Local government, business and education leaders celebrate Cullman area industry

W.C. Mann

Wallace State's Dean of Applied Technologies, Jimmy Hodges

CULLMAN – On Tuesday evening the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Cullman County Industrial Development Authority and City of Cullman Industrial Development Board/Cullman Economic Development Agency, held a special reception at Terri Pines Country Club to celebrate the successes of industry in Cullman County, and to preview approaches to future growth.  Major event sponsors included the Cullman-Jefferson Counties Gas District and Wallace State Community College.  Entertainment was provided by the St. Bernard Jazz Band, sponsored by Reliance Worldwide Corporation.

Chamber Chair Sammie Danford gave the opening remarks, recognizing local leaders present, including:

  • State Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman and State Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview
  • Associate County Commissioner Garry Marchman
  • Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs and members of the Cullman City Council
  • Members of the Cullman County Industrial Development Authority
  • Members of the City of Cullman Industrial Development Board/Cullman Economic Development Agency
  • Steven Birchfield, Tennessee Valley Authority

Danford also recognized event sponsors and the band, before introducing Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President Leah Bolin.

Bolin shared the Chamber's five-year plan, focusing on four areas: community development, existing business growth, entrepreneurship and education, and community advocacy.

"As we thank each of you for your investment in our community," said Bolin, "we also hope to inspire you to join with us as we take Cullman further than maybe it's ever been before.  Just as we've asked many of you for your input in identifying areas in need of improvement within our community, in the coming months we will also be asking for your participation, knowledge and resources to help us achieve these goals."

She went on to talk about the chamber's efforts in industrial and employee recruitment through family tours of the community that focus on parks, healthcare, shopping and dining, and schools.  She reminded those business leaders present that this service is available to them when they are recruiting employees from outside the Cullman area.

Bolin also presented information on last year's eighth-grade career fair, noting that Cullman County averages around 1,000 eighth graders.  Around 100 volunteers took part, along with representatives of 78 agencies.

"It's a really great way," she related, "to give our students an opportunity to experience, hands on, the things that you have in your industry every day.  Events like this spark our students' imagination, and they allow them to be planning for an industrial career that requires course electives beginning in the ninth grade.  Cullman is blessed with a very proactive educational system that realizes the needs of you as employers, and aggressively makes sure that they're prepared."

Bolin praised the Cullman County Board of Education's "Fast Track for Industry" program and the work of Wallace State in industrial career training.

She also took time to introduce the "Young Entrepreneurs' Academy" program set to start later this year at Cullman High School and Holly Pond High School.  This program will help students learn how to generate a business idea, file for a tax ID number and open a business bank account.

Bolin concluded by encouraging leaders to sign up for the chamber's email list to stay up-to-date on chamber events and news.  She then introduced Wallace State's Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges.

Hodges spoke about industrial education initiatives, beginning by assuring local industrial leaders, "We at Wallace State are here to serve your training needs."  He encouraged them to contact Wallace about training programs, noting existing programs and offering to create custom-tailored programs to meet the needs of particular industries that might not be well-addressed by current curricula. 

Hodges listed the 12 current business/industrial training programs offered at Wallace: Agriculture/Horticulture, Automotive Service, Collision Repair, Culinary Arts, Diesel Technology/CDL, Electronics, Engineering Technology, Flight, HVAC, Machine Tool and Die, Salon and Spa Management, and Welding.  He also explained the school's state-of-the-art training facilities.

Hodges expressed pride in several educational initiatives in place at Wallace State:

*stackable short-term credentials that can be applied toward an associate degree

*"Fast Track for Industry" partnership with CCBOE, allowing students to complete an associate degree in a business/industrial field at the same time they graduate from high school.  Currently, 145 students are enrolled.

*an experimental Pell Grant program for dual-enrolled County Schools students

*apprenticeships and internships with most of the larger area companies, assisted by state tax deductions

Hodges then introduced Cullman Economic Development Agency (CEDA) Director Peggy Smith, who gave industry and workforce updates.

Smith said, "Working together is really what creates the momentum for us to locate industry and to retain the industry that we have, and the local governments that we have in place right now, with our city and county industrial boards and city and county governments, they all have a common goal, and that goal is to see Cullman succeed.  They want to see our community succeed, and that's why it's so important that together we do this in a community effort; and our success is a direct result of the partnerships that we have in this community."

Smith recognized the contributions of the Alabama State Department of Commerce, TVA, Cullman Chamber, local utilities, the educational system and Wallace State, Cullman Regional and the local healthcare system.

Smith then focused on what CEDA and County Economic Development do, noting first the county office's writing of grants that brought more than $18 million into the Cullman area.  She introduced staffers and shared the following statistics about Cullman area industry:

*In 2015 (most recent available reports) Cullman was the no. 1 ranked community in the state of Alabama for new and expanding industry.

*In 2015 Cullman was the no. 2 ranked "micropolitan" (defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as a county with a core population above 10,000 and less than 50,000, and a high degree of economic integration) in the United States, ranked by business investments, jobs and other economic criteria.

*In the recent past, businesses and industries have created 40 new development projects, invested more than $66 million and created more than 500 jobs in the Cullman area.

*The City of Cullman and its industrial board have recently purchased 80 acres near the Wal-Mart Distribution Center to create a new industrial park.

Smith introduced Sequence Health, a medical contact service that is one of the area's newest industries.  Sequence Health is currently operating a call center on campus at Wallace State, while an industrial park site is being prepared.  She also mentioned AGCOR Steel, currently located in Vinemont, that is building a multi-million dollar expanded facility in Berlin.  Additionally, she recognized Jerry Fan for his relocation of Hessaire to its new facility in Holly Pond, along with Royal Technologies' new Plant Manager Barry Carson, and Ken Sanchez of Reliance Worldwide.  She concluded by introducing the staff of the regional workforce development agency for North Alabama.

Bolin bookended the evening's activities by presenting commemorative plaques to the heads of four area industries that opened their doors in the last year for chamber-sponsored public tours: REHAU Automotive, Goat Island Brewing, Topre America Corporation and Hessaire Products. 


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