The Opelika Economic Development body, representing the city of 27,000 inhabitants situated in Lee County, Alabama, has recently launched a web domain hosting information on domestic and foreign business investment and job creation in the area. Perhaps this is a sign of hard times in the American South, as the creation of a flashy website designed to bring employers to town lies on the far-flung end of economic recovery plans, and is all but unheard of for cities of Opelika’s size and international status. Rather than serving merely as a sales brochure, the site provides growing companies with a variety of economic data on Opelika and the surrounding area. This includes interactive demographic information and current statistics on job markets, spending habits, employment rates and local amenities such as airports, colleges, schools and commercial property vacancies. |
The very far-flungness of Opelika’s plans to recruit new employers speaks to the border-defying powers of the internet. The case of a Swedish medical equipment company moving its manufacturing operations to the region and subsequently investing more than $100 million dollars has clued Opelika business people in to the huge potential in attracting large companies to the city. With current unemployment rates in the State of Alabama more than double what they were in 2005, luring in foreign manufacturing jobs is essential to the economic health of the region. Opelika Economic Development representative Alison Mueller stated that "we see this website as an important business tool since, in many cases, companies are paying us virtual visits online before they ever physically arrive at a location". Ms. Mueller`s comments indicate the broader significance of the Opelika Zoom Prospector project: the fact that small town America is willing to search further afield to guarantee long term economic growth and financial security. That a small Southern economic development group will search out a web hosting company and brave a complex development process in order to secure investment in a town of 25,000 is intriguing if nothing else. This, along with the tale of the Swedish medical manufacturers, goes to show that innovation and sheer cunning are in long supply in Alabama, economic difficulties notwithstanding.
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