Spotlight: Cullman, Walker & Winston counties

The close proximity to major metro areas works in the favor of Cullman, Walker and Winston counties, allowing for economic growth but also abundant outdoor recreation

The Foothills Festival in Jasper attracts thousands to the area for food, music and fun.

Cullman, Walker and Winston counties, in north central Alabama, enjoy their proximity to major metro areas but also their distance, allowing for abundant outdoor recreation and tourism.

This area has some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, along with healthy population growth. The city of Cullman had a 23% growth rate, while the county had 9% growth. That also segues with nearly 200 building permits for housing projects so far in 2022 and more people moving into the area purchasing lake lots and in other areas.

Cullman County reached more than $200 million in capital investment for the first time ever, says Dale Greer, director of the Cullman County Economic Development Agency. According to the final New and Expanding Industry report by the Alabama Department of Commerce, Cullman County had 39 economic development projects, with 459 jobs created and $213,364,176 in capital investment in 2021. Cullman County ranked No. 1 in total economic development projects, No. 1 in expansion projects, No. 2 in new projects and in the top 10 of counties for jobs created by expansion projects, capital investment by expansions, overall capital investment and overall jobs created.

“We were the No. 1 agricultural county in the state for years,” says Greer. “It is still a very strong sector, but we have been able to recruit more industry. We also have four research and development centers, and we are primed for more development at our airport.”

In Cullman County, the largest manufacturing employers include four automotive suppliers, along with companies that make bedding products, plumbing connection systems, corrugated boxes, aerospace and metal buildings. One of those aerospace companies, General Dynamics, recently was noted for providing mirror systems for the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Cullman County and Cullman city schools have robust academic and career tech programs, with dual enrollment and workforce development partnerships. Wallace State Community College has a Center for Career and Workforce Development and recently opened a new state-of-the-art Technical Education Center that allows expansion of its popular welding program. It also offers a new location for engineering technology and houses a new entrepreneurship and technology incubator.

Cullman County is known for its award-winning parks and just finished the first season of its new waterpark.

Walker County’s largest manufacturers include Mar-Jac Poultry, its largest manufacturing employer, along with three automotive manufacturers, wood and lumber companies and machine welding.

The Walker County Industrial Development Authority has identified more than 1,000 acres on Interstate 22 for a new county industrial park, and site development will begin in early 2023. The aviation industry also got a huge boost with the announcement that Sanders Flight Training Center in Jasper partnered with Liberty University, making it now one of the few places in the state where students can earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation along with earning a pilot certificate.

Bevill State Community College, with five total locations in northwest Alabama and two in Walker County, has long been known for meeting student and adult workforce needs, partnering to open training centers and more.

With mixed-use developments gaining ground everywhere, a groundbreaking was recently held for the new Heritage Landing development in Walker County. Starting with reclamation of a former coal mine, the project will lead to a 50-acre development suitable for retail, commercial or industrial use. It should be open in early 2024.

Winston County is home to several manufactured housing makers, along with manufacturers of semi-truck trailers, wood products and furniture.

Wallace State Community College will expand opportunities in the area with the Winston County Community Learning Center. The 4,500-square-foot facility will include classrooms and computer labs.

Winston County Arts Council plans to purchase the former Looney’s Tavern complex and amphitheater, a 13-acre complex that will offer a large event venue, an indoor theater, restaurant space, gift shop, ticket office and concession area. The group plans to renovate as money is available and add dressing rooms and restrooms to the rear of the theater.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.

For more on Cullman, Walker and Winston counties, see the links below:

In Focus

Economic Engines

Health Care

Higher Education

Movers & Shapers

Community Development

Culture & Recreation

This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Business Alabama magazine.

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