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Former Main Street director takes over retail recruitment
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The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce decided to fill its vacant industrial recruiter position in-house, tabbing retail recruiter Dave Bernd, a former 33-year Kimberly Clark executive, to lead its efforts.

Bernd, who was hired in November, will head up the chamber’s Office of Economic Development, while former Main Street Covington interim director Serra Phillips will take over Bernd’s role as the county’s retail recruiter.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said Bernd was a perfect fit for the industrial recruitment position because he led the site selection efforts for several Kimberly Clark manufacturing plants, including sites in Paris, Texas; Beech Island, S.C.; Fullerton, Calif.; Bogota, Colombia; Cordoba, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and Valencia, Venezuela.

"Dave brings an incredibly unique perspective to the position, that of the actual manufacturing customer," Hall said in a press release. "Most economic development recruiting positions focus solely on selling the community they work for. Dave certainly will do that, having moved here last year when he could have moved anywhere in the United States. (But) Dave understands what the industry executive needs and the variables that are at play to locate in a community because that is exactly what he was tasked with at Kimberly Clark."

In a follow-up interview Friday, Hall said the first time he met Bernd he knew he had to find a way to get Bernd on the team.

"He’s done phenomenal, far beyond whatever we would have expected somebody to have done. His networking has been off the charts, surprisingly strong, but his ability to take analytics and form a countywide retail study and have conversations with different developers and target specific developers with specific skill sets has been very strong," Hall said.

Because Bernd has experience in industrial recruitment, commercial recruitment and development and workforce development, he said Friday he’s been working with multiple local companies on implementing lean six sigma (a concept that focuses on increasing consistency in processes and eliminating waste) – he’ll be able to oversee all three functions.

The eventual goal is for Bernd, Phillips and James Johnson, the chamber’s director of existing industry and workforce development, to be a cross-trained team that works together on projects but can also cover for each other.

While Bernd will try to recruit new industry, the chamber has increased its focus on improving the county’s workforce, believing that’s the only way to be able to sustain business recruitment and growth over the long term. Focusing on helping existing industries grow and improve is also a large focus.

Bernd is working with Beaver Manufacturing and Newton Medical Center to institute lean six sigma programs and is also working with the Newton College and Career Academy to train students on the principles behind the concept. Bernd said if someone had had lean six sigma training and applied at Kimberly Clark, he would have hired the applicant on the spot.

However, when new prospects do come calling, Hall is confident Bernd will put the county’s best foot forward. Hall relayed an example from a couple of weeks ago, when the county hosted officials from an international company. Bernd had done business in the company and tailored a presentation that showed respect for that country’s values, including placing the country’s flag in the conference room, using slides in the country’s native language and focusing the presentation on security, which is an important issue for the country.

"Dave has worked internationally and understand cultural sensitivities," Hall said, noting Covington didn’t get selected for the project only because it didn’t have a site that met the company’s desire to build quickly. "The state of Georgia told us that was one of the best presentations they’ve seen by a community. That was all Dave’s fingerprints."

Future of retail

Though Bernd is switching positions, the chamber is going to continue its retail recruitment push.

Bernd will help Phillips get up to speed on the retail needs study recently completed and help her develop relationships with the brokers who handle finding new locations for retail companies.

While Phillips has been serving as the interim director for Main Street Covington and the chamber is still seeking a full-time replacement, Hall said he felt this role was a better fit for her.

Hall said he believes the Main Street program needs somebody with past experience running a Main Street program.

As for Phillips, Hall said chamber officials have worked with her for years during her time working at The Oaks Course, on the tourism advisory committee and at Main Street Covington.

"We’ve been impressed with her work ethic, articulate nature, her professionalism, her disposition and her ability to, quite candidly, get things done," Hall said.

Bernd said the plan is to groom Phillips to be able to take over for him whenever he retires in five, 10 or 15 years.

"One of the real true values of Serra is the relationship she already has with the community," Bernd said. "I see a lot of me in her when I was her age."

Phillips has a bachelor’s degree in recreational and leisure studies with an emphasis in sports management, and has worked as a summer assistant with the Miracle League of Newton County in 2010, spent nearly three years as the event and sales coordinator at The Oaks Course, and served as interim director for Main Street from July 2013 to February.

Phillips said she was looking forward to helping the community forward as she plans to be here for a long time; she also said she was excited to work with Bernd.

"It’s incredible how accomplished Dave is, and I think anybody would be a fool not to want to work in and around the same environment as Dave," Phillips said.