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Chamber to pursue filming, industries
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ICON goes elsewhere, but other companies in consideration

Newton County is in the running to land six companies, but it's not getting ICON, the light sport aircraft maker that was looking to build a manufacturing plant.

Chamber President Hunter Hall told city and county officials that the company decided to remain in Los Angeles, instead of building a manufacturing plant in the southeastern U.S.

The company looked at land around the airport and elsewhere in the county, which helped Newton County make the first cut.

In addition to the six companies actively looking, Newton County is also involved in seven economic development projects that are idle.

Newton County has a myriad of issues, but the chamber has decided its main focus must be attracting high-quality jobs.

Officials believe bringing that will set into motion a chain reaction. As better paying jobs are created, disposable income will increase, which is needed to attract quality retail stores. More commercial and industrial growth will bring more money into the community and improve the quality of life.

Residents constantly question why Newton County can't attract the Olive Garden's and Target's of the world, but the simple truth is the community lacks the income. Retailers will go where they can make money, and that's a community that has money to spend.

Instead Newton attracts Dollar General, Waffle House and, recently, a Save-a-Lot grocery store, which locates specifically in communities with median home incomes lower than $45,000, according to its website.

According to the latest 2009 Census estimates, Newton's median household income is $50,207, with 11.8 percent of people below the poverty line. Those numbers are actually better than the state average, but that's because many residents commute to Atlanta.

Wages in Newton County itself are 23.1 percent lower than in Atlanta and 12 percent lower than the state's average, according to the county's economic development study. "We hear people want retail. People want to know where to buy a suit, but the issue is how many jobs in Newton County require a suit," Hall told the city council.

Getting to Work
With economic development recruiter Roger Harrison on board, the chamber is ramping up industrial recruitment.
The main focus will continue to be those manufacturers that employ hundreds of employers, Harrison said, but the chamber is working on market analysis that will tell it exactly which industry types Newton can attract.

For example, the county has an abundance of water, which makes it appealing to food producers, like General Mills, which require copious amount of water. That industry sector may be more obvious, but the chamber will work with site selection analyst Jay Garner, to identify three to four other sectors. Plastics could be another example, given Newton County's strong presence in the sector, with Berry Plastics and Pactiv.

The in-depth market analysis will cost $50,000, split evenly between the city, county, chamber and Industrial Development Authority. The study was bid out, and Garner Economics was chosen because it has experience with food producers and is experienced in what industries look for when locating a new plant or facility.

The study will take about four months. The first step will be to indentify Newton's assets and weaknesses, as well as communities that Newton would be able to emulate and study what they're doing.

"People might ask, ‘Isn't that what we hired you for?' No, Garner will dig deep," Harrison said, which will allow Harrison to build relationships with the power players and market Newton County to them.

Harrison has already been working to attract industry, and the county is currently trying to court six industries, with a combined investment of 2,000 jobs and $200 million.

He's also looking into options to close deals used by other communities, including setting aside a dedicated closing fund, which would be used to quickly meet needs, such as making improvements to a potential site or building. Laurens County even put an economic development allocation in SPLOST, which is allowed, because that money will be used to work like improving roads and laying down water pipes and other utility lines.
Film and the airport

The chamber is also actively recruiting more film and television projects, something that hasn't historically been done by communities. The goal is two-fold, to land actual filming headquarters essentially attracting temporary medium-sized businesses, and to boost future tourism.

Newton County was in the running for the Walking Dead headquarters, which would have brought 120 office jobs to Newton County. Not all of those would have been hired, but all of those workers would be centered in Newton County, spending money locally on supplies and basic necessities.

If the county can attract a TV show like "Vampire Diaries," that's like adding a business that will stay in the county for several years.

In addition to the direct benefits, tourism accounts for millions of dollars on its own. In 2009, tourists spent $72.75 million in the county, and that's before "Vampire Diaries" located here. Chamber President Hall said around 70 percent of all tourism is related to the filming industry.

That $70 million is roughly equivalent to C.R. Bard's payroll; Bard is the county's largest employer.
While plans at the Covington Municipal Airport are still in infancy, Harrison is working with the recently-formed airport authority to better market the airport to potential businesses.

The city of Covington owns the majority of land around the airport, which will allow it to easily sell that to a potential industry. While the 5,500-foot runway isn't large enough to attract major aviation-based companies, the airport will still be attractive to companies that need frequent access to an airport.