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Posted: February 26, 2013 9:20 p.m.

Changes come to key chamber positions

There are some changes brewing at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, as a long-time economic development employee is leaving and, in an unrelated move, a real estate agent is coming on board.

Shannon Davis, the chamber’s director of business and workforce development, is leaving the chamber Feb. 28 after six years. The chamber is seeking a replacement for that position, which works in the office of economic development and is responsible for retaining existing industry and improving the local workforce.

Chamber president Hunter Hall said the position could go in multiple directions depending on the applicants, but he listed the core duties and objectives for the next hire, including:
• Oversee workforce master plan creation through engagement of the appropriate agency/firm
• Work closely and consult with agencies and institutions such as Georgia Piedmont Technical College, the Department of Labor and Georgia Perimeter College to offer best practice programs resulting in direct positive benefits to industries
• Work to integrate the workforce program into the capital campaign funding strategy
• Maintain, focus and grow relationships and partnership opportunities with Newton College and Career Academy
• Conduct “The Advantage” speaker series for existing industries
• Maintain contact with each industry with 50-plus employees on a regular basis
• Maintain job board on selectnewton.com
• As appropriate, grow relationships with applicable regional technical colleges (Athens and Gwinnett)
• Conduct annual wage and benefits survey.

In the meantime, senior vice president of economic development Roger Harrison will handle all economic development responsibilities for the chamber.

Davis has worked her way up through the chamber, first being hired at the visitor’s center front desk and transitioning into economic development positions, positions in which she has had to learn on the job. She served with numerous groups, including as chair for the Employer Committee at the Department of Labor, chair of the Existing Industry Council at the chamber, on the board of the Newton College and Career Academy and as the chair of the Newton Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises private dollars to assist with scholarships for public school teachers in Newton County.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much value Shannon has brought to this community and to our industry leaders. In many ways, she has been the hub that has spun the wheel of economic development in Newton. She is a class act and consummate professional. While we might replace her position, we will not be able to replace Shannon. Although we’re excited for Shannon and her future, there have been plenty of tears shed the last several weeks here at the chamber,” Hall said.

Hall also credited Davis for being one of the key local players in bringing Baxter International, the mega pharmaceutical manufacturer locating in Stanton Springs, to Newton County. Baxter originally looked at Newton County years ago and when they began looking in earnest two years ago, they wanted to deal with the same officials they had dealt with previously, which mean Davis led the recruitment effort locally in conjunction with the state.

“She did a phenomenal job. There was an enormous amount of state pressure on the local community, a lot of moving and shifting targets, and she nailed it every time,” Hall said Tuesday.

One of her other major achievements in Hall’s eyes has been her efforts to really promote workforce development, as she has basically took the local lead in trying to create better workers to help recruit top-notch future industries.

“Our future ability to recruit industry to Covington is completely dependent on our ability to provide qualified workers. You used to recruit the CEO and if he liked (the community), the company landed there. Now you have to prove you have a capable, qualified, skilled workforce. When you can do that, you can recruit industry,” Hall said. “I often tell her, nobody else is waking up in Newton County thinking how we will employ 100,000 people, and if we don’t, nobody else will, so go get it. We won’t see the effects for five years at the earliest, realistically 10.”

Davis will pursue other opportunities, but she’s excited about the future for the county.

“It’s a good time for me to make a change, personally and professionally. Covington/Newton County is a wonderful community and I have had a tremendous time serving at the forefront of some of our most exciting changes,” Davis said in a press release.

“The chamber of commerce and Office of Economic Development are powerful engines for this community and its businesses, and I’m proud to have been a part of the organization. I look forward to hearing all the great things that will continue to happen and am excited to explore new opportunities for me.”

Changes to small business side too
Local RE/MAX real estate agent Debbie Harper has been hired as the chamber’s new membership director, where she will be working to grow the chamber’s membership.

Harper is a lifelong resident of Newton County and has been a real estate agent for 15 years. Hall said she was hired because the chamber wanted someone who could grow the base.

The job is actually a new position, which was split off from the previous position of small business director. Lisa Baker who held that position is moving to a part-time position where she will focus exclusively on chamber programming, including networking events, the annual golf tournament and dinner, the Taste of Newton, Buy Local events and others. Baker also moved to a part-time position to spend time with her family.

Harper will take over the membership side. Both positions are paid for 100 percent out of the chamber’s own funding, which comes from membership dues; no public money was used for the position.

Hall said he wanted someone with a good background as well as experience in real estate.

“Quite candidly, her references in the community were extremely positive. Her follow-through at the interview process and professionalism was extremely impressive, and we felt that’s who we wanted to represent us at the chamber,” Hall said Tuesday. “(We wanted) someone solely focusing on membership and membership needs, taking care of members and providing value. We wanted somebody who understood how to promote Newton County and bring win-win relationships to the chamber.”

Hall said another benefit to Harper’s real estate background is that she can help provide objective information about the real estate market, which will help Newton County meet the needs of Baxter executives and employees for housing. Harper won’t be actually recruiting employees, but she will be able to quickly provide info about local real estate trends, such as inventory and prices.

“I am very excited about joining the team at the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce as the new membership director. Having one person dedicated solely to members and their needs I believe will help strengthen the chamber, which in turn will help grow our local economy, and is the ultimate goal for our community,” Harper said.

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