Perhaps it was Rome Mayor Jamie Doss’ comments as time expired Tuesday morning that said the most about a joint city/county commission meeting and the future of economic development. “We need to meet more often,” said Doss, adding that “it’s important that we come together.” He closed with a wish for a Merry Christmas that drew quiet responses of the same.
Doss’ statement underscored the heart of the concerns about The Big Switch model pushed by the Floyd County Commission and some members of the chamber. That is, an authority consisting of three appointees each from the city and county commissions which, in turn, would manage a new industry recruiter, another person working with existing industry and an administrative aid.
The kicker: So here were two governments in a meeting dominated by the county talking about unity and working together at a time when they’re probably farther apart than they were when all this started more than a month ago. There were snipes about data presentations and allotted time. The outcome was a basic agreement to meet some more.
And yet these two commissions would work “together” on taking over economic development? In essence, it shows perhaps what needs to be done before Rome and Floyd County take a hard look at future economic development.
We’ll look at Tuesday’s meeting in several ways.
- WRGA News Director David Crowder attended the entire meeting Tuesday morning. We’re including some of his story below. You can view the entire story by clicking here.
Rome City and Floyd County Commissioners sat down Tuesday morning to discuss the future of economic development. The county commission has already voted to move forward with the concept of a new model, with one possibility being a new authority composed of three appointees from the county and three from the city.
However, during Tuesday’s meeting, Pete McDonald, chair of Rome-Floyd County Development Authority (as well as the Rome Floyd Chamber), presented another option. “If a common plan is agreed to by the city and county to remove the marketing from the chamber, the Rome-Floyd Development Authority, which is our constitutional authority, is in a good position, with the legal powers we have, to hire the new staff and represent the city and county in terms of marketing,” he said.
McDonald, who also served on the study committee that looked at new economic development models, also suggested involving the Greater Rome Existing Industries Association in the process. “They play at a critical role,” he said. “As the two commissions work through the next few days and weeks to come, considering what needs to be done, I encourage you to sit down with the leadership of GREIA and listen to their challenges. I would think today one of their biggest challenges is workforce. They simply cannot find the people with the skill sets and training they need. That’s not just the case in Rome and Floyd County, but across the nation.”
County Commissioner Wright Bagby, who also served on the study committee, said approving the concept of taking a new direction for industrial recruitment is only the first step. Specifics would be worked out in the next phase.
Commissioner Scotty Hancock stated that he stands by his vote to proceed with a new concept, adding there were no clandestine meetings to blackball anyone and there is no animosity between city and county governments. “Everyone wants to do what’s best,” he said.
The city commission has yet to vote on the issue, with some commissioners still having many questions.
City Commissioner Sundai Stevenson said she is not going to vote on what could be the most important issue during her three years on the commission without knowing all the facts and wanted to see the city and county come up with a comprehensive plan first.
Commissioner Evie McNiece, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said she appreciates her fellow commissioners for asking important questions. While stating change is not a bad thing, she said it needs to be done right. McNiece said she wants to know if they are going to have the money to do what they say, or are they going to have to go back to the taxpayers, say they did not plan well and need a tax increase. She added that more time is needed to hash it out.
City Commissioner Craig McDaniel, who also served on the study committee, wanted to stress that none of the discussions were meant to be a reflection on the chamber. In fact, he said Rome and Floyd County has one of the best chambers in the state, but added industrial recruitment needs to be a different model because the current model has become stale and we are currently not bringing in jobs.
2. From City Commissioner Wendy Davis, who had a brief presentation ready to go but also heard questions about whether city and county administrators had reviewed it and then about how much time she should be allowed. Please note that Davis began asking questions as the City Commission faced the initial push to basically rubber stamp The Big Switch model on Nov. 13. She and City Commissioner Bill Irmscher — in separate notes — presented 57 questions in all which were presented in the following Nov. 26 caucus meeting. There were few concrete answers.
Tuesday, Davis presented the following (summarized by Hometown).
“Let me start by saying that I firmly believe that all our community leaders absolutely agree that we want more good jobs coming to Rome. I am also certain that if asked six months ago, however, only a handful of people would people would have offered that “changing our model” would be the answer to “how do we bring more jobs.” Our community’s ability to survive the economic recession better than many of our neighbors was that our economy had enough diversity to weather the storm. We can’t go back to being a “company town” and have all our economic eggs in one basket.
“Let’s take time and think through the profiles of how we want to change the focus and staffing. I think we also need to talk about our incentives and available industrial property. Am I correct that we are getting close to 30 opportunities we have missed in the last 18 months because we don’t have a spec building?
She focused on some specifics from the state Department of Economic Development. We’ve attached two key graphics, both dealing with what the state calls “Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development” sites. The first chart, below, shows those 60-plus sites that are in that category.
Next are the ones in our area and how we compare:
Davis told the commissions that of the sites in our regions, Floyd County has the fewest acres — the 110-acre pad ready project at Ga. 140 and Ga. 53 in Shannon near the Lowe’s Distribution Center. She also shared a list of the 10 key drawing points for industry, again from a site selection magazine. They include: parcel size, infrastructure, supply chain, labor force, access to transportation, topography, environmental concerns, zoning, local economy and quality of life. Said Davis: “We all feel good about no. 10” (quality of life).
Another slide looked at how counties recruit industry. Development authorities have a two-to-one lead over the chamber model now used in Rome Floyd County. However, one of those chamber-focused communities — Jefferson/Jackson County — just won 2,000 new jobs and $1.67 billion in investment from a battery company. Jackson County is on I-85, a major corridor to auto interests over the border. (From the governor’s office).
Said Davis, in closing: “I have heard over and over that our ‘being together’ is crucial. I suggest that our current model is the most ‘together’ way we can proceed. Let’s sit down together with a wide variety of stakeholders. If we have thoughtful conversations, I bet we can get the chamber leaders to agree to give county and city leaders more input. Likewise, we can make adjustments to our existing Rome-Floyd County Development Authority to make sure we have strong leadership rather than revolving players.”
3. The closing segment: Hometown Headlines arrived for the final 20 minutes of the meeting. Our first surprise was that there was a clock even ticking with such a critical issue between the twin commissions. Some of the outtakes:
From City Manager Sammy Rich: “So where do we go from here?” He cautioned it could take “calculated baby steps” to hone an economic development agenda. He referenced the model used in the Brunswick/Glynn County communities. It consists of a board appointed by city and county commissioners. They just hired Ryan Moore, the Athens-Clarke County development director, to lead their organization. The Athens group was created following a detailed community study of economic development in the Northeast Georgia community.
County Commissioner Wright Bagby said there is urgency in reaching a new model, adding, “there are things that need to be decided .. it is something we don’t need to stretch out.”
Perhaps as interesting as those sitting around the extended tables — city and county commissioners as well as key staff — it also was key to see who was in the crowd. Among them were members of the Rome Floyd Economic Development Authority including Jimmy Byars and Pete McDonald; downtown restaurant owner Bob Blumberg; appraiser Harry Brock, businessman Doc Kibler, retiring Rome News Publisher Otis Raybon and Al Hodge, likewise retiring as president and chief executive officer of the chamber in April.
And this is where a final point needs to be made. Craig McDaniel asked those attending the meeting to thank Raybon for his service, especially during his chamber years and on the economic development authority, as he retires this month. The group responded with a well-earned round of applause. What we didn’t hear: A similar salute for Hodge for his 21 years of traveling the state, nation and world promoting Rome and Floyd County to new prospects.
Hodge would be the last one to seek such a spotlight. He always speaks of the “team” and a united community push to grow the right way. Quietly and professionally, he sat through the 90-minute session listening to calls for a change basically for change’s sake. At least the commissions acted together on one item — and we find it shameful.