The main foothills of the Appalachians such as ridges as Red Mountain, Sand Mountain, Beaver Creek Mountain, Shades Mountain, and Coldwater Mountain are co-located in this region primarily around Greater Birmingham, Gadsden, and Anniston. The easternmost portions of Central Alabama around Anniston is the most ridged and elevated of the region. Coldwater Mountain and Mount Cheaha makes up the highest of the mountain ridges that are located in the eastern portion of the region. The Coosa River divides the easternmost portion of the region from the central portion with the Birmingham area. The westernmost portion of Central Alabama is relatively a flat region with very fertile black soil, i.e. "The Black Belt". The Black Warrior River and its tributaries contribute to the very fertile land of the area, and also serve as a demarcation line between the western and the central portions of the region. The central portion of Central Alabama is mainly the region that varies from rugged to the east to flat to the west. There are numerous valleys that are scattered throughout this region between the mountain ridges including Jones Valley and Shades Valley. Jones and Shades Valley are the largest and the most densely populated of the valleys that are scattered around Central Alabama. Though the central portion is more rugged compared to the westernmost portion of Central Alabama, it is actually the most flood-prone. Urban sprawl has exacerbated the risk of flooding in this area of alternating ridges and valleys.
The Black Warrior, Cahaba, and Coosa Rivers and their tributaries are among the many waterways that snake their way through the region. Other major waterways that run through the area include Chocolocco Creek, Shades Creek, and the Little Cahaba River.
Large deposits of iron ore, limestone, and coal are chief among the plentiful mineral resources found in the region. The coincidence of these three in close proximity was a major incentive for the development of industry in the Birmingham District.
The economic engine of the region ranges from the diversified economy of Greater Birmingham, to the college town of Tuscaloosa, to heavy industrialized economy of Anniston and Gadsden.
The primary economic center of the region is Greater Birmingham due to its size and very diversified economy. The major reason behind the area being considered the primary core of the region is mainly due to it being home to the state's most diversified employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). UAB is the state's largest single employer with some 20,000 employees on its payroll, and being home to the one of largest medical districts in the South. In addition to that, most of the state-based corporations such as Alabama Power, AmSouth Bancorporation, Compass Bancshares, Energen Corporation, HealthSouth Corporation, Regions Financial Corporation, Saks Incorporated, and Southern Research Institute have their world headquarters located in the area. Though the Mercedes-Benz and Honda automotive production facilities are not technically located in any of the Greater Birmingham metropolitan counties, they are both considered as substantial contributors to its economy.
Tuscaloosa is a slightly more diversified city than the economy of Anniston, but it is primarily a college-town regardless. Tuscaloosa's largest employer is the University of Alabama's main campus. The area's other large employer is Mercedes-Benz production facility located in Vance.
Anniston and Gadsden are very similar in their heavily industrialized economies. Gadsden, however, is a river town so it has helped in building and creating a tourist industry to slight the blow of its declining primary industry. Gadsden is now home to many riverfront-based festivals that goes on throughout the year to boost is economy. Anniston, on the other hand, has also suffered a major blow on 2 fronts with the closings of Fort McClellan and many major iron smelting facilities in the 1990s. However, it has turned more towards military production at the Anniston Army Depot with several government production contracts issued to this military facility.