Economic development job still unfilled

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- A year after the county and city of Covington increased appropriations to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce so it could hire a vice president for economic development, the position still has not been filled.

More than 20 candidates have been interviewed for the position, and one offer has been made, according to Chamber President Hunter Hall. The offer was turned down, because the individual did not want to start over in a new community following recent success in his current job, Hall said.

"This is too big a position to hire the wrong person for. I'm quite adamant about that. The person we're looking to hire is not looking for a job," Hall said during his recent quarterly economic development report to the Board of Commissioners and City Council. "We will hire the right person, but not at the expense of time."

In late 2009, the City Council and Board of Commissioners agreed to increase allocations to the Chamber by a combined $60,000 for the remainder of fiscal year 2010 and by more than $130,000 for fiscal year 2011. The organization has not received those funds since no hire has been made.

Hall also reported that economic forecasters are predicting only a slight upturn in the economy during calendar year 2011. A 3.5 percent Gross Domestic Product growth rate is predicted, Hall said. The typical recession recovery growth rate is 5 percent. Also, Georgia's unemployment rate, currently at 9.9 percent, is expected to be 9.5 percent this time next year, not a significant improvement, Hall said.

It looks as though 2012 and 2013 will be years when economic growth finally starts happening, and if that's the case, 2011 will be a year of positioning to take advantage of that, Hall said. The Chamber is focused on job retention and growth, he said.

Hall congratulated both bodies on the successful recruitment of an SKC expansion. The expansion represents a $100 million investment and will create 120 new jobs. The new 200,000-square-foot facility will be constructed at the existing Covington site off Hazelbrand Road. It will produce plastic film components for the solar panel industry and other products. Movement on the market right now is related to energy projects such as the SKC facility, he said.

"I think that will bode very well for us. I don't think this will be the end of SKC and their expansion," he said.

Economic Development Director Shannon Davis said requests for proposals from companies interested in locating in Newton County increased from 16 in 2009 to 28 in 2010. Those resulted in six site visits, up from five in 2009.

"We're getting looks from high-quality companies. It's great that we're still staying on the radar with those folks," she said.

The movie industry continues to be a boon for the county, Hall said, noting that nearly 30 years after "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "In the Heat of the Night" were filmed, those television series are still drawing tourists to Covington. Now, "The Vampire Diaries" is also part of the allure, he said, adding that a tourist from Australia recently stopped by the Visitors Center to buy a "Vampire Diaries" poster. While filming may be a minor inconvenience for residents in the short-term, over the long-term it can mean more tax dollars for the county, he said.