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Chamber sets 2014 priorities
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Only 10 of the 89 Baxter International families who have relocated to work at the new manufacturing plant on the Newton/Walton county border have chosen to live in Covington, and new chamber board Chairman Dan Murphy says that’s not good enough.

"We can do better," Murphy said at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Thursday night. As Bridgestone’s senior director of marketing, Murphy knows a thing or two about selling a product.

The chamber is launching a research project to ask people what influenced their decisions about where to live. Murphy wants to know if families even considered Covington and what they saw as the pros and cons. He said he hopes the chamber will have an action plan in place by the end of February.

Recruiting new residents will be one of three "sales jobs" that chamber staff and officials will focus on; the others are recruiting more industries and more tourists.

Murphy challenged the assembled crowd of community leaders from area small businesses, industries, government and the school system to sell Newton County every chance they get by talking about their love and pride for their home.

"If we get together, we can make this place rock," Murphy said.

Murphy said selling companies, executives and tourists on Newton County will be based on its people, place and plan.

He said the residents are friendly and hardworking, thoughts echoed by other speakers, including an out-of-town resident who made a point of talking about how welcoming the county’s residents are.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said it’s the county’s people who set it apart.

"(You’re) people of character, people of values, people whom you want to do business with," Hall said.

On the practical side, Murphy said Newton County has a workforce of more than 48,000, some 22 percent of whom are already working in the type of manufacturing the county wants to recruit.

Another selling point for industries is the fact there are 2.3 million people within a 45-minute drive of Covington to supplement local workers.

As far as the place, Murphy pointed to the local higher education institutions and the presence of major universities close by in Atlanta and Athens.

He also said there are some impressive success stories coming out of the Newton County School System, which is sending students to prestigious schools such as Harvard and Stanford universities.

Murphy called the Newton College and Career Academy an "absolute gem" and said prospective industry leaders need to be shown the school’s resources.

The 2050 Plan differentiates Newton County from other similar communities and speaks volumes to prospective industries, Murphy said, because companies such as Baxter that build new plants are looking 20, 30 or 40 years into the future. Companies want to know where the community around them is heading.

He said the chamber staff will be giving 100 percent of its energy to improving the community in 2014, and he asked for the community’s help.

Murphy takes over the chairmanship from Paul Murphy, vice president of human resources in C.R. Bard’s medical division.

The chamber’s board of directors for 2014 will include both Murphys, Hilary Edgar (local attorney and incoming chair for 2015), Mark Ross (Right at Home), Jay Lanners (Lanner Development), Tessa Nolan (Newton Federal), Jeff Wagner (Wagner Services), Bill Loeble (retired from Beaver Manufacturing) and Jim Weadick (Newton Medical Center).