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Posted: February 18, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Experts share tips on how to grow the local economy

If Newton County wants to attract more industry, it needs to develop a stronger consumer base, produce a more highly educated and talented work force and promote itself to the state’s department of economic development.

Economic development experts at the Georgia Resource Center in Atlanta delivered this message to Newton County and Covington leaders on Friday at an economic development exercise sponsored by the Newton County Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Snapping Shoals EMC. Shannon Davis, the chamber’s economic development director, said she wanted local leaders to understand how economic development starts at the state level and then trickles down to individual counties and communities.

When companies are looking to build a plant or open a new office, they don’t generally start looking at the local level. Instead they talk to a state’s economic development department and use the resources the state provides to find a suitable location for their business. Because of this structure, it’s vital for counties to communicate with and promote themselves to state officials to increase the likelihood of attracting a new business. Newton County faces stiff competition from the other 158 counties in Georgia, and trips like the one Friday give the county a leg up by showing the state officials that Newton County’s leaders are committed to economic development, chamber president John Boothby said.

"Those communities that don’t do what we do today, aren’t thought of (as often) when the state is searching (for building sites)," Boothby said.

Besides keeping the lines of communication open, it’s also important for counties to receive high marks in the main criteria businesses use when selecting a site, including: market area, available land and buildings, a convenient transportation network, amount of labor, education and talent level of labor and sufficient capacity of utilities, according to Rope Roberts, Region Community and Economic Development expert for Georgia Power.

Newton County received good grades in transportation, because of I-20 and the county’s proximity to U.S Highway 441, available land and the amount of labor available. However, the county’s median income was a little low and the number of skilled workers, measured by college and university graduates, was also lacking, Roberts said.

Daryl Ingram, Managing Director of Economic Development for MEAG, said that despite the economic downturn, many companies still have money to spend, but are being cautious until things recover. If Newton County can improve its weaknesses, it will be in a strong position to take advantage of an economic upswing. Newton County Chairman Kathy Morgan said the trip was a valuable way to educate elected and business leaders about how to build a healthy economy.

"You have to distinguish yourself, to make them (companies) want to be a part of your community," Morgan said. "Equally important are the jobs and the tax base that companies bring in. There is a multiplier effect; each dollar a company spends is spent many more times (in the community)."

Local leaders are hoping, that with everyone on the same page, Newton County will be able to develop a strong, sustainable economic development strategy for the future.

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