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LETTER: Chamber leaders agree Rivian opposition robbing current, future generations of good-paying jobs
Letters - OPINION

Dear Editor,

As the four chambers of commerce representing Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton, we serve hundreds of businesses across the four counties. We believe the Rivian opportunity is yet another business that will benefit our community. 

The primary goal of economic development and support for local businesses is regional economic growth through quality job creation. That is a basic function of our chambers. It is our mission to support local businesses and recruit high-paying, quality job creators that can increase the median household income and per capita income for the area. Higher incomes attract higher-end retail and restaurants to the region. What’s more, those with disposable income are more likely to support local businesses, donate to local nonprofits, tithe to local churches, and spend on services that support businesses like hardware stores and beauty salons. 

A larger tax base improves quality of life through enhanced and expanded public services including public safety, parks, hiking trails, and walkability. The larger tax base from the Rivian project will also support critical emergency services like ambulances and police resources. It’s easy to overlook the benefits this community has reaped from quality economic development projects such as Takeda and Meta. Thanks to these efforts and the positive business climate we’ve created in the region, property tax rates have not increased. 

The math is simple: better development leads to better resources. Right now, 60% of our taxes go to our schools. New tax revenue would also allow the community to attract teachers with competitive salaries in an area with strong job prospects for their students. Broadening the local tax base and keeping good-paying jobs in the region are the only long-term ways to ensure schools consistently provide top-tier education and results for children. Simply put, a rising tide lifts all boats.

We are confident in this project because of the immense, tangible benefits that it would provide both in the short and long term. Rivian’s arrival will allow our community to invest more resources in education, job training, and STEM so we can create the next pipeline of advanced manufacturing talent here at home. Technical colleges across the state are already setting the course for EV tech education and job training.

The influx of labor and capital into the region will enable a windfall of tax revenue for policymakers to reinvest in schools and other infrastructure. For example, Rivian’s 7,500 direct jobs and an additional 8,000 indirect jobs are expected to generate over $1 billion in labor income annually. 

As your chambers of commerce, it is our duty to ensure our community is prepared to weather any future economic turbulence by making plans now. That means we need to pursue quality job creation, even while unemployment rates hit record lows. Rivian will bring jobs, not just for the next 10 years, but the next 100 years. EVs are the future and the best we can do is put our community at the frontline of this cutting-edge industry. 

Bringing trailblazing, American companies to Georgia helps develop and keep talented residents in their hometowns. The fact is, we are seeing our young people leaving the area for bigger cities with more opportunities. But we can have good-paying jobs in smaller, rural communities and stop exporting our talent to larger metro areas or, even worse, outside the state. 

These are next-generation jobs that will keep our children and their children competitive in a global economy. A world-class American manufacturing facility producing the American-made vehicles of tomorrow is an enticing job prospect for anyone who wants to call our area home. We are proud to bring an American company led by an American innovator and entrepreneur to our community. 

The small opposition group seeks to stop all this progress at a cost to the larger community. We are already feeling the negative impact of the small group who continue to put their own selfish interests above those of the broader community by throwing up ridiculous roadblocks at every step of this project. Clearly, their self-stated goal is to delay the project in the hopes that we will lose this opportunity. Due to the judge’s decision on the bond challenge by this group, we have lost $1.5 million from our tax base next year — one year alone of payments. That’s taking teachers out of classrooms and ultimately reducing opportunities for our students.

The responsibility of your local chambers and the Joint Development Authority is to plan for the next generation. Those who would oppose this plan are robbing the current and future generations of the competitive, good-paying jobs that will allow families to stay in their ancestral homes. 

Debbie Harper, president of the Covington-Newton Chamber, says it best: “I work for the chamber to create quality jobs, so that once my sons graduate, they can come back and work here.” Our chamber leadership and our members live and work and raise their families in this community. We want what is best for this community for the long term. Don’t let a small group of short-sighted activists, some of whom don’t even reside in Georgia, take away our opportunity to make this area the best place in Georgia for businesses and families.  

Contact your state legislators, county commissioners, city council members, and mayors to let them know you value American manufacturing and job creation right here. The silent majority must be heard if we hope to keep our taxes low, our schools funded and our state competitive in the 21st century. 

Debbie Harper, president, Newton County Chamber of Commerce

Bob Hughes, president and executive director, Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce

Board of Directors, Monticello-Jasper County Chamber of Commerce

Teri Smiley, president, Walton County Chamber of Commerce