More than 500 new local jobs created (Jan. 2, 2013)
The county's economic development agency is seeking a bigger budget and restructuring its leadership as it aims to make Rockdale a top player in Metro Atlanta's business scene.
At its Dec. 17 board meeting, the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council boasted about major big-business growth in 2013, including more than 500 new local jobs. But CREDC itself operated at a financial loss of about $65,000. Board members focused on firming up its finances and setting goals, and debated continuing CREDC's longtime role in drawing the film industry here.
It was CREDC's first board meeting since recently hiring Marty Jones as the first full-time executive director in the nonprofit's 10-year history.
Board member Roland Vaughn told Jones to craft some development "goals that are challenging but achievable...and measurable. We know it's your first year. We're not saying, ‘Go out and change the world.'"
But a big hurdle is CREDC's $210,000 annual budget, largely funded by the city and county. With Jones making $90,000 a year, more than half the estimated budget goes to salaries alone. Conyers Mayor Randy Mills, who chairs the CREDC board, and Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, who vice-chairs, both said more money is needed.
"The more and more I look at this budget, there is absolutely no way we're going to be progressive [or] effective" at competing with other Metro Atlanta counties, Nesbitt said. "It's quite embarrassing, to tell you the truth."
"I don't disagree with anything you said," replied Mills, saying he will push for the city to boost its funding.
Jones warned that the budget has never been audited, so all figures are estimated. The board decided a full audit would be too expensive, but the city and county will review their funding records to ensure that no money has gone astray over the years.
CREDC's mission is to retain and attract big businesses. The local film and TV industry is probably CREDC's most widely known work, with staffer Gina Hartsell serving as the industry's local contact. While Hollywood has pumped an estimated $15 million into the local economy over the past five years, the board debated whether Hartsell should continue in the role.
Vaughn and board member Gerald Rakestraw said the city and county should take over more movie coordinating work. But Nesbitt and Mills said there's no similar position in government.
"We need to be careful. This doesn't happen by accident," Jones warned, pointing to Hollywood's big economic impact here. He noted that Hartsell is the official liaison for the state's "Camera Ready Communities" program, and that Hartsell has valuable relationships with the "fraternity or sorority of location managers" who decide where films are made.
"We don't need to bend over backwards [for the movie industry] at the expense of people already here," said Vaughn, suggesting Hartsell could work with other industries.
But, Nesbitt said, "it just makes sense" for Hartsell to continue serving as point person instead of hiring someone in the city or county government.
Hartsell was in attendance but was not asked for input. Mills thanked her for shepherding CREDC during 10 months without an executive director this year, as well as her film work.
"I just want to say, on behalf of the board, thank you," Mills said, as the board applauded.
The board itself will be changing as it reorganizes to make faster decisions and avoid conflicts of interest. Some of those changes caused internal friction, especially a new county residency requirement and reducing the county Chamber of Commerce's member to a non-voting, "ex officio" role.
Thua Barley, the chair of the Chamber's board, protested the change as possibly affecting the relationship between the groups. CREDC rents space from the Chamber in its new Green Street building and the two share conference rooms. Vaughn said good relations will continue and that the changes are just about restricting votes to government representatives.
CREDC treasurer Danny Stone of Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation is a Newton County resident who will lose his seat because of the residency requirement. He protested the move, noting that outside businesses often have a vested interest in Rockdale. But, he acknowledged, he also serves on Newton's development authority board and could run into conflicts of interest.
The reorganized board will have nine voting members: four appointed by the county, three by the city, and two by the Rockdale County Development Authority. In addition, there will be three non-voting members from the Chamber, the Board of Education and the Rockdale Medical Center.
The board also is seeking a legal review of CREDC's nonprofit status. CREDC is currently a 501(c)(3), the section of the tax code that allows for nonprofit charities. But the board is examining whether it should be a 501(c)(6), which applies to "business leagues."
The board aims to get its new structure in place by February. Its next meeting is slated for Jan. 21, 8 a.m. at the CREDC office, 936 Green St. SW.