For the very first segment of What's Working, we immediately thought of Chilton County. With the largest peach industry in the state and as the 15th fastest growing county in Alabama, Chilton County is truly a highlight of our state. It didn't take us long to find out that hospitality was also a big key to their success.
Our day started out at Chilton County's LeCroy Technical School in Clanton. There students come from their regular high school classes to learn about real-world jobs. From welding to robotics to automotive care to horticulture to television production, these students are learning the keys about workplace knowledge.
We met with the school's director Tommy Glasscock first. He showed us around the huge facility that was very impressive. We started out in the welding building, where we met students who really know how to make sparks fly. They welded metals together, cut pieces of metal, and generally taught me that I didn't know anything about this electrifying industry. The students were excited about their opportunities to build careers because of the knowledge they had gained at the technical school.
The next building we went to was the robotics building. These are the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They are building robots and drones that can do anything from rove around to cut grass by themselves to fly! What an exciting way for these students to learn about computer programming, coding, and mechanical engineering. These students were extremely bright, and their futures seem even brighter.
The next department we were able to look into was the school's personal broadcast station. As a journalist, I was highly impressed with their facility. They allowed Bettina to anchor a little educational piece of what she had learned about the school during her time there. From the green screen to the cutting edge equipment, these students have access to tools that other broadcast hopefuls can only dream about.
Overall, our experience at LeCroy was extremely eye-opening to the possibilities that hands-on, project-based education can create for students. These teens have a bright future ahead of them whether they go to college or decide to go directly into the workforce. Their leadership is strong through the school's administration and the Educational Workforce Development Council, who allow this facility to operate at a professional, education-driven level.
From LeCroy, we went to downtown Clanton, which seems to be booming. We met Mayor Billy Joe Driver, who boasted about the town's increase in incoming businesses. The boom in industry is evident as almost every store front was filled, and downtown seemed to be bustling. The Clanton Courthouse and City Council hall were beautiful buildings that seem to be the foundation for growth for the city.
The city council members also spoke about how proud they are of Clanton's growing economy. One of the keys to the city's success: the people! Both Mayor Driver and the council members spoke of how the people of Clanton are the ones that are truly making a difference in the economic development of the city. They say hospitality and desire to better their hometown set Clanton apart from other "small towns."
After meeting downtown, we were treated to lunch by the community's top members. From the mayor to city councilmen to Chamber of Commerce directors to the Board of Education president, we got to meet the people that make the city and county tick. They even brought us their famous Chilton County strawberries and some pecans from Heaton Pecan Park. The main thing that stood out to us: their friendliness and hospitality. From the prayers before the meal to the jokes that were told around the table, these people bring Southern hospitality to life.
After lunch, we went to one of the most famous tourist destinations in the county: Durbin Farms. Started in the 1930's while Interstate 65 was first starting, Durbin Farms is a tradition that no one driving through Clanton should miss. Their store boasts the freshest produce and neatest trinkets for travelers to enjoy. While the freshness of the peaches is something that Durbin Farm's owner says sets them apart from their competition, they say it is their Southern charm that truly keeps them in business. The store workers were so friendly, and they care about their customers. I even saw a worker escort an elderly customer out with her fresh produce, bring the packages to her car for her, and wave goodbye as the customer pulled out of the shop. It is the little things like that that customers remember about Clanton and its shops.
We couldn't leave Clanton without one last stop: the big peach! We enjoyed seeing the iconic symbol of Clanton and Chilton County. They are even building a brand new fire station with a state-of-the-art design right below the big peach. It's a sign of the old and the new, the traditions and the future that truly wraps up our trip to Chilton County. Because that's truly what's working in Chilton County – a mix of the Southern hospitality and small town values that have always made Chilton special, and the new industries and educational values that are spurring growth within the county.
We'd like to thank everyone who made this trip so special.
If you'd like to see what makes Chilton County's work, tune into our special report What's Working: Chilton County. It airs on Alabama's 13 News at Ten on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. You can also watch the story here online after its air date.
And remember, if you have an idea on what's working in your community, send us an email at email@example.com.