Call up the office of County Clerk Jackie Smith, and if she's not there to answer, you'll hear her cheery voicemail declaring, "It's a beautiful day in Newton County!"
Indeed, it is a beautiful day in Newton County since the announcement yesterday of a $1 billion investment by Baxter International in a plant at Stanton Springs that will employ 1,000 to 1,500 workers to make blood-related products. Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall calls the project a "game-changer" for this neck of the woods. Commission Chair Kathy Morgan takes sentimental pride in the announcement because her late husband Davis as commission chair instigated the development of Stanton Springs in partnership with Morgan, Walton and Jasper Counties.
Newton County has a strong manufacturing base that employs thousands, and in recent years, the Chamber has focused on strategies to support and expand existing industries with significant success. We need and appreciate those big employers with million dollar or more payrolls.
At the same time as we congratulate ourselves and the teamwork it took to pull off a project in the works since 2008, let's also tip our hats to some new entrepreneurs in our midst, each of whom discerned an unfilled market niche and dreamt up start-up companies to meet the needs.
One is the humorously named Porterdale Yacht Club, the brainchild of Covington residents Kimberly and Lamar Brown. When their hopes for the rails-to-trails project came to naught at both the city and county levels, they turned their eyes to Porterdale, the little town with the can-do attitude. Kimberly took the lead in convincing mayor and council to endorse the creation of a blue trail on the Yellow River, the equivalent of a multipurpose trail but on water, not land. It's now part of the plans for the Yellow River Park along the tree-shaded riverbanks.
In the long term, Kimberly and Lamar believe the blue trail holds the promise of destination tourism, a revitalized local economy and an enhanced quality of life not only for Porterdale residents but the entire county.
Kimberly and Lamar don't just talk about the economic benefits of recreational tourism, but they've also put their own money on the line to make it a reality. Their new business, the Porterdale Yacht Club, recently opened in the old Porterdale depot where 13 kayaks can be rented for cruising on the river Thursday through Sunday. No instructions are needed, Kimberly says, but they provide a map and help getting into and out of the river. Mid-week finds her on the river cleaning up man-made debris. Outside of Porterdale, the closest river kayaking can be found on the Broad River in Athens or beyond Atlanta on the Chattahoochee.
Take yet another young couple, Christina and Andrew Norman, who have taken a dream and turned it into reality and retail sales at Farms on Floyd (Street). The Normans own Noring Farms slightly south of town where they raise exotic poultry and grow heirloom fruits and vegetables sold to and served at the tables of some of Atlanta's best restaurants. "Cuisine de Reve" is the label under which Christina markets her homemade baked goods, jams, jellies, salads and dips, while Andrew creates his own made-from-scratch BBQ sauces and broths for the label.
For several years, Christina has been a fixture at farmers' markets around Atlanta where foodies indulge themselves with organic produce and specialty prepared foods. It didn't take long for the Normans to realize that their somewhat newly adopted hometown of Covington might embrace the same concept enjoyed in a more urban setting. Thus, Farms on Floyd was born and located in the quaint old Thrift Oil station near the eastern end of the street. It's not just their own goods they sell, but they're also marketing a full range of locally produced fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grass-fed beef and roasted coffee, a showcase for the best Newton County grows or makes.
The Normans say community support for their venture has been overwhelming. "Our concept was to be able to provide Covington with everything you might normally have to drive into Atlanta to buy, and we're continuing to expand the range of locally made or grown goods we offer," says Christina. Anecdotal "research" convinces me, at least, there's been a serious drop-off in cooking locally because it's just to easy to stop at Farms on Floyd to pick up something new for dinner every night.
Thank goodness for dreamers.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.