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Chamber explains budget request
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Buoyed by the Baxter announcement and hoping to capitalize on the momentum that huge project has generated, the chamber is requesting $450,000 in public money for economic development, nearly double its current budget.

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce plans to use the funds to better recruit new industry and foster relations with existing industry, expand travel and marketing.

According to the request, 75 percent of last fiscal year's $241,000 budget was spent on salaries and benefits. The budget increase would allow resources to be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said that it will not increase salaries or benefits, but only add an administrative assistant to handle requests from companies while Vice President of Economic Development Roger Harrison and Director of Business Retention and Recruitment Shannon Davis are out of the office. The chamber is looking to pay $25,000 for the position and it will be either part time or full time based on the allotment the chamber receives from the city and county.

One of the most important elements of economic development is networking and relationship building with companies and site selection consultants, who are hired by companies to select suitable locations for building new facilities. Trade shows provide the arena for companies along with their site selection consultants to network with municipalities.

Because of the importance of the tradeshows, a large portion of the proposed budget would be devoted to the tradeshows.

If the chamber's budget request is funded in full, $60,000 will go to operating expenses.
"Operating expense is travel to all these tradeshows," Hall said. "It's getting there. It's hotels. It's per diems."

The chamber has also budgeted $50,000 for these targeted industry trade shows to cover registration costs, pay membership dues and create displays for the booth. Twenty thousand dollars has also been allotted to produce marketing material.

The chamber also plans to use the funds to increase the support and development of programs geared at keeping and growing existing industry which carries a large share of the county's tax digest.

Part of this strategy includes visiting the headquarters of companies located in foreign countries. Newton County's industrial base has companies headquartered in France, Japan and South Korea. The chamber would like to allot $30,000 to global commerce travel to strengthen relations and network with companies that have industrial ties or might be interested in the county.

An example of how these dollars would be spent is the trip to Asia Roger Harrison took last year.

The chamber hopes to expand these efforts by visiting potential industry internationally.

This year, the chamber has recruited four new industries for the county including Baxter. Through the efforts of the chamber, the polyester film producer SKC and the automotive manufacture Nisshinbo have each committed to expanding their operations in Newton County.

Hall said that the budget for fostering relationships with existing industry is nonexistent at the present. In the past, the funds have been pulled from the recruitment side.

Hall said fostering relationships with existing industry is a key part of recruiting new industry as well. Prospective companies want to meet with existing industry to get a feel for the area.

"One of the ‘ah-ha' moments for Baxter in the recruiting process was their interview with C.R. Bard," Hall said.

The proposed budget would allot $35,000 to help the chamber foster these relationships with existing industry. To be specific, the funds would go toward hosting four to five luncheons for the leaders of existing industry, professional development conferences, headquarters and home office visits and a manufacturers appreciation banquet.

The last item on the proposed budget targets workforce development. After speaking with existing industry, the chamber was repeatedly told that the existing industry was struggling with finding qualified workers. The chamber would like to devote $40,000 to target this issue.

Hall said that some county employees were not happy about the chamber's request, fearing it would negatively affect them.

"It's not our intent or desire for county employees to take the brunt of our request for an increase," Hall said. "We simply are making a presentation to the board so they can make a decision on their total budget."

Since originally presenting the budget to the Board of Commissioners, the Industrial Development Authority decided to fund the web creation and maintenance for the economic development website effectively taking $50,000 out of the request, bringing the request to $450,000.

Last year, the city and county contributed $241,000 split equally to economic development, which the chamber oversees.

The chamber oversees three branches: tourism, economic development and traditional chamber work. The chamber works on behalf of the city and county to oversee the tourism and economic development branches and does not receive any financial gain from the branches. The chamber receives its funding through traditional chamber of commerce acts like business memberships.