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Chamber ends economic development pact
Board recommends IDA assume management starting in 2020
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Outgoing board of directors chairman Thomas Kephart passes the gavel to new chairman Corey Consuegra.

COVINGTON, Ga. — The local chamber board voted unanimously to get out of the business of economic development.

The 11-person board will recommend the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners have the Newton County Industrial Development Authority assume management of the economic development operation.

Corey Consuegra, chairman of the board, said the realignment is largely attributed to the chamber’s growing focus on optimizing value for its more than 650 members and reaching out to more than 1,400 Newton County businesses not affiliated with the chamber.

Consuegra said membership grew more than 30% in the past five years, attendance at Fourth of July and Christmas events reached record numbers and the chamber is looking to capitalize on its momentum.

Meanwhile, the county has seen economic growth with companies as large as Facebook deciding to call the area home.

“The chamber is built on its membership base and looks forward to focusing on that priority,” Consuegra said.

“Our staff will work closely for a smooth transition to continue the success of economic development activity.”

Chamber board members believe the county’s economic development program will benefit from having direct representation from and collaboration among the city, county and chamber, as provided by the IDA, allowing economic development to attract and leverage business more quickly and broadly.

Such models are used by the vast majority of communities across the country.

The realignment also will allow the chamber to streamline its search for a new president to succeed Ralph Staffins III, who resigned in late May to become the president and CEO of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

“With a healthy county economy, it’s the perfect moment to shift responsibility of promoting the many benefits of conducting business here,” Dr. Eric Bour, vice chairman of the chamber board and its 2020 chairman, said.

“A good amount of our commercial vibrancy is from an elevated sense of business belonging and civic involvement.”