Spotlight on Cullman County
The Clarkson Covered Bridge, sometimes called the Legg Bridge, was originally constructed in 1904. It was destroyed by a flood in 1921 and rebuilt the following year. As the only remaining covered bridge in Cullman County, the Cullman County Commission had it restored in 1975 as part of the American Revolution Bicentennial Project. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department/Meg McKinney
Cullman County is located between Birmingham and Huntsville in north central Alabama and has the advantage of being situated on Interstate 65, U.S. 31 and U.S. 278. That makes it a central hub for diverse industry—in fact, it is within 600 miles of half of the United States.
Cullman County, with an unemployment rate lower than the state and U.S., is home to some very strong economic sectors—from automotive suppliers to agribusiness to distribution and health care. Home of Wallace State Community College, the hub of workforce development as well as a myriad of academic, technical and health professions programs, its workforce is well trained to handle the recent barrage of expansions among manufacturers. In fact, Cullman County ranks no. 2 in the state for new and expanding industry, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce’s most recent report. The Cullman Economic Development Agency works hard to recruit new business while providing support for existing industry.
The county’s top manufacturing employer is auto supplier REHAU, which recently announced more expansions. Its top overall employer is the Cullman County School System, followed by the county’s only hospital, Cullman Regional Medical Center.
Cullman also is known for its quality of life. Named by Bloomberg Businessweek as the Best Place to Raise Children, officials and community leaders work hard to provide opportunities for its residents, from a $15 million aquatics/wellness center that boasts 16,000 members to a very vibrant downtown. The city is embarking on a major reservoir project that will give it a second water source. The city’s parks and recreation department has been nominated three years in a row for a National Recreation and Parks Association Gold Medal Award. And Cullman City Schools consistently rank in the top 3 of school systems in the state.
The county’s economic development office devotes 95 percent of its work to researching, writing and receiving grants that benefit both the city and the county, says Sammie Danford, director. That office averages $2 million to $2.5 million a year in grants. “Last year, we were hit severely by the April 27 tornadoes and so we were able to get 217 individual storm shelters funded,” she says. “We also are getting funding for community shelters.”
The city of Cullman is bouncing back after much of downtown was destroyed. “We’ve done a couple of things to make synergy downtown since then,” says Garlan Gudger Jr., owner of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques Inc. in Cullman and city council president. “We didn’t want to lose our businesses, so we created a façade improvement program for those who wanted to renovate or rebuild downtown. As a result, we’ve had several take advantage of that, and we have many back in business. This also has created jobs.”
Along with incentives and a can-do attitude, the city has undergone two major changes that will raise revenue. First, the county recently voted to allow alcohol sales, which already has opened the door for more revenue and restaurant/retail growth. And, earlier this year, the county passed a half-cent education sales tax for both the county and city systems, which is expected to bring in nearly $4 million a year for education.
“I felt this time that we had earned the trust of residents,” says Billy Coleman, superintendent of Cullman County Schools, who held 54 public meetings to explain the tax and what it would be used for.
Cullman County is home to much natural beauty and boasts many attractions, including Smith Lake, one of the top spotted bass lakes in the country. It also is the site of the Stony Lonesome OHV Park that features trails for ATVs, rock crawlers, dirt bikes and more. And the North Alabama Agriplex opened this year with the purpose of showcasing the importance of agriculture to the community and to future generations.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.