Opelika, Alabama

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Opelika, Alabama
Downtown Opelika
Downtown Opelika
"Rich in Heritage With a Vision for the Future"
Location of Opelika in Lee County, Alabama
Location of Opelika in Lee County, Alabama
Coordinates: 32°38′43″N 85°22′42″W / 32.64528°N 85.37833°W / 32.64528; -85.37833Coordinates: 32°38′43″N 85°22′42″W / 32.64528°N 85.37833°W / 32.64528; -85.37833[1]
CountryUnited States
 • MayorGary Fuller (R)
 • City62.16 sq mi (161.00 km2)
 • Land61.15 sq mi (158.39 km2)
 • Water1.01 sq mi (2.62 km2)
Elevation807 ft (246 m)
 • City30,995
 • Density506.84/sq mi (195.69/km2)
 • Metro
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s)334
FIPS code01-57048
GNIS feature ID0152814[1]

Opelika (pronounced /ˌpəˈlkə/ OH-pə-LY-kə) is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east-central part of the U.S. state of Alabama.[3] It is a principal city of the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 census, the population of Opelika was 26,401,[4] and in 2019 the estimated population was 30,908.[5] The Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA with a population of 150,933, along with the Columbus, Georgia metropolitan area, comprises the Greater Columbus combined statistical area, 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 forced removal of the native Creek (Muscogee) peoples by federal troops in 1836–37 (see Trail of Tears), the area became known as "Opelika." This word taken from the Muskogee language means "large swamp".

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.

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.[6]

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,[6] a situation that continued until 1899. That year, the legislature restored the city's charter.

1900 to present[edit]

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. From 1930 to 1970, Opelika continued industrialization, becoming a regional economic powerhouse.

In the 1950s, Opelika attracted Ampex, 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, Pharmavite, the global leader in the manufacturing and distribution of dietary supplements, and most recently Golden State Foods, one of the biggest service providers to McDonald's restaurants, including liquid products, and its third largest beef supplier in the U.S., 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, 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.[7]

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.

With industrial and retail growth has come an increase in population. From 2000 to 2010, Opelika grew from 23,638 to 26,617.[8]


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.

The city is located along Interstate 85, which runs east of the city, with access from exits 58, 60, 62, 64, and 66. I-85 leads northeast 101 mi (163 km) to Atlanta and southwest 62 mi (100 km) to Montgomery. U.S. Routes 280 and 431 also run through the city as well, with US 280/431 leading southeast 27 mi (43 km) to Phenix City. After splitting in the city, US 280 leads northwest 28 mi (45 km) to Dadeville, and US 431 leads north 23 mi (37 km) to LaFayette.

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.


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[9]
2018 Estimate[10]

2020 census[edit]

Opelika racial composition[11]
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 14,836 47.87%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 11,947 38.54%
Native American 39 0.13%
Asian 692 2.23%
Pacific Islander 14 0.05%
Other/Mixed 1,060 3.42%
Hispanic or Latino 2,407 7.77%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 30,995 people, 11,866 households, and 7,199 families residing in the city.

2010 census[edit]

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.[12]

The per capita income for the city is $18,023. Residents with income under poverty levels are 23.1% of the population, while 31.1% of children in the area are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 14.9% are 65 or older.[13][failed verification]


Northeast Opelika Industrial Park

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.[citation needed][14]

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 1.5 billion and 4004 additional jobs.[15]

On February 17, 2015, Golden State Foods Corp, a diversified supplier to the quick-service restaurant and retail industries, announced its decision to build a state-of-the-art meat processing facility in the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. 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.[16]

Pharmavite, a manufacturer of high-quality vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements, has invested $151.9 million in capital and added 540 jobs to the Opelika workforce. Cumberland Plastic Solutions, a privately held custom injection molding company employing over 150 employees and supplying locale OEM’s and automotive manufacturers Mercedes, Nissan, and GM with various plastic components has invested a total of $25.7 million in capital. Dinan Engineering, a company known for the high-performance aftermarket products it makes for cars, relocated to Opelika, Alabama joining APR in April 2018. Car Tech, LLC established operations in Opelika, Alabama with a capital investment of $72 million and created 200 new jobs. Additionally, Yongsan Automotive USA, Inc. established its first U.S. location in Opelika, Alabama with and investment of more than $5.5 million for manufacturing equipment and building improvements along with the creation of 150 new jobs over a three-year period. Also, West Fraser Inc., one of the largest lumber manufacturers in the United States, with 45 facilities in the southern U.S. and Western Canada, offers substantiable forestry, high-efficiency wood products. With a total capital investment of $148.3 million, and an expansion announced in 2019 to construct a planner mill manufacturing capabilities will increase.[17]

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 Baxter International, an Illinois-based company that manufactures life-sustaining medical products including dialyzers has invested a total of $466 million in capital and added 360 jobs to the workforce 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 in 2005 with their capital $165.5 million investment), Jo-Ann Stores Distribution Center, Maxforma (currently Hanwha Advanced Materials America, which has provided a total capital investment of $122.3 million and has since created 518 jobs in Opelika), and Mando Corporation , one of the leading automotive parts manufacturers in the world, specializing in internationally competitive state-of-the-art chassis components and systems, with a total capital investment of $192.6 million and 522 jobs to the community in 2005.[18] From 2010 – 2020 Opelika saw $1.15 Billion in Capital Investments and 2,380 jobs created. Bonnie Plants, founded in 1918 by Bonnie and Livingston Paulk broke ground in Opelika in 2020, creaking new jobs and relocating their company headquarters previously located in Union Springs. In addition to bringing 60 jobs to Opelika, Bonnie Plants initial capital investment is $7.9 million.

Opelika is also home to Tiger Town, Capp’s Landing, Tiger Square, USA Town Center, Saugahatchee Square and Pepperell Village, offering retail and other amenities including AMC Cinema’s Tiger 13.

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 aimed to attract new food-based companies to the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park and ultimately create additional jobs for the City of Opelika.

On September 16, 2021 Hanwha Cimarron broke ground on a manufacturing facility in the Northeast Opelika Industrial park with a capital investment of $130 million and creation of 261 new jobs. The new facility is being designed to expand the company's growth in the Carbon Overwrap Pressure Vessel industry, catering to the needs of aerospace, drone, defense, marine, rail, on-vehicle, gas transport and ground storage solutions.

Parks and recreation[edit]

Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center Splashpark

The City of Opelika is home to 11 parks and five recreation facilities.

In 2009 the City of Opelika built the Opelika SportsPlex and Aquatics Center , a $32 million dollar facility that includes an adult activity center, aquatic center with indoor pool, splash park, basketball courts, racquetball courts, weight room, group fitness room, cycling studio, cardiovascular area, tot watch facility, indoor track, outdoor track, soccer facility and disc golf course.

In 2019 the city opened the Opelika Pickleball Facility, a state of the art pickleball facility with 12 individually fenced regulation courts for tournament style play. The courts sit under a large canopy that features LED lighting. The facility has ample parking and access to bathrooms, showers and concessions. The Opelika Pickleball Facility is free and open to the public.

The Opelika Parks and Recreation Department provides a variety of recreation opportunities to the citizens of Opelika including soccer, football, basketball, baseball, softball, t-ball, track and field, tennis, swimming, tumbling, cheerleading and gymnastics. The Opelika Parks and Recreation Department also provides numerous special events including the Opelika Freedom Celebration, Summer Swing Concerts in the Park, Noon Tunes Concert Series, Daddy Daughter Dance, Mother Son Dance, Flashlight Egg Hunt, Underwater Egg Hunt, Easter on the Square, Float-In Movie, Fall Festival and Children’s Carnival, Tour de Fright and Rocky Brook Rocket Reindeer Express.

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.[19]


Memorial in front of Opelika City Hall

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 2024 are:

  • District 1 – George Allen
  • District 2 – Erica Baker-Norris
  • District 3 – Robert Lofton
  • District 4 – Eddie Smith
  • District 5 – Todd Rauch

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.[20][21][22]


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.[23]

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 Kindergarten – 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.


Opelika is served by the Columbus, Georgia Designated Market Area (DMA). Point Broadband and Charter Communications provide television, internet and phone service to the area. DirecTV and Dish Network provide direct broadcast satellite television, including both local and national channels, to area residents.

Opelika was named the first city in Alabama to deploy a 100% fiber network that offers GIG internet speeds. Opelika is one of a few "Smart Cities" in the state of Alabama.



Opelika is located in the southeastern part of Alabama and is accessible by Interstate 85, US 29, and US 431, and US 280 as well as AL 51, AL 147 and AL 169 . The city is also served by a general aviation airport, the Auburn University Regional Airport (AUO) (formerly Auburn-Opelika Robert G. Pitts Airport) (Auburn), which is 6 miles (9.65 km) north-west of downtown Opelika. The major commercial airports closest to Opelika are the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) (Atlanta) and the Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) (Birmingham). Each of these airports is within 2 hours driving distance from Opelika and together they offer air service to most of the world's major airports. There are also two regional airports close to Opelika: Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM) (Montgomery) and the Columbus Metropolitan Airport (CSG) (Columbus). Until 1971, Opelika saw daily passenger train service on the City of Miami.

Lee-Russell Public Transit (LRPT) offers Dial-A-Ride services in Lee and Russell counties. There is no city bus system in Opelika. It is a heavily car-dependent community with bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Notable people[edit]



  1. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Opelika, Alabama
  2. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. ^ "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Census Summary File 1 (G001), Opelika city, Alabama (revision of 09-07-2012)". American FactFinder. U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  5. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  6. ^ a b "The Battle Of The Bar-rooms; Murderous Factions Fights In Alabama—Death Of Maloney In Opelika", New York Times, 15 December 1882, accessed 4 April 2016.
  7. ^ page 14
  8. ^ Opelika population figures as recorded by the US Census Bureau (July 1 estimates base): 2000–23,638, 2001–23,636, 2002–23,579, 2003–23,597, 2004–23,483, 2005–23,804.
  9. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  10. ^ "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
  11. ^ "Explore Census Data". data.census.gov. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  12. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts". United States Census Bureau. 23 December 2011. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  13. ^ "Opelika, Alabama (AL) poverty rate data - information about poor and low-income residents living in this city".
  14. ^ (https://www.google.com/maps/dir/GA-403,+Georgia/Opelika,+Alabama/HMMA,+700+Hyundai+Blvd,+Montgomery,+AL+36105/@32.5616393,-86.047882,10z/am=t/data=!4m20!4m19!1m5!1m1!1s0x88f5ad584e0ab927:0x3f81281d1ff90bd1!2m2!1d-85.1785279!2d32.8548077!1m5!1m1!1s0x888c9324807ae303:0x510ba33137e54425!2m2!1d-85.3782795!2d32.6454116!1m5!1m1!1s0x888e7e6af2730121:0xb6ed08c5ef98842!2m2!1d-86.3302809!2d32.2796692!3e0
  15. ^ http://www.opelikaeconomicdevelopment.org
  16. ^ "Economic Development | Opelika, AL".
  17. ^ "Economic Development | Opelika, AL".
  18. ^ "Economic Development | Opelika, AL".
  19. ^ "Barbasol Championship debuts on PGA TOUR in 2015".
  20. ^ Envision Opelika » City of Character
  21. ^ Character Cities, Counties, and States – International Association of Character Cities Archived 2008-01-18 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "About Us – Character First!". Archived from the original on 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  23. ^ "Auburn at a Glance".


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External links[edit]