By Morgan Bryce
Opelika’s present and future was the focal point of discussion during last Friday’s 4th annual State of the City held in the Southern Room on Southern Union State Community College’s campus.
Hosted by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, the event featured a 23-minute speech by Mayor Gary Fuller recapping the city’s overall growth and progress.
Boasting a population of 30,000 people, an all-time high for the city, Fuller noted that more than 2,500 single-family homes have been constructed in Opelika in the last 12 years, with 200 of those being constructed in 2017.
Fuller attributed the city’s population growth to the work of Economic Development Director Lori Huguley and her staff. Since 2012, Fuller said there has been $821 million of capital investment, which has led to the creation of 1,432 jobs coming from area industrial leaders including West Fraser, Hanwha, Pharmavite, Cumberland Plastics, Red Clay Brewing Company and Baxter International, which is presently hiring an additional 200 employees to cover for its recent expansion. Opelika’s downtown and four major shopping centers, Tiger Town, Saugahatchee Square, USA Town Center and Pepperell Corners, are also seeing an uptick in new merchants and stores, which provides a rosy outlook for Opelika’s economy, according to Fuller.
“Stores do three things for us, and they’re all good. Real estate increases our tax base, they provide jobs and they collect sales tax for the city, county and state,” Fuller said. “During the fiscal year of 2017, we collected $30,500,000 in sales tax. In 2005, our sales tax (revenue) was about $13.6 million.”
Construction on the new fire department and roundabout on Martin Luther King Boulevard is slated for completion later this year, two of many projects Fuller said the city will tackle in 2018.
“We should begin construction later this year on a new facility for the Opelika Police Department and for municipal court. We’re past due on giving our outstanding police officers and court personnel a new building,” Fuller said. “They’ve (the Opelika Parks and Rec department) got three important projects: a new walking trail at Bandy Park … this year we intend to build new pickleball courts at the Sportsplex and they will be covered for all-weather play, and we should begin construction soon with the city of Auburn on a joint skate park.”
Fuller closed the talk with a hopeful synopsis of Opelika’s future, pointing to programs like the Chamber’s ‘20-Under-40’ as ways of cultivating the leaders of tomorrow.
“Our best days are ahead of us. We have a lot of smart young people, 20-Under-40 folks … they are becoming more engaged in the affairs of our city,” Fuller said. “I thank the school board and all of our boards that do great things for us … our future is brighter than ever.”