Oden: Courting business important
Medical center would have been boon to economic development in Rockdale

CONYERS - Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden said the county will work harder at becoming friendlier to business following the failure to attract a cancer treatment center here.

Commenting on Cancer Treatment Centers of America's announcement last week that it will build a $150 million specialty hospital in Newnan rather than in Conyers, Oden said the county must continue to court businesses in high technology and medical fields.

"Going forward, we have to get our infrastructure in place to be prepared for these kinds of opportunities when they come to us," he said. "We're going to the high-end market. We're not going to see the Pratt Industries or car manufacturers or tire manufacturers. We're not going to see that."

Oden said Wednesday that coming in second in the bid to garner the cancer specialty hospital - out of 32 sites the company considered - showed him that Rockdale County has a lot to offer but needs to emphasize improvements in roads, water and sewer services and other utilities to become more attractive to business.

Oden noted changes made this year at Rockdale Water Resources will help the utility become financially sound. Along with a base rate increase for customers, RWR is planning to use the extra income for capital improvement projects and much needed maintenance.

The lack of an upscale retail shopping center in Rockdale County was given as a primary reason that Cancer Treatment Centers of America chose Newnan. Oden said that gave him cause to revisit the county's ordinances with an eye toward becoming more business friendly. The Board of Commissioners is expected to soon discuss a revision of the county's sign ordinance, but Oden said zoning laws, permit procedures and business licensing will also be reviewed to find ways to make it easier for businesses to locate here.

Oden indicated he will seek additional road improvement projects in an extension of the current special purpose local option sales tax program, or SPLOST, beyond 2011 when it will end.

The current $99 million, six-year, 1 percent sales tax has funded several capital projects in the county, including expansions of the county jail, library and parks, plus $42 million in resurfacing and other road projects.

Oden championed the construction of a county conference center and fire training facility as part of his economic development plans during last year's election. He indicated no specific projects that he would like to see funded by a new SPLOST but believed transportation will be a big component as it has been in previous sales tax programs.

"That is something we will have to take up with the citizens, and see what they want," he said.