I’ve had people over the years ask me how a rural county in North Alabama like Marshall became so diverse in industry and economic development. The answer to that question is extremely complex. You could point to various things such as poultry farmers banding together, forming cooperatives and building slaughter houses that were the forerunners of the large poultry processing companies we have today. Or, you could cite the explosive growth in Huntsville in the past century and the rise of the space and defense industry there. Also, having the excellent school systems and pro-growth leadership here certainly contributed. But if you had to put your finger on one pivotal event that kick started everything around here, you would have to go back 85 years to the signing of the TVA Act by President Franklin Roosevelt.
The creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the subsequent damming of the Tennessee River was the most monumental point in the development of the entire Tennessee Valley and Marshall County has certainly benefited enormously from it. I recently toured the dam as part of public tour series that TVA is rolling out across the valley. It was conducted by the engineers and operators but also involved was a TVA historian who gave a very interesting perspective about the area and what life was like before the damming of Lake Guntersville.
Prior to the Guntersville dam, there was no manufacturing or industry in Marshall County. Many places didn't even have power. The river was only marginally navigable so even if products were made or grown here, they could not be exported much further than locally. Poultry farmers were around, but most of their chickens were sold locally and slaughtered by the consumer. After the impoundment of Lake Guntersville, the first cooperatives came together and what is now considered our largest industry, poultry, was born.
Another major industry also quickly developed, tourism. Tourism, brought about by Lake Guntersville, put this county on the map. The recent success of the Guntersville Hydrofest is only the latest development of the incredible economic benefits Marshall County has seen as a result of tourism.
As Marshall County grew and became known, other industries followed. Today, we are blessed to have companies that produce products that are sold all over the world. Industries like automotive, aerospace, chemical, plastics, and food processing. Products such as fire hydrants, hazmat suits, paper plates, medical devices are just a few of the vast number of goods that are made here in Marshall County. These companies represent great jobs and large investments here. They fuel the incredible growth this once rural river county has seen over the last half century. But it all got started when FDR signed the TVA Act and essentially said “dam it!”