Almost eight years ago, Linda and I got to choose where we wanted to live in our retirement. Up to that time in almost 50 years of marriage, the Bishop had appointed us to where we were to live. When we needed to make the choice, we chose Covington.
There are many reasons why. We were familiar with the area. My first ancestor came to Newton County in the 1830’s. My mother was from Jersey. We knew Covington to be an open and vibrant community filled with friendly folks. We also liked the fact that it was close enough to Atlanta to maintain our connection with family, friends, and professional contacts but at the same time out of the crowded traffic that we had dealt with for most of our married life. You could see the stars at night. There are now four generations of our family in Covington.RR
What we have witnessed in the past seven years or so, it is not only the great place we chose, but one that is becoming stronger and better. We have a community that cares for each other and is very inclusive across many of the lines that divide up our world. We found a place busy building “bridges” that bring people together, much more than “walls” that separate.
You can see the progress in all the people and activities around the Square. The Square has been beautifully refurbished. The city leaders created incentives for small business to help in this revitalization. This is a great example of the private sector and public working together. Though this particular incentives are no longer available, the city continues to look for ways to bring the public and private sector together.
You can see it in the new life coming to the 278 Commercial Corridor. You can see it at the rebuilt Legion Field. You are beginning to see it at the beginning of Central Park (Parker’s Pasture). There is already Disk Golf, just the start of fun on the 93 acres of fun. And don’t forget the start of the July Fourth Celebration in 2013 that has been recognized as one of the top celebrations in the state of Georgia. Another great addition to the quality of life in Covington is the expansion of our trail system.
You can see it in concern for our safety. We are blessed with great first responders. Since 2012 we have added seven sworn officers to raise our total to 61. We have purchased a new $600,000 fire truck. We have relocated our Police Department to help ensure our safety and our projected growth. Leadership is staying ahead of the curve in growth.
As you look at our economic growth since 2012, it is amazing. We have seen unemployment drop from 13% to the last full year reported, 2018 the level of unemployment being 3.6%. This is better than the national statistics but even more important the medium income per house has in that same time period increased from $30,00 per household to somewhere above $55,000.
A big step forward was the starting of the LEAP program with Georgia Tech. This gave people with no high school diploma the opportunity to earn a certificate for logistics. For those who finished LEAP, it helps to open the door for employment.
In education, we have seen the high school graduation rate grow from 70% in 2012 to 87% in 2018. As is true across the state, in our schools, 80% of the students going into elementary school are two levels below in reading. City employees and officials volunteer for a tutoring program that is now the
“Tutormate” program to ensure all kids going into the second grade are on-level in reading. There is even the Mayor’s Reading Club where Mayor Ronnie Johnston reads to the participants during the summer.
The impact has been great. Over 43 Billion dollars has been invested or committed to our community and area. You read that correctly that is Billions with a B. Seventy-five new projects have landed in our community and this has led to over 7500 new jobs in the past almost eight years. These projects have stimulated additional investment that is leading to quality housing for all economic levels.
Some of these projects have been to create quality housing for all economic levels. Covington has enacted ordinances to help ensure quality housing for all levels of income.
We have reached out to the world with a growing tourism industry that brings over 30,000 visitors a year. We built a new terminal and expanded our runway at our airport. This means our airport is at a whole new level of service. The Covington Cares initiative has seen the Mayor and other leaders roll up their sleeves and help clean up targeted neighborhoods.
When friends from other places ask me how is this positive growth possible? I answer, leadership! Many of our citizens give of their time, their talents, and their resources to keep our community moving forward. The City under the leadership of Mayor Ronnie Johnston and the city council for the time I have been a part of Covington have been very much leaders in this progress.
I would remind you that during these almost eight years of progress, not only have city taxes not been raised but twice they have been cut. It is amazing what we can do together.
Early in our history as a nation, John Quincy Adams wrote, “If your actions inspire others to dream, to learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This well describes the leadership of our community and their influence on our future.
I urge the reader of this column not only to take pride in what has been accomplished but get involved in being a part of the progress. Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. challenged all to do so when he said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.