Cullman, Walker and Winston counties are situated in north central Alabama and share Lewis Smith Lake, one of 11 premier bass fishing lakes located on the Alabama Bass Trail. The lake is both a beautiful natural resource and an attraction for tourism and other development.
Cullman County, crisscrossed by Interstate 65, U.S. 31 and U.S. 278, is a central hub for all types of industry. Unemployment is low and the county ranks high for new and expanding industry. In 2013, Cullman welcomed four new companies, representing 77 jobs and $6.1 million in investment, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. During the same period, 52 of the county’s existing companies expanded, representing 494 jobs and $86 million in investment.
Cullman is ranked high for quality of life. Its parks and recreation department is ranked nationally, as are its city schools. The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame is slated to open there in several months, connected with a civic and convention center and other development, on an interchange under construction. And the county is building the Duck River Reservoir, with enough capacity to handle water needs for the next 75 years.
Walker County, with Jasper as the county seat, is a retail hub. Situated off Interstate 22, it is poised for huge growth, as evidenced by the full Bevill Industrial Park and the new 400-acre Jasper Industrial Park, where officials are about to build a 50, 000-square-foot spec building. The park is an Alabama AdvantageSite. In 2013, Walker County had nine companies expand, creating 256 jobs and $27.1 million in investment, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. The county continues to develop diverse manufacturing, from aerospace to automotive.
“I-22 ties all of this together for us, ” says David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Economic Development Authority. “It creates opportunity that we have not had before. It will spur residential, retail and more.”
Tourism is a major draw — the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County recently hosted the first Alabama Bass Trail Championship with 117 teams. That is just one of many such events held on Smith Lake, along with the Bassmaster Open Series and FLW Tour Events. The chamber also developed its “Forward Walker County” initiative for growth and quality of life in key areas. And the chamber has hired a Birmingham firm to boost retail, and that has already paid off in five new retailers. A few miles from Jasper, the city of Cordova is rebuilding after the tornadoes of 2011.
In all of these efforts, Walker County’s officials work together to make it happen, says Linda Lewis, president of the chamber. “Our organizations for the chamber and economic development work hand in hand. We need each other.”
Winston County, with Double Springs as the county seat, has a new industrial park that also is designated as an Alabama AdvantageSite. In 2013, Winston County had two companies expand, creating 160 jobs and $10 million in investment. The Cooperative District of Winston County, which includes the towns of Addison, Arley, Double Springs and Lynn, the city of Haleyville and the Winston County Commission, have developed, reinvested and created a master plan for the park. The city of Haleyville is one of the Alabama Communities of Excellence, and tourism, including fishing and hunting, is a big draw in the county.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
text by Lori Chandler Pruitt