Editor's note: In Our Backyard is an ongoing series of articles that will take a look at manufacturing in the East Metro area and inform readers about what types of products are made here.
Local manufacturers are much like sleeping giants that operate largely out of public view but whose presence would be severely missed if they were gone.
The industrial sector accounts for more than 10 percent of Rockdale County's tax digest, based on 2011 figures released from the Rockdale County Tax Commissioner, and employs an average of 12.7 percent of the local workforce.
According to information provided by the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council, 83 manufacturers operate in Rockdale County. Of those 17 are fabricated metal or primary metal producers, 10 are chemical industries and another 10 are in the printing industry. Other categories of manufacturers in Rockdale include apparel, food, plastics, wood products, among others.
Shannon Davis, director of business and workforce development with the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, estimated that 25 percent of Newton County's workforce is employed by manufacturers. Industrial taxpayers constituted approximately 11.7 percent of the 2010 Newton County tax digest, said Tommy Knight, chief appraiser with the Newton County Tax Assessors Office.
Knight said that as a percentage, it might not look like a significant portion of the local tax base, especially when compared to the 64 percent of taxes brought in by residential property owners, but the net impact on the county is significant.
"Industries will never use the public services required by residents," he said. "How many times does a business call an ambulance or need a firefighter? They will never put kids in the school system. The amount of services they require is very small."
Glenn Sears, executive director of the Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council, agreed.
"Manufacturing is a core of the community," he said.
Sears said that retention of existing industry is vital to the health of any community, not only for the tax base it provides, but also for workers it employs.
According to data provided by Sears, the 83 manufacturers in Rockdale County reported an average monthly employment of 3,712 as of the second quarter in 2011 with an average weekly wage of $964.
Rockdale and Newton counties have much to offer existing and future industries, according to economic development officials.
Among their attributes are Interstate 20 that bisects the counties, easy access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the CSX Railroad that runs through both Conyers and Covington.
Furthermore, Sears said, the expansion of the runways at Covington Municipal Airport allows corporate jets to land, which makes it easier for executives to conduct business here.
In addition, he pointed out that proximity to the Port of Savannah is an asset for companies that conduct international business. Sears, a retired executive with John Deere, said the port was a tremendous benefit for that company because it shipped products all over the globe.
Phil Sexton, plant manager at Transparent Container located off Sigman Road near the Rockdale/Newton county line, agreed proximity to the Port of Savannah has been a benefit to his company, which brings in a large amount of products from China and India.
Sears said he believes Rockdale County has been successful in retaining industry because the focus has been on providing those companies with tangible value.
For example, he said, in 2007 Solo Cup was suffering from significant employee turnover. The CREDC, along with Georgia Piedmont Technical College (formerly DeKalb Technical College) teamed up to bring the Work Ready program to Rockdale County. Solo Cup was one of the first local companies to take advantage of the program that certifies employees' education and skills, Sears said. As a result, he said, Solo Cup has greatly reduced turnover, which is now closer to 10 percent, based on a recent report to the Rockdale County Development Authority.
"That is the kind of value we provide to existing industries, something that can be integrated into their business processes, with a positive impact," Sears said.
Sears said a healthy manufacturing sector serves as a magnet that helps communities grow.
"It's just like you grow a great community around education: people come for a great education and they stay for a great education," Sears said.
Sears and Davis pointed out that both Rockdale and Newton counties continue to attract new industries.
In October, Illinois-based Corrugated Supplies Co. opened a plant in a 44,000-square-foot facility in Conyers.
In November, both Vestar Technologies and Amesbury Extruded Products announced they would open manufacturing plants in Lochridge Industrial Park in Covington.