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OED unveils new high-tech office
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The new Covington-Newton County Office of Economic Development had its grand opening Tuesday, unveiling a conference room with state-of-the-art technology that will play a role in the recruitment and retention of industries and efforts to improve the local workforce.

The office, at 2101 Clark St. in Covington, cost around $31,000 to renovate and equip and includes the new boardroom as well as offices for new hires Courtney Bernardi, senior vice president of economic development, and James Johnson Jr., director of existing industry and workforce development.

The office is in the former Main Street Covington location, in the same building that houses The Center for Community Preservation and the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

The renovation was paid for by the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the Newton County Industrial Development Authority. Equipment includes a Mac-based system that can be run from an iPad, including a large projector screen and two large TVs, a Blu-ray player, and a surround-sound system, said chamber President Hunter Hall.

Industrial Development Authority Chair Danny Stone said the new technology is important in helping the county put its best foot forward when meeting with industrial prospects.

Mike Hopkins, executive director of the water authority, said he was looking forward to using the high-quality meeting space after years of meeting with Baxter International executives at the old farmhouse near Stanton Springs or at the airport, neither of which is equipped with this type of technology.

The Office of Economic Development falls under the umbrella of the chamber, but it has a completely separate, taxpayer-funded budget. No money mingles between the two budgets, Hall said, and one benefit of having a separate office is to clarify that fact to the public. The annual budget for economic development is $271,000, split between the city of Covington ($150,000) and county ($121,000).

Hall said the boardroom is designed to be used by any groups that are promoting economic development recruitment, industry retention and expansion, or workforce development. The boardroom will be loaned for free to groups that fit that criteria, Hall said; interested parties can call the chamber at 770-786-7510 and ask for Bernardi.

Hall said the room has space for catered food and drinks, and provides more quiet and confidentiality than the chamber’s conference room, which has more foot traffic passing by.

The office was designed based on some of the economic facilities in downtown Atlanta, including Georgia Power’s Georgia Resource Center, which can help industrial prospects view properties and data from around the state as they seek the perfect fit for a new facility.

“A prospect might see three to five communities, and we want a place that differentiates itself from the rest. We feel this room does that through its technology and ambience,” Hall said. “It’s also for those looking to do creative ventures, entrepreneurs. They can come here and meet, too.”