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Posted: November 15, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Search continues for new Chamber president

City, county leaders would like to see more focus on economic dev.

The search for a Chamber president continues, and, although no decisions have been made, interested parties agree there is need for increased focus on economic development.
Since John Boothby resigned as president in mid-September, a Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce search committee has had several meetings to determine the future of the president position.
Search committee members, headed up by the Chamber's Chairman-Elect Jerry Mays, have met with other Chamber members, community leaders, Mayor Kim Carter and County Chairman Kathy Morgan to gather input about the job duties of the next president.
Current Chamber Chairman Joe Stier said the search committee is still working on a final job description and is also working with several people in the community to get a list of potentially qualified candidates. Stier said the search members thought they might have been done meeting at this point but because of the important nature of the position more work is being done.
"We are still in the process... no hire is imminent and there are no names to discuss," he said.
Because the city and county each contract with the Chamber for economic development services, the search committee has made sure to get input from political officials. Both Carter and Morgan ran on a platform of economic development and both believe there needs to be an increased focus in that area from the president's position.
Carter said she and Morgan had a lengthy discussion with Mays about economic development and the search. Both said, from their personal perspectives, they would like to see more accountability from the position.

"I want to go from someone just saying I go to this luncheon or meeting every day to more defined feedback. We really want their call sheet and want to know that they're earning their dollars," Morgan said. "That doesn't mean that they're going to locate a business every six months, but that means they are marketing Newton County to people."

Morgan acknowledged that even the most successful communities can only attract an SKC or General Mills once every 10 years if lucky, but she said the key is to reach out to and attract business in every size range.

Carter said there have been preliminary discussions of having the president have a dotted line relationship to an economic development steering committee consisting of the Chairman, Mayor, a member of the Industrial Development Authority, and a member of the Chamber Board of Directors.

She said that Boothby was a good Chamber president, but she heard that he spent about 30 percent of his time on economic development and the rest of his time on other Chamber activities. She said based on input gathered from other communities and state economic development professionals, there have been discussion about the president spending 80 percent of his time on economic development.

An increased emphasis on economic development would likely necessitate an increased financial contribution from the city and county. Both leaders said based on studies of counties that successfully attract businesses, local spending on economic development falls woefully short. Morgan said many communities have more than one person handling economic development, so multiple hires could be a possibility.

Both Covington and the county will have discussions about increasing their investment in the chamber. Currently each party contributes $54,000 per year to the Chamber. Carter said the city council will be discussing these issues at its next meeting.

Morgan said she thinks that keeping economic development with the Chamber is a benefit because that set-up combines input from both the political and business sides.

She said the key will be to bring in a professional, someone with practical experience, like an economic development director, former corporate project manager or consultant. She said there is a list of the top 100 project managers in the Atlanta area, and her ideal hire would be someone who knows 50 of those top 100 people on a first-name basis.

She said the county and city need someone who can market Newton County to businesses, but also show the county why a business would be a good fit for the county.

"This person or two people are going to be the people selling Newton County on a day-to-day basis. They are the first face and image of Newton County," Morgan said. "However, when an industry comes into locate it has to be good fit. It's a big investment on both sides."

All of the parties clarified that the final decision will be made by the Chamber search committee.

However, Morgan said she is honored and pleased that the committee is actively seeking the input of herself and many other people in the community.

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