It’s fitting that a joint meeting of the Rome City and Floyd County commissions is being held Tuesday at 8 a.m. at 409 E. 12th St. as it is the home of Floyd County’s Emergency Operations Center. It is where critical personnel track severe weather and work to keep the community safe.
In this instance, the storm that is howling across Rome, Armuchee, Cave Spring, Coosa and other communities — we’ll call it The Big Switch — is powered by unfounded innuendo, secrecy, panic, an abuse of power and too much hot air. We’re throwing the “BS” flag at the architects of this bid to move economic development from the Rome Floyd Chamber into the potential hands of appointees answering to the city and county commissions. The community tried that once and it has taken us more than two decades to dig out.
But those seizing a fabricated opening, the announced retirement of Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Al Hodge set for April 19, tried to power through their fix-it-along-the-way model outside the public’s eye. They cited another fabrication — budget deadlines for the city, county and chamber. When confronted by accusations about hiding the hurry-up bid from the public, they instead talked of the collective “black eye” they had sustained because of resulting coverage and ensuing phone calls. That’s what happens when you practice bad government.
Credit Rome city commissioners for saying “not so fast” to this dated model. City commissioners want definitive answers to dozens and dozens of questions about funding, operations, management and other concerns. The initial answers were softball responses such as “that’s to be determined” and “the devil is in the details.” (We do concur a demon is involved somewhere in all this).
City commissioners might get some of those answers (and please insist on details) on Tuesday at what looks like a kumbaya session. Each commissioner should be required to take a shot of whiskey every time someone says “united” and “together” and “we must imagine how this looks to industries interested in coming here.” Sorry, that PR nightmare was unleashed thanks to the blundered Nov. 13 rush to bless the transition mostly outside the public’s eye. You don’t think competing counties are telling prospects about this already?
The “unity” level between the two governments is about as strong as what we saw in Saturday’s SEC Championship game. That is, two intense rivals intent on beating the other. It is yet another fabrication tied to this power grab. The county-on-city smack heard at the Nov. 27 County Commission caucus underscored that (remember “four million questions,” “filibuster”?)
We doubt we’ll hear the one answer to all of this at Tuesday’s meeting. Simply stated, it’s not the person or “department” charged with economic development; it’s the entire package on how we do it. Let’s take inventory:
Rome/Floyd County boasts tremendous assets: The rivers and the outdoors; our colleges as well as public and private schools; superior medical care most regions of the country envy; solid business corridors; sound financial institutions; an economy built to mostly absorb even the 2008 Great Recession (we emerged much better than most parts of the country because of our diverse economic development plan).
Rome/Floyd County has tremendous liabilities: No easy access to interstates (I-75 and I-59); lack of available industrial sites; enough skilled workers (look at the dearth of employees sweeping booming Bartow County right now); money to fund appropriate industrial incentives; and escalating questions about leadership.
And even the people we groom for top jobs continue to leave as we’ve seen with Blaine Williams and, most recently, the airport’s Mike Mathews. That’s evident right now with this Big Switch push: Do city and county leaders really expect to draw an economic development ace at $130,000 a year? As we’ve seen too often in recent times, a really pretty face gets the nod over decades of experience.
When you pay for excellence, you usually get it. The easy examples include football coaches John Reid (Rome), Joey King (Cartersville) and Hal Lamb (Calhoun). Thanks to them, Northwest Georgia is now a prime recruiting spot for colleges looking for top student athletes. All three earn top dollar — and deliver.
But even before we make offers to whomever comes this way, we need to first address the entire economic/industrial package. It isn’t this Big Switch or even some bizarre alternatives we’re hearing about in recent days.
What’s needed: We know our assets, we know our liabilities. Call all sides together, convene a few community meetings, tap the ample knowledge base of our private as well as public colleges and put together the next Rome/Floyd 2020. And make it on a tight deadline; no more than six months. Can it be done? We believe the citizens committee behind the 2017 SPLOST showed it can.
In the meantime, keep the current economic development team together with a one-year contract extension while a crafted economic/industrial vision is formed.
In closing: We’ve all heard the stories about an isolated Rome not wishing to be on the path of I-75 when it was proposed (although one of those in that hunt says the best we would have seen was perhaps five miles closer to our border). This decision on what’s next for economic development is just as critical as those interstate talks were. We can’t afford the “small pond” attitude these days; it’s time to think — and act — big.
Agree? Disagree? Please email your comments and we’ll post them below: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll have expanded coverage on the Hometown Headlines Radio Edition on WRGA 98.7 FM during the 8:10 a.m. segment.