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Spotlight: Lee, Russell & Macon Counties

By Lori Chandler Pruitt | Read the original article on Business Alabama

These three east-central Alabama counties offer a variety of industries to work in and communities with amenities to live in.

Lee, Russell and Macon counties are in east-central Alabama along the Alabama-Georgia border. Both states benefit from each other’s quality-of-life amenities, educational opportunities, economic development and workforce development.

For example, all three counties have automotive suppliers, many of which have continued to grow. And more are coming because of Hyundai in Montgomery County, Kia in West Point, Georgia, and others.

With highly ranked K-12 school districts, workforce development partnerships, stellar amenities and new housing, this area is growing.

Lee County is home to Auburn University, an ever-growing economic engine for the region and beyond. It is a major research university that attracts many high-tech businesses, offering more opportunities for students.

The county’s diverse industrial base has been built around small to medium-sized technology-based, value-added manufacturing companies employing more than 4,700 people. The industrial base includes 46 companies housed in four different parks producing a wide variety of parts including aviation components, engines, filtration parts, power transmission parts, medical plastics, plastics packaging, wireless technologies and automotive parts that range from axles and drive shafts to solenoid valves and textiles.

In Opelika, the county seat, the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park is strategically located on I-85 within the city limits and has all the needed infrastructure in place. Several industries and distribution companies call the park home, and there is room for more, officials say.

The area provides a healthy environment for entrepreneurs and new businesses. The Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s Forward Opelika campaign, which enables the chamber to tackle big issues facing the community, is renovating the former Opelika Library into a business incubator, visitor center, training facility and offices for both the Opelika Chamber and Auburn Opelika Tourism.

Another new incubator, Opelika Main Street’s downtown retail incubator and resource center, opened in a former gift shop. The back half of the property is the Opelika Main Street office.

Opelika has several quality-of-life projects under way or recently completed, including pools, pickleball courts and a new fire station. Opelika is a retail hub for the region, and that sector is growing.

The city of Auburn has several robust entrepreneurial programs, made possible through the city’s partnerships with Auburn University and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. Those include the New Venture Accelerator, the Auburn Center for Developing Industries, the Auburn Incubator for Manufacturing and the Additive Manufacturing Accelerator. The Yard is a new resource for local startups.

The city is wrapping up improvements to the Auburn Soccer Complex. Projects underway include a new community center, a public safety training center, roadwork and park renovations. The city’s new inclusive playground facility was selected as the 2022 Facility of the Year by the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association.

In Russell County, Phenix City, the county seat, is getting a downtown makeover that will create more urban design for the city, says Shaun Culligan, an economic development manager for the city. Improvements are underway, and it will be done in phases.

New retail is underway as well, including two new developments.

The city’s Public Safety Building on Broad Street has undergone complete renovation and expansion to include a larger city council chamber, an updated municipal courtroom, additional office space and renovated existing office space. The city also plans a new fire training facility with classrooms, bay storage, burn building and drill tower behind Fire Station One.

Phenix City and neighboring Columbus, Georgia, are home to a whitewater park — according to the cities the longest urban whitewater course in the world and a major tourist attraction.

In Macon County, Regional East Alabama Logistics (REAL) Park has announced its first tenant — Trendco USA, a nitrile glove maker that announced in August that it plans to invest $43 million in the plant that will have more than 250 employees.

The park, which lies along I-85, has 700 acres and expects more than $450 million in total economic output. It also lies in a Qualified Opportunity Zone, which means there are federal, state and local incentives available. It’s located in the fast-growing corridor between Kia’s plant in Georgia, and Hyundai in Montgomery, and the entire corridor is growing.

“We are targeting aerospace and forest products as well as warehouse, logistics and manufacturing,” says Joe Turnham, director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority. “We have had so many inquiries, and we’re confident that this park will be successful.”

Other economic news involves another automotive supplier, Samkee Corp., announcing in February 2023 it plans to invest $128 million to locate its first U.S. factory in the Tuskegee Commerce Park and provide parts to Hyundai.

The county already has had some success in recruiting businesses, including travel centers, for its five interstate exits and is working on more, he says.

In Tuskegee, the county seat, a lot of excitement is centered around a new community park. International recording star Lionel Richie, a native of Tuskegee and American Idol judge, visited the area and announced HELLO Park, one of 100 community projects that will be finished this year as part of Lowe’s Hometowns, a five-year, $100 million commitment from Lowe’s to rebuild and revitalize community spaces nationwide. Richie donated an undeveloped plot of land that his family owns.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

For more on Lee, Russell and Macon counties, see the links below:

This story appears in the December 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

Lionel Richie, Robin Roberts return to their roots in Tuskegee, Alabama

By GMA Team | Read the original article on Good Morning America.

"American Idol" judge Lionel Richie and "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts have a shared history in the Southern town of Tuskegee, Alabama.

Both Roberts and Richie were born in Tuskegee, where Roberts' father served as a Tuskegee Airman.

Richie grew up in the Alabama town, while Roberts and her family moved away shortly after her birth due to her dad's military career.

When the four-time Grammy winner and the "GMA" co-anchor reunited recently in Tuskegee, they reminisced about how Richie's mom, a school teacher, even taught some of Roberts' three siblings in a local school.

"This is more than just a birthplace," Richie told Roberts. "We grew up in history, and so things that people are trying to read about, it was every day."

Tuskegee, a city of around 9,000 people, is home to not only the Tuskegee Airmen -- the country's first African American military pilots -- but other history-making figures including Rosa Parks and Booker T. Washington as well.

Both Roberts and Richie said they remember learning in their childhood that "failure is not an option."

"We grew up on this military base, if you will, and so they had a standard for all of us," Richie said. "Failure is not an option."

Roberts said that phrase was common in her youth, saying, "My daddy used to say that. He used to say it was not an option."

Roberts' father, Col. Lawrence E. Roberts, earned his master's degree in Tuskegee and was an award-winning pilot who served in three wars -- World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War -- according to his biography.

It was in World War II that he and other African American pilots flew combat missions as the Tuskegee Airmen for the U.S. Army Air Forces. The legendary airmen, including support staff, are widely regarded as being among the Air Force's finest.

For Richie's visit to Tuskegee with Roberts, he brought his fellow "American Idol" judges Katy Perry and Luke Bryan to show them the accomplishments of his hometown, including the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. "American Idol," which will premiere its 22nd season next year, also hosted hometown auditions in Tuskegee.

"I get to show off Tuskegee," Richie said during his visit. "To bring it back here for me is a chance to get them to understand the roots of another kind of Black America that people don't get to hear and talk about every day."

In addition to showing them his childhood home, Richie also returned to what is now known as Tuskegee University, where he spent most of his beloved early years.

Looking back at his childhood in Tuskegee, Richie, who is preparing for the launch of his new Las Vegas residency, said he never could have imagined his lasting success, saying, "Not in my wildest dreams."

"We just talked about the airmen, Ph.D.s and doctors, and lawyers and planes and flying and stuff, and here I am talking about, 'We're the 'Black Beatles' and we're gonna take over the world,'" Richie said of getting his start in music. "Five years later, we hit. But what I'm surprised at is that it kept going."

50 years and counting, Tuskegee woman still selling newspapers

Written by Judd Davis | Read the original article and watch the video on

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - There’s something different about a newspaper. In this day and age, a lot of folks snag their news online. But there’s something special about holding that paper in your hand. Louise Nall started selling The Tuskegee News more than a half-century ago, and she still does.

“56 years I’ve been doing this,” said Louise Nall.

It all started when her 4-year-old son Walter wanted to make some of his own money.

“So I told him we were going to the news office to get some papers. We went there and got 100 papers. Sold those papers so fast we had to go back and get some more,” stated Nall.

Soon, Walter got busy with school and playing in the band, but Miss Nall kept on selling.

“I’ve never been a sitter. No, not me. Everything life offers, I enjoy it.”

So at the young age of 96, two days a week, she’s outside the Piggly Wiggly selling papers.

“I love people. We love to talk about everything.”

“She’s very important,” said Scott Richardson with The Tuskegee News. “She delivers 125-150 papers a week.”

Selling papers gave her a great way to teach her kids about money.

“When you see something you want and can’t afford it now, just get you a job,” said Nall. “Put you a quarter or fifty cents in there every week. You’ll be surprised at how that adds up for you.”

It’s tough to tell what her customers need more, a chance to catch up on the news or just to be around her positive vibes.

“For about the first 15 years I knew her, it was like, ‘How are you, Ms. Nall? Oh, I’m lovely,’” said Richardson.

That about sums her up. Always with a smile, some encouraging words, and a paper if you need one. If you want to visit Miss Nall and get the Tuskegee paper, she’s outside the Piggly Wiggly every Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 in the morning until all her papers are gone.

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Tuskegee, AL 36083