COVINGTON - For two decades, General Mills has been churning out Cheerios and goodwill toward the community.
As one of Newton County's largest industries, General Mills gives a significant boost to the local tax base. But it's the generous spirit of those who work for the company that local officials say is just as important.
Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby described General Mills as "the perfect corporate neighbor."
"General Mills is one of the largest manufacturing employers in Newton County and they are one of the largest, if not the largest, taxpayers as well," Boothby said. "But beyond that, General Mills is a strong supporter of community with their sponsorships of so many of our events and activities. Their personnel also are active in Chamber committees and board participation."
Working to create a better community is one of the values of General Mills as a company, and of individual employees, said Mark Bible, the local plant manager.
"We're proud of our values as a company and as a plant ... We strive to strengthen the community where we live, work and play," he said.
During the last 20 years, General Mills has donated more than $4 million to local nonprofit organizations. More than 30 students have benefited from the company's Challenge Youth Scholarships.
General Mills is an annual sponsor of the Cheerios Challenge, an event benefiting the Covington Family YMCA, and the Fuzz Run, benefiting the Covington Police Department's Police Who Care Fund, and is a partner with Washington Street Community Center.
In addition, General Mills staff members serve as mentors in local schools and volunteer at the community homeless shelter.
The company also partners with J.H. House Elementary School in Rockdale County, giving students an insider's view of the business world.
"This is not just where we do business but where a majority of our employees actually call home. That's the drive behind why we are so involved in the community as well," Bible said.
In addition to its charitable donations, General Mills has proven to be a good environmental steward, by pretreating its own wastewater before returning it to the city's water treatment facility, reducing the cost of treatment for the city, Boothby said.
As General Mills prepares to mark its 20th anniversary in Newton County - the official anniversary date is Aug. 1, 1989, but the community celebration won't take place until early September - plans are to keep strengthening its community roots.
"Strengthening the community and schools is a value of General Mills and of us as a plant. We're proud to say we've been doing that for the last 20 years, and we will continue to do that for the next 20 years," Bible said.
Since opening its doors on Industrial Park Boulevard, the number of employees has increased from 88 to 400. The plant manufactures cereals and snacks, including Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix and Coco Puffs.
Bible declined to give the square footage of the plant but said it's one of the largest that General Mills owns.
The company recently announced it will open a new distribution center in Social Circle, investing $42 million and creating more than 100 jobs.
Bible said the company will remain in the area for a long time to come.
That's good news for officials who say there's no end to the benefits of having them here.
"They have been a tremendous corporate partner. They not only employ over 400 Newton Countians, but they have been a tremendous asset to our tax base," Covington Mayor Kim Carter said. "That being said, through the General Mills foundation over the last 20 years, they have regularly given money, time and products and sponsorships to local nonprofits ... They have been wonderful partners to work with."
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: John Berry to perform free concert
COVINGTON - To mark it's 20th anniversary, General Mills is saying thanks to the community for its support in a big way.
On Sept. 4, the company, in conjunction with Main Street Covington, will present country musician John Berry in concert.
Berry will perform at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 on the Square in downtown Covington.
"Friday night is about recognizing the fact that the city and county have been a part of this team during the past 20 years, and we just want to recognize that and say, 'thank you,'" General Mills Plant Manager Mark Bible said.
The concert is free, but concessions will be for sale, with all proceeds benefiting the Miracle Field, a baseball field for special-needs children that is in the planning stages.
Seating will not be provided, but the public is welcome to bring chairs and blankets.
Berry achieved fame in the early 1990s with hits like "I Think About It All the Time" and "She's Taken a Shine."
Born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, Berry began playing guitar at age 13, performing at age 14 and making records at age 19.
Between 1979 and 1990, he recorded and marketed six albums on his own labels. He signed with Capital Records in 1992.
He was introduced to radio audiences in 1993 with "A Mind of Her Own" and "Kiss Me In the Car," songs he co-wrote.
Other hits include "Your Love Amazes Me," "What's In It for Me," and "Standing on the Edge of Goodbye."
In 1995, Berry recorded a version of "O Holy Night" for a Christmas album and began doing an annual holiday tour, which he continues today.
He currently lives in Athens and operates his own label, Clear Sky Records.
His new album is titled "Those Were the Days."