Marshall Country, in the rolling hills of Northeast Alabama, has become a premier destination for new and existing businesses and tourists alike.
Located just south of Huntsville, and within easy reach of Chattanooga and Birmingham, four major cities comprise Marshall County, namely Boaz, Albertville, Guntersville and Arab. Marshall County offers numerous incentives to businesses wishing to benefit from a large available workforce, low tax rates, a choice of industrial properties, and a great deal more.
To help foster business development and growth in the area, the not-for-profit Marshall County Economic Development Council helps to recruit new businesses and works with existing businesses on retention and expansion efforts. It also serves as an assistance agency for economic and community development events to local county and municipal governments.
The Guntersville-based council works with all municipalities in Marshall County, including Albertville, Arab, Boaz, Douglas, Grant, Guntersville and Union Grove. The total population for the county is about 95,000.
Starting as vice president in 2000 and named president and chief executive officer in August of 2001, Birmingham, Alabama native Matt Arnold is an example of the enduring attraction of Marshall County. “In the economic development profession, generally people don’t stay forever, but I found this is been a great place to live and raise a family, so I stayed already for over fifteen years,” he says.
He’s proud of the area and all the wonderful amenities it has to offer. “You get all the advantages of big-city life: nice restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops, that kind of thing. But you also get the small-town charm that you won’t get a big city; that’s what a lot of people like about living here.” The country and surrounding areas boast Publix supermarkets, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants and other well-established chains.
To promote the area’s economic development, the Marshall County Economic Development Council has joined with a number of other associations including the State of Alabama, The Alabama Department of Commerce, The Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA), Tennessee Valley Authority, The Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the local area chambers of commerce. The council has a board of directors, executive committee, members representing a variety of industries and investors providing public funding, in-kind sponsors and private funding. Marshall County is the choice of a range of existing industries and home to a variety of national and international companies engaged in aerospace / defense, food processing, automotive, chemical and engineering. A significant factor behind the success of the area is its accessibility. It is close to three interstates and four four-lane highways and has access to rail, ports located on the Tennessee River and two jet-capable airports that all combine to make an attractive place to do businesses.
Near Huntsville, a key location for technology and defense-related technology, the area is increasingly popular with businesses according to Arnold. “We are finding more and more companies are interested in locating here because they can tap into that market in Huntsville –the high-tech industry and defense contractors – but they can be in a small town.”
Some of the area’s top employers are international manufacturing firms including Tyson Foods, Inc.; TS Tech Alabama; Tokyo-based automotive components maker Newman Technology; Japan-based wiring and connector assembly manufacturer JST, Inc.; food service products company Huhtamaki America out of Espoo, Finland; Brussels-based chemical company Umicore; and aerospace giant BAE Systems from London, England.
Marshall County works with companies to offer available space and its five industrial parks have buildings ideally suited for both light and heavy industrial use. Its strategically located, available property and buildings are near key shipping routes and many feature rail service provided by CSX Transportation.
Business park sites include a mix of light and heavy industrial opportunities. The Albertville Airport Tech Park, Albertville Industrial Park, Arab Industrial Park, Boaz Industrial Park, Guntersville Industrial Port, the King & Hicks Industrial Site and the Conners Island Business Park have a combined available space that exceeds 1,500 acres.
The Conners Island Business Park, located near Lake Guntersville, boasts all necessary infrastructure and has been open for the past decade. However, Arnold says the City of Guntersville is particular about the type of tenants it wishes to attract to Conners Island. High-tech manufacturing businesses make the site a place for higher-paying, high-skilled jobs. “And that’s one of the things about it that makes it a good location,” he says. “It is centrally located, close to Huntsville.”
To make moving in even easier for clients, the location is an ‘Advantage Site’ as certified by The State of Alabama to ensure all due diligence has been done with regard to the environmental work, wetlands mitigation and everything else a company would require to locate there. “We have other sites. a lot of available acreage, but that is our only Advantage Site right now,” he says of Conners Island, which is also a certified data capable center site with all the necessary infrastructure to support up to Tier 2 data centers, including redundant fiber and electrical.
“The companies that we attract to this area are looking for young educated folks, and that’s another demographic we are always trying to bring more in,” says Arnold.
In addition to business parks, Marshall County offers tax abatements, including a brand-new property tax abatement which just passed the legislature earlier this year. Additionally, there are also a number of incentive programs rolled out by The State of Alabama, including a three percent payroll tax deduction and an investment credit of up to 1.5 percent.
There are also local programs. “The Marshall County Economic Development Council will also assist companies locating here with permitting and guiding them through all the necessary hurdles with the city, county and state to get everything in order. So that’s just another thing we offer,” says Arnold. The area even allows discounted land costs for some companies.
In recent years, much of the success of Marshall County has been the result of cooperation among the cities of Boaz, Albertville, Guntersville and Arab, with the Marshall County Economic Development Council serving as a one-stop shop, single point of contact. The council has worked with companies to help them expand. One example is TSTech, which makes seats for Honda. The large Honda plant in Alabama is about an hour and a half away, and an upcoming $24 million expansion will see about another hundred jobs added, to a total of 750.
“That company came here because of this office,” comments Arnold. “We recruited them here over ten years ago. That would’ve never happened under the old way: showing people different sites and different points of contact. It has been a long time coming, but all of our mayors and city council members tend to work together, so there has been a lot of progress. They understand that if the company does well, people work there from all over.”
Marshall County is a desirable location for both young families and retirees who want to get away from big-city life yet still access its amenities. One of the area’s main attractions remains Lake Guntersville, a 69,100 acre man-made lake with over 949 miles of shoreline that was created by the construction of a dam in the 1930s. The lake was recently ranked number six of the top one hundred bass fishing lakes in the country by Bassmaster magazine, making it a prime destination for amateur and professional anglers and a home for fishing tournaments.
There are thirteen campgrounds in the county and the area is popular with water skiers, boaters, kayakers and wake boarders and hosts an annual tournament every June. “We have a lot of little tributary areas where people can drop in a canoe or kayak and spent some time, so it’s the best of both worlds,” says Katy Norton, president of the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
With three state parks in the county, there is plenty to do and see for hikers and nature lovers of all ages. Cathedral Caverns State Park has one of the largest natural cave openings in the world). There is also Buck’s Pocket State Park and Lake Guntersville State Park with over thirty miles of hiking trails, campgrounds and more.
Tourism is the biggest economic draw to the area. In 2014, visitors spent $187 million in Marshall County, and employment increased by 3.6 percent, with 1,480 jobs directly tied to tourism in the county. To help promote tourism, the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau uses its interactive website and advertises outside of the area, with most advertisement dollars spent within a five to eight-hour drive time.
Recently, the area celebrated its first wine festival on its waterway. Over 150 wines were available for tasting, and all 1,000 tickets to the event sold out quickly. During the first weekend of every August, Albertville is also home to the Main Street Music Festival. A two-day event, this year’s festival boasted activities for kids, food vendors and of course music, featuring well-known acts like Tracy Lawrence, .38 Special and Exile.
Although Marshall County is tremendously popular in summer, it is also a destination for fall colors and even winter nature viewing. “In January and February every year, we are one of the best destinations in the United States to view bald eagles in their natural habitat,” comments Norton. “During January and February, most people don’t think of us as the destination because we are a lake community, and people come here in the summer, but our state park has a beautiful program for eagle awareness that runs throughout those two months. You get to do live bird sightings, go to nesting sites and watch the birds in action. They bring in live birds and speakers and programming, so they have these weekend packages. A lot of people are big birders and travel for that, so we are one of the top places to do that.”