eing located between two $1 billion automotive plants has its advantages. In Auburn- Opelika, Ala., the proximity to Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala., and the soon- to- be Kia plant in West Point, Ga., opened the door to a banner year in 2006.
The MSA of 123,000 people topped all metro areas of population between 50,000 and 200,000 in corporate project activity last year, netting 19 new facility projects totaling $188 million in capital investment.
Auburn- Opelika beat out in- state rival Tuscaloosa for the top honor in the Tier 3 category of U.S. metros, although Tuscaloosa's 12 corporate projects accounted for $592 million in capital investment.
The remainder of the top 10, including ties, were Sioux City, Iowa- Neb.- S.D.; Valdosta, Ga.; Blacksburg- Christiansburg- Radford, Va.; Harrisonburg, Va.; Parkersburg- Marietta, W.Va.- Ohio; Terre Haute, Ind.; Decatur, Ala.; and Danville, Va.
Daewon America, which will supply Hyundai and Kia, broke ground last year on a $30- million, 163,000- sq.- ft. (15,143- sq.- m.) manufacturing plant in Opelika. The facility will employ 163 workers who will make suspension springs and coils for the new cars rolling off the assembly lines in Montgomery and West Point.
"We are about one hour from Hyundai and only 20 minutes from the Kia site," says Al Cook, director of the City of Opelika Economic Development Department.
Gambro Renal Products broke ground in 2006 on a $130- million plant in Lee County.
"Our number one recruiting factor is our location in the heart of the Interstate 85 corridor. We are close to the Atlanta Airport, which is less than 75 minutes away, and both Auburn and Opelika are very aggressive when it comes to recruiting industry."
Gambro Renal Products also made headlines in Lee County, Ala., last year, breaking ground on a $130- million facility that will employ 160 workers making kidney dialysis filters. Eighteen of those workers are now in Germany training for two years to staff these jobs, Cook adds.
"Our work force, because we place such a great emphasis on public education, is well educated and easily trainable," said Cook. "We think our work force is a cut above. We are very competitive in the South, and our existing industries have confirmed that our work force is outstanding."
Other assets include Auburn University, Southern Union Community College, top health- care facilities, and the 2,200- acre (891- hectare) Northeast Opelika Industrial Park right along I- 85.
"We have a lot of space," says Cook, "and we are in a great location."