Chamber presents goals to Covington

COVINGTON -- "It's a new day at the Chamber." This was the pledge made by Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall to the Covington City Council on Monday.

Hall addressed the City Council to provide an update on the status of the Chamber's economic development efforts.

Hall said the Chamber has narrowed the field to three finalists for the newly created senior vice president of economic development position. These three candidates will be scheduled for interviews in the next week, he said.

The position of senior vice president for economic development was created earlier this year when the Chamber's Board of Directors retooled its leadership structure.

The senior vice president, along with Shannon Davis, who has been director of economic development for the past three years, will devote all of his or her time to market Newton County, attract new businesses and maintain the existing business and industry base.

Hall, who came aboard in April, is tasked with maintaining day-to-day operations of the Chamber, increasing membership and funding, and attending meetings, ribbon cuttings and other community events.

Previously, the Chamber's president performed both functions. Hall said the senior vice president will report directly to him and he reports directly to the Chamber's Board of Directors.

The city and county agreed several months ago to increase appropriations to the Chamber by a total of $60,000 for the just-completed fiscal year. The combined annual appropriations from the city and county will increase from $108,000 to $241,000 in fiscal year 2011.

The Chamber will not receive those funds until the senior vice president position is filled. Hall said Tuesday that while the goal is to fill this position as soon as possible, there is no timetable.

Hall also presented to the City Council on Monday the Chamber's updated mission statement, which promises to provide leadership in the areas of business advancement, economic development and tourism. He said the Chamber will accomplish this by promoting Newton County, working with strategic partners like the city and the county, providing educational opportunities for businesses and being an advocate for all businesses in the county.

He then turned his attention to economic development efforts, which focus on three categories: small businesses, existing industry, and new businesses and industries.

"In this economic downturn, we made it a high priority to focus on existing industries," Hall said.

Some of the ways the Chamber is doing this, he said, is by holding quarterly meetings with the Existing Industry Council, continuing to pursue Work Ready certification for Newton County, completing a wage and benefit survey of industries in Newton County, hosting private monthly lunches between executives of existing industry and city and county leaders, and organizing a manufacturers appreciation luncheon.

"We want to touch them constantly," Hall said.

With regard to new business recruitment, Hall said life sciences, advanced manufacturing and automotive industries continue to look at Newton County as a place to locate.

At the same time, he said, "We are proactively setting up for a retail focus."

Hall said the Chamber is establishing a commercial real estate brokers roundtable, communicating with Electric Cities of Georgia and offering to help commercial developers market their properties.