Coming home was always in the plans for Kyle Willoughby.
The family business, Willoughby Roofing, was on the horizon. His wife, the former Sara Beth Drake, was from a family with a long history in Cullman.
Everything was in place at home. Almost.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, where Willoughby ran track, he was springing into a career in sales, from Atlanta to Mobile and finally Nashville.
The last stop in Nashville was employment with a roofing manufacturing.
“That helped me learn a lot more about the business, the sales and technology. Then dad said it was time to come home,” Willoughby said.
Moving home, Willoughby brought with him not only a healthy work experience but an appreciation for the amenities that accompany metropolitan life. The restaurants, the variety of stores, entertainment, arts … all of the cultural attractions that make time away from work rewarding.
“I was aware things were changing at home. You appreciate so many aspects of what defines Cullman, the kind of life that is good for families and raising children,” Willoughby said. “I think seeing the growth, that you can go out after work and enjoy yourself made it easier to come back. This is an exciting time.”
Growth and quality of life are areas Willoughby has embraced and has become active in the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, embracing the organization’s five-year plan, which among other objectives seeks to attract more young professionals to Cullman.
“We’re in a great location, between the two major markets in Alabama and we’ve seen our share of growth,” Willoughby said. “With the schools, Smith Lake, the park system this can be a great setting for younger adults to enjoy, and they can help it become even better with their ideas.”
Among the strengths Willoughby finds in the community, in addition to the elementary and secondary schools, is Wallace State Community College. After graduating from Cullman High School, he enrolled at Wallace before transferring to the University of Alabama, excelling in track and field, especially the decathlon and javelin.
“Enrolling at Wallace State was the best move I ever made,” Willoughby said. “I don’t think I was ready to step on the university campus right out of high school. But everything worked well at Wallace, the classes and preparation. It’s one of the resources that keeps us ahead, whether you’re planning to move on to a university or needing to learn a skill.”
While there are many qualities of the community Willoughby knows are worth preserving – the family-friendly community, the caring – he reflects on the changes his family’s company made to move forward.
O.M. Willoughby started the business as a construction company in 1946. Eventually, roofing became the main focus.
“The number one reason O.M. did that was interest rates were so high in the ‘70s,” he said. “The decision was made to become more specialized, because even if you have a well-constructed building, you will need a new roof or special type of roof.”
The willingness to change gave the company new life. And that’s the point Willoughby comes back to about his home. When he arrived back home, he reached out to ask what he could do.
“We have to have a shift with more young people moving here,” he said. “There are issues with housing, workforce and wages that we need to do something about now. We need to be more geared to the next generation.”
This article first appeared in the summer Cullman Magazine.