Reprinted with permission from The Cullman Times
Local officials Wednesday unveiled the Cullman Technology Village on Clark Street, which will provide essentially all the resources a new business needs to get off the ground, from hands-on consultation to seed money. The hope is it will spur the growth of more hi-tech jobs locally, helping to diversify Cullman’s economic base.
The project is a joint effort between the City of Cullman, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, Wallace State Community College and the University of Alabama. The three-year incubator program is modeled after a similar initiative in five South Carolina cities, where two created an estimated 12-14 companies each within the first 18 months with 70 jobs and $2.8 million payroll.
“The city, the chamber and the college were all being successful individually in supporting business and industry,” said Dale Greer, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency. “The partnership allows us to pool our resources to help people with ideas bring their company or product vision to reality. This exciting partnership will open doors for entrepreneurship opportunities.”
The city renovated a 2,200-square-foot office space in the Cullman Economic Development Agency, a modern minimalist hub allowing for aspiring entrepreneurs to plug in and tap into UA resources for market research, contract manufacturing strategy among others.
There’s no timetable yet on the center’s opening or hiring of its director, but officials said they are hoping to begin operations as soon as possible.
Mayor Woody Jacobs said after touring one of the South Carolina’s tech villages, the city, Wallace State and the chamber agreed a partnership would reap dividends and began working on a formal agreement with Alabama. City and county school system officials also went on fact-finding tours to South Carolina and are excited about the venture.
“Creating a culture of entrepreneurship that focuses on startups and technology based jobs is one of the chamber’s five major focuses,” said Chamber President Leah Bolin.
Added WSCC President Vicki Karolewics: “We are delighted to partner with the City of Cullman and the Chamber of Commerce on this innovative approach to job creation. Collaboration is a critical tool for success in all communities, and never anywhere more apparent in our region than here where the City of Cullman, Chamber of Commerce, Wallace State Community College and the University of Alabama have collaborated to create a unique entrepreneurial center in our Technology Village. Tech startups need minimal square footage, but quite unique kinds of spaces and supports to bring their innovative ideas to market. The potential technology development applications to agriculture, industry, small business and industrial mechanization are super exciting!”
UA President Stuart R. Bell commented, “I’m excited about the University’s strategic partnerships with Cullman and Fairhope. One of our primary goals as Alabama’s flagship university is to increase activities that drive economic development for our state. As we reach out to emerging tech businesses in these areas, we look forward to helping small businesses thrive and bolster their local economies.”
Rick Swatloski, director of UA’s Office for Technology Transfer, will be Cullman’s primary UA contact on tech village issues. He said the tech village offers a “unique twist” on economic development recruitment because it is more viable for smaller communities with fewer resources.
“I’m convinced every community has entrepreneurs,” Swatloski said. “The communities that can leverage and support them will move forward and grow their tax-base. When you create jobs with minimal investment, that is an outstanding return.”
Added Peggy Smith, the chamber’s strategic plan coordinator: “It is exciting to be one of the first communities selected by the University of Alabama for the program. I am excited about the opportunity this partnership affords our citizens to showcase their great business ideas.”