Friday, February 11, 2011

One Step at a Time

Even in good times measuring progress in the field of economic development can be difficult. Some might say the old adage “two steps forward and one step back” is apropriate. In today’s economy, it seems more like one step forward and two steps back. Nevertheless, a community has to keep moving one step at a time.

Yesterday, we were blessed with wonderful news that the Georgia Department of Labor would open a Social Security claims adjudication office. This office will not only create approximately 40 new jobs for our community but it will also bring thousands to our community annually who need the services provided by the office. Those visiting will get to experience all that our community can offer in retail, lodging, and dining.

Although yesterday’s announcement is wonderful news and we can certainly use the newly created jobs, this project was not a typical recruitment project by our economic development team. But even though we did not recruit this project in the same traditional manner that we have others, we were successful in being chosen because of the foundation we have established with many collaborative partners.

The Grow Greater Dalton Campaign was created to provide accelerated resources for economic development. The campaign established four strategies to be implemented: 1. dramatically accelerate job creation, 2. identify and develop sites for new development and redevelopment, 3. create a vision of a new Greater Dalton and make that vision real through the Archway Partnership, 4. and create a new marketing focus and message for our community.

The formal fund-raising campaign concluded in late 2009 and we have been working on implementing the strategies for less than twelve months. Over the last few months, we have made significant progress. In the area of site development, we have a commerce park under development thanks to the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners and the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority. We have worked successfully with many private landowners in identifying other available and suitable sites for development. We have worked with Dalton Utilities and Electric Cities of Georgia in identifying empty buildings that already have available utility infrastructure that we can redevelop.

Under the leadership of Elyse Cochran, we have dramatically enhanced our marketing message that is attracting attention well ahead of schedule. And this marketing effort is not just a flashy media package that we send out, it is going out and meeting our customers, our targeted clients, and our extended collaborative partners who can assist us. It is meeting with the right decision makers and telling our story.

The latest announcement from Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond is a direct success made possible by our efforts to build relationships across the state of Georgia, throughout the southeast region and even throughout the United States. Our message, that we are open for business and possess the attributes needed by businesses seeking to move or expand, is resonating loudly. Those that need to know about our community are hearing from us like never before. One characterization recently stated by a statewide project manager who said, “the bear has been awakened.”

And strategy number three – create a community vision – is also well on its way to being executed. Melissa Lu and the entire Archway team has worked tirelessly to assimilate past vision documents, data from as many sources as possible, and the wealth of information gathered from the town hall meeting and many focus groups. Very soon the most important community strategies that need our efforts will be communicated and many across the community will have the opportunity to put their mark on our future.

I did not forget strategy number one – dramatically accelerate job creation. I saved the best for last. The Grow Greater Dalton plan set a goal of creating 475 jobs annually. As of yesterday, over 400 new jobs have been created since January 1st. Given that we have four months left in the year, we could achieve our aggressive goal even in these difficult times. The plan also set a goal of achieving $48 million in new capital investment annually. As of yesterday, we have achieved over $90 million in new capital.

The gains we have made are wonderful, exciting, and forecast even greater success going forward. But the reason we are not beating our chest or giving high-fives is there is still so much more to be done. Although our achievements thus far are measurable and meaningful, we have a long way to go in improving the lives of our neighbors. When our job losses total 6000+, the creation of 400 seems a drop in the bucket.

So, our mantra must be one step at a time. Your economic development team will continue to seek every project, we will seek to tell our story to all who will listen, and we will work tirelessly until all who seek a job has one.

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