Please find the running notes below from Rome City Commission’s Business Development Committee, held Tuesday in the Sam King Room in City Hall.
City Commissioner Bill Irmscher, committee chair, opens the meeting recalling the purpose of the panel to begin with — helping businesses do business in Rome. He then reads excerpts from a letter he received about a fifth-generation Roman concerned about middle class representation and the use of economic development funds from SPLOST sources vs. the new animal shelter.
Irmscher uses an Ohio community — Mercer County — with around a population of 41,000 as an example of what smaller towns can do to win jobs. He talks about what an economic development director did to develop jobs for the community and how unemployment was cut from 19 percent to the lowest in the state. One main reason: Targeting smaller companies. Basically, Irmscher implies if they can do it, so can Rome.
Irmscher then asks the Rome Floyd Chamber’s Ken Wright what is done here with existing industries. Wright outlines steps to “incentivize” them, using recent examples such as gas supply concerns, utilities and other needs. The chamber, Wright says, works to help these companies “grow and expand.”
A current need, says Wright, is freight drivers.
Jeanne Krueger, the chamber’s interim director, talked about working with area colleges and schools, including the Floyd County College and Career Academy, Georgia Northwestern Technical College and Berry College (such as last week’s Viking Connection event).
Pete McDonald, retiring president of Georgia Northwestern and a member of the Rome Floyd Development Authority, told of GNTC’s truck driving course based at the Walker County campus. He says “we’d love to have a program here” but says funding from the state would be needed to make it happen. McDonald cites a CDL truck driver shortage.
McDonald also says GNTC produces “around 100 welders a year” but many of them leave after a semester or two because of available jobs and salaries. He adds that GNTC has a 99 percent job placement rate overall, including skilled, medical and all other offerings.
Irmscher then asks the chamber about ongoing economic development. The chamber’s Heather Seckman says she continues to work with prospects and added that she spent recent days in Chicago where she met with a dozen industrial placement officials. She also teams with Wright to continue solicitations. Wright, in turn, said he fielded two calls last week with prospect potential while Seckman was traveling.
Irmscher asked about communications with the development authority in recent weeks. The chamber representatives said they’re in touch with Jimmy Byars, the authority’s chairman, as well as city and county leaders.
The conversation drifted to higher-paying salaries, a question area high school students are asking. City Commissioner Craig McDaniel asked what is being done to recruit industry willing to pay at higher levels. Salaries become the issue, with McDaniel says the range currently is $11 to 14 an hour. The target for the community, he says, needs to be higher-paying new industry.
Wright says industrial companies realize salaries were low and many are increasing wages; they’re likewise targeting retention.
Next up, the new development authority.
Byars, of Hardy Realty and the authority chair, says he’s been impressed with changes already with the Rome Floyd Planning Department under Artagus Newell.
A week ago, Byars said, the authority formally was given the task to move forward with economic development (following city and county commission votes on an 11-year pact).
The authority now is the point of industrial recruitment “and we’ve got to hire somebody,” Byars says. A job description for the new executive director will be ready and posted by Friday. They’ve counseled with Georgia Power in the process. “Our time frame is aggressive,” he says, citing the community’s solid reputation around the state.
“We are optimistic that, within 30 days … we can have a pool of applicants,” Byars says. “We’d love to have somebody hired by the end of June.” That’s doable, he says, again because of the community’s reputation.
There are details to be worked out, including transitional work with the chamber, he says.
Byars says the authority accepts the challenge and cited how economic development has changed while also pledging to make the new method work.
Irmscher asks for final questions. City Commissioner Wendy Davis says she hopes the city will discuss details about the industrial recruitment process at the city’s retreat next week. She wants better guidelines for what the new authority will and should do before an executive director is hired.
As for prospects, McDaniel says the focus should be on perhaps different sectors than what he here now.