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Chamber hires new industrial recruiter
Roger Harrison to leave; Jackson County exec coming
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Head industrial recruiter Roger Harrison is leaving Newton County, but the chamber has already hired a replacement in Courtney Bernardi, the top recruiter in Jackson County.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said he didn’t expect to see any drop off in Newton County’s recruitment efforts as Jackson County was frequently a top competitor for projects in Georgia, landing several during Bernardi’s tenure.
Harrison is leaving to pursue another opportunity and be closer to his significant other, while Bernardi will get to work in a community significantly larger and with more resources than the one she’s leaving. Jackson County had a 2010 population of 60,485, compared to Newton’s 99,958.

“I accepted the job in Newton County because Newton County is a community in which success is happening — a community with a history of being progressive in creating an environment of success for business, tourism and families,” Bernardi said by email Friday afternoon.

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce has also hired James Johnson Jr. to head up its workforce development efforts and work with existing industry. Johnson, who has worked at Georgia Piedmont Technical College for several years, will replace Shannon Davis, who recently left. Bernardi and Johnson will form a two-person recruitment team.

Bernardi will make $85,000 and Johnson will make $55,000 annually. The Office of Economic Development is the county and city of Covington’s recruiting arm and operates as a separate division of a chamber. The annual budget is $271,000, split between the city ($150,000) and county ($121,000).

During her last three years in Jackson County, Bernardi oversaw seven large relocations to and expansions there, totaling more than $650 million in investment and the creation of more than 2,500 new jobs.
Bernardi will start Monday and she’ll work alongside Harrison for the next couple of weeks as she transitions into the role; Johnson will start April 22.

In a February 2012 article, the Atlanta Business Chronicle said rural Jackson County was winning the state’s race for jobs, following the January announcement by Toyota Industries to locate a $350 million manufacturing plant there.

However, Jackson County has benefited from its wealth of available land and buildings; officials agree it’s difficult to separate the person from the place when measuring success, but Bernardi has a strong reputation.

Chris Tomasulo, a senior vice president with commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, represented Bed Bath & Beyond when it purchased an 810,000 square foot building in Jackson County. 

While he wasn’t familiar with Newton County and couldn’t compare opportunities, he said he “would view her as a top notch representative.

“Courtney was very attentive, but it would be difficult to project her singular impact on the deal,” Tomasulo said in a Friday email.

Harrison, who has landed multiple deals in his 2.5 years in Newton, recommended Bernardi as a replacement.

“Hunter and I have always had the agreement that I would let him know when I was ready to start looking for another job, so that we wouldn’t lose the momentum we’ve fought so hard to gain in the community,” Harrison said in a press release. “There was a very short list of economic development professionals I trusted enough to recommend to Hunter for taking over the reins of our highly successful recruitment and retention program, and Courtney was at the top of that list.

“I’ve known her for years, and couldn’t be more comfortable knowing I’m passing on the program to a consummate professional gifted with endless energy and enthusiasm for the profession.”

Hall said Harrison was hired in early 2011 to build the Office of Economic Development and put Newton County back on the map as a hotspot for economic development.

“He has certainly done that and much more. It has been a pleasure to work with Roger and all of us in this community will be indebted to his labor for years to come,” Hall said in the release.

Harrison had a direct hand in recruiting four new industries, Vestar Technologies, Pasco Sprinkler, Stamptech Metals and Amesbury Extruded Plastics, and also helped with three expansions of existing industries, SKC Inc., Bridgestone Golf and Nisshinbo Automotive.

Harrison traveled to China, Japan and South Korea on a trip in 2011 that he said Friday was the first international trade mission undertaken by a Newton County official.

In a follow-up interview Friday, Harrison said Bernardi’s biggest challenge will be to replicate the assets she had in Jackson County, as Newton County — outside of Stanton Springs industrial park — is running out of land and buildings that are ready for development.

Background on new hires
According to her resume, Bernardi has worked as economic development director in Jackson County since April 2010, where she managed a budget of $200,000.

She also worked with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs from 2004 to 2010.

Bernardi earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., and her master of public administration degree in government administration in 2006 from Kennesaw State University.

As for Johnson, he has worked as admissions director Georgia Piedmont’s Newton campus since 2007, where he oversaw the college’s recruitment efforts. He served as an admissions recruiter from 2000-2007, as an economic development specialist from 1999-2000, and as an adjunct instructor for customer service classes from 1998-1999.

He was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army from 1974-1996 and a business owner of “Kim’s New 2 U” from 1998-2008.

Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from St. Leo College in 1999 and a master’s degree in post-secondary higher education administration from Troy University in 2009.