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Chamber gives state officials tour of Newton
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Officials from various state development agencies were given a best of Newton County tour Wednesday by the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce as part of the chamber's efforts to encourage greater industrial development within the county.

Representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia EMC, the Georgia Municipal Electric Authority and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs attended the chamber's Developer's Day which kicked off at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning Wednesday morning.

The day's tour included visits to Oxford College, Georgia Perimeter College, the Covington Municipal Airport, Lochridge Industrial Park and the Porterdale Mill Lofts. Lunch was served at the Burge Plantation where a representative from TPA (formerly Technology Park Atlanta) have an update on Stanton Springs.

 Chamber President John Boothby said the goal of the day's events was to leave visitors with a very clear picture of the type of development which was suited for and could be sustained by the county

"Our goal was to brand ourselves in their minds as a community that is capable of being the location of higher quality projects."

After Wednesday Boothby said he hoped Newton County would be in the forefront of the minds of officials with the state Department of Economic Development the next time prospective industries enquire on good locations within the state to locate or open a new plant or factory.

"I do think this is an impressive community in terms of education," said Kimberly Knight, research manager for the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development who was in attendance Wednesday. "I think any industry should give Newton County strong consideration.

Elmer Stancil, a project manager for the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development who deals directly with prospects, also said he thought the county would be a great place to bring an industry project to.

Painting the picture

In their efforts to paint a picture of an inviting community, welcoming of good development with a strong and able workforce and good leadership, the day began with brief speeches by State Sen. John Douglas, Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner, Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby and Covington City Manager Steve Horton who all praised the working relationships they said were existent between all levels of government within the county.

"What's good for Covington is good for Porterdale," Hamby said. "What's good for the county is also good for Covington and Porterdale."

Added Kay Lee with The Center, "Historically this county has worked together. Georgia Perimeter College is absolutely an outcome of all of the bodies of the county and the Arnold Fund working together."

Chamber organizers also emphasized the county's four higher-learning institutions: DeKalb Technical College, Georgia Perimeter College, Troy University and Oxford College of Emory University.

With each institution serving a different purpose - DeKalb prepares its students with technical, hands-on training to enter the workforce immediately, GPC prepares its students to enter four-year colleges through a solid curriculum of mainly liberal arts courses, Troy University offers master's degrees and Oxford College readies its students to move on to the Emory University Campus in Atlanta - Boothby said the county has the right institutions in place to train a workforce to meet the demands of nearly any industry.

"It's not just about brick and mortar," Boothby said. "It's about the workforce. This is an unusually sophisticated community."

Dr. Sally Paschal, chief operating officer of GPC, in a brief presentation to visitors extolled the virtues of the county and how excited GPC was about its 12-building expansion plan for the Newton Campus.

"We're just so happy to be here, we can hardly stand it," she said.

Joe Moon, Oxford College's dean of campus life, highlighted the college's diverse student body which is 48 percent non-white.

"Students are choosing us because of that," Moon said.

Assistant to the Dean of Oxford College Erik Oliver highlighted some major projects scheduled to take place at the college in the coming years including a $28 million state-of the-art dormitory which is currently under construction and a $25 million to $30 million new library and technology center.

"Emory University, as vast as it has become, is looking back at its heritage and reinvesting in it," said Oliver of Oxford College, which was founded as Emory's original college in 1836.

The chamber tour also highlighted available areas for industrial expansion including Lochridge Industrial Park which has filled up considerably since its founding in the late 1990s. According to Boothby the park still has one unoccupied site left. The site is 22 acres and has room for roughly 300,000 square feet of building space he said.

Reese Waite, vice president of TPA, the firm developing Stanton Springs for the Joint Development Authority, of which Newton County is a member, gave a presentation at lunch on the status of Stanton Springs.

Waite said the parkway leading into the industrial park was nearly complete and utilities were also being installed.

"All of those things are really pointing us in the right direction," Waite said. "Now that the road's coming in we're showing more and more prospects."

Waite added that TPA was still in talks with several large pharmaceutical companies.

Also at the lunch were community leaders representing various areas of the county economy including Snapping Shoals EMC, DeKalb Technical College, McIntosh Commercial Bank, Sunbelt Builders, the Arnold Fund and the Arts Association in Newton County (McIntosh, Snapping Shoals and Sunbelt were all sponsors of the day's events).

Covington Mayoral Candidates Roger Tingler and Kim Carter were also in attendance.

Wrapping up the day, the tour ended with a brief presentation by Walter Davis, developer and owner of the award-winning Porterdale Mill Lofts.

Davis highlighted the diverse population that the lofts project has attracted to the formerly economically depressed mill town. Residents of the lofts include retirees, young families, college professors and graduate students he said.

According to Davis, there are few housing options east of Atlanta like the lofts, which boasts 30 different unique floor plans among 135 units. All of the units are currently leased said Davis with many renters choosing to enter into lease-purchase agreements.

What next?

Feedback from the event has been very positive said Boothby.

"They indicated that it was helpful to them to understand the community and Newton County at-large and that was our goal," Boothby said.

Boothby said the chamber is currently in the very early meeting stages with several different prospects.

"We've produced information to send back to them to make sure we qualify," he said. "We don know much about them or how many communities are being considered."

Boothby said the chamber will work to maintain the relationships formed during the course of a day filled with skeet shooting and long bus rides throughout the county. He added that the chamber will probably host another Developer's Day next year.