “Ten Southern markets that are manufacturing location no-brainers.” It continues to be a quality location for a variety of manufacturing companies.
Tishomingo’s location, at the intersection of waterways, provides substantial advantages for companies who need quality transportation infrastructure. World-class port facilities are accessible there, with water connections to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio River system. Tishomingo County is also located halfway between Memphis and Huntsville, with local connection to I-55, I-65, I-22 and I-40 making transport to the entire continental U.S. convenient and inexpensive.
It helps, too, that construction costs there are less than 70 percent of the national average, while the area has a high-quality manufacturing workforce.