Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Peril of Partisan Politics

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

All of us are graded from time to time. Students receive regular report cards, employees have performance evaluations, and even publicly traded companies are graded by their stockholders. Do we measure our government entities? If so, how? If not, why not? Many would argue we grade our elected officials through the democratic process. But if that is true, how does Congress continue to be incumbent led while also having steadily decreasing job approval ratings? We have serious issues facing our country and our state, and the status quo is not cutting it!

Let’s begin our introspection at the Federal level. Very quickly after getting healthcare reform passed, the President and his administration are recommending new measures for regulating the financial industry. Remember the analogy used during the healthcare debate that asked the question – do you want the federal government who struggles to run the Veteran’s Administration and the Post Office, providing healthcare in America. And now the proposition is for the Federal Government (the poster child for fiscal malpractice) to oversee and regulate the financial industry.

Given the Enron, AIG, and the latest Goldman Sachs scandals, a strong argument can be made that sound regulations must be in place to prevent corporate miscreants. But the US Government is hardly credible as the entity able to play in that sandbox. I would argue that our federal government and the elected officials who run it, clean up there fiscal minefield first.

This same administration and the majority in Congress are also considering a value-added tax. A VAT is a commonly used tax vehicle in many countries, especially throughout the European Union. Given an inability to accurately define a VAT in the space of this column, a simple definition is a VAT is a sales tax on steroids. I encourage you to Google the term value-added tax and become informed of this type of tax.

Good tax policy calls for taxation to be equitable and transparent. A VAT is neither. In reading the simple definition, I instantly had a vision of hyper creation of jobs in the accounting sector. This type of tax would require armies of CPAs to simply calculate what to charge, who to charge, and how to send the proceeds to Uncle Sam. Job creation is good unless one expansion of a job type directly or indirectly creates reductions in other job types. One statement in the material I found stated that a VAT is inefficient in that the revenues that the tax provides for the government coffers is adversely affected due by the loss of revenue due to decreasing sales because of the tax. All taxes artificially alter the normal operating principles of supply and demand.

The end does not justify the means. Just because there are a few corporate bad guys, the entire financial industry does not have to be over-hauled. The free market economy can regulate itself with minimal yet well thought out and targeted regulations. Companies that are managed poorly should be allowed to fail, and corporate leaders who participate in corporate fraud should be fired and possibly jailed.

Why consider any new tax must less a VAT? One reason argued is that Washington’s massive spending has created deficits that only a new source of revenue can fill. Current estimates forecast that a VAT would generate $700 billion in revenue for the Federal Government. But given that a VAT is an “inefficient” tax, the loss of revenue from other sources could more than likely offset some of that $700 billion. Just because the French are doing it is not reason enough to convince me that this direction is good for America.

Moving down a notch, how would you rate Georgia and its elected leaders? In my twelve years as a Georgian, both parties have enjoyed being the majority party and had one of its own in the Governor’s mansion. Are you better off today? Is Georgia surviving the Great Recession as well as others? Will we come out of this down economic cycle better than others?

I would argue that Georgia is struggling. As Georgia has grown in population, the cost of providing services grew faster than state revenues. Recently some have argued that state government is too big and that proposed cuts will keep the size of government in check. Government does tend to grow even when it is not being fed. But I would argue that simply cutting taxes and cutting spending does not guarantee a prosperous future. Many types of government spending are investments not costs.

If you consider the budget proposals currently headed to a conference committee, Education (investment in our children) has been gouged. The arts (investment in quality of life) have been eliminated by one branch and severely cut by the other. And one other biggie – transportation funding – will once see another legislative session come and go without an answer. One important benchmark related to transportation ranks Georgia 49th in per capita spending for our transportation infrastructure.

As you consider the points presented, it may seem that I am just another doom and gloom pessimist. I am not. I present these two different perspectives concerning the performance of our elected officials so that I can make this point … Our way of life is seriously endangered by partisan politics. Over the last fifteen years both parties have enjoyed majorities and even total control at times. And yet, the issues facing our country and our state have worsened.

For us to tackle these tough complex issues, we have to have the brightest and best running for and being elected to office. And there primary allegiance must be to the public electorate at-large and not their party affiliation. Once elected, every official must work earnestly with their colleagues regardless of party.

America still has its best days ahead of it, if we will once again promote and respect freedom and liberty above all else. We can still be the envy of the world if we will allow all Americans to seek the America dream with a hand-up and not a handout. We still have all the basic tools to reach our destiny, but only if good, honorable, trustworthy, and servant leaders hold our elected offices.

Georgia can be the capitol of the South. But not without effective leadership that can rise above party lines, benchmark against the best, and provide legislation that produces solutions and not sound bites. I want those who represent me to lay out a vision for long-term success and the financial plan to support it. Hearing an elected official proclaim they took an oath to never raise taxes, does not a prosperous future make.

Next week is qualifying for elected office. This community has a wealth of talented and honorable citizens. Given that many offices will be up for election this fall, I encourage any and all who are impassioned about our community, our state, and our nation to step up and seek an elected office. Today, April 22, from 2-5pm, the Chamber will host a Campaign Academy for all that are interested in running for office or assisting others. Contact the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber for more information (706.278.7373).

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Right Leadership at the Right Time

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

About ten years ago, I was a District Manager for The Coca-Cola Company. My district covered most of South Georgia and part of northwestern South Carolina. That spring, a group of us were traveling to different markets for sales blitzes and one particular visit was to Gulfport, Mississippi. About ten of us were on a flight from Atlanta to Gulfport via a stopover in Dallas.

On the leg of the flight from Dallas to Gulfport, smoke began pouring out of the bulkhead in the rear of the plane. After the flight attendant panicked, the First Officer left the cockpit to review the situation upon which he yelled for the Captain to land immediately! But as the First officer walked to the rear of the plane, I saw the Chief Financial Officer for our group looking at me and she asked “are we OK?” Prior to this trip, I had no idea that she was scared of flying. I nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t know”. Once the First Officer yelled to the pilot to land, the Captain quickly came on the intercom instructing us that we would be making an emergency landing and to assume the crash position.

Thirty minutes out of Dallas, the Captain descended from twenty thousand feet and landed the plane at a small landing strip in Mexia, Texas, in about two minutes. Upon landing we were instructed to exit the plane by using the inflatable slide and to “run” from the plane a minimum of one hundred yards. We landed and the smoke turned out to be electrical in nature and a fire never occurred. We sat in the small office of this very tiny airfield for over an hour before being bused back to Dallas for another flight.

I tell you this story to illustrate the importance of leadership and that acts of leadership can come at any time and in many different situations. This is an example of poor leadership exhibited by me. Monica, our group CFO, is a wonderful person and a very intelligent financial executive. But as I said earlier, she had a strong fear of flying. When she asked me if we were OK and I nonchalantly replied, “I don’t know”, she panicked. I did not know the effect my lackadaisical response would have on her. She was close to being catatonic after the excitement subsided.

Now in my defense, I was not that worried. Although the Flight Attendant panicked and the First Officer excitedly yelled for the Captain to land the plane immediately, I had confidence in the crew and in my faith. I forgot to mention this was about six o’clock in the afternoon and I was tired. Monica wanted reassurance and she looked to me to provide it.

Switching gears, an appropriate example of leadership occurred this past Sunday at my church. About 15 minutes into the service, an older member of our congregation became incoherent and sort of passed out. A commotion began with family and friends’ realizing something was wrong but not knowing what to do.
Thankfully, our senior pastor, the ushers, and at least three doctors quickly, but calmly went to the aid of our brother. The congregation remained calm but concerned. Everything just sort of stopped while the doctors and other leaders within our church handled the situation. They exercised the right kind of leadership at just the right time. Someone called 911 almost as soon as a problem was known and they responded quickly and appropriately (I never heard a siren).

I have to confess this episode was emotional yet comforting. Not only were we in the house of the great Physician, we were also surrounded by leaders (pastoral, medical, and servant) such that an alarming and disconcerting event remained calm and caring. I am grateful to all who responded to the needs of our brother. The professional response by all involved had a calm and reassuring effect on the remaining congregation as well. I think we all left church even more blessed than on most Sundays.

Each and every day responsive acts of leadership are called for. And I feel all of us are leaders more often than not. And you do not have to be in a leadership role to be a leader.

We live in difficult times! But are these times any different or any worse than for those that lived during other difficult times - the Civil War, the Holocaust, or The Great Depression? Throughout history we can find examples of extreme times. We can also find extraordinary examples of leadership that made the difficult manageable for all affected.

When the right leaders are in sync with the right times, great and even miraculous things happen. As the Allstate Insurance commercial asks – are we experiencing the Great Recession or will the recession make us great? These are challenging times – but they are times that good leadership can make the difference between survival and prosperity.

Let’s all do our individual and collective best tomorrow, next week, and the rest of the year in serving each other and our great community!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thank You Chamber Team!

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

I cannot tell you how blessed I am to work with such a talented, giving, and thoughtful group of professionals! Your Chamber team is one of the finest I have ever worked with. If you don’t believe me just ask our member-investors. Just this morning I received a call from Kathy Burns of Details and Options Salon and Spa. Kathy called specifically to brag on the great team assembled at your Chamber of Commerce (Thanks Kathy)!

Kathy went out of her way to make sure she thanked me for the great work that our team does. She went on to say that she will always be a member-investor because of the effort the members of our team give in supporting her and her business. Although what we do is our job, it is a pleasure to work with such a great group who take the minimum and turn it into a passion.

Each and every member of our team comes to work every day with our member-investor organizations and those they employ on their mind. They plan and implement events that will enable our members to effectively network and get to know others in the community. Beth Morrison and Sonya Maney plan our member-mixers and other events as if there life depended on it. When our members call needing information or assistance, they give that individual their time and attention unselfishly and professionally. Beth cares about our member-investors like they are her own children. And Sonya is just as passionate and caring!

Beth and Sonya also produce the myriad marketing activity for the Chamber. Our award-winning Chamberlink magazine is produced by Beth and Sonya. This beautiful, informative, and well-read monthly keeps our members in touch with the work the Chamber is doing on behalf of the community.

A couple of Saturdays ago, the community celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Leadership Dalton-Whitfield Program. Under the guidance of Phyllis Stephens, this community leadership program is considered one of the best in the state and continues to re-invent itself and improve year after year. Phyllis wanted to reach another level of promising leaders in our community. So a couple of years ago, she and a few hand-selected volunteers developed and implemented a new program called the Emerging Leaders Institute. This program is in its third year and already paying dividends to our community.

Phyllis also leads all legislative action activities for our team. She starts the process in December of each year working with select members and our elected delegation planning our positions on key issues and the talking points for our members to use when communicating with state elected officials. She then plans and executes a first-class legislative reception that is regarded as one of the best legislative events of the session. And finally she leads the work of the legislative action committee that meets weekly to deliberate the legislation as it moves through the session. All in all, our message and input is heard at the state capitol because of Phyllis Stephens.

Judy Sawyer has led the Chambers administrative and financial operations for a number of years. Because of Judy’s diligence and integrity, our financial affairs and human resources oversight are above reproach. Our Board of Directors is given the good, the bad, and the ugly (as appropriate) in order that they can provide the oversight they are responsible for.

Judy also oversees the internal operations of the organization such that everything is covered and the operation runs like clock-work. It is Judy that also assists all of us in special projects like maintaining the facilities, taking the money at events, or covering lunch when some are out. She is the glue that keeps us together.

Our newest member of the team is Elyse Cochran who leads our economic development efforts. You have heard a lot about Elyse in the last six months, and let me assure you it is all true. She is doing all that we hired her to do and more. She is a true economic development professional who is passionate about improving the economic future for all of us. You will continue to see the fruits of Elyse’ labor as she works to bring jobs and investment to our community.

Karina Cervantes works on our economic development team with Elyse. Karina assist Elyse in managing projects like submitting information about sites and the community to prospects. She works with realtors and site selection consultants in packaging information for clients (typically on a very tight timeline). Karina is multi-lingual, is close to finishing her college degree (while working full-time), and is a wonderful addition to the economic development team.

My purpose for today’s column was to: introduce the members of our team to those that may not know them, highlight the roles of our team members, and to praise them for all that they do. I am simply blessed to be on this amazing team. We have issues and challenges facing us like most organizations do. But because of the wonderful individuals that make up the Chamber team, we will continue meeting those challenges and we will succeed in community development, economic development, and leadership development efforts for our community!

Thank you for your investment in the Chamber of Commerce and therefore your investment in the Dalton-Whitfield community!

We Can + We Will = We Succeed!

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

Recently I attended the Basic Economic Development Course at Georgia Tech. Without meaning any disrespect to my friends who are Georgia alumni, I actually felt more intelligent walking around that campus. Given it was Spring Break and the students were not there, I can only imagine my perceived heightened intelligence if I had been able to walk around and interact with some of the brightest young people in the world.

Last year when I wrote a column for the special Progress Edition of the Daily Citizen, I spoke of what we could achieve if. I wrote about many of the strategies and goals we had to accomplish in order to be successful economically. At this time last year, it was tough … much like today. Our local economy has not improved and many would argue it may have worsened.

At the course at Tech, Dalton was mentioned three different times as an example of what not to be or as one of the worst economically distressed communities in the country. One speaker told us (without knowing someone from Dalton was in the class) that he had written a white paper on Dalton, and Elkhart, Indiana in 2006. In his paper, he illustrated Dalton and Elkhart as two of the places to watch as examples of local economies bound to fail. Both were perfect examples of one-horse towns with their horses being very mature industries that were near the end of their life cycles.

He went on to say that Elkhart knew they were headed for trouble as the hub of recreational vehicle manufacturing. Dalton, as he described, still did not get that they were in trouble and had not prepared for what was to come. Elkhart and its workforce were good at manufacturing and assembly but its industry was based on building large gas-guzzling RVs. They had recently, however, decided to transition a strength and a threat into an opportunity. Elkhart was proactively taking steps to become the electric car manufacturing center of the world.

This well-respected economic development professional went on to say that Dalton still had not taken the steps to transition its economy from a one-horse industry into a more diversified economy. The second instructor who chose to use our community to make a point stated, “Dalton is in a death-spiral.” Although the Dalton economy had been hurt because of external issues (housing industry collapse and the collapse of the nation’s financial system), Dalton knew this day would come and had not prepared. He remarked that he had spoken to the Dalton Rotary Club in 1993 and forecasted such a time would come.

The third instructor also referred to Dalton as an example of a local economy in serious trouble and one that had to diversify to survive. But he also stated that from all reports he followed, Dalton had begun to take the necessary steps to be proactive in positively influencing its economic future. According to Peter Drucker, “the most common cause of executive failure is inability or unwillingness to change with the demands of a new position. The executive who keeps on doing what he has done successfully before is almost bound to fail.”

We can + we will = Success is a winning formula and a formula not founded in business as usual. It is a formula that can enable us to do things differently. We can simply means that we have or are beginning to have the tools necessary to succeed. Over the last four years the work of the Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority has been to lay the foundation for doing proactive economic development work. At this time last year, we had a foundation but were lacking three primary elements needed to succeed.

We were without an experienced and proven economic development professional to lead our efforts. Although the process took much longer than I wanted or expected, we succeeded in recruiting Elyse Cochran back home to Georgia from North Carolina. Elyse has the resume, the contacts and network, and the personality to lead our efforts. In her first six months, she has worked tirelessly to understand the issues facing us, getting to know the community stakeholders, all while working with a number of prospects looking to invest in the greater Dalton community.

We said a year ago we had to have product - shovel-ready land ready for development. The process for obtaining land for development could have been public in nature or a public-private enterprise. Currently we have under development two developments that will enable us to have developed / shovel-ready land for prospects in two different, yet ideal areas for industrial and commercial development.

The third area of concern was our lack of sufficient financial resources to be able to compete with other communities regionally, nationally, and globally. With great appreciation to the Chamber of Commerce Board members who supported the creation of and implementation of the Grow Greater Dalton Campaign, the Grow Greater Dalton Leadership team, and most importantly the GGD Investors, we have successfully completed our campaign with over $6 million dollars pledged for executing clearly defined economic development strategies. Many communities our size and larger had been executing these types of campaigns for years with wonderful community development successes to show for it. We will now have the resources needed for proactive economic development. All three components of the right leadership, the right land / product, and the financial resources make-up the - we can variable of the formula.

The we will variable of the formula is possible and more than likely probable. But, it is not certain. Just as the formula illustrates, half of the probability of success is based on the we will variable. Having all of the components of the we can variable is not enough. We have to do something in order to succeed. Elkhart, Indiana, is doing something and becoming the community it desires to be. We are just as capable of a similar transition.

Manufacturing in the US has been declining and according to most exports, it will continue to decline as measured by the number of jobs it creates. Our home-grown carpet industry is a prime example. When the economy turns positive again, most are forecasting that the volume of carpet produced in 2005 will be able to be produced with significantly less labor. We must proactively plan for, recruit, and transition our skilled workforce for new opportunities. And if we are going to recruit new industry, why not emulate Elkhart and find those companies / industries that will improve our standards of living and our quality of place. The Joint Development Authority has targeted plastics, chemicals, advanced manufacturing, and automobile assembly as the most appropriate targets for us to focus on.

According to the Progressive Policy Institute the new economy is “a knowledge and idea-based economy where the keys to wealth and job creation are the extent to which ideas, innovation, and technology are embedded in all sectors of the economy.” Given this definition, we must remain vigilant in educating our workforce. The current state budget situation is deplorable and our state leaders have abdicated a critical responsibility in not protecting our “investments” in education. How can we succeed long-term in a knowledge and idea-based economy without well-educated and trained workforce? The we will variable requires that we influence successfully the improvement of all resources necessary, including investments in education.

We can + We will = We Succeed! I continue to be excited about the future of the Greater Dalton Area. Our community made up of Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill, Varnell, and all of Whitfield County can and will succeed if we plan, collaborate, and execute. Let’s all pull together for a better tomorrow as we transition into all that we want to be!

Spring at Last, Spring at Last!

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

Although it snowed briefly this week and the temperature was in the 30s on Monday, spring is in the air. If my ten spring seasons have taught me anything about Dalton, it is that when the buttercups and Cherry Trees bloom, spring is here. I absolutely love traveling on College drive and seeing the beautiful little yellow blooms along the front of Dalton State College. I also love it when the time changes and it stays daylight longer. Those walking, running, and pushing baby strollers are motivating for all of us who have neglected exercise longer than we should have.

I also feel we are entering a “spring” season economically. Mother Nature has dealt us a cold, wet, dreary winter. Our economic winter has been just as cold and dreary. And, we still have a long way to go. But I firmly believe recent positive reports on our economy are the Cherry tree blossoms and buttercups blooms that we so desperately seek. It isn’t eighty degrees and the flowers are not in full bloom yet. But our economy is like my Zoysia lawn, I am beginning to see the emerging green shoots beneath the old brown blades.

And as we all begin to make preparation for the coming outbreak of blooms and greening, we spread pre-emergence and weed killer on our lawns. We fertilize our plants. And we put out new pine straw or mulch. In short we get outside and prepare our “outside” living / work areas that beautify our homes and businesses. We improve that which has been dormant during the cold and wet winter.

Your economic development team is also preparing for our economic spring. We are researching those growth companies within our targeted industries that we feel could be a good fit for investing in our community and who are poised for expansion. We will package a marketing campaign to “sell” them on the reasons they should consider investing here. We are researching areas needing redevelopment and the tools that are at our disposal for implementing good value added redevelopment at these sites. We are working in a variety of areas to acknowledge and understand the vision that our local leaders have painted for us.

Economic development is like a garden, it has many varieties of fruitful and productive plants that add to its vitality and beauty. Our local economy also possesses many varieties of productive and fruitful entities. Our garden blooms from carpet manufacturers, automobile parts manufacturers, and chemical companies. Our economy is equally nourished by the hundreds or thousands of small businesses – realtors, law firms, banks, retailers, florists, car dealers, doctors and dentists, etc. Your economic development team has to be knowledgeable about all of these. Armed with this knowledge, we can better prepare plans and programs to enable these economic entities to flourish.

I consider myself blessed to be on such a diverse and talented economic team. Your Chamber of Commerce works intricately with the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Dalton Development Authority, the Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority, the Northwest Georgia Convention and Trade Center, the cities of Dalton, Tunnel Hill, and Varnell, and Whitfield County. When you add the staff of all these entities and the volunteer board members and supporters, you quickly realize our economic development team is large, energized, passionate, and most of all talented.

In spite of the long economic winter that we have endured, and in spite of the many obstacles still facing us, I see our community as that bed of tulips planted last fall – soon we will enjoy the beauty and joy that the blooms will give due the vibrant growth that good soil, water, and sunshine bring about. Our economic garden is ready to bloom because of the preparation and hard work given by so many and for so long.

Thank you for welcoming me and my family to this awesome community. You have no idea how blessed we feel to be a part of this community. Dalton has blessed us in ways we could not have imagined. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of the extraordinary Chamber team and the community’s economic development team. It is truly humbling to think each of us can be a part of our community’s next economic revival.

As we head toward Easter enjoying the beauty this season of resurrection brings us, be mindful how blessed we are. Recommit to giving what you can to the resurgence we all desire for our community. We have all benefitted from the sacrifices of those that have gone before us, and it is now our time to do our part!

God bless each and all - Happy Easter!

Congratulations Drug Court

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

Have you ever heard of a drug court? Did you know we have one? Thanks to Judge Jack Partain, Coordinator George Shirilla, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and many others, we have the Conasauga Drug Court right here in our community. It was created in 2002 and due to its success, many other drug courts have been created in Georgia, and throughout the nation.

What is a drug court? In layman’s terms, it is simply a judicial program that attempts to save lives through dealing with drug addiction and giving drug offenders a pathway back to productive citizenship. Those accepted into the program agree to a long (minimum two years) and very structured program that deals with their addiction within the judicial process. Participants that have been arrested have the option of applying for participation in the program versus the typical judicial process.

Participants who are accepted into the program must plead guilty to the offenses they are charged with. They are sentenced to probation. Part of their probation is served through participation in the drug court program. Those that are eligible for first offender status and who complete the program, will not have a felony conviction on their record. The Drug Court program is a unique opportunity and privilege in the judicial process.

Last week, I attended the 40th graduation ceremony of the Conasauga Drug Court. Congratulations to John, Stephanie, Andrew, and Blake. These four graduates have successfully completed the rigorous program. These individuals are to be commended for their diligence and commitment to fighting their addiction and overcoming the damage that drug addiction can render on them, their families, and our community.

For those who have never attended a session in which Judge Partain reviews the status of the participants, rewards or sanctions participants, or awards diplomas for graduating; you have missed a real eye-opening (and in most cases tear-inducing) experience. The review sessions where rewards or sanctions are issued based on the participants progress, are not for the faint of heart. Imagine being in the program and failing a drug test or missing an appointment with the treatment team, and then having to face the Judge, who then sanctions you to a day or two in jail. I have witnessed these sessions. No matter how hard core one may be about drug use, watching someone be sent to jail is tough.

Speaking of Judge Jack Partain, let me just say that we are blessed to have him in our community. His work as a Superior Court Judge is remarkable enough. But he volunteers to oversee the Consauga Drug Court in addition to his regular Superior Court case load. The best way to for me to describe Judge Partain is to say he is tough but fair. He really cares about those accepted into the program and is committed to helping them succeed. The other team members share that commitment and compassion.

Some of you may be saying to yourself, who cares? These people broke the law and got caught. Why should we spend the extra resources to help criminals who knew better? I know someone reading this is saying something to that effect. I know this because I have had at some point or other felt this way. I have never taken illegal drugs nor do I plan to. But I do have addictions. I have struggled for years with biting my fingernails. I also eat sweets to my detriment. Mentioning these two insignificant addictions compared with drug addiction is not to belittle the struggles of those addicted to drugs. It is mentioned to make the point that addiction is addiction. It is extremely difficult to overcome the psychological and the physiological attachment to anything we become addicted to.

Drug court provides an environment that enables the participants to deal with the addiction while also working through the other necessary steps to becoming self-sufficient and productive. These participants need a supportive and stable platform to grow from. They need compassion, caring, and expertise of a variety of team members with specific skill sets. The Conasauga Drug Court Team provides this enabling platform for these individuals.

The other side of the question “who cares?” is this; this program is cost effective versus incarceration. Or put another way, drug court offers a return on investment for all stakeholders. This return comes in a variety of ways. The most important is that outside of times of sanctions, participants are not incarcerated at a cost of $40-$55 per day. They can (and usually do) work providing for themselves and their families. The support team works in the drug court program in addition to their normal duties. Judge Partain, the assigned Asst. District Attorney, the Public Defender, and all other specialists volunteer to work on the team. They are paid for and do their regular full-time job while also working voluntarily on the drug court team. The incremental cost to the community is for the program coordinator and a few administrative costs.

In order to fully put into perspective what a program like this means to a community, let me highlight a few of the statistics pertinent to the program’s success:
• There are 46 current participants (a savings of $1840 per day that they are not incarcerated).
• Treatment attendance, Drug Test results, Drug Court appearance, and attendance in the 12-Step program all are at the 99% success rate.
• 94% of participants are employed.
• 77% of participants are retained and the program has a low 14% attrition rate, and an equally low recidivism rate of 9%.
• Participants have given 19,557 community service hours.
• 66 participants have received their GED with 7 more in progress.
• Participants have paid over $256,000 in fees.
• Costs savings from not incarcerating the participants is over $759,000.
These statistics paint a very compelling story of the success our community has enjoyed in dealing with a devastating society issue. I am thankful our community has the Conasauga Drug Court. The entire team and those in the program are to be encouraged and commended.

An afternoon with Mayor Peeples and Charlie Company

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

An afternoon with Mayor Peeples and Charlie Company!

Let me start this week by saying how much I appreciate the many kind words many of you have shared about my columns. Although I have never pretended to be a writer or journalist, I do try to deliver interesting columns each week. I am truly grateful for your words of encouragement. Although there are always many issues that a column could speak to, I am always open to ideas. If you have an idea about something interesting, let me know and I will research it and report on it.

One such idea came to me via email even as I was preparing for today’s column. It came from Bethany Richmond of the Carpet and Rug Institute. Bethany sent an article from a Texas newspaper outlining a local approach to economic stimulus. A Texas businessman in Whitehouse, Texas, outlined an ingenious approach to stimulating the local economy.

Basically, Mr. Max Anderson proposed that money spent in the local area could be passed on to stimulate other local businesses. For instance, if a consumer came in to purchase carpet from Mr. Anderson and the sales tax came to $300, he would issue a check for $300 (equivalent to the sales taxes) to another local business of the customer’s choosing. In other words, the consumer could choose a local appliance business to receive a local stimulus. The same consumer then takes the “stimulus check” to the appliance store and uses it to purchase appliances from them.

Based on the passing it on principle, Mr. Anderson appropriately called his idea the “Pass it On” campaign. So far, Mr. Anderson has passed on over $20,000 in local stimulus. This sounds ingenious to me and would love to hear from our local businesses that might have an interest in a similar campaign. If so, your Chamber of Commerce will work to develop the framework for creating such an opportunity in the Dalton-Whitfield community.

On another note, on Monday of this week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Mayor Dan peoples of Varnell. Mayor Peeples is an exciting, energetic, focused, and impassioned young leader. He has a great vision for the City Varnell and the North end of Whitfield County. We looked at and discussed their infrastructure improvement plans / needs, there growth plans, and basically discussed the thorough plan that the Mayor and Council are working to implement.

Given the growth in employment slated to occur north of us in Bradley County and Hamilton County, the leaders of Varnell are to commended for looking at the opportunities available to Varnell for growth in new residents who may work in Dalton, Cleveland, or Chattanooga. Working with Dalton Utilities, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, and the Whitfield County School System public sewer availability will be extremely beneficial going forward.

Given that we have a need for real estate offerings in the $175-$225K price range, two subdivisions in the Varnell area could be re-designed to offer homes in this price point. The Rockingham subdivision and possibly even a new phase in the Highland Point subdivision could be developed with these price points in mind. In addition to the appropriate price points, such subdivisions need to offer a swimming pools, tennis courts / basketball courts, and playgrounds.

If we are going to keep and attract young professional families, we have to have real estate offerings that are comparable to our surrounding / competing communities. If we are not able to provide this range of price points within the two subdivisions suggested, we will have to work with developers, real estate firms, and possibly regional builders who could create a development in this price range with the recommended amenities. New homes will be built again in the future, we should prepare for when that will occur by knowing what we need and then building it.

As I left Varnell to return to my office, I stopped at the new Dalton Village Shopping Center. What an interesting and aesthetically pleasing new retail development. Although the center is new and only has a couple of tenants, this center is one to watch. It is beautiful, unique, and will offer its tenants a terrific place to conduct business and provide goods and services to consumers in our community. If they are successful in attracting the right kind of retail offerings, we might even be successful in keeping some of the retail leakage that goes to Cleveland and Chattanooga.

The anchor tenant of the center is Value fresh Supermarket. I had the pleasure of visiting with John Burton, the General Manager of the supermarket. This new retail edition to the grocery segment will provide additional grocery shopping north of the bypass. Those living up and down Cleveland Highway can shop in our community without feeling like they need to travel north into Cleveland. I look forward to meeting with John in a few months and discovering that their success has been even better than they expected.

Let me close this week with just a snapshot of yesterday’s welcome home tribute to Charlie Company. The hundreds of well-wishers / greeters came to Harmon Field to celebrate the safe return of our community’s citizen-soldiers. They are not soldier-citizens. These are local people who answer the call when called on by their country or state. A little over one year ago, Captain Lewis promised to bring back all 90 members of Charlie Troop. Yesterday he could proudly state that he kept his promise.

This ceremony was spectacular! Special kudos to: the Dalton HS ROTC Color Guard, Mayor David Pennington, Captain Jason Lewis (Troop Commander), First Sergeant Ronnie Perryman (Troop First Sergeant), SFC Eric Rochelle, Rev. Mickey Shealy, and Maj. (ret.) Raymond McCranney. An extra special THANK YOU goes to Rick Brown who worked tirelessly during the deployment to insure these soldiers were prayed for, cared for, and provided for!

Mayor Pennington in thanking these troopers for all that they had done for us, also pledged that our community now stands ready for them. Let me echo that sentiment! For all of us who are grateful for your service, we are here for you. Let us know what we can do for you! God bless each of you and your families!

From State Capitol to our Nation's Capitol

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

From our State Capitol to our Nation’s Capitol

Last week I had the honor and pleasure of visiting our Nation’s Capitol along with representatives of the Carpet Industry and the Carpet and Rug Institute. I represented your Chamber of Commerce. The trip was organized by Jennifer Mendez from CRI. Her efforts along with those of the staff for Congressman Nathan Deal provided for a very productive and organized visit. A big Thank you to Jennifer!

Before getting into the meat of our visit, let me share that something was different this year. Although I have been to our nation’s capitol a few times, I really paid attention to the atmosphere in Washington. Our nation’s capitol is built to last. The architecture utilized building materials that are as close to permanent as you can get. As I took in the aesthetics of this great city, I had a sense of pride that I have not felt before. When you add up all that is Washington DC, it is hard not to appreciate what was once described as ‘the greatest home field advantage in the world.”

Imagine if our policies and principles were as sound as the buildings and architecture of this great city. The current spend, spend, spend policies of Congress and our past and current President is equivalent to building our nation’s capitol out of cardboard instead of stone. The investments in monuments and cathedrals and the impressive size and number of government buildings represented investments meant to last many generations.

Given the focus today on spending versus investing, will our nation be as strong 100 years from now as it is today? Instead of investing in education, infrastructure, and policies that are sustainable, our elected officials of both parties are spending on the temporary. Even in these times, the growth of the federal government goes on and on unchecked.

It wasn’t surprising that the same issues that faced our industry a year ago are being pushed again this year; Cap and Trade (or better described cap and tax), EFCA (the employee free choice act), and healthcare reform. Two new concerns this year included extended producer responsibility legislation and the EPA’s consideration of labeling Coal Fly Ash as a hazardous material.

Overall the industry would be adversely affected by most of these policies. Given that producing carpet requires the use of a lot of electricity, proposed cap and trade legislation would drive up the cost of electricity and therefore carpet prices. We need good energy policies for our country. I would even argue that emissions must continue to be monitored for the effects they could have on our environment. But to simply tax our industries much more stringently than other competing nations will simply drive more jobs from the US. The position of CRI, their member companies, and your Chamber who represents these same companies is opposed to Cap and Trade legislation.

The EFCA legislation being proposed would allow more influence of labor unions in calling for elections and winning union representation for employees. If labor unions were the way to go, why has the membership decreased for years, and why are the places that unions were so prevalent quickly becoming ghost towns. Big Labor does not create or protect jobs. They simply handicap the free market system and create more bureaucracy within companies trying to compete in a very competitive global economy. The delegation was also opposed to EFCA legislation.

Enough has been said by many, including me, on the healthcare reform debate. Suffice it to say that the current proposed legislation is expensive and unpaid for, will not positively affect the issues facing us related to healthcare, and does nothing to slow down increasing costs.

Extended producer responsibility legislation is new on the horizon and began at the state level such as California. Simply put, the producer or manufacturer of any product would be responsible for that product from creation to disposal. Imagine the costs associated with shipping all post-consumer carpet back to the production center. The delegation asked that if this approach to managing products that have completed their life-cycle is warranted, that a federal standard be created instead of the industry having to operate according to fifty different sets of rules.

Due to the recent Coal Fly Ash spill in Decatur Tennessee, the use of and management of this by-product has come under scrutiny. Coal Fly Ash that has been refined to a glass-like substance is used in latex backing for carpet. Not only does it eliminate the need for calcium carbonate, it aids in the application of latex. The EPA is considering labeling this by-product as a hazardous material even though the science does not substantiate this claim. We asked our elected officials to assist us if this classification becomes a reality.

Let me conclude this column by saying I am proud to be an American. This visit reinforced that pride. But the answers we need right now to guide our country do not seem available from our federal government. I found it interesting that the discussion of job creation was almost silent. Although our federal officials are talking about jobs bills and creating jobs, they do not know how. Only the free market can create jobs. Hopefully investors, and entrepreneurs will continue to be bullish on America, and we will once again stand for all that is true and right in a free world.