OPELIKA, ALABAMA – One gets the impression most of the people who live in Opelika, a city of 28,635, are comfortable and satisfied. And with good reason.
Opelika is next door to the highly regarded Auburn University. The city of Auburn has a population of more than 53,000 residents, which which helps assure Opelika’s success.
Opelika is located on Interstate 85, which runs from Richmond, Va. through Atlanta and on to Montgomery, where it connects with Interstate 65, a major highway that begins in Chicago and ends in Mobile. Interstates are as important now as railroads once were.
It also is fair to say in recent decades the community’s economic development team has acquired what best can be described as The Midas Touch. While most of the nation’s cities, large and small, have struggled since the 2007 housing bubble and 2008 bank crisis, Opelika has continued – to put it mildly – to be fat and happy.
It did lose 1,000 jobs when a tire company pulled out because of the nationwide financial crisis. But that became just a minor stumble in the total context of things in Opelika.
The official city website modestly explains: “Opelika is a community that cherishes and preserves its rich heritage, while at the same time embracing all of the visions and opportunities for a bright future.”
The website also calmly adds:
“Opelika is a beautiful Southern city filled in spring with the blossoms highlighted in the annual Dogwood and Azalea trail. Opelika is enjoying an economic boom.”
What other America city of any size is able to announce they are experiencing an economic boom? Here are some of the facts:
While hundreds, if not thousands of other communities slept, coasted, worried or dithered, Opelika rolled up its community sleeves, took large chances and focused on creating jobs.That, among other things, has attracted some major distribution centers.
Opelika, once a fading textile manufacturing community, courageously purchased and built a $32 million, 2,200 acre industrial park, starting by selling two bond issue totaling $10,280,000. Then additional funds were found.
Pharmavite, considered the global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of dietary supplements located there. So did Baxter International, Inc. a Swedish company that merged with an Illinois medical products company. Baxter has announced a $300 million plant expansion in Opelika, adding 200 jobs.
Daewon, a supplier of automotive suspension coil springs, stabilizers and bars, is located in Opelika, along with Mando America Corp, which specializes in brake, steering and suspension systems. Mando also has been expanding.
Kia automobiles are now produced in a factory just 18 miles east of the city. (Hyundia’s factory is 67 miles to the west).
Golden State Foods Corp., one of the largest diversified suppliers to “the quick service restaurant and retail industries”
announced on February 17, 2015 it was creating a world class meat processing facility in the Opelika industrial park.
Opelika’s largest employer is The East Alabama Medical Center with 2,700 staff members. The hospital not only serves
Southeast Alabama, it also draws patients from Southwest Georgia and frm as far as the Florida Panhandle, and for certain services it is ranked the best in the state and among the very best in America for its size.
There also is the sprawling, 130 acre TigerTown shopping complex with 1 million square feet of retail space plus free standing hotels and restaurants. It contains such major names as Target, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Kroger, Hobby Lobby, Best Buy, Old Navy, Office Depot and more than 60 others.
Down, beside the railroad tracks, Opelika is rebuilding its
historic downtown. There restaurants, specialty shops, antique stores, and galleries are operating.
Not far from the heart of town one finds a unusually large, hilly neighborhood of carefully preserved historic homes.
With employers advertising for workers, the impressive shopping areas and the beautiful old homes, and the nearby university, Opelika is a large small town with a lot to recommend it. I’ve added it to my growing list of
Truly Special Places.