Roger Harrison, the chamber's leading economic development recruiter, has been in the business for several years but just recently graduated from a specialized, three-year program at the University of Oklahoma in the hopes of becoming an even more effective recruiter.
Harrison, who is senior vice president of economic development with the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, graduated May 10 from the University of Oklahoma's Economic Development Institute, where he gained training and made connections in the industry.
"In our profession, certification is a big deal," said Harrison, who still must pass a final exam to be fully accredited. "It gives us that extra level of credibility from our office to have a certified economic development professional in house. It's not an easy or quick process; it takes persistence and time."
The hope is that in the midst of a string of recent successes, headlined by Baxter International, the international accreditation will only aid in the chamber's industrial recruitment efforts. The chamber currently has around 20 active economic development projects and has been receiving a steady stream of hits since Baxter.
Harrison attended three one-week long sessions over the past three years and completed 117 hours in the core areas of business retention and expansion, real estate and finance, in addition to training to marketing.
The University of Oklahoma is the only school to offer such a program which is accredited by the International Economic Development Council.
"The good thing about it is because it's not just a state program, it's truly international accreditation. We get to see what's trending across the country and world and make sure we stay competitive in the deal making process," Harrison said, who noted that professionals have to have at least five years of experience before their eligible to enroll in this program.
Harrison said he met with fellow professionals, including those with utility companies. Companies like Georgia Power are huge industrial recruiters in Georgia, and Harrison spent a lot of time networking with executives at the Mississippi Power, Georgia Power's sister company.
"We traded stories on recruiting strategies. We don't typically compete with Mississippi, so we were able to share info on our recent successes," he said.
While Newton County has its share of issues to overcome, Harrison said the county, and the region as a whole is really the envy of communities throughout the southeast right now with the recent announcements of Caterpillar near Athens, Baxter in Newton and Walton counties and even the smaller announcement of Starbucks' new plant in Augusta.
"But there's no finish line. You get a $1 billion project, but we're constantly looking to move forward to the next one. You can't separate community and economic development. That's how you improve community, by improving the economy," Harrison said. "We can always do better and be better, and that's what important with continuing education and programs like this. We constantly have to strive to be at the top of our game and without programs like this, that's a difficult task."