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!