Economic coalition discussed

CONYERS - The Innovation Crescent, a coalition of counties designed to attract life science industries to northeast Georgia, may be out of reach for Rockdale County.

Sue Chappell asked why the county had not pursued more involvement with the Innovation Crescent during last week's meeting of the Rockdale Homeowners and Civic Associations Coalition.

"I wanted to encourage any leader in the community to be aware of it, know about and act on it," said Chappell, who represents Fieldstone Estates on the coalition. "We can't afford to be left out of it. This is one of the few areas that is a real major growing industry to provide jobs for educated folks."

The Innovation Crescent was created last year as a brand name for the geographic region stretching from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Clayton County to Athens-Clarke County. The coalition includes 10 counties along with state and region agencies with a focus on economic development.

Organizers described the mission of the Crescent as a global marketing campaign to attract businesses in the life sciences. The effort is similar to the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina or Silicon Valley in California.

Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden said he was aware of the Innovation Crescent and it was something he was interested in to attract business here.

Chappell said she appreciated Oden's interest in the Innovation Crescent but wanted to know more.

"The question is why we have been left out?" she said "I'm not sure anybody really knows why we've been left out at this point. Other than the point that we had not acted strongly enough to be a part of it."

Glenn Sears, executive director of the Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council, said Rockdale County would like to become a part of the Innovation Crescent. However, the county has hurdles concerning geography and resources to overcome first to make a strong case to join the regional economic coalition.

Sears said the county has worked to attract life science industries, such as the Chicago-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America facility that eventually chose Coweta County over Rockdale County.

"The approach we've taken is to try through the amenities and resources that we have to attract things that we can get on the ground and work back up to (Ga. Highway) 138 and (U.S. Highway) 78 back up to Athens to form that link with Interstate 20, but we're not part of that yet," he said.

The Crescent was formed to promote continued growth of life science industries already in place in Cobb, north Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

Cinda Herndon-King, director of education of Georgia BIO, a nonprofit trade group that promotes life science industries in Georgia, said the coalition was created through state grants to promote a specific area and commuter patterns already in place. Rockdale and other neighboring counties are, for now, not part of Crescent's strategies.

"I think when you start an initiative like this the larger you make it, the harder it is sometimes to get it moving," she said. "We've started with a pretty focused effort .... It's sort of a coalition at this point, and that doesn't mean that other counties won't be involved, but we're still taking small steps forward. You have to walk before you can run."

Sears added that Rockdale County is at a disadvantage for resources already on the ground and with the financial resources of economic development officials in those other areas.

He explained that an "anchor" business attracted by what Rockdale County can offer could prove to be a boon for both the county and the Innovation Crescent participants.

Herndon-King said not being part of the Crescent coalition should not stop Rockdale County from courting businesses on its own. She noted that the county has been active in Gov. Sonny Perdue's Work Ready initiative programs, which could tie into new marketing regions in the state.

"The Innovation Crescent is part of the governor's Work Ready regional program, and there are efforts to develop additional regions and additional industries," Herndon-King said. "So, it doesn't mean that if Rockdale is not a part of the Innovation Crescent right now it wouldn't be part of another Work Ready region attracting industry using strategies based on different strengths."

Among those local strengths Rockdale County is marketing is the network of fiber optic lines put in place for the Olympic Equestrian venue, now known as the Georgia International Horse Park.

Referred to as "dark fiber" because of its availability and exclusiveness to businesses, Sears said, the fiber optics network at the horse park makes Conyers and Rockdale County unique from other communities.

"All you have to do is turn dark fiber to light fiber and use it," he said. "When the Olympics were out there, it was cutting edge technology. Now, you don't have to change out what's in the ground. It's something that we're marketing harder and will be looking to attract businesses with."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.