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Businesses considering Newton County
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While Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said last week that a couple of large industrial prospects — totaling 1,500 jobs — are looking at Newton County, Chamber President Hunter Hall said some small and medium-sized businesses are looking at the county as well.

An information technology firm based in Macon is considering Newton County for its next location because of the recent growth in new industries, Hall said in the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s new weekly wrap email.

Another Macon-based business, a staffing agency, is considering opening a new office in the county to provide employees for local industries, Hall said, noting that a staffing agency representative said, "Newton is a gold mine."

Finally, Hall said an electrical engineer with a retail operation in Gwinnett County talked to the chamber about possibly relocating to Newton County, because he was impressed with the work the Newton College and Career Academy was doing with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program.

In restaurant news, Firehouse Subs opened its location on U.S. Highway 278, while a new local business, Dirty Dogs, at 1109 Reynolds St. in downtown Covington, is set to open in mid-August and recently received a license to serve beer and wine.

Briefs from Covington - alternative fuel grant, grass maintenance

Covington is continuing its alternative-fuel push, recently choosing to pursue a "Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program" grant, which could give the city up to $1 million to replace current gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles with compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. The program could also be used to help the Newton County School System and county government swap out vehicles as well.

The city will find out if gets the grant, which is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy through the Atlanta Regional Commission, in December.

The Covington City Council voted Monday to allow city grant writer Randy Conner to express initial interest in the program; governments will officially apply later in the year.

In his letter to the council, Conner said the money could be used to replace more police cars, sanitation and roll-off trucks, street sweepers and other general city trucks. School buses are another popular vehicle to convert to run on CNG. Since they drive so many miles, savings on fuel and maintenance will more quickly cover the cost of converting to a CNG-powered engine.

If the city were to get the grant, it would have to pay a 20 percent match, or $200,000.

The city is in the process of building the first publicly-owned CNG-fueling facility in Georgia; the station will be located off City Pond Road.

• The city also paid $45,000 for a new vacuum debris collector to go on the back of one of its street sweepers.

• Speaking of maintenance, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the city will soon be seeking bids for the maintenance of the grassy areas around exit 90 as well as some portions of U.S. Highway 278.

The city doesn’t have existing manpower to handle the maintenance, nor does it want to worry about the liability of maintaining the heavily-trafficked area.

The Georgia Dept. of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the area but doesn’t have the budget to maintain it on a regular basis.

Briefs from Newton County - energy audits, cushions at BOC meeting

Chairman Keith Ellis has a background in energy efficiency, as he previously owned a company that audited buildings’ use of power, and he’s hoping to see some savings at the dozens of buildings the county owns. He said this week the county is receiving proposals for audits from the Southface Institute and Electric Cities of Georgia. Ellis hopes more energy-efficient buildings will save the county money.

• Board of Commissioners meetings got more comfortable this past week, as padded cushions were added to wooden benches in the Historic Courthouse, courtesy of former Covington mayor and business owner Sam Ramsey.

Ramsey is also heavily involved in the annual week-long Salem Camp Meeting adjacent to Salem United Methodist Church, which is where Ramsey got the cushions. He said the camp meeting only needs them one time a year, and the rest of the time they stay in storage, so he figured the county could use them.

The courthouse benches are notoriously uncomfortable, and some citizens have been known to bring their own cushions.