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Leaders describe projects, challenges at Chamber breakfast

The Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Community Leaders Breakfast at the Rockdale Medical Center Tuesday morning. A panel including RCPS Superintendent Dr. Samuel King, Mayor Randy Mills, BOC Chairman Richard Oden and Sheriff Jeff Wigington gave updates on current economic development, projects and challenges. After all had given their respective reports, the panel took questions from 100 attendees, mostly from the business community, moderated by David Shipp.

Mills cited job creation as his primary focus and said he and the city council have made a "concerted effort" not to increase taxes during this recession. Pointing to the positive growth, he told of 200 new jobs created in existing industry as well as new industries the Economic Development Council have been courting. One of these, Universal Pictures, reportedly contributed $4 million to $5 million in local economic effects this year.

Mills also announced the creation of a business incubator with Acuity Brands generous donation of 42 acres and 500,000 square feet of office and warehouse space. This will provide affordable space to startup businesses as well as input from business and industry experts. Talks are still underway for a third party, several higher education institutions, to operate the incubator.

"This is probably one of the biggest announcements I've had since the Olympics," said Mills. "It's the largest gift the city's ever received...we think once this thing is in full stride it will be the largest incubator facility in the United States."

Both Mills and Oden lauded the efforts of Glen Sears and Gina Hartsell with the Economic Development Council for their efforts on these and other fronts.

Regarding Rockdale's plight of sharing a Congressman and state senators and representatives with Dekalb County, Mills said, "I would like us to have our own representatives...I think we're large enough to get our own representatives. We are all collectively lobbying real heavy for that."

Oden described encouraging indicators for the county this year such as the $2 million expansion of Haver Filling Systems, the Bostik expansion, Food Lion coming to south Rockdale and an additional $600,000 grant for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Another bonus of the neighborhood expansion projects is that 60 percent of the work crews are county residents. He also urged everyone to "shop Rockdale" to keep sales tax dollars benefitting the local economy.

One challenge Oden mentioned was the county's infrastructure such as aging water pipes and the need to create additional waste capacity.

Wigington described the completion of the jail expansion and addition of 400 beds and the county's incarceration cost of $42 per day per prisoner - much lower than Fulton's $75 per day average. Wigington also praised the county's strong judicial system as a deterrent to crime. For example, he said undercover detectives have found drug dealers refusing to meet within Rockdale's borders due to Rockdale's reputation for longer sentencing than surrounding counties.

King said RCPS's continual goal is to provide "cutting-edge standards based education" with safety nets and enrichment programs in place. When asked about recent figures showing a drop in Rockdale's SAT scores, he pointed to the higher number of students than ever before taking the tests.

Oden said Rockdale and Conyers were "uniquely positioned" for advantage by having one city within the county to focus and dedicate resources for opportunity.