Newton County’s head industrial recruiter, Courtney Bernardi, resigned her role Friday to take a job with the economic development arm of the city of Johns Creek.
Hunter Hall, president of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has already begun its search for a replacement but isn’t putting a timetable on hiring one because the county doesn’t have a lot of vacant land or many vacant buildings to offer.
“The fact is we currently do not have much industrial space available for lease or sale right now. Newton County has continued to see industrial growth and while we still have available zoned raw land, we are extremely under supplied in available, move in ready, buildings.” Hall said in a press release late Friday.
In a follow-up interview Friday evening, Hall said the chamber is working the contacts it developed during the last two searches for industrial recruiters and is searching for both in-state and out-of-state candidates. If the right fit is found, a hire will be made, but Hall said the chamber won’t rush the process.
Hall will be the county’s point of contact in the interim with the Georgia Office of Economic Development on industrial projects.
Hall said Bernardi’s primary focus had been working with private industrial developers to bring one to Newton County that could invest the money to clear and develop industrial land and add utilities to the sites so they’d be ready for development.
He said large multi-national companies have cash on hand ready to spend, after being conservative for years during the recession, but when they do choose to expand they often want to move quickly and have a plant built with 90 to 120 days. Raw land that is covered with trees and doesn’t have utilities – water, sewer, gas and electricity – already on site can’t meet those deadlines.
When asked if the chamber had been able to attract any industrial developers, Hall said he couldn’t comment on specific projects, but said “I think the byproduct of Courtney’s work in our community will come to fruition in the near future.
Hall said industrial activity has been down in Newton County over the past several months because of a lack of product. The chamber used to see around two requests for proposals (RFPs) per month, but now they’re getting maybe one every six weeks, and fewer industrial prospects are coming to the county for site visits, Hall said. The belief is the county simply lacks the right kind of product – developed land and vacant, shell buildings that can be easily adapted.
For example, the chamber recently showed the vacant Berry Plastics building on Alcovy Road, but Hall said the building was tailored to Berry’s operations and only specific companies would find it the right fit without having to do major retrofitting.
Apart from Baxter International’s announcement in April 2012 to build a $1 billion plant in Stanton Springs industrial park on the Newton/Walton county line, Newton County hasn’t had any new industries locate here since late 2011.
However, when industrial prospects do come calling, Hall said the existing team will handle them.
“Projects will be handled as they always have been, from a team approach, that incorporates James Johnson as the director of workforce Development, Dave Bernd, as director of commercial development, and Hunter Hall as chamber president,” according to the press release.
Bernardi, who was the chamber’s Vice President of Economic Development, will take the position of President and CEO of Johns Creek Advantage, the recently-formed, nonprofit economic development arm for Johns Creek, a city northeast of Atlanta with a population of around 80,000.
She was first hired in April 2013, moving from Jackson County, where she was the top industrial recruiter. During her last three years in Jackson County, Bernardi oversaw seven large relocations to and expansions there, totaling more than $650 million in investment and the creation of more than 2,500 new jobs. However, Jackson County benefited from its wealth of available land and buildings.
“The decision to leave Newton County was a very difficult one. With a change in my husband’s career, putting him on the northwestern side of Atlanta and a new baby on the way, the desire to be in close proximity to both of our places of employment and to do what is best for our growing family became paramount,” Bernardi said in the press release.
“Newton County is a progressive community with the desire for success, which makes this community an economic developers dream; I will always be a huge fan and supporter of Newton County. Newton County, with the 2050 Plan in place, our rich history, and incredible quality of life, is perfectly positioned for planned and progressive growth,” she said.
Hall said the chamber was sorry to see Bernardi leave but understood her decision.
“Starting a family is one of the greatest decisions a couple can ever make and we support her whole heartedly. Courtney has been a huge asset to our community. Since she came on board we have seen the industrial sector continue to grow and she has only strengthened our relationship with the state Office of Economic Development,” Hall said.
Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-786-7510.