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Posted: February 22, 2011 7:11 p.m.

Chamber makes economic development hire

Submitted Photo/

Roger Harrison

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce has hired its economic development leader.

Roger Harrison, 32, comes from Hendry County in south Florida, where he was in charge of economic development and tourism for the county and surrounding region, which had a population of a couple hundred thousand residents, Harrison said Tuesday. He managed a staff of three full-time workers and volunteers.

His first day in Newton County will be March 7.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said he was impressed with Harrison's range of experience, including work as a grant writer and administrator with the City of Monticello, a business development position with Coca-Cola North America and economic development work.

"He's an initiator. He's not passive," Hall said Tuesday. "The second thing is his resourcefulness. He has the ability to pull things together and connect the dots and make things happen."

Hall was impressed with Harrison's work on developing a regional airport and his efforts to attract an ethanol production plant.

Harrison facilitated a public-private partnership at Hendry Airglades Airport to convert the facility into a reliever airport for Miami International Airport. The runway lengthening was a $150 million investment, with the total project expected to be a $350 to $400 million investment that could create 2,000 jobs, Harrison said.

The ethanol plant is a $100 million investment that will provide around 250 jobs.

Harrison grew up in Monticello. His father owned Covington Fence Company in Newton County for about a decade.

"Really, it's a lateral move for me. I'm going down a little in title, but this is an opportunity to return home. I was recruited to come down here (to Hendry County) and reopen this office that had been closed for 18 months. I came in and laid a great foundation. We have several very large projects going on, but the appeal of the Newton County offer was to come back home to family and loved ones," he said.

Harrison doesn't have a long resume of economic development experience, but the chamber had agreed previously that it wanted a younger leader who would be able to adapt to the constantly changing world of economic development.

"We have always said we were not looking to hire someone looking for a job. He came to us by recommendation of a state economic development officer," Hall said. "We sought him out and sold him on Newton County."

Harrison served two years as a faculty member at the University of Georgia, working with its Archway Partnership for Economic Development. The program helped rural communities plan for economic and community development.

Hall said Harrison's experience working with metro and rural communities was a plus.
Harrison holds a bachelor's degree from Presbyterian College in South Carolina and a master's degree in public administration from Georgia College & State University. He is pursuing a doctorate in public administration from Valdosta State University.

Harrison will focus on new industry recruitment, while current Economic Development Director Shannon Davis will shift to existing industry retention and expansion.

"Job growth and job creation as well as capital investment will be his number one priority", chamber Chairman Scott Willis said in a release. "I hope Roger is never in the office. We expect him in Atlanta, around the state, and the globe for that matter, waving our flag and telling the world that Newton County is open for business."

The chamber has been searching for an economic development leader since former president John Boothby resigned in September 2009.

In an effort to help draw a top economic development professional, the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners voted in late 2009 to more than double the amount of money they spend annually for chamber services, from $108,000 to $241,000. Harrison's salary and benefits package will be below the original budgeted amount of $125,000. The chamber did not receive extra funding while the economic development position remained vacant, but Hall said he had notified both the city and county of the need for that money moving forward.

The additional funds will be used to increase the budget to allow Harrison to travel around the state, as well as nationally and globally, if needed, as well as entertain prospective industry officials and state officials.

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