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December 24, 2013

2013 year in review - No. 8: Chamber names Leah Bolin new president, brings full-time tourism director on board

Editor’s Note: The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce embarked on a new path in 2013 with the hiring of new personnel to lead local business and tourism interests.

The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce gained a new president in January, embarking on a new era for the organization’s efforts to represent local businesses.

Later in the year, the chamber’s leadership moved forward with hiring a full-time tourism director, an issue that had been pushed by many area officials as entertainment and business growth occur in Cullman County.

Leah Bolin served as interim president of the chamber for much of 2012 and was named permanently to the position in January. Bolin stepped into the interim role after longtime president Kirk Mancer left for a chamber job in Shelby County. Bolin originally was not going to be considered for the permanent position, but that changed after requests were made to the search committee to allow her to become a candidate, said NeSmith, who is the current chairman of the chamber.

“Our plan is very simple: We are going to continue the path that was established for the chamber when it was established 70 years ago,” Bolin said shortly after being hired. “We want to offer stability, support and solutions for the local economy. I can guarantee we’ll be moving forward.”

Not long after accepting the position, Bolin and her board faced fallout with several local hotels over reported communications issues, as the 10-member Cullman Hospitality Association told the Chamber it believed the industry was not “taken seriously” by the Chamber.

One major sticking point was the countywide lodging tax, a portion of which has been designated to pay for a new Interstate 65 interchange on County Road 222. The funds had previously been used for debt service on Heritage Park, and a portion also goes to the chamber.

Tempers eventually cooled, however, and the hotels have now returned to the fold. Since that time the chamber has hired a full-time tourism director and launched into a more aggressive position with promoting events and the area business community.

The Chamber hired Georgia native Cecelia Smith following a lengthy search, and she has been on the job since early July.

She most recently worked as a private marketing consultant in Decatur, Ala., but previously served as event’s director for the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce in Tucson, Ariz. She has also worked in marketing at the Indianapolis Zoo, as well as customer service with U.S. Airways.

“Cullman was really the first place I saw when I came to Alabama, staying out on Smith Lake,” she said in a previous interview. “My first experiences were to shop, eat, stay and play in Cullman. This is just such a clean, nice place; and the people of Cullman have been so kind, generous and helpful. I really love the sense of community here.”

David Palmer may be contacted at dpalmer@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 116.

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