Covington County, located in rural south Alabama, is a place where industry thrives. We spoke with Rick Clifton, President and CEO of the Covington County Economic Development Commission, to learn about what Covington County has to offer.
Located on the southern border of Alabama, Covington County spans over 1,000 square miles and has a population of 40,000 residents. The area is primarily rural, with several cities including Andalusia, Opp, and Florala. The Covington County Economic Development Commission, led by Rick Clifton, strives to create investment and job growth, and improve the quality of life in Covington County.
Covington County offers an outstanding quality of life. “It’s a very close, very safe community. It’s a great place to raise a family,” says Rick Clifton of the Covington County Economic Development Commission. “The schools are some of the best in the state, because the teachers are very dedicated.” Residents enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, as well as a low cost of living. The county’s rural setting offers many outdoor recreation opportunities including golf courses, beautiful lakes and parks, as well as hunting and fishing.
Covington County is located near large cities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, as well as some of the Gulf Coast’s most beautiful beaches. “It’s not a big city lifestyle, but you have access to the big city if you want it,” says Clifton.
Despite its rural location, Covington County is home to a diverse group of companies in a range of industries including aerospace and aviation, automotive parts manufacturing, metal manufacturing, and utilities. “We’ve got several international companies here in rural south Alabama,” Clifton notes.
When asked what makes Covington County such a great place to do business, Clifton points to the emphasis on cooperation among state, municipal, county, and business organizations. “Fifteen years ago, the county had never cooperated on a project,” he explains. “The State, County, Andalusia, and Opp all cooperated to bring in a major employer to the community. That was the first cooperative effort in the county. We all worked together and saw how important it is to pool our efforts and resources.” Since then, the Economic Development Commission has collaborated with state and local organizations on many other successful projects.
“We are business friendly. What we’re trying to do is retain, recruit, and assist businesses that have an interest in locating or expanding within the county, and that takes a lot of different forms,” says Clifton. The Economic Development Commission assists new and expanding businesses in securing business loans and grants as well as tax incentives at the state and local level. The Commission provides all resources necessary for employers, offering information and customized reports, site selection, and infrastructure assistance programs to new and expanding businesses. Clifton and his colleagues work to market the county to potential employers in many different sectors.
The County has long been the headquarters of multiple utility companies, including PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, Southeast Alabama Gas, and Covington Electric Cooperative. Years ago, when large electricity and gas providers did not offer service to rural communities, cooperatives were founded to serve the need; these co-ops selected Covington County for their central location in rural south Alabama. Since then, the utility industry has been an integral part of the area’s economy.
In addition, Covington County’s South Alabama Regional Airport is one of the best general aviation airports in the region, equipped with a twin hangar complex, a recently extended runway, fuel tankers, and more. The airport’s amenities, along with the county’s location within the Southeastern aerospace corridor and its close proximity to several military bases, make it a strategic location for aviation and aerospace companies. Among them is Vector Aerospace, a provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services. The South Alabama Regional Airport also has a defense service contract to provide aircraft refueling services. Fort Rucker, which is home to the Army’s helicopter training program, is located just 45 miles from Covington County. The airport sells roughly 1 million gallons of jet fuel to military aircrafts annually.
Covington County’s proximity to auto manufacturing plants throughout Alabama also makes it an ideal location for auto parts manufacturing. Korean-based manufacturer SaeHaeSung, a Tier 2 supplier to Hyundai, recently established a plant in Andalusia. The EDC hopes to attract additional auto manufacturers to the county in the future.
The County is home to large manufacturers in other industries, including a consumer goods packaging factory owned by the Huhtamaki Group, and the American Apparel sewing factory, which produces military uniforms. Covington County also features many retail businesses, and the Economic Development Commission is constantly working to recruit more retailers to serve the county’s residents.
The Economic Development Commission hopes to expand the county’s business in several other industries as well. The county’s location near five major highways and multiple airports, as well as railways and port facilities, makes it an optimal location for distribution operations. The Commission also hopes to recruit companies in metal manufacturing, an industry that has a long history in Alabama. The Commission strives to make the county an attractive location for these industries. In addition to offering financial incentives and assistance, the Commission works to address the challenges faced by local employers.
One such challenge is the need for highly trained, knowledgeable employees specializing in aviation and aerospace and manufacturing. The EDC is committed to building a strong, well-trained local workforce to meet the needs of employers.
“We’re lucky that we have two community colleges located in our county,” Clifton notes. “We work closely with the colleges to meet the needs of industry.” Alabama schools offer a dual-enrollment program in which students can pursue college or technical coursework during high school. In Covington County, students can take courses at a satellite campus of the Alabama Aviation College, preparing them for careers in the aviation industry. “For another example, we’ve got a robotics program, and the SaeHaeSung plant is heavy in robotics and maintenance and repair of robotics. We try to pair industry needs with our educational partners, to get them to work together,” says Clifton.
“We’ve got a good potential workforce, we’ve got a way to educate them, and what we’ve got to do is make sure we know what industry needs so that we can put programs in place to make sure they’re ready to do the work,” Clifton explains.
The Economic Development Commission is committed to building and diversifying the local economy, attracting companies from around the world, and growing local businesses. With an outstanding quality of life, a highly trained workforce ready to meet the needs of industry, and a strategic location near transportation assets and industry centers, Covington County is a place where business thrives.