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Chamber hires new president

COVINGTON -- Local businessman Hunter Hall has been hired as the new president of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, the board of directors announced Wednesday.

Hall, a Newton resident for the past seven years, is a founding partner of Solucion Consulting, a firm that specializes in strategic and financial solutions to business startups and businesses in transition.

Hall was expected to report to work today. He was not available for comment on Wednesday, but in a printed announcement issued by the board of directors, he outlined his immediate goal as president.

"My first proposal to the board, and they have concurred, is to create a new committee called the Chairman's Committee that will include all former board chairs," Hall said.

"This will bring a knowledge base of more than 30 years of leadership to the table for quarterly meetings. These individuals represent many circles of influence in the community, and their experience and ideas still have a place at the table, so to speak. I look forward to meshing their valuable hindsight with the promising future coming to our community."

Chamber Chair-elect Scott Willis said between 25 and 30 candidates were considered for the position since former President John Boothby resigned in September.

"(Hall) was heads above the others. We were looking for the caliber of person with a skill set to unite the community and business leadership," Willis said. "We needed someone to forge ahead with a single goal and lead our community in one direction. He, out of everyone, really stood out in that regard ... Throughout his career, he has been a troubleshooter who could go in and advise a company how to be more effective and efficient as part of his consulting company."

In the printed release, Chamber Chairman Jerry Mays also revealed the restructuring of the Chamber's approach to economic development, to include the creation of a senior vice president for economic development position.

A new economic development team is being created that will be totally focused on supporting and expanding local business and industry, in addition to luring new commercial and retail development, Mays stated.

"This starts with the hiring of a full-time economic development professional as senior vice president," he said. "Our search committee is closing in on the sort of leader we have envisioned for this job."

Candidates have been recommended by the Georgia Department of Economic Development and statewide utilities involved in job creation and industry expansion. Willis said candidates under consideration are "some of the best in the whole state and nationwide."

The senior vice president for economic development, along with Shannon Davis, who has been director of economic development for the past three years, will devote 100 percent of their time to market Newton County, attract new businesses and maintain the existing business and industry base, Willis said. The president will be tasked with maintaining day-to-day operations of the Chamber, increasing membership and funding, and attending meetings, ribbon cuttings and other community events.

"Our new team approach will focus on existing business and industrial investments because research shows that 70 percent of all business expansion comes from repeat clients -- those already in a community --(and) 15 percent from referrals by the existing business community and 15 percent from new industrial investments," Mays stated.

"The new structure will enable us to continue our aggressive strategy of attracting new industry to the area," he continued. "Newton County experienced tremendous job growth and boosted its tax digest significantly when companies like SKC and General Mills, among others, located here in 1990s. While still seeking major new corporations such as those that will be attracted to Stanton Springs, we will be working closely with our existing industry to help encourage their suppliers to relocate in Newton County."

Mays emphasized that small businesses will also be a target of renewed attention.

Willis said he did not have information on the salary for the new president or senior vice president for economic development. He said the additional funds appropriated to the Chamber by the city and county will be used in part to pay the salary of the senior vice president and to attract prospective businesses and industries. The money will not be used to fund the new president's salary, he said.

The county and city agreed several months ago to increase appropriations to the Chamber by a total of $60,000 for this fiscal year. Willis said the Chamber will not receive those funds until the senior vice president position is filled.

The combined annual appropriations from the city and county will increase from $108,000 to $241,000 in fiscal year 2011.