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Jenny McDonald: Building Newton County as Hollywood of the South

Having grown up in Newton County, Jenny McDonald, director of tourism and marketing for the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce, moved back to her hometown to raise her son. The rest is history for the Newton County native who now spends her time marketing the county as “The Original Hollywood of the South.”

McDonald left her Newton County roots after college to move to Dunwoody to start her career in the advertising agency world.

“In 2004 I decided to move my family back to Covington to raise my son to be around family,” she said adding that for the first eight years after the move she commuted to her job as the senior vice president of creative and production services for BKV in Atlanta.

She then decided to retire from the agency world and started working in marketing consulting. Through the connections she made locally, McDonald was recruited to her position at the chamber. She has been with the chamber since May 2013 and has been working on building the “Hollywood of the South” brand ever since.

Within the Hollywood brand, McDonald has three target markets she is continuing to develop: history, hauntings and Hollywood. Self-guided home tours, ghost tours and film history tours and more continue to develop out of her office.

McDonald said she saw her work truly shine when Newton County was featured on the cover of “Georgia Travel Guide” as Governor Nathan Deal declared 2017 as the Year of Film.

The possibilities for Newton County in terms of continuing to grow the film industry are endless, McDonald said. With construction started for the new Three Ring Studios, Newton County will continue to be the go-to spot for filming in the area.

The studios will help Newton County keep movies and television shows in one area for the duration of the filming.

“TV series are a goldmine if they’re popular,” she said. “We were very fortunate that we had three strong ones that were hugely popular. Movies are great, we love when movies come. The problem with that is they never film a full movie in one location. So the studio is going to give us that much more staying power.”

Production companies are required to stay within 30 miles of their “production hub” or else they are required to pay additional fees, she said. The addition of Three Ring Studios as a local production facility will encourage more filming to stay local.

"So I see it just over the next three years blowing up in a good way, not a bad way,” she said. “It will be smart growth and it will be profitable growth and it will provide awesome opportunities for our children to get jobs and stay in the area.”

Outside of bringing camera crews to the area, McDonald claims to be a homebody who enjoys spending time with family, but continues to enjoy the community feel of the town she grew up in.

“Even as it (Newton County) is growing, I think we all still have pride in that small town mentality – if you will – where you walk down the street, talk to your neighbors,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve lost that and I don’t think we will.

“That’s why I brought my son back here. I wanted him to be raised the way I was raised.”

McDonald said her parents worked locally as she was growing up and she is happy to continue to be surrounded by her family and the community she loves.

“While the aesthetics have changed and the growth has happened, it still feels the same as when I was growing up, it really does,” she said.