Three prominent Georgia industrial recruiters said Tuesday that Newton County is well positioned for growth but cautioned that business activity remains slow.
The recruiters spoke at a luncheon session on business recruitment sponsored by The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. The three former state officials who now work in the private sector were asked to give their thoughts on recruiting industry in general and the pros and cons faced by the state and Newton County.
Heidi Green, former state commissioner of economic development, noted that industrial expansion has slowed in the past year as companies continue to be skittish about the economy. Several companies have been exploring expansions for two to three years but have delayed making significant investments.
In light of that, existing industries have been a saving grace, said Charlie Gatlin, director of economic development for Electric Cities of Georgia. Power companies are frequently involved in industrial recruitment because businesses are the largest power users.
Gatlin said large industries like SKC, which recently expanded, are doing well, while small and medium-sized industries don't have access to the capital they need to expand.
The chamber is attempting to take advantage of that trend by moving Shannon Davis full-time to working with existing industry retention and expansion.
Office buildings, distribution centers, aerospace and automotive manufacturing are a few sectors that have seen growth recently.
One of Newton County's most pressing goals is to identify which specific industries it wants to attract.
The chamber recently contracted with industrial site selection firm Garner Economics to perform an in-depth market analysis and use that information to identify sectors of industry it wants to attract. The $50,000 study is being paid for by the city, county, chamber and Industrial Development Authority.
One opportunity for Newton County is to recruit more international companies. Green said foreign companies tend to want to cluster together when working in the U.S. SKC is a whole family of companies, and sending officials to take a visit to South Korea to keep up that relationship is not a bad idea.
The devaluation of the dollar has also pushed companies to return to investing in the U.S. itself, as foreign imports lose their price advantage.
When asked to list pros and cons, the experts said Newton County has a lot going for it, including a good regional workforce, easy access to I-20 and an international airport, good regional housing options and strong existing industry. Using those industries to help Newton County attract other companies is also a good tool.
Green did say the county and city of Covington could work to improve some of their blighted areas and improve their websites, putting up information of interest to industries.
Gatlin said incentives continue to be very important and the county needs to decide what it's willing to offer. Randy Cordoza, economic development manager with Atlanta Gas Light Company, said finding any way to save a company will make a community more attractive, including free land or buildings, road improvements and tax credits and abatements.
The experts noted that Newton County had hired the right professionals and needs to continue to work on developing a unified approach to attract industry. Green urged officials to continue to work on being ready to close any deals that do come up.