LEAD Polk Class of 2017

The LEAD Polk Class of 2017 took a tour of the State Capitol on Oct. 19. (Contributed photo)

With November finally on my desk calendar, our Lead Polk class of 2017 is nearing graduation. As I reflect over the last four months, it is especially important for me to understand what I have taken away from this experience.

You see, I came through the previous Polk County Leadership program some twelve to thirteen years ago, and I previously served as a Councilman for the City of Rockmart for over nine years.

I’ve been in Law Enforcement and Nuclear Security management, business management of Fortune 100 companies and worked alongside some of our nation’s brightest minds at our National Laboratories. So, as I approach my (choke - cough) 60th birthday, I was asked what was I really going to take in during this time-consuming process? Fortunately for you readers, they gave me a word limit, but here are some highlights! (BTW — I might have ignored the word count.)

First, I met a diverse and energetic group of twenty individuals that were reportedly ready, willing and able to dedicate more of themselves to the betterment of all of Polk County. Some were born and raised here; some moved away and returned; some chose to be here to escape the hustle of Atlanta metro; and, some followed the American dream, immigrating to this great country and building a fulfilling life for their family. And without exception, each one chose to be an active member of this class to become a better person, leader and citizen of Polk County. I learned I want to be like them!

Secondly, I quickly realized there was a formidable team (Missy Kendrick, Britt Madden, Karen Nissen, et al) that had been and was continuing to work behind the scene each week to establish a new Lead Polk program. This new program has focused on the many assets throughout this county, such as a thriving industrial sector that is growing new jobs at a substantial rate for existing industries. The program clearly demonstrated that Polk County also has a healthy industrial recruitment program, with a customer ready Spec building, build ready sites and certified sites near completion.

We are fortunate to have Missy Kendrick, one of the top Economic Developers in the State and the President of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, as the President of our own Development Authority. We have two wonderful cities, which through their own Development Authorities, provide a strong triumvirate capable of preparing for and negotiating with any business opportunity this county faces.

They all clearly understand the assets we have available to offer as well as the impacts and benefits that industries can bring to the community. They move with excitement, wisdom and caution. I learned I want to work in all these efforts, with that same excitement, wisdom and caution!

I witnessed that in every part of this county, there are people working hard every day to make it more successful and a great place to live. Our agricultural history and presence remains strong, still representing nearly $47 million in revenues. We still have strong organizations such as the UGA Extension Office (Ricky Ensley), Georgia Farm Bureau (Jackie Casey) and the Polk Cattleman’s Association.

Thank you Bill & Jan Nutt, Morning Glory Farms, Lovell Farms and Carlton Farms for all the great work you are doing. The science and innovation they are applying is truly fascinating. As mentioned earlier, our industrial base is strong and growing, with expansions announced at Cedarstream, Hon, Meggit, reconstruction of Koch Foods (formerly Cagles), representing over 400 new jobs.

I also learned how these activities and the increased traffic flows around them provide the basis for our developers to reach out and bring in retail prospects. Recent openings of AT&T, Chick-fil-A and Martins in Rockmart, as well as the new Tractor Supply and the various out-lots in Cedartown are just some of the new retail opportunities arriving.

It appears several others are in the works, all of which will equally bolster the tax base of the county and cities. I learned that people from every sector of business will be vital to the balanced growth and vitality of Polk County.

Lastly, we were exposed to the importance of a properly educated and trained workforce early in our classes, an issue Polk County has been facing for some time. Fortunately, our school district has established the Polk County College & Career Academy, led by Dr. Katie Thomas with a fantastic team that is working with community and industry leaders to ensure that our school system understands the needs for the current and future workforce.

The PCCCA has done a phenomenal job of collaborating with Georgia Northwestern Technical College and Georgia Highlands to establish its initial programs, and is now reaching out to other institutions such as The State University at Kennesaw to expand its offerings. They opened a new state of the art facility at Cedartown High school this year and refurbished classrooms at Rockmart High School.

Its lab, automotive, welding and robotic equipment are unmatched in any classroom I have ever visited, and many of the instructors carry national recognitions. The PCCCA has already become recognized as one of the best charter College and Career Academies in the state. How did all this happen in Polk County?

Most will tell you it takes a complete team performing lot of hard work behind an unyielding commitment to a shared vision. I learned I always want to be on that team — Welcome to Lead Polk 2017.

Editor's Note: the first LEAD Polk Class of 2017 graduates from the program this week in Rockmart at an invitation-only ceremony on Nov. 9. Please contact the Polk County Chamber of Commerce if you plan to attend at 770-684-8760 to help establish a head count for dinner, which is an extra cost for attendees.