Cullman official to lead discussion on Chilton County growth Jan. 27

Published 3:46 pm Friday, January 16, 2015

Cullman’s Economic Development Agency director hopes to share different experiences and ideas with local officials at an upcoming work session Jan. 27 in Chilton County.

“I wish I knew the big secret to making all of this work,” Peggy Smith said on Friday. “I think the best information I can provide is simply to share the experiences we have gone through, the positives and the negatives and how that affected us.”

Smith has served for more than 30 years as the director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency, and has seen an area experience growth within recent years.

“The thing about our area is we did not experience growth overnight,” Smith said. “We actually became focused on growth as a community and purchasing industrial land in the mid-80s. It has definitely been a process for us.”

Leaders from Chilton County met Smith in 2014 during a trip to Cullman to learn more about the area that has become one of the state leaders for new and expanding industry.

“I think our community has a lot of similarities with the Clanton community,” Smith said. “We have always been a big believer in learning from what other people have done. Rather than re-invent the wheel, we like to look at what is working for other areas and model ourselves after those places.”

Although it can be difficult at times to not compare successes of larger, neighboring counties, Smith said it is important to remember that the size of a county is not always a factor.

“It is very easy to look at a neighboring county, in our instance it is Huntsville, and ask why we can’t be like them,” Smith said. “I think it is important to remember to find similarities with counties of the same size and look for similar growth patterns.”

Smith said she hopes to stress the importance of an area being committed to growth for growth to happen.

“Growth requires a lot of planning and commitment,” Smith said. “It is important to first figure out what kind of county you want to be, and then be committed to seeing those plans come together. For us, it took a lot of financial resources. Whatever direction Chilton County decides to go is up to your community, but financial resources will be a huge part of that growth.”

Smith said she is a strong believer in keeping and helping industries already in place, deeming it “critical” for growth.

“I have noticed that Chilton County has done a great job with that,” Smith said. “The focus there seems to be very strong. When you lose what you have, then you have to work to replace it, and that can be hard.”

Smith said she is looking forward to talking with local officials in Chilton County and is honored to have the opportunity to share.

“Our journey hasn’t been easy, and I doubt it will be for those in Chilton County, but if you have the leaders and the community is on board to work for the same goal, then you will see results.”

The Chilton County Chamber of Commerce will host a “Business After Hours” which will begin at 4:30 p.m., and the work session will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The event will be held at the Alabama Power Conference Center in Clanton.