Cullman Chamber earns top-4 finish in national Chamber of Year competition

This photo from June 2018 shows Katie Fine, Ron Foust, and Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leah Bolin. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center was recently named one of the top chambers of commerce in the country, placing fourth in its category in the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives’ 2019 Chamber of the Year competition. The competition stands alone in nationally recognizing the dual role chambers play in leading businesses and communities. To be honored, chambers must demonstrate organizational excellence and impact key community priorities such as education, advocacy, business development and quality of life.

“This is the first time our chamber has applied for this prestigious award,” said Cullman Chamber President & CEO Leah Bolin. “I am so proud of our team. Providing innovative solutions to our local businesses is what we strive for every day. This success would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of our Board Members, executive leadership, partners, committees and staff who have been instrumental in strengthening our chamber and community.”

The Chamber of the Year competition involves a multi-stage process including a detailed operations survey and application. Only select chambers nationwide are asked to compete beyond the operations survey. Chambers were divided into four categories for this year’s competition. The Cullman Chamber competed in Category 2.

The application process spans several weeks, with each department submitting detailed information and case studies on programs and initiatives. The purpose of the competition is to bring attention to innovative initiatives and top practices that advance the chambers’ mission and work, and to provide deserved recognition to leaders who have distinguished themselves by providing members with exceptional service and results.

Projects submitted by the Cullman Chamber — both in conjunction with its five-year “Converging for Success” strategic plan — were the recently completed Housing Needs Assessment and the wildly successful Business Resource Center (BRC).

The primary goals of the Housing Needs Assessment were to provide relevant information assisting local developers in the construction of new housing units and to increase available housing in order to attract new business and talent.

Geared toward startups and existing business, the BRC — in partnership with the Cullman Chamber and the Alabama Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network — has been responsible for the creation of 223 jobs, the retainment of more than 425 jobs and the closing of $79 million in small business funding. Making it even more impressive, the BRC has only been in business for two years.

The competition’s judges were very complimentary in their notes submitted to the Cullman Chamber, specifically pointing to member engagement, diversified revenue, internal analytics, publications and marketing as highlights.

Dr. TJ Franey, Chamber chair, had this to say: “What an honor it is for the Chamber to be recognized nationally for its vision, excellence, and dedication to its members and community. This speaks volumes about the Chamber’s strong commitment to our local businesses and confirms what we already knew…Leah Bolin, Chamber president, the Chamber staff, the board, and our numerous volunteers are not only making a local impact, but they are setting the benchmark for chamber excellence nationwide.”