As the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council works to stabilize its budget, it today heard good news about city funding-but bad news from the county.
The City of Conyers will boost its annual contribution well over the current $60,000, said Mayor Randy Mills, who also chairs CREDC. But Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Oden wants to cut the county's share by 20 percent, to $100,000, CREDC Executive Director Marty Jones reported.
Oden's position isn't the final word on BOC funding, and Mills called it "more politics than anything." But the clock is ticking on setting CREDC's 2015 budget, which begins in January, and is operating at a deficit.
County Commisioner Oz Nesbitt, CREDC's vice chairman, is a proponent of boosting CREDC's funding. He said he will have another round of conversations with his fellow commissioners about CREDC's importance.
In the 10 months since Jones was hired, CREDC has been beefing up its presence and work at attracting and retaining big business. The main goal is making Rockdale a major player in metro Atlanta's economic development scene.
But for now, CREDC has only two staff members. Its $210,000 budget - more than half of which goes to salaries - is considered far too small by board members, and it is operating at a $60,000 deficit.
Jones offered two draft budgets, both of them modest. One proposed the city increasing its funding to $75,000, and the county increasing its funding from $125,000 to $150,000. Combined with health insurance cost cuts, that would make a "status quo budget" with a lower deficit around $10,000, Jones said.
Without a funding increase, deep cuts would be necessary, Jones said, proposing to slash his own $90,000 salary. Nesbitt said that move would be unacceptable because it would be difficult to regain funding to attract future employees.
Mills announced Conyers City Council at its Summer Retreat last month agreed to boost its share to over the requested $75,000, though he would not specify the exact amount yet. Jones responded by throwing his arms into the air and saying, "Yes!"
But Jones reported that Oden, in a recent private meeting with CREDC staff, wants to cut county funding back to $100,000 and see the city match it. That could also impact CREDC's other main funder, the county Development Authority, which provides $25,000 a year on a deal contingent on county funding.
"His main concern is return on investment," Jones said of Oden's concerns. "He's frustrated with the lack of development on Sigman Road and I-20," and other unincorporated areas.
Jones said he pointed to such CREDC successes as attracting the TV show "The Originals," which employs 350 people and spends millions of dollars here, and retaining the gigantic manufacturer Hillphoenix here.
"The chairman was nonplussed by those examples," Jones said.
Board member Deborah Armstrong, chief executive officer of Rockdale Medical Center, said it is important to communicate to Oden that investment in economic development is long-term and takes time to pay off. Fred Boscarino, president and chief executive officer of the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce, agreed with her.
"It's patience. This stuff doesn't happen overnight," Boscarino said. "Marty has hit the ground running. He's doing a great job."
Several board members suggested that Oden's position is largely political, without going into details. Oden has had an uneven relationship with CREDC. He was a longtime holdout in the nearly year-long process of hiring Jones, and in recent months, CREDC has denied Oden's requests to pay for his own development-oriented travel and publicity expenses.
Other forms of fundraising are not on the table at the moment. CREDC last month officially became a 501(c)6 not-for-profit business association. Board member Sharon Mathis today suggested that board members be required to contribute, as is common on nonprofit boards. But other members rejected the idea as creating the perception that a board seat can be bought.
In other CREDC business:
-The board previewed its first-ever package of marketing materials, created by the Conyers-based Shadowood Agency and Imijit.net. The core material is an illustrated brochure of photos and basic information about Rockdale's workforce, infrastructure, quality of life and similar business-oriented topics.
The materials included a new marketing slogan for the area: "Right Place, Right Time."
It uses a green-and-blue color scheme that Imijit's Scott Hartsell told the News is based on currently trendy colors that also reflect such local assets as green space and an independently operated water supply. The materials are estimated to need updating in about two years.
Board members seemed to accept the overall design. A major suggestion was to include brief bullet points on what makes Rockdale-Conyers not just nice, but "different, better and special," as board member Roland Vaughn put it. Board member Pat Cavanaugh, chairman of the Chamber and publisher of the News, said photos should be more racially diverse to properly reflect Rockdale.
The materials will be reviewed by city and county marketing staff as well. CREDC hopes to have a final draft approved and printed by year's end.
The $3,500 cost is being shared with the Chamber, which also will use the materials.