Farming was the prevailing occupation in Tuscaloosa County throughout the nineteenth century, and the most significant agricultural crops were wheat, corn, and oats. Tuscaloosa County also sits atop the Warrior Coal Field, and coal mining was important to the county’s economy as well. Extensive forests in the northern part of the county brought timber industries to the county during the early to mid-nineteenth century as well. With the introduction of hydroelectric power in the early twentieth century, industrial growth boomed. Today, the county’s economy is diverse and expanding, especially along the Interstate 20/59 Industrial Corridor,
where automotive parts, electronics, plastics, wood products, food products, and chemicals are manufactured and produced. Healthcare and education account for roughly 30 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, and Tuscaloosa County has drawn major investments from companies in Germany and Japan.
The workforce in present-day Tuscaloosa County is divided among the following occupational categories:
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (28.0 percent)
- Manufacturing (13.6 percent)
- Retail trade (13.2 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.8 percent)
- Construction (7.5 percent)
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (6.5 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (4.6 percent)
- Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.4 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (4.1 percent)
- Public administration (2.9 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (2.4 percent)
- Wholesale trade (2.4 percent)
- Information (1.7 percent)
The Tuscaloosa County school system employs approximately 2,000 teachers and administrators who serve nearly 16,000 students in 30 primary and secondary schools. Tuscaloosa city schools employ more than 1,300 teachers and administrators in 20 primary and secondary schools, serving more than 9,700 students. There are three institutions of higher education in
Tuscaloosa city. The University of Alabama is the state’s major research university and Alabama’s first public college. The county is also home to Stillman College, a historically black, four-year liberal-arts institution, and Shelton State Community College, a two-year institution offering academic and technical degree programs.
Comprising 1,336 square miles in west-central Alabama, Tuscaloosa County is the second largest county in area in the state. The county straddles the Cumberland Plateau and East Gulf Coastal Plain physiographic sections of the Atlantic Plain region, resulting in a diverse geography that is forested and hilly in the northeast and low-lying and occasionally swampy in the southwest. The county is bordered by Fayette and Walker counties to the north, Jefferson and Bibb counties to the east, Hale County to the south, Greene County to the southwest, and Pickens County to the west.
The Black Warrior River system is the largest watershed wholly within Alabama’s boundaries and emanates from three sources: Locust Fork, Mulberry Fork, and the Sipsey Fork. The Mulberry Fork River and its tributaries flow throughout Tuscaloosa County. Near the city of Tuscaloosa, the Black Warrior River flows across the “Fall Line,” a site at the juncture of two geologically distinct continental landforms that in Alabama separate the elevated and hilly Cumberland Plateau from the flat East Gulf Coastal Plain. The Upper Tombigbee Watershed drains portions of the western half of Tuscaloosa County, and the Tombigbee River is considered vitally important in terms of ecological diversity. Although the river has a high level of aquatic biodiversity because it remained relatively free from major changes for a long period of time, many of the fish and mussel species are currently at-risk.
Interstate 20/59 is one of Tuscaloosa County’s main transportation routes, running southwest-northeast. U.S. Highway 11 runs along Interstate 20/59. U.S. Highway 43 runs north-south through the middle of the county, and U.S. Highway 82 runs east–west, bisecting Tuscaloosa County. The Van de Graaff Field Municipal Airport is the only airport in Tuscaloosa County and is used mostly for air freight and private air traffic.