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Converging for Success: Chamber celebrates milestones in first year of 5-year plan

Campaign meets $1.75 million funding goal

Cullman Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leah Bolin smiles as she addresses the crowd gathered at Stone Bridge Farms Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN - The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and guests gathered at Stone Bridge Farms Tuesday evening to celebrate the first year and attainment of a major milestone for its five-year development program “Converging for Success,” described by the Chamber as “a project to formalize a communitywide strategic plan to guide the growth and development of the Cullman area.”

In attendance were numerous local business members of the Chamber, along with dignitaries including Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman; Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope; Cullman County Commissioner Garry Marchman; Good Hope Mayor Jerry Bartlett; Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail; West Point Mayor Kenneth Kilgo; Cullman City Councilmen Clint Hollingsworth and Andy Page; city and county Economic Development Directors Dale Greer and Cherrie Haney; and Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics.

Chamber President and CEO Leah Bolin told The Tribune beforehand, “We are celebrating actually reaching our goal to be able to do our five-year strategic plan.  We’re also going to share a report of the things we’ve already been able to start working on, and start meeting our goals on the bullet points in our case statement.  It’s going to be a night full of a lot of fun, and a lot of celebration, and also a lot of information.

“Our four initiatives are community development, existing business growth and professional business sector recruitment, entrepreneurship and education, and business and community advocacy.  We are hyper-focused on these four initiatives over the next five years, to accomplish everything in that case statement, and more, so that we can create success for our businesses and our citizens, for the future, for them and for their kids.”

Converging for Success Co-Chairman Jason Grimmett, of Drinkard Development, told the audience, “All of us here today believe that investing our dollars, our talent, and our time in this plan for our communities is a wise investment for the future.  With that said, I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to our campaign leadership.  Their dedication, their support and faith in putting together a strategic plan for our communities is appreciated by everyone here tonight.”

Leadership of the Converging for Success campaign includes:

  • Campaign Co-Chairs Jason Grimmett and Dr. Jeremy Stidham
  • Community Development Co-Chairs Bill St. John and Austin Hall
  • Growth and Recruitment Co-Chairs Rob Werner and Ken Sanchez
  • Entrepreneurship and Education Co-Chairs Shawn Crider and Randy Earnest
  • Business and Community Advocacy Co-Chairs Brian Lacy and Nesha Donaldson

A milestone announcement

Fred Mickelson, representing Texas-based Funding Solutions, which helped create the strategic plan and raise the funds to support it, made an announcement the campaign’s supporters have been waiting to hear for some time:

“The bottom line: it’s my pleasure to announce that community leadership have indeed stepped up to the challenge, and that, working together, we have met our $1.75 million goal.  Congratulations to all of you for making this achievement possible.”

That $1.75 million fund will support the five-year program’s annual budget of $350,000, divided as follows:

  • community development - $105,000
  • existing business growth and professional business sector recruitment - $105,000
  • entrepreneurship and education - $87,500
  • business and community advocacy - $52,500

Community development

Bolin announced that the Chamber is about to launch an extensive housing study to increase downtown livability in Cullman through connectivity between areas, and respond to a countywide housing shortage.  She pointed to particular efforts in Cullman, Good Hope, West Point and the marina area of Smith Lake.

Existing business growth and professional business sector recruitment

Brian Poole, Chamber business development and investor relations director, revealed that he and campaign advisor Peggy Smith are looking to address the issue of “out-commuting,” people living in Cullman but working in other cities, with a view toward getting more Cullman County residents to work in the Cullman area.  He also spoke about a plan to make communication between business investors and the Chamber easier.

Entrepreneurship and education

Wesley Smith, Chamber director of entrepreneurship and education, introduced the audience to two Chamber programs for local professionals:

--EPIC - Emerging Professionals Impacting Cullman, a group for young professionals ages 21 to 39 to network and even socialize, with the goal of retaining the upcoming generation of business talent in the Cullman area.  EPIC currently has around 50 members.

--YEA - Young Entrepreneurs’ Academy, a program operating in Cullman High School and Holly Pond High School to help high school students start their own real working businesses.  Smith brought three of his participants: T.J. Fowler from Holly Pond, who is starting a lawn care business; and Avery Wallace and Hannah Sanchez of Cullman High School, who are starting a faith-based T-shirt business.

Bolin returned to talk about the Chamber’s Business Resource Center, and its offerings that assist new businesses, including pre-counseling, creating business plans, borrowing and lending assistance, developing market research plans, healthcare benefit guidance and other matters.  The Chamber’s assistance program currently has more than 40 active clients, and has assisted 61 businesses, created 66 new jobs and assisted in the retention of 96 jobs.

Karolewics spoke about the establishment of the Chamber’s new Technology Village.  For more on this, see our story www.cullmantribune.com/articles/2017/10/11/cullman-chosen-university-ala....

Business and community advocacy

Tim Culpepper, chairman of the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, spoke about two initiatives that body has focused on:

--The completion of Highway 157 as a four-lane thoroughfare all the way through Cullman.  Culpepper noted that, due to the presence of Cullman Regional Medical Center and the new fire station, traffic flow on 157 is not just a matter of commuter convenience, but also of public safety.

--Getting broadband internet access to as much of the county as possible.  Culpepper said that spreading broadband access is as important to quality of life and business in Cullman County as electricity was in the 1930s.

At the end, Bolin concluded, “The bottom line is that we are moving towards our goals in this case statement, and we’re creating avenues for job growth, for housing opportunities and options--whether it’s affordable housing, gap housing for millennials, or housing for those retiring--and community development countywide that will bring more people to Cullman County, to live and to work, and to play.”

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  • W.C. Mann
    Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics, Sabrina Nail, Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail and Cullman County Economic Development Director Cherrie Haney
  • W.C. Mann
  • W.C. Mann