Marty Jones is the new director of the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council. A longtime real estate investor who previously served 23 years on Conyers City Council, he started his new job on Nov. 18. We sat down with Jones to ask him about his new role and perspective.
What does an economic development director do?
Community development and economic development, they’re basically the same thing. It’s kind of the chicken and the egg. You can’t have one without the other. If the community’s not going to grow and prosper and people aren’t happy and comfortable being there, your economic development is going to lag.
Retention and expansion (of local businesses) are jobs one and two. The attracting new (businesses) is third on the list. They’re all equally as important, but 75 to 80 percent of economic development is those first two pieces.
You just want to stay in a room (negotiating possible deals) as long as possible. Baseball might be the right analogy. Nobody bats a thousand percent, but if you bat .300, you go in the Hall of Fame. You win some and you do lose some. You gotta get up and dust yourself off and smile and ask the next pretty girl to dance. Because you know, sooner or later, one of them’s gonna marry you. (laughs)
When you’re trying to attract a business to Conyers/Rockdale, what’s the sales pitch?
I say, one of our best assets is our people. We’re this close to Atlanta, we’re this close to the airport, we’re on I-20—those factors get us in the ballpark. But you’re going to sell it on your community, on your people.
You’re going to sell it on Olde Town. You take them down Main Street. You show them the churches, the historic [buildings], so people know this community’s been here a long time. You take them down Milstead, take them to the hospital and show them what the community has invested in the hospital throughout the years. That’s what they’re looking at—the quality of life.
They don’t want to open a plant (for example) and not have a qualified workforce available to them. We show off our school system, both the public and the private side. RCA (Rockdale Career Academy) is not something everybody has. Even in manufacturing, there are very few jobs out there that don’t need some sort of skill set. There’s usually a computer involved in it someplace. It’s not just hand stuff, back-breaking stuff—it’s not that anymore. Driving a forklift needs talent. Nobody’s going to hire me to drive their forklift if I tell them I never have (before), because I’m gonna run over stuff and break stuff. That’s where the school system and the (Georgia Piedmont) Technical College can really help a manufacturer do it.
One thing that’s really changed in my 25 years—the city, the county, everybody thinks about economic development because it’s important to the community. The city and the county get along. They know that economic development happens together. We can put (city and county government leaders) in a room quickly if the need be. It shows the potential customers, “This is a community that does get along. They get it. They can make things happen.”
Everybody knows governments move slow. It can take forever to go through the planning process. But having those leaders in the room with them to say, “Listen, here’s my home number. Here’s my cell number. If my planning department’s slowing you down, you call me. We’re going to have to do all the steps, but how do we make the steps go faster?” That makes an impact on those folks.
What do you think of the Atlanta Braves moving to Cobb County? Did it inspire any thoughts about the future of the Georgia International Horse Park?
They announced that (stadium deal) last week. People have asked me that question. My answer has been, ‘Well, if they hired me a week earlier, we’d have it here.’ (laughs)
It tells me two things. First one is, anything’s possible. Whether you think it’s a good deal or a bad deal, Cobb County got it. I don’t think anybody thought (the Braves) were going anywhere. The other thing is, on the bad side, the city of Atlanta (also) says, “Anything’s possible. We lost it.” Basically, it tells me the same thing two different ways: Anything’s possible, and anything’s possible for the bad side.
I was there when we built the horse park. Our thought process (on the city council) always has been, we could’ve sold that property at any point in time and turned it into a subdivision. Nobody wanted to do that. For the longest time, we just kept waiting. People would come to us with ideas. None of them seemed to fit our vision.
What’s happened in the last few years, the city has let the state know and Georgia Power know and the EMCs (electric membership cooperatives) know—they’re the three biggest economic developers statewide—that it’s available. There’s about 300 acres that’s in that part south of the parkway. In my conversations with guys at the state level, that really excites them. I’m not going to say it won’t be a manufacturing plant. The right deal would be the right deal, and the city would sell parts or all of it to the right deal. Some big research and development company (coming in), the city would let it go pretty cheap. I’m not speaking for them, but if the deal comes across and it means the city gets 50 percent of what the land’s worth, the city’s going to do it because it’s good for the community. I know those guys. I know what the answer’s going to be.