WHAT'S WORKING BLOG: Calhoun County - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL


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You may pass through Calhoun County all the times you go to and from Atlanta. From the road, the county's growth is very apparent. The Oxford Exchange is just one sector that is seeing growth, but business growth isn't the only development in the county. What many people don't know about Calhoun County is its wonderful tourism and outdoor recreation. Our trip to Calhoun was filled with eye-opening experiences about a county that is often known for its interstate exits and military history.

Speaking of military history, we started our journey to Calhoun County at the county's largest employer, Anniston Army Depot. The facility, which was established in 1941, is a testimony to the workforce of Calhoun. The facility is almost the size of a city, and its programs like the health center, fire department, store, softball fields, and physical fitness center, make it like its own little community.

But what really makes the Depot so much like a city is its genuine people. From the media relations spokesperson Clester Burdell who welcomed us with hugs, to our interviewee Johnny Thompson, the people at Anniston Army Depot are so friendly and hospitable. Every car that drove by had someone inside waving and saying hello. It didn't seem like a business, but more like a family.

There's a reason for that too: generation after generation come to work at the Depot. Families pass on their skills and passions for what they do, with third and fourth generations are doing their service to their country by working for the Depot.

The Anniston Army Depot is one of the top depots in the nation. Their mission is repairing, modifying, upgrading and converting all heavy and light tracked vehicles (except for the Bradley), towed and self-propelled artillery, and small arms for America's defense forces and their allies. There are close to 5,000 people, mostly civilians, who carry out that mission, and its evident that each of these works have a passion for what they're doing.

Anniston Army Depot also does important things for the community, both economically and philanthropically. That includes hiring almost 800 veterans, United Way fundraising, Christmas Cheer Programs for underprivileged children, mentoring initiatives at schools, and large blood drives. Programs like these show Anniston Army Depot isn't just an employer, but an integral part of Calhoun County.

After getting to see the various combat vehicles that are part of the Depot's day-to-day operations, we were very impressed at the magnitude of importance of the Depot, not only to the county but to our country. Overall, it's the people and their desire to help their families and their country that are truly what's working at the Depot, and that benefit certainly spills over into the county.

Our next stop on our tour of Calhoun County was to downtown Anniston. The architecture of the buildings brings you back in time. From little historical clocks on street corners to beautiful buildings that remind you of the old South, downtown Anniston has a lot to offer. Each of the small shops have character, and one of the biggest characters of all that we met was our interviewee, shop owner Patrick Wigley.

His shop, Wig's Wheels, is a local shop offering the best in bikes and skateboards. He had us laughing from the time we came into the door, but it is passion for cycling that is most evident in his character. Patrick told us he never thought he'd live in Alabama, let alone open his own business here.

As former military, Patrick traveled the world, but Calhoun County's Southern charm and beautiful scenery made him settle down here. He says Calhoun County is a hidden national treasure for cyclists with trails like Coldwater Mountain Bike Trails and the Chief Ladiga train Trailhead.

From city cycling to mountain biking trails, Patrick says bikers can get a variety of outdoor scenery and challenges from Calhoun County. Other than great cycling, Patrick also believes there's potential for business growth in Calhoun.

As a shop owner himself, Patrick says the county and local cities offer great incentives to start a local business. He also encourages people to shop local for the personal attention and expertise shop owners can give. Both friendliness and knowledge were apparent in Wig's Wheels as Patrick helped his customers. The shop and its owner are certainly examples of the opportunities Calhoun County has to continue to grow.

The Chamber of Commerce was our final stop on our Calhoun County visit. From the moment we walked into the door, the Chamber was full of hospitality and smiles. The Chamber of Commerce representative Linda Heard was very knowledgeable about her county and their projects to grow communities together. She says partnerships between local cities in the county are what's working for Calhoun.

As the saying goes, rising tides raises all ships, and it seems the waters are filling up quickly in Calhoun, metaphorically speaking. One neat thing about Calhoun's Chamber of Commerce is the fact that the Chamber, the Economic Development Council, and the tourism department are all under one roof. We got to speak to each of their representatives, who again showed great understanding and passion for their county.

The EDC representative Don Hopper agreed that partnerships between businesses, government, and the people are what's working for the county. Tourism director Ebonee Thompson echoed shop owner Patrick Wigley's sentiments that tourism and outdoor recreation is a major draw for Calhoun. She says it's people like Patrick Wigley, who are recognizing the hidden treasures of the county and using them for personal and business gain, are people who create an economic growth for Calhoun.

Overall, our trip to the Chamber was eye-opening to the potential growth available in Calhoun. Whether you're a business owner looking to relocate or a tourist looking for inexpensive fun, Calhoun County has a lot to offer.

After visiting both the largest employer and small shops in Calhoun, it's evident there is a lot working economically in the county. The Southern, small-town charm of the towns may deceive you into thinking these people and places live slow lives, but really the modern technology and business practices are just under the surface. And we know just from Wig's Wheels customers how fast Calhoun's trails can take you.

While Clahoun is known as a military town by many, there is life after service for many of its residents. They are growing businesses here, and raising their families to understand the values of working hard every day. Just take a trip off the Interstate the next time you're passing through, and you too can discover Calhoun County's beauty, charm, and economic potential.

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