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Posted: April 20, 2011 7:23 p.m.

How can Newton County attract jobs?

The chamber wants to bring jobs to Newton County. That's the goal of economic development, which is simply a fancy phrase for adding new jobs, sustainable, high-quality ones.

At a Wednesday economic development forum, consultant Jay Garner told county leaders how to compete for jobs, and out of his presentation came three immediate actions leaders could take:
- spend as much money and devote as many resources as possible to improving infrastructure, buying land and building potential plants for industry and aggressively marketing those assets
- narrow their focus to a couple of fields of industry (i.e. aerospace, food production, distribution) that suit Newton County's assets
- and focus on improving only a few things at a time in your community (i.e. schools, public safety, recreation)

None of those three steps, or any other progress, is possible without leaders who are dedicated to devoting time and resources to job creation.

"What is the most important ingredient?" Garner asked the assembled leaders. "It's not education. It's not health facilities. It's not incentives. It's not having industrial parks. All of that is part of the whole economic development arsenal that you need to be successful.

"The most important factor for economic development success is leadership, by far, hands down," he said. "The quality of public and private leadership allows for you to succeed. Why? Because with good leadership you have the other ingredients that bring everything together for success."

If leaders make job creation a priority and devote money and resources to it, they will create an environment that can thrive.

Money makes the world go round
Covington and Newton County equally co-fund economic development in Newton County to the tune of $241,000 per year. That pays for two chamber salaries and all marketing efforts.

When asked if that was enough, Garner said no.

"It doesn't matter if you're large or small as a community, you still have to be able to compete effectively and the only way you're able to do that is through financial resources," he said.

He pointed to Early County in southern Georgia, which has a population of 16,000 people but raised $2.3 million from public and private sources.

"They're in the game," he said. "You have to be able to enhance your resources."

Garner said that money is used mainly for salaries, marketing and a special fund to help officials close deals with industries.

Attract industries that fit your county
Garner said that trying to attract every kind of industry is a losing proposition. Leaders should pick industries their country can attract and then court those businesses.

If the county has an airport, aerospace companies are a possibility.

The county's large supply of water would make it a perfect fit for food producers, like General Mills cereal plant, which use copious amounts of water.

Access to major interstates make distribution centers a possibility.

Nobody's perfect, but improve what you can
The process of attracting multi-million dollar industrial projects in a wildly competitive market is daunting, but cities and counties need to focus on what they can do.

Charlie Gatlin, director of economic development at the Electric Cities of Georgia, said Newton County should start by fixing a few issues and work from there.

"Don't try to be daunted by all these things going on. Everybody has troubles, nobody's perfect," Gatlin said.

One piece of advice Garner shared with elected officials was to keep public in-fighting to a minimum. He said when companies read newspapers or visit websites and see divisiveness and dissention they will go elsewhere, because those traits make it more likely that a community will be difficult to work with.

He also told officials to look for opportunities to nurture existing industries as well as innovative entrepreneurs in the community.

Given Newton County's historical success recruiting industry, as evidenced by the fact 22 percent of its employment is in manufacturing, Garner and Gatling said the county was positioned for success.

"You folks are way ahead of a lot of communities we see in Georgia," Gatlin said.

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