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Opelika (pronounced |ˌoʊ pəˈlaɪ kə|) is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the State of Alabama. It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. According to the 2013 Census Estimate, the population of Opelika was 28,635. The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA with a population of 150,933 which, along with the Columbus, Georgia metropolitan area and Macon County, Alabama, comprises the greater Greater Columbus, Georgia, a region home to 501,649 residents.
The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebanon. After the removal of the native Creek (Muscogee) peoples by federal troops in 1836-37, the area became known as "Opelika." This word taken from the Muskogee language means "large swamp". Settlement was sporadic until the late 1840s, when the railroad reached the town. This stimulated development of Opelika as a commercial center.
In 1848, the Montgomery and West Point Railroad Company extended a rail line from Montgomery, Alabama, to Opelika, and in 1851, completed a connection to West Point, Georgia, thus connecting Opelika with Atlanta, Georgia. This line was the only direct rail route between New Orleans and the Eastern Seaboard. It rapidly became one of the primary trade lines for shipments of raw cotton from Southern plantations to the North. The Montgomery and West Point was soon joined by a rail connection to Columbus, Georgia, in 1855, and a connection to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1869. Almost overnight, Opelika became a regional hub for commerce.
To manage this rapid growth, Opelika was incorporated as a town on February 9, 1854, then within Russell County. As a result of Opelika's transportation infrastructure, many warehouses for storing cotton and other goods were built. With the onset of the Civil War, these warehouses were converted to Confederate supply depots. In 1864 and 1865, Union raids commanded by Lovell Rousseau and James H. Wilson attacked Opelika, tearing up the railroads and destroying all government property, including Opelika's warehouses.
Soon after the end of the war, the Alabama state legislature created a new county out of parts of Macon, Russell, Chambers, and Tallapoosa Counties to be named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In 1866, citizens of the new "Lee County" voted Opelika as the county seat. The town was technically unincorporated after having its charter revoked for abetting the rebellion against the United States.
After Opelika received a new charter in 1870, rapid growth resumed. The town nearly doubled in size between 1870 and 1900. During this time, Opelika began to gain a reputation as a wild, lawless town. Soon after receiving the new charter, city officials attempted to scam outside investors by issuing fake railroad bonds. For this, the town's charter was revoked again in 1872, and the town was administered as a police district by the state legislature for the following year..
Opelika's downtown was packed with saloons catering to railroad workers and other men. Frequent gunfire in the street by intoxicated patrons resulted in railroads directing their passengers to duck beneath the windows when their trains passed through the town.
In 1882, two factions claimed to rule the city government, one known as the "Bar room" headed by Mayor Dunbar, a saloon keeper, and another known as the "Citizens". In a riot in late November–December of that year, a dozen men were wounded. In the end, a few were killed. The Citizens had claimed control of the city via the elections, but Dunbar refused to give up. After continued violence, the state legislature revoked the city's charter and the governor sent in the militia to restore order. The legislature appointed five commissioners to manage the city, a situation that continued until 1899. That year the legislature restored the city's charter.
In 1900, local investors founded the Opelika Cotton Mill as the first textile plant in the city, employing 125. The city was located on the Fall Line of the Piedmont, where factories were established to take advantage of water power. Attempts to expand the textile industry in Opelika continued for the next three decades. In 1925, city officials used a $62,500 bribe to induce executives of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. (now WestPoint Home) to construct a large mill just outside the city limits. From 1930 to 1970, Opelika continued industrialization, becoming a regional economic powerhouse.
In the 1950s, Opelika attracted the nation's first and largest magnetic tape manufacturing plant. In 1963, tire manufacturer Uniroyal constructed a massive plant in Opelika. Around the same time, Diversified Products revolutionized the physical fitness equipment industry with products produced in their Opelika plant. By the early 1970s, Opelika's industries employed nearly 10,000 people.
Between the late 1970s and 2005, nonagricultural employment in the Auburn-Opelika, AL, MSA grew at a slow and steady pace. Of the goods-producing industries, the metropolitan area has experienced the most change in manufacturing, which peaked in employment in the late 1980s. As many jobs moved offshore, employment declined, but this trend appears to be changing, as the number of manufacturing jobs has risen steadily since 2002.
In the late 1990s, Opelika purchased and developed the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park to increase its base. The 2,200-acre (8.9 km2) park site was purchased with funds from two bond issues, commonly called the 1998A and 1998B issues, totaling $10,280,000. Additional expenditures involved in constructing the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park included $4.3 million transferred from the city's general fund to the Opelika Industrial Development Authority (OIDA) between 1997 and 2000, a $1.9 million federal industrial park access road grant, $2.5 million from Opelika Water Works Board and the City of Opelika to sewer and water the park, $12.1 million from the Alabama Department of Transportation to construct an interchange. Additional expenditures were made by Tallapoosa Electric Cooperative for an electrical substation and by the OIDA for building construction for park tenants. Final expenditures for the land and development of the park totaled about $32 million. Since 1999, two major distribution centers, four tier-one automotive suppliers, and most recently Pharmavite, the global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of dietary supplements, have located within the park. The site has also attracted serious interest from automakers Audi, Nissan, and Hyundai. In the summer of 2003, the park was recognized as one of the "South's Best Automotive Assembly Plant Sites" by Southern Business and Development, an industry trade publication.
Opelika has had a related boom in retail development. TigerTown, a 130-acre (0.53 km2) mixed-use development, is east Alabama's largest retail center with more than 1,000,000 sq ft (93,000 m2) of retail space. Located at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Highway 280 (exit 58) in Opelika and home to more than 70 businesses, TigerTown's tenants include Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Kroger, PETCO, Office Depot, Dick's Sporting Goods, World Market, Hobby Lobby, Kohl's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, T.J. Maxx, Kroger, Old Navy, and more.
Opelika's largest employer is the East Alabama Medical Center, which paid around $119 million in salaries and benefits to more than 2,700 employees in 2009.
Historic downtown Opelika has had an urban design revitalization in association with the national Main Street, Inc. program. With a compact historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Opelika has attracted a variety of specialty shops, galleries, antique stores, and restaurants. It is also mentioned in a song by the Laurie Berkner Band.
With industrial and retail growth has come an increase in population. From 2000 to 2010, Opelika grew from 23,638 to 26,617.
Opelika is governed by a mayor-council government, with a mayor and a five-member city council.
The chief executive official of the city of Opelika is the mayor. The mayor is elected at-large for a four-year term. The mayor has complete executive power in the city, and can appoint and dismiss department heads at will. The current mayor of Opelika is Gary Fuller.
The Opelika city council is the legislative body of the city. It passes laws and ordinances, and creates citywide policy. The city council is made up of five members, chosen for four-year terms each from one of five districts. Current council members through 2020 are:
Recently the city council designated Opelika as a City of Character. The City of Character program is made to recognize, emphasize and in some cases enforce good character throughout the community as well as mandate character training from CharacterFirst!. There are 49 character traits emphasized. These traits were designated by Bill Gothard.
Opelika is located in north-central Lee County, and is bordered by Auburn to the west. Opelika lies in the southern reaches of the Piedmont Plateau, and straddles the divide between the Tallapoosa and the Chattahoochee river watersheds. Opelika has an elevation of 812 feet (247 m).
Opelika is located at 32°38′50″N 85°23′22″W.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 53.4 square miles (138 km2), of which 52.8 square miles (137 km2) is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) (1.24%) is water.
Opelika’s economy has shifted away from a traditional basis in textile manufacturing. Since 2004, the city has experienced revitalization in many segments of the economy, including commercial, residential and industrial activity. Since January 2005, the City of Opelika has announced new industry investments and existing industry expansions totaling $1.178 billion and 3,129 additional jobs. Projects include a 170,000-square-foot (16,000 m2) company named Daewon. Daewon's investment in Opelika totaled $52.5 million, but a $13 million expansion in 2012 brought their total investment in Opelika to $65.5 million. Along with the additional investment of $13 million, they added 32 more jobs, bringing their total number of jobs to 240. Another major employer is Baxter International Inc.'s plant in Opelika. Previously known as Gambro Renal Products, the Swedish-based manufacturer of dialyzers for kidney dialysis made the largest single initial investment in Lee County’s history of $165.5 million in 2005. The company changed its name to Baxter after merging with Baxter International, Inc., an Illinois-based company that manufactures life-sustaining medical products including dialyzers, which act as filters for patients with end stage renal disease. In August 2014, Baxter announced plans for a $300 million expansion of its state-of-the-art facility in Opelika, that will add 230,000 square feet (21,000 m2) and several production lines, and create an additional 200 jobs. Mando America Corp. has also been very successful in Opelika and continues to grow and prosper. An expansion announcement in April 2012 of approximately $24 million brings Mando's total investment in Opelika to nearly $160 million. Along with the $24 million investment, Mando promised 30 more jobs, increasing the total number of employees to over 600 and making them one of the largest employers in Opelika. In June 2013, Mando announced an additional investment of $35 million for equipment and building improvements over the next three years with plans to hire an additional 67 employees to support the expansion. This brings Mando's total investment in Opelika to over $190 million and their employment total to almost 700.
The newest addition to begin production in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park is Pharmavite, a global leader and manufacturer of Nature Made dietary supplements. With a capital investment of $76.5 million, Pharmavite began production in January 2013 and created 280 new jobs to Opelika and the surrounding area. As of April 2014, Pharmavite's capital investment in Opelika totaled more than $89 million. In addition, Pharmavite has implemented a third expansion, with a capital investment of $21.6 million and 54 new jobs scheduled over the next three years.
On April 19, 2012, a 67-acre site in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park became a Certified Food Site through Primus Builders, Inc./Garner Economics, LLC. The food site designation experts presented the Opelika Industrial Development Authority with the certification, stating the site is an ideal location for food and beverage processing, cold storage or food distribution facilities. The certification is aimed to attract new food-based companies to the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park and ultimately create additional jobs for the City of Opelika.
During the summer of 2015, Cumberland Plastic Solutions took possession of the former Benteler Automotive facility and invested over $2 million worth of building improvements and repairs to bring the facility up to par as a state-of- the-art injection molding manufacturing plant. Cumberland is a privately held custom injection molding company employing over 150 employees and supplies locale OEMs such as Briggs & Stratton and automotive manufacturers Mercedes, Nissan and BM with various plastic components.
On February 17, 2015, Golden State Foods Corp, one of the largest diversified suppliers to the quick-service restaurant and retail industries, announced its decision to build a new state-of-the-art meat processing facility using the certified food site in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. Mayor Gary Fuller, Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, and Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard made the announcement, along with Golden State Foods Corp company officials by video conference. The capital investment in the facility is estimated to be between $40 and $45 million. Golden State Foods will create 173 new jobs in Opelika. Wayne Morgan, Corporate Vice President, President Meat Group Golden State Foods, said the company selected Opelika as the site for their new facility "based on the strategic location along I-85, the available workforce and the atmosphere of industry and government cooperation." Golden State Foods was established in 1947 and currently serves more than 125,000 restaurants from its 45 locations on five continents. With about 5,000 associates worldwide, Golden State Foods' core businesses include processing and distribution of liquid products, meat products, produce, dairy, and other services, providing a variety of networked solutions for the total supply chain spectrum.
The TigerTown retail shopping complex continues to expand its commercial developments with restaurants such as Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's, and Olive Garden. TigerTown's most recent additions include Men's Warehouse, Shoe Station, Newk's Eatery, and Full Moon Bar-B-Q. A new development adjacent to Tiger Town has recently been constructed and offers retail and restaurant favorites such as Tazikis, Chipotle, BurgerFi, and Pizza 120.
Opelika is also most recently home to Carmike Cinema's Tiger 13, a 55,000-square-foot, 13-screen movie theater. The theater includes the "Big D Digital Experience", a theater featuring an 80-foot screen with approximately 580 seats.
Opelika has received several honors for its success in attracting new business. In 2004, the city of Opelika's Economic Development Department was named one of the top 10 economic development groups in North America by Site Selection magazine, a national industry trade publication covering corporate real estate management and economic development. Site Selection again recognized the efforts of the Opelika Economic Development Department in its Top Groups 2005 list in the Honorable Mention category.
Opelika is located between the Hyundai-Kia automobile manufacturing facilities with the Kia Motors manufacturing plant about 18 miles (29 km) east on I-85 and the Hyundai Motors manufacturing plant about 67 miles (108 km) west on I-85/I-65.
In early 2006, the Economic Development Association of Alabama named Opelika the top community in Alabama for business recruitment for the year 2005. Opelika also received the number one rank in the South as "Small Market of the Year" by Southern Business and Development magazine, a professional publication helping corporations around the country (and world) in their expansion, relocation, and development decisions. The city earned its #1 status through its success in bringing in such companies as Gambro (currently Baxter), Jo-Ann Stores Distribution Center, Maxforma (currently Hanwha Advanced Materials America), and Mando Corporation to the community in 2005.
In more recent years, the Auburn-Opelika MSA has received numerous accolades. In December 2016, the Auburn-Opelika MSA was ranked the sixth-best performing small city in the Milken Institute's 2016 "Best-Performing Small Cities: Where America's Jobs are Created and Sustained" Report for the third year in a row, and up four spots from the previous year's 10th-place ranking. In June 2015, Forbes Magazine ranked the Auburn-Opelika MSA as the seventh best small city for jobs in the country. In May 2015, Opelika was named one of the "Ten Smoking-Hot Small Market Economies in the South" by Southern Business and Development. January of the same year saw the Auburn-Opelika MSA claim 10th place for Best-Performing Small City in The Milken Institute's 2014 "Best-Performing Cities: Where America's Jobs are Created and Sustained" Report, rising 27 spots from the previous index. In 2014, the Auburn-Opelika MSA was also ranked the smartest metropolitan area in the state of Alabama and the fourth-smartest in America according to NewGeography's "100 Smartest Cities"; an analysis that examines which metro areas are gaining brainpower in the 21st century.
Opelika is home to a branch of Southern Union State Community College. Southern Union is a two-year community and technical college offering academic, industrial, and health sciences training. Southern Union is the only two-year college in Lee County, and is the largest two-year campus in the region. Southern Union employs 72 full-time and 137 part-time employees. Its enrollment stands at approximately 2,718 in the academic division and 1,600 in the technical division. Current technical programs include: Automotive Technology, Business Management and Supervision, Computer Science, Drafting and Design Technology, Heating and Air Conditioning Technology, Industrial Electricity/Electronics Technology, Industrial Maintenance Technology, Machine Shop Technology, Office Administration, Accounting, General Secretarial, Welding Technology, and Word Processing.
The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA is also home to Auburn University. Auburn University was founded in 1856 and is one of the largest universities in the South. Auburn University continues to grow, with 28,290 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 academic year, and is one of the area's largest employers with 4,830 full-time employees.
In November 2014, the Auburn-Opelika MSA was ranked No 4 on www.newgeography.com's list of "America's Smartest Cities." The study ranked all 380 metropolitan statistical areas based on the growth rate in the number of residents with at least a bachelor's degree from 2000-2013; the percentage point increase in the share of the population that is college-educated from 2000-2013; and the share of educated people in the population in 2013.
Opelika City Schools is the public school system of Opelika. The Opelika City School System consists of eight schools. There are three primary schools serving grades PreK – 2, three intermediate schools serving grades 3-5, one middle school (grades 6-8), and one high school, Opelika High School (grades 9-12). An alternative learning center houses a variety of programs including a 6-12 alternative program, a Mental Health Association day treatment classroom, the Choices Program for teen moms, and a Dental Clinic.
Beginning with PreK, students in Opelika City Schools are offered a challenging and diverse curriculum. Individual student needs are met through grade level curriculum, intervention and remediation classes, as well as enrichment and accelerated courses. All students have ample opportunities for fine arts instruction as well as many extracurricular choices. Classrooms have fully integrated technology systems that include laptops, tablets, mounted projectors, Promethean™ boards, ActivSlates and Elmo™ document cameras. Several sets of ActivVotes and ActivExpressions are available for teacher/student use. Opelika City Schools employ highly qualified teachers trained in the latest instructional techniques including the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), Transforming East Alabama Mathematics (TEAM-Math), Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), and Science in Motion.
Opelika High School's 2014-2015 Advanced Placement results indicated a 150 percent increase in the number of qualifying scores achieved by students in AP math, science and English exams. In its first year of program participation, Opelika High School had 63 more course enrollments in rigorous AP classes than in the year prior and students earned qualifying scores on 45 AP exams. Driving the increases in student achievement is the implementation of the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE)/A+ College Ready AP Program, which OHS began implementing in 2014. The goals of the program are to boost student enrollment and achievement, particularly for under-represented student groups in rigorous AP courses and to build a pipeline of students better prepared for college and careers.
In May 2012, renovations and new construction began on Opelika High School. The two-year venture, managed by construction firm Robins & Morton, was a $46 million joint project between the City of Opelika and the Opelika City Schools Board of Education. Renovations and new construction include:
In August 2005, the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Statistical Area was named by Golf Digest as the #1 area for golf in the United States. One part of the reason this area received this ranking is that Opelika is home to Robert Trent Jones Grand National. The site for the course, which hugs the edge of Lake Saugahatchee in Opelika's northwest, was described by Jones as the "single greatest" site for a golf complex that he had ever seen. The course, which is considered to be the jewel of Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, has hosted a number of national tournaments, including the 1997 Nike Tour championship, the 1998 LPGA Tournament of Champions, and the 2000 NCAA Men's Division 1 National Championship. Robert Trent Jones Grand National also served as the tournament host for the first PGA Tour tournament in Alabama since 1990, the Barbasol Championship, held the same week as The Open Championship. Another reason that the Auburn-Opelika MSA was named the #1 area for golf in the United States was for the local public golf courses like Indian Pines Golf Course here in Opelika. Indian Pines Golf Course is an 18-hole public golf course that has a par 71 course with summer Bermuda grass and a bentgrass/ryegrass mix in the winter.
The Alabama Recreation and Parks Association awarded the Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center the 2010 Facility of the Year Award for cities with populations of 15,001 people or more.
The City of Opelika was honored by the Alabama League of Municipalities at the Statewide conference in May, 2010. At that conference the League presented the City of Opelika with the 2010 "Municipal Quality of Life Award" for the city's new Sportsplex & Aquatics Center. In their remarks, league leaders noted "Your exemplary program demonstrates a strong commitment to improving the quality of life in the City of Opelika...your program exhibits the type of innovation that the National League of Cities is looking to recognize." This $32 million, 75,000-square-foot (7,000 m2) complex is the largest project ever undertaken by the City of Opelika in its 155-year history, representing the first-ever public-private partnership, with businesses, corporations and private individuals. The idea began with a survey that was conducted in the early 2000s (decade) that concluded that the citizens of Opelika wanted a “family oriented” facility that would offer a wide variety of activities where everyone could have fun together. The city’s governing body set out to make the dream a reality, and soon resolutions were passed by the city council authorizing the city to move forward with the plans. On February 21, 2008, after years of preparation and fundraising, groundbreaking ceremonies were held. On August 31, 2009 – on schedule and on budget – Opelika’s new state-of-the-art Sportsplex & Aquatics Center opened its doors to the public.
According to the 2010 Census (SF1, 100% data), there were 26,477 people, 10,523 occupied housing units (households), and 7,078 family households residing in the city. Of the 10,523 occupied housing units, 6,586 (62.6%) are owner-occupied and 3,937 (37.4%) are renter-occupied. The population density was 448.7 people per square mile (173.2/km²). There were 11,751 housing units at an average density of 199.1 per square mile (76.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 50.6% White, 43.5% Black, 4.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino, 1.7% Asian, and 1.3% two or more races.
There were 10,523 occupied housing units (households) out of which 64% (6,731) had a child under the age of 18 living with them, 45.2% were married couples living together, 20.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.7% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of one person households, and 5.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.46 and the average family size was 3.02.
Of the total population (26,477), 27.9% are 19 years old or younger, 13.4% are 20 to 29 years old, 26.9% are 30 to 49 years old, 22.6% are 50 to 69 years old, and 8.3% are 70 years old or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.9 males. According to 2009 Census estimates, the median income for a household in the city was $35,243, and the median income for a family was $47,864.
Opelika is served by the Columbus, Georgia Designated Market Area (DMA). Charter Communications provides cable television service. DirecTV and Dish Network provide direct broadcast satellite television including both local and national channels to area residents. Opelika Power Services now offers voice and video services to the citizens of Opelika, providing them with a community-owned and locally operated alternative cable provider.
Opelika’s attention is now focused on technology, becoming the first city in Alabama to deploy a 100% fiber network that offers GIG internet speeds. Opelika, Alabama joins only a handful of other American cities that have deployed similar networks. Opelika combines hometown business with advanced technology infrastructure. The town once known for its railroad now has a new “locomotive”, the lightning fast internet speeds.
Opelika is the only "Smart City" in the state of Alabama, and one of the few in the nation to offer such cutting edge internet services to its citizens and its businesses.
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