In an evening dedicated to recognizing the value and growth of industries that drive the local economy, several initiatives were announced at the annual Industry Appreciation Reception Tuesday night.

Hosted at TP Country Club by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, the community can soon look forward to the startup of YEA, the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a program that will groom young people to learn how to establish and grow businesses.

“This will an investment for generations to come and help fill your needs in business,” Leah Bolin, chamber president and CEO, said.

Bolin also noted the chamber’s five-year-plan initiative, which was recently announced as an effort to bring together business, government and other leaders to devise and move forward with plans to provide sustained, measurable growth to the community while addressing key needs from housing to expanding cultural endeavors across the area.

In a look over the past year and developments ahead, Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith thanked Wallace State Community College’s role in bringing Sequence Health, a medical contact center, to the area.

“One of the requirements in the recruitment was to have an available facility, which we didn’t at the time, so we were rapidly losing,” Smith said. “Wallace State stepped in and provided space for Sequence to begin operating while we finish their building in Cullman Industrial Park, which will bring 125 jobs to our community. This is a new type of business for us and we’re very excited they have chosen Cullman.”

Smith also said 80 acres of land has been acquired to market for industrial development, which can provide for new or expanding industries in the future.

In looking forward to this year’s growth potential, Smith said investments and job growth appear strong again for Cullman.

“We were named to the number two micropolitan in the United States, which is for communities with a population of 15,000 to 50,000, based on measurable investments and job growth,” she said.

Smith also recognized the Cullman County Economic Development Agency, which primarily is involved in grant writing to assist area communities. She said the county agency brought $18 million into the community last year to assist with projects and community development.

She also thanked Cullman Regional for its medical service, which is a major factor in recruiting industry, not the the facility is undergoing a major expansion.

Jimmy Hodges, dean of applied sciences at Wallace State, outlined a variety of training programs the college provides for preparing students for careers and specialized training programs in partnership with local industries.

The college is in a partnership with Cullman County Schools through the Fast Track for Industry Partnership, currently enrolling 145 high school juniors and seniors. Wallace State also provides apprenticeship/internships and customized curriculum for specific industries.

“We also have one of the largest, most up to date welding programs in the state. We are looking at expanding the program even more to serve the needs of industries,” Hodges said.

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David Palmer has decades of experience in the newspaper industry. He currently serves as editor of The Cullman Times.

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