Learning from one another: Cullman, Selma delegations meet to share ideas

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A group from Selma toured Cullman Thursday at the request of Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman to discuss community partnerships. Pictured are, from left, Jamie Troutman, Cullman Economic Development Agency; Brittney Harris, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce; Peggy Smith, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce; Jerry Wootten, HomTex ; Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs; Raji Gourdine, assistant dean of instruction, Wallace State Community College in Selma; Jeremy Wootten, HomTex; Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma; Dale Greer, Cullman Economic Development Agency: Ainka Jackson, executive director of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation; Sen. Garlan Gudger; Dr. Glenn King, director of workforce development Wallace State Community College in Selma; and Suzanne Harbin, assistant to the president for advancement, Wallace State Community College in Hanceville. (contributed)

CULLMAN, Ala. – A delegation from Selma traveled to Cullman Thursday to talk about how two remarkably different communities with polar opposite historical backgrounds might address differences and discuss future partnerships that allow each community to benefit from the successes of the other.

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R- Cullman and Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma have developed a friendship as freshmen legislators, and those discussions led to Gudger visiting Selma earlier this year and Sanders-Fortier visiting Cullman Thursday with three fellow community members.

Both senators said it was eye opening to learn about the community the other represents.

“You have an African American Democratic female senator from a predominately Black community in the Black Belt sharing community history with a white, male, Republican senator from a predominately white community in north Alabama,” said Sanders-Fortier. She said it is refreshing to see two groups from such diverse backgrounds working together and looking for ways to further the success of their individual communities.

Gudger acknowledged their friendship raised eyebrows in Montgomery, but said he feels he and his colleague have grown as a result of their conversations. He said that led to the visit by the Selma group. “I met several community leaders in Selma on my visit there and invited them to come to Cullman.”

Selma’s delegation wanted to tour Cullman’s park and recreation program and facilities, the downtown area and hear about the community’s reputation of working together on industrial, tourism and community projects.

A windshield tour of the community , followed by a luncheon meeting at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce with Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs, Chamber staff, Wallace State Community College and the Cullman Economic Development Agency allowed the visitors to see and then hear about how various Cullman achievements occurred.

Information the visitors from Selma sought included the history on the formation of Heritage Park, Field of Miracles, Wellness & Aquatic Center and other facilities; how Cullman attacked tourism attraction; how Wallace State Hanceville differs from Wallace State Selma in partnerships with secondary education and workforce training; and if Cullman’s reputation for developing effective public-private partnerships was accurate and how that was accomplished.

HomTex owners Jerry and Jeremy Wootten discussed the City of Cullman and Cullman County industrial board down payment loans to the company that allowed it to secure the disposable facemask production equipment that has already created 130 new jobs at the Cullman facility.

Sanders-Fortier said Selma had a significant role in the Civil Rights movement with the march to Montgomery and the Edmund Pettus Bridge that annually attracts thousands of tourists. She said she is looking for suggestions on how Selma can expand tourism. “I want to return with some of our key leaders in several different areas for a visit.”

Cullman Chamber of Commerce Interim President & CEO Peggy Smith said the visit provided “a wonderful opportunity for an exchange of ideas.”

Jacobs commended the delegation on its “vision and commitment to community partnerships” that continue to move Selma forward. He said tourism and economic development are key components, but “working together as community leaders is critical.”

Wallace State Community College (Hanceville) Assistant to the President for Advancement Suzanne Harbin said the Hanceville-Selma colleges have successfully partnered on grants for 10 years or more.

“It was a pleasure to host the delegation from Selma today,” Gudger said.  “We are all aware of the division we are witnessing in our country. As community leaders we are uniquely positioned to bring our communities together to learn from each other.”

Sanders-Fortier agreed the day was “enlightening and informative,” saying “I look forward to continued sharing.”    

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