An economic development study intended to guide Newton County and Covington's growth strategies over the next three years and beyond is currently underway.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners and the city of Covington have contracted with a specialized real estate and economic advisory firm, Bleakly Advisory Group, the Center for Community Preservation and Planning, planner and urban designer H. Randal Roark and Perry Rose LLC, a planning, development and advisory firm for the writing of the study.
According to a summary from Bleakly Advisory Group, the study will define Newton County's economic opportunities by 2020, provide a snapshot of the county's current economy, assess the county's strengths and weaknesses, list economic development strategies to pursue in the future and create an action plan for the county and city to follow.
The study will touch on the regional importance of the Interstate 20 corridor to the county's economic future, what the key future growth sectors in the county's economy are likely to be and how global economic trends can be expected to affect Newton County.
A rough outline of the strategies the county could pursue was included in the summary report. Some of those strategies include aligning land use policies with the county's economic vision, pursuing Tax Allocation Districts and the Transfer of Development Rights to support that economic vision and using the Covington Municipal Airport as an economic catalyst.
Covington Mayor Kim Carter said she has high hopes for the study and what it will mean for Covington.
"At some point, we're going to have to get more industry that can raise our income level," Carter said, noting that the days of wooing large manufacturing industries to the city are probably over.
Carter said she would like to see a medical research firm or an aviation-type industry move into the 80 acres of land the city owns that are adjacent to the airport.
"We in Covington have a lot of unique qualities," Carter said, adding that no other city in the state can boast of having 80 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to a regional airport as well as four colleges located nearby.
The total cost of the study is $90,000 and will take 20 weeks to complete. The Covington City Council and BOC have each contributed $30,000 to the study.
The Newton County Board of Education and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority have each been asked to contribute $15,000 to the study.
In preparing the study, three work sessions with the Leadership Collaborative or a designated economic development subgroup will be held. The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce will also participate in the study.
Hosanna Fletcher with The Center for Community Preservation and Planning said the study was meant to complement the actions of the chamber.
"It was a very good example of the collaborative effort of the city and county," Fletcher said. "They are trying to be very thoughtful and purposeful in doing this."
According to the summary report of the plan, Newton County is a $3.3 billion economy. The county currently has 2,797 businesses.
The largest proportion of these businesses is in the service sector, 34.8 percent, followed by retail with 18.7 percent.
Newton County businesses employ 31,314 people.
The largest number of employees is employed in the service sector, 29.1 percent, followed by the retail sector with 21.4 percent.
Within the services sector, the largest numbers of employees work in education services, 9.2 percent, and health services, 6.2 percent.
"We might want to be bio-tech," Fletcher said. "We might want to be industry. We might want to be an education hub. We might want to be a lot of things but we first have to start with what we have."
By 2020, the summary report predicts, 26,000 new residents will have moved into the county, 3,200 new jobs will have been created and retail sales potential will have increased by $485 million.