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Posted: September 17, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Chamber retools ED leader search

Economic development progress still being made

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The chamber of commerce is ramping up economic development efforts, even as it continues to search for a big-name leader to advance Newton County's prospects.

Economic Development Director Shannon Davis and President Hunter Hall are leading several efforts to assist existing industries and improve recruitment of new industry, laying the groundwork for when a senior vice president of economic development is eventually hired.

Wage and Benefit Survey
Industries annually reassess their wage rates and benefit packages to remain competitive, but the chamber wants to save them time and effort by completing the survey itself.

The state of Georgia already does a regional survey, but that isn't always helpful, because Newton County is included in two regions, the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area and a northeast Georgia region. The chamber's survey will draw mainly from Newton County with some industries potentially from Rockdale and Walton counties.

Industry Expansions
Davis said she knows of five industries that are planning to expand, or are at least discussing the possibility. Some of those plans have actually come out of the mayor-chairman lunches that have been held with area industries. Hall said the meetings give the industry leaders a chance to learn about city and county and discover any ways the two bodies can help the industries.

He added that Mayor Kim Carter and Chairman Kathy Morgan do a great job of working with the industries and making them feel appreciated. Davis said one executive was surprised when the public leaders thanked him for being there.

"This smile crept on his face. We asked him if he was OK, and he said he was great; (the compliment) was just nice to hear," Davis said.

The chamber also uses the lunches to let them know about their services, including querying the state about what incentives could be available to these industries if they choose to expand.

"We've been to Atlanta on behalf of these companies; we're trying to be very proactive in trying to assist them," Hall said.

The standard industry logic is that around 80 percent of new jobs are created by existing industry and only 20 percent by new industries.

The meetings, as well as efforts to produce a more robust industry database, have also allowed the chamber to identify opportunities for industries to find local suppliers and customers.

During a recent request for information from a prospective industry, the chamber was able to present four potential suppliers already located in Newton County.

"The company never came, but they were floored that we came to them (with that information)," Hall said.

Senior VP Search
The chamber's most recent top candidate for its top economic development position decided he wanted to stay in his community, because the groundwork he had laid was finally coming to fruition.
However, the search provided chamber officials with some valuable information: economic development is changing.

Initially, the chamber had intended to hire a seasoned veteran, who had been creating connection in Georgia for dozens of years. However, this latest finalist was a young up-and-comer and Hall said he now realizes the right candidate needs to be versatile and aggressive, not necessarily experienced.

While the state of Georgia remains the main marketing arm of Georgia, Hall said the chamber has found that companies are increasingly turning to other means to search for communities, including electricity companies, attorneys, accountants and consultants.

"We're not necessarily looking for the traditional economic development person, the game has changed. We need someone who is able to adapt," Hall said.
As a result, the chamber is starting to search the entire U.S. and is lessening its focus on Georgia candidates, because the pool of candidates who fit the criteria is so small.

Hall said making the wrong hire could set the chamber back several years, and he's willing to wait until the right candidate comes along. Right now, the chamber is selling Newton County's collaboration between its political bodies, which has been a big attraction for candidates.

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