Introducing the Fulton County and South Fulton, Tennessee Community Network

Fulton County Header Photo

By RPN Team

Community Networks are a collaboration among local leaders to address specific needs of a community. In this blog post, get to know the Fulton County Community Network, the only multi-state RPN Community Network. 

Fulton County is in the mid-south and known for its southern sweet tea culture. Visitors always say, “Man, you guys are just so friendly.” The people here have a strong sense of community and value the quality of life which boasts an abundance of scenic beauty, outdoor activities, good public education, and a low crime rate and cost of living.  

The Fulton County Community Network lies at the far southwest corner of Kentucky and borders the Mississippi River. It is the only multi-state RPN Community Network, as it also encompasses the City of South Fulton, Tennessee. Mark Twain once called the county seat, Hickman, the town located on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River “the most beautiful town on the Mississippi.” 

In the late 1800s and mid 1900s a tremendous amount of rail freight and passengers went through the county, supporting several four-star hotels and two opera houses. The route was also the main transport of produce from South and Central American to U.S. population centers. In the days before refrigerated cars, these trains stopped to buy ice from the Fulton Ice Plant. Since 1962, this heritage has been honored in the Fulton Banana Festival. Last year for its 60th anniversary, volunteers made the world’s largest banana pudding to share with festival goers! 

But today, the ways goods and people travel have changed along with the overall economy. In addition to transportation changes, the area lost more than 3,000 jobs when the U.S. garment industry went overseas. For many years now, Fulton has been known as a “persistent poverty county,” and the population has shrunk from 16,000 residents in the 1940s to about 6,500 today. 

Like a lot of rural Americans, local people face a lack of good jobs, barriers to economic development, aging and insufficient housing stock, access to quality health care, and the lasting impacts of the opioid crisis. The Fulton County and South Fulton, Tennessee, Community Network will address these issues by collaborating with local leaders and organizations to help the area realize its full potential.  

“We want to grow ourselves out of poverty. We don’t expect government to bail us out, but don’t encumber us,” said Mark Welch, Executive Director of the Fulton-Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership.  

“We still have the three Rs – river, roads, and rail in spades,” he continued.  

Welch sees opportunity in the future I-69 corridor, on which Fulton will be the halfway point between Canada and Mexico. He’s also encouraged by emerging economic activity in agribusiness as well as an in-migration of people leaving urban areas in the wake of COVID to enjoy a rural quality of life.  

“The community has seen better days, but we are determined to build their way out of that,” said Welch. 

Community Development