The television and film industry has had a $2.4 million economic impact on Rome and Floyd County over the last five years, but accounts for less than half of one percent of the economic impact which flows through the local tourism office.
Ann Hortman, director of the Rome Sports Commission and a liaison to the Georgia Camera Ready program for Rome and Floyd County, briefed the Rome Floyd Chamber Economic Development committee on the impact of film and sports visitors on Friday.
“This week I’ve talked to a film scout every single day,” Hortman said. “This is a busy time because they’re looking for locations to shoot during the upcoming year or two.”
Statewide, the industry pumped more than $9 billion dollars into the state last year and accounted for more than 22,000 jobs.
The overwhelming majority of the $2.4 million in local spending by the industry occurred back in 2015 when the “Kingmakers” pilot was shot in Rome over a six-week period of time. Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” was shot over two weekends, resulting in a $73,000 economic impact, but Hortman said she was not aware of what the production company had to spend to get the DOT to allow the closure of the west bypass during the local filming.
One of the reasons more productions are not shot in Rome involves the role of the unions in film production. If a shoot takes place more than 70 miles outside a ring from many of the studios headquarters in metro Atlanta, it typically adds $250 a day, per person in the crew to make the trip to Rome.
“We’re outside the circle,” Hortman said. “They are very frugal with their money no matter what you hear about their million dollar budgets.”
The spring should be big for the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College with the International Tennis Federation Georgia Open Wheelchair tournament in March and the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s and women’s tournaments in April.
She predicted that since 2020 is an Olympic year, more competitors than ever will participate in the wheelchair tournament in matches to help enhance their chances of making their nation’s Paralympic teams.
The ACC teams have won the NCAA men’s championships five of the last seven years and have had a team in the championship match eight of the last ten years. On the women’s side, four of the last six NCAA women’s individual singles champions have come out of the ACC.
The new indoor tennis complex at the Rome Tennis Center should be open in time for the wheelchair event in March, she said.
Students and businesses have collected 81,241 cans for the 37th annual Can-a-thon — short of the 100,000 can goal so far. But the group is still picking up cans next week from businesses and schools, so there’s hope.
Hundreds of students from Rome and Floyd County schools gathered at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Friday to bring in their hordes of cans.
They’ve already surpassed last year’s goal of 80,000 cans.
By 9:30 a.m. there were at least 10,000 cans being separated by the students.
Riley Allen, an eighth-grader at Pepperell Middle School, was the head lady in charge when it came to the Can-a-thon. Her job as student council president was to check every homeroom to make sure that students were bringing in cans and money.
She expressed her nervousness for getting the event in order since the year has been hectic for eighth-graders.
Many teachers and principals expressed how proud they were of the efforts of the students.
“One of the things I say to motivate kids is to just imagine the kids and the families who will get the food for Christmas,” she said. “Imagine it’s Christmas and you didn’t have a nice warm meal to have.”
The Salvation Army gets their supply of food for the year from the annual Can-a-thon.
“There’s some people that come in and they wouldn’t have any groceries if it wasn’t for us,” said Capt. Melissa Smith of the Salvation Army. “This will last us all the way to the summer and then we’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrels.”
Tom Caldwell, who is a member of the Salvation Army’s advisory board, said what the schools contribute makes up the majority of the annual can drive. It helps immensely to stock the Salvation Army’s pantry, he said, and without the Can-a-thon he isn’t sure what the Salvation Army would do for food.
“It takes every bit of this to run the center,” Caldwell said. “I wouldn’t know what to think. We would have to figure out a way to buy these things. It’s honestly so much easier to get the community involved with these things.”
When Floyd County Clerk Erin Elrod was single and lived in the mostly unincorporated community of Riverside, she was paying $75 per month for sewer and water and that didn’t include garbage service.
“I live in Old East Rome now with a family of four and we pay $75 per month for the same thing, except we also have trash pick-up now,” Elrod said Friday as Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord was explaining his frustration over the differences in sewer rates between those living within Rome city limits and those in unincorporated areas of the county.
The Riverside (or Celanese) area across from State Mutual Stadium, the Garden Lakes neighborhood in West Rome and the Sherwood Forest subdivision in North Rome are all examples of “blended” clusters of homes that represent both residential city lots and those that have yet to be annexed into the city. It’s in those areas where next door neighbors can have a wide variance in sewer rates.
It’s that variance that bothers McCord the most.
“How do I explain to a senior citizen on a fixed income why she has a $120 water and sewer bill and only uses four units a month and someone else down the street whose home is in the city and uses a lot more water ends up paying so much less each month,” McCord said. “And now that the city has raised its water and sewer rate by 2.5% for the next 10 years, that senior will be paying more like 5% more now. Where’s the logic in that?”
It’s a long-standing issue between the city and the county that goes back to 1988 when the City of Rome purchased and assumed the debt for a failing sewer system owned by Floyd County.
This was “to prevent a building moratorium from being issued within our community by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division,” Rome City Manager Sammy Rich explained Friday. He added as part of that acquisition, the city entered into a franchise agreement that spelled out the terms for the city’s ability to provide sewer services within the community.
When state law required the city to eliminate the duplication of services, the city developed an agreement for the rate differential for unincorporated residents receiving sewer services from the city, Rich said.
Because Rome residents paid for the treatment plant and sewer lines through taxes over the years and are ultimately responsible for those assets and upgrades in the future, those outside the city are having to pay for those same assets through higher rates.
Rich pointed out that those in Floyd County who are outside city limits are able to enjoy the benefits of county-wide sewer services without being forced to live within the city like in many other communities.
“With no sewer in unincorporated areas, we wouldn’t have had industrial and residential growth out in the unincorporated areas,” Rich said.
Both Rich and McCord agree that the establishment of a county-wide “sewer authority” might help level the playing field when it comes to sewer rates.
“In that scenario, specifically the unincorporated sewer customers would gain the most,” Rich pointed out.
McCord said that in the meantime, he’d still like the city to think about lower sewer rates for those outside the city.
“I’d be willing to pay the city more for water to get some type of balance in sewer,” McCord said. “But I don’t own the sewer system. I don’t control the sewer system. If a county resident is unhappy with their sewer rate, there’s nothing they can do about it. They can’t throw city officials out of office because they can’t vote in a city election.”
McCord said he’s working on his own proposal that he hopes to present in January or February. He said this might include some sort of transport fee where those who live farther from the treatment plant might pay more than those who are closer.
“We’re going to buy water from Rome and pump it to the unincorporated areas where they get a direct benefit,” McCord said of attracting more industry to the county. “They’d get a benefit and we’d get a benefit. We benefit by not having to produce the water and they benefit by selling a whole bunch of water in an area they don’t even serve. So it works both ways. We can both win here. We just gotta find the right combination.”
As communities around metro-Atlanta are projected to continue growing explosively, others — including Floyd County — aren’t, Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark said.
Examining global trends that will impact Georgia over the course of the next decade, Clark said, for Floyd County the top of those concerns was his prediction for very slow growth.
Georgia will add two million people over the next ten years, Clark told Rotary members, and the city of Atlanta will double in size within the next 25 to 30 years. At the same time, 80 counties in Georgia will lose population.
“When I look at Rome and Floyd County the good news is that you are expected to continue to grow. I will tell you though it’s not the level that you will need to have the economic success you need long term,” Clark said. “I think over the next 30 years you’re expected to only add about 8,000 residents. That really doesn’t balance out with what the growth in the market is going to demand.”
The state chamber chief also said this area needs to be thinking in terms of its ability to attract talent and creativity.
“We are in a global war for talent and those young men and women are going to be the ones to create new jobs,” Clark said. “What are you doing in this community to recruit the next generation of talent and keep them here?”
The income disparity in Rome and Floyd County was a third area that Clark expressed concern with.
“You’ve got almost 19% of the people who live in your community living in poverty,” Clark told Rome Rotary Club members. “I drove into the town by the community food bank ... that parking lot was full. Do you know which demographic in this community has the highest poverty rate? It’s actually females age 24 to 35.”
The second and third largest demographics also involved women, according to Clark.
“What are you doing to lift those folks out of poverty,” Clark asked.
Responding to a question from City Commissioner Craig McDaniel about a Brookings Institute report listing Rome as a “faltering legacy city.”
Clark said a think tank in Virginia, the Economic Innovation Group, had also listed Floyd County as a “distressed” community at the start of the decade — however, since then it has improved to the mildly better rating of “at-risk.” The study rates communities from prosperous to comfortable, mid-tier, at-risk and distressed.
Companies looking to invest in communities look at those same reports and Clark encouraged the community to develop a strategy to move into the decade.
“As long as a company knows that you’ve got a plan in place and you’re working toward it and it’s a long term strategy you can overcome it,” Clark said.
The business community in Georgia, and across the country, may be the best tool for dealing with the political polarization that has crippled the country, he said.
“At the end of the day the business community is the only group out there that can be the moderate middle and bring Republicans and Democrats (together) and say here are some solutions we all agree on,” he told the group.