Bartow County Sole Commissioner Steve Taylor made no bones about it last week. Interstate 75 has been the linchpin to the success of economic development across the county, from Emerson on the south end through Cartersville to Adairsville on the north end of the county. Taylor said that while the highway has been a catalyst for development, very little of the progress that has been made in recent years could have been accomplished without partnerships between the county and the municipal governments spread out across the county.
“We don’t separate unincorporated versus the cities,” Taylor said. “When I first went to commissioner training, early on some of the commissioners were saying it’s like the cities are an adversary and I really didn’t get that and I still don’t get it. ... We look to partner with our communities.”
Bartow County Tax Commissioner Steve Stewart said the kind of cooperation that exists across the community wasn’t always the case.
“I’ve been here for 31 years, and trust me, it’s hasn’t always been like it is now.” He also said the sole commissioner form of government has worked to Bartow’s advantage as well.
“Corporations love our form of government, they can talk to one man and get the answer. You don’t have to wait 30 days for a meeting or whatever,” Stewart said.
Stewart said he expects to collect approximately $97 million in local taxes for the entire county this year, while Floyd County Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne said he expects to collect a little more than $93 million in Rome and Floyd County.
Taylor said that the county has worked on some of the same economic development projects that the cities have worked on, but city leaders work closely with the county office of economic development director Melinda Lemmon.
“Here in Adairsville there are a couple of good projects going on right now that we’re excited about,” Taylor said, referring primarily to the announcement earlier in the week that Ashley Capital has a 766,080-square-foot speculative building and another 1,100,000-square-foot building planned for the Georgia North industrial park.
“Good things are happening in Adairsville,” said Mayor Kenneth Carson.
“You can see how the community has grown from 1980 up to now, and it’s because of, mainly I think, I-75,” Taylor said. Bartow’s population was 40,760 in the 1980 Census and more than doubled to 100,157 during the 2010 Census.
“You can look at surrounding communities that are not on I-75 and their growth since 1980, and it’s not quite as good as Bartow County,” said the commissioner.
“The cities along I-75 that are primarily taking advantage of this growth are Adairsville, Cartersville and Emerson,” Taylor said. “You’d have to be living with your head in the sand not to know what’s going on down there (in Emerson) with LakePoint and all the other companies that are looking, and it’s not just LakePoint.”
Taylor said he expects the new management of the LakePoint Sporting community to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy very soon and come out with no debt to block expansion.
“Their plans are to continue on, at least we’ve been told, with the master plan,” Taylor said.
Emerson Mayor Al Pallone also expressed optimism for the continued development of LakePoint. A huge mixed-use residential and retail development is proposed for an area just west of the LakePoint development.
Jacoby Development of Atlanta posted plans on its website earlier this year for its Villages at Red Top, sprawling across 1,150 acres, which envisions as many as 1,400 single-family homes and 600 multi-family units. Trails, a golf course and water recreation access are all included in the plan. A commercial district would model each street on areas of other major cities such as Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis.
“We’ve still got some work to do, but I think it’s going to happen,” Pallone said.
The commissioner said I-75 was also responsible for much of the county’s growth revenue-wise. Looking at regular sales tax reports, the commissioner said the highway offers a big advantage. He explained that wholesale sales, largely gasoline, are driven by the number of truck stops in the county. “They are huge revenue generators,” Taylor said.
“Look at Adairsville, look at Cartersville, look at Emerson, none of them would be prospering like they are right now without the interstate. We know that, it’s nothing county leadership has done.”
The commissioner used an industrial example related to proximity to the interstate, a company that may be running as many as 200 truck shipments daily.
“If you’re only a mile off the interstate, let’s just say Floyd County for example is 30 miles away, even if they had the 411 Connector (now called the Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor) you’re still 30 miles away. If you’re running 200 trucks, that’s 30 miles each way and you can do the math to see why all the industry wants to locate right here on I-75,” Taylor said, “(over) 30 years or more that company may be in business.”
As a matter of fact, 33 years ago Seven Hills Transport won the Rome Floyd Chamber Small Business of the Year Award and less than a year later moved its facilities to Cartersville.
Taylor said Bartow is also the last community as Metro Atlanta expands northward that has enough land.
“We’ve still got some big tracts of land, if you start going south past Emerson all the way into Cobb nobody has what we have,” said Taylor.
In fact the county has a potential mega-site for industrial expansion at the end of the proposed Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor, close to 1,000 acres just north of the Budweiser brewery that Budweiser ownership, InBev, has made available to the community.