More and more industries are showing interest in Newton County, representing millions in investment and thousands of jobs, and Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston believes Covington could be set for its own boom.
Roger Harrison, head industrial recruiter for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, told the Industrial Development Authority last week that business had picked up tremendously and listed off several economic development projects the county was working on including "one really big one," and multiple Japanese and domestic-based manufacturers.
"The first part of the year was fairly quiet. The number of projects we're seeing now, we're getting at least one new project a week," said Harrison, noting he has around 23 open projects.
While Harrison said many companies are still hesitant to make a move or expansion, both he and Johnston believe Covington is set to take off.
"I think we're getting ready, from what I see, we're getting to have our own little boom," Johnston said last week. "Regardless of what going on with the economy, if you take half of what you just said and we somehow get those down, we're talking 2,500 to 3,000 jobs infused in here. That's why I'm saying I don't really care what going on elsewhere."
Harrison picked up three California contacts during his recruitment trip to the state, including pharmacy company PTGA, which later directly reached out to Newton County.
The industrial authority is working on a package for the company, which would bring 160 jobs at an average wage of $17 an hour. Harrison said the company has no association with Baxter, but did look seriously at Newton County in part because the county was able to attract such a huge company in a related field.
Part of those efforts included Harrison and Johnston taking the company owner out to dinner, which is part of the officials' emphasis in customer service.
"It's the company service piece," said chamber President Hunter Hall said. "The customer service side of us holding hands, it's very similar to why we've been successful with movies, it's because we hold people's hands and walk them through the process and give them the confidence that we're going to help them be successful."
"We can make a personal connection with these people that they can't get anywhere else. We have to not only recognize that but take advantage of it," Johnston said.
Other companies looking at Newton County include two California companies, a food company and tire manufacturer. Because Stanton Springs located medical manufacturer Baxter International, Harrison said industrial park officials may not want to mix in tire manufacturing and instead pursue more medical and pharmaceutical companies.
Another company called Tuesday and is looking for a 500,000 square-foot building on 80 to 100 acres.
"We had a busy year last year, but it's busier than I've seen it in the year and a half that I've been here," said Harrison, noting officials are working to prepare for Baxter's large groundbreaking ceremony.
One recruitment hurdle the authority discussed is the fact that some tracts of land don't show well because they are just a wall of trees and company officials have a hard time envisioning what their company could look like. The authority is getting bids from timber companies.
Officials also spoke about ways government could help recruit industries and company executives, including cleaning up interstate exits
"People's entryway perception is those interstate exits," authority attorney Frank Turner Jr. said.
However, the county is already thought of by many in the industries. Areas like Alpharetta and Hall and Jackson counties are booming, but Newton County is in the conversation.
"People are talking about Newton County like that. We live in it every day and sometimes we don't realize that," Harrison said.
In even more hopeful news, Harrison said he's hearing on the street that companies are getting ready to start moving more quickly after the election no matter which candidates are chosen, because at that point they'll know what to expect.