I write to you today asking for your help. The City of Covington (and Newton County) is on the cusp of something huge and I think you need to know about it.
Would you welcome with open arms a movie theater, high-end grocery store, upscale restaurants, a nationally recognized sporting goods store, Class A office space, hotels, bike paths, green space and numerous other retail shops all in one massive development?
Change causes uncertainty amongst a lot of people and this proposition is no different. When General Mills was looking at Covington, there were a lot of people nervous about the addition. I think we can look in the rearview and say landing General Mills was a fantastic moment for this community. But let me be clear all opportunities comes with many challenges, this project is no different. The City of Covington is in a great position to reach an agreement with terms that are favorable for this type and level of investment and jobs.
This proposed regional destination complex is no different. We just have to be open to this addition that could fill a longstanding void in our community.
Now that the ‘cat is out of the bag,’ let me take a step back and make sure we are all on the same page.
When I talk about moving the City of Covington and its residents forward, you might wonder exactly what I am talking about. I look at economic development as the main engine that drives a city and its residents. Simply, if people have jobs and money to spend it will strengthen the economy as long as there are solid options for people to spend their money.
If everyone in a town had a job but that town had small shopping options, everyone would go to a neighboring town to spend their money. That is great for the neighboring town, but that does nothing for their local economy. I want Covington to be the place where people from neighboring towns come to shop. Other people spending money in our City means lower taxes for us.
If you look at what has happened in Covington in 2014/2015 alone, it is pretty astonishing. As a community, we have opened, broke ground, expanded or retained nearly 30 industrial and commercial projects. These projects represent 500 jobs. Keep in mind all these jobs are in Covington and do not include the employment boom we are experiencing at Baxalta.
Now that you understand why bringing new business to Covington is important to me, let’s go back and talk about that potential development. If this growth happens, it could come with 2,000 plus new jobs. For a town with 13,000 people that means one in every seven people could be employed by this new development.
In addition to the new jobs, this new site could also be home to a City of Covington version of Georgia’s Work Ready Program. If you aren’t familiar, the Work Ready Program teaches people seeking employment everything from training to résumé writing assistance. Now this new development is not only creating jobs, it is helping others find jobs, so the approximation of 2,000 new jobs is really underestimated.
Growth like this is a game changer on many levels and one of those is accessibility. The proposed site for this growth would be connected with our existing trails, the pedestrian bridge over I-20 that is slated to be constructed in 2017 and would be in a location that would allow easy accessibility for City of Oxford residents and college students there.
To get a better picture of what I am talking about, search the Internet for ‘The Forum on Peachtree Parkway.’ Some of the retail locations may or may not be the same as our proposed development, but it gives you an idea of the magnitude of this project.
This new mega-development isn’t the only potential new commerce looking at our City. There is a large manufacturing company working on designs to move their East Coast headquarters to Covington. The film industry continues to grow and a luxury hotel is targeting our downtown area as well. These are just a few businesses but there are literally too many to list.
It is a watershed moment for Covington and we have to decide how we want to proceed. If you are of the mindset that you want to build invisible walls around our town not allow any new commerce in our City, it is certainly your right to do so. But if you are ready to move forward and rev up the economic engine that can drive us to places we have dreamed about, you need to let your City Council representative know your feelings.
I hope you will choose to step on the accelerator with me.
Ronnie Johnston was elected mayor of Covington in 2011, and will be unopposed in the 2015 election. He can be reached at email@example.com.