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STOVALL: 'To grow or not to grow' is not the question Newton County should be asking
Gabriel Stovall
Gabriel Stovall

Growth is not coming to Newton County. Yes, you read that right. 

Growth is not coming to Newton County because growth is already here. 

I figured that out firsthand when, back in late July when I had a sparring match with the area’s traffic flow the day I showed up to meet my staff at The Covington News for the first time as publisher and editor. 

It was the first time I’d really driven through Covington during a business rush since I left my post as sports editor back in September 2019. 

“Good Lord,” I remarked out loud while driving in my otherwise empty car. “I don’t remember all of this. This is a lot.” 

And I wasn’t just talking about the traffic. Also the hotels, housing and apartment complexes, new and expanded subdivisions and businesses springing up that, while maybe not new to those who’ve been here, were absolutely a surprise to me. 

Then, I was barely settled into my role when I began learning about Rivian, which, if it comes, won’t be located in Newton County proper, but definitely close enough for Newton County residents to feel the difference. 

A couple of weeks ago, I covered the groundbreaking of Absolics’ new $600 million manufacturing facility here in Covington that will become the first place in the world to mass produce a glass substrate expected to revolutionize the computer technology industry in coming years. 

It was a big enough deal that it brought out U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, along with the promise of 410 new jobs. 

When I chatted with Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes, he dropped the cliffhanger that “there were more similarly exciting announcements to come.” 

I’m assuming that this past week’s announcement that Archer Aviation Inc., a Silicon Valley-based aerospace company, was planning to begin construction next month on a 500,000-square-foot complex near the Covington Municipal Airport that promises to create 1,000 jobs for the area, was part of that. But if that wasn’t what Banes was referring to, it still fits the bill. 

Again I say, growth is not coming to Newton County. It’s already here. 

In the sports world, a largely welcomed — and long overdue, if you ask some coaches, school administrators and even athletes in the area — upgrade to Sharp Stadium came about when the Newton County School Board voted 4-1 to allow the installation of a new artificial turf playing surface to replace the natural grass that’s been at Sharp since Sharp began in the 1950s. 

Back in January, the state budgeted $2 million from the Georgia Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER II) to build a CDL driving range and facilities in Newton County for transportation training. Construction for that project is set to begin in spring 2023.

But accompanying my realization that inevitable growth has made its way to our area with no signs of slowing down was the fact that not everyone is thrilled about this growth. 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at lunch with three Newton County residents who are, in their own way, deeply involved in the inner workings of our community — from education to politics. 

We are planning to create a forum that can give our readers and residents a place to have good, respectful, civil discussion about matters that impact our community — but doing it in a way that seeks to restore the “middle common ground,” instead of promoting the incessant shouting at each other from our extreme corners that seems to be all the rage in public discourse these days. 

Why is this necessary? Because the reality is, not only has growth already come to this area — it’s here to stay and it’s going to keep coming whether we like it or not. The good news is, we the residents of this county and community have the power to manage our growth responsibly and in a way that accentuates the good that it brings, rather than getting stuck at the challenges. 

We have to do that, because at this point, the continued industry growth in this area is inevitable. It shows that people see something they like in our community that makes it attractive for others to come to live, work, play and grow. 

Does it bring about growing pains, difficulties and potentially unsavory elements? Yes. But instead of wringing our hands about those realities, or pretending that it will all just go away if we vote for or against this or that project, or acting as if there are no positives to be found, let’s position ourselves as a county and community to usher in the inevitable in a responsible way — in a way that’s healthy and seeks to preserve the things about Newton County that are and have been good and wholesome for as long as anyone can remember. 

It’s a pivotal time in this area. It’s a time when Covington/Newton County has to decide what it wants to be. Will we ride the wave of inevitable growth in this area in such a way that allows us to steer the ship in the directions that are best for the area’s greater good, or will we run from the challenge before us, content to find shelter only in our own comfort zones and personally held beliefs? 

This community cannot ever be what it was 50 or 60 years ago — for good or for bad. That’s just not practical or plausible, no matter what you feel about our growth trajectory. But what we can be is a community that takes ownership of its growth and wields it in a way that ensures the best, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their children who will have to live, work and play here long after we’re gone. 

The good news is, the choice is completely ours to make. 

Gabriel Stovall is the publisher and editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at