We’re five days into a new decade, a good time to review some of the top business stories of the past decade. This isn’t a ranked Top 10 list but a list of 10 of the biggest business-related events of the “teens.”
♦ One of the largest job providers, probably the biggest job creator of the last decade in Rome and Floyd County, was the Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center.
Lowe’s has exceeded the 600 jobs it committed to when the company opened its massive new plant near the intersection of Ga. 140 and 53 about 10 miles northeast of Rome.
♦ Another major development over the past decade was the trend to downtown living. Ira Levy finally opened his Lofts at Third and Broad during the final half of 2019 after close to a full decade of planning, but that wasn’t the only project.
Greg Sumner’s project to revitalize a pair of buildings in the 200 block of Broad Street also brought new residences to the downtown district. Mark Floyd played a role in the redevelopment of the two properties downtown, the former Greener Burger building and, more recently, he partnered with Rene Fountain to redevelop the old Esserman’s building in the 400 block.
Also, Dr. J.C. Abdou, attorney Zack Burkhalter, Harry Brock, Joyce Greene Manning and several other individual property owners redeveloped their Broad Street properties to include loft space on the second floor.
The influx of permanent residents downtown has created a whole energy along Broad Street, and certainly played a role in a lot of the concern last year related to changes in parking and smoking ordinances within the city.
♦ Closely related to downtown residential growth, the expansion of the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham and construction of two new hotels — the Hampton Inn & Suites and Courtyard by Marriott — are lumped together as one big business story.
The addition of rooms closer to the core of downtown Rome has been a benefit to the Forum River Center and its effort to attract more meetings and conferences to Rome. Ask any of the hoteliers in Rome about the need for additional rooms and the response is virtually unanimous. Rome needs more events during the week to keep the local hotels busy. They all generally do well on the weekend, but need that weekday business.
♦ Speaking of what the hospitality industry like to refer to as “heads in beds,” the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College is also one of our top stories of the decade.
The center beat its projected number of tournaments in the very first year and has continued to be a major revenue-producer for the community. Anyone in the hospitality industry in Rome can tell you when there is a big tournament in town. The hotels and restaurants are full, not just on the weekend. Many of the tournaments last a full week.
In 2017 and 2018, tennis tournaments brought more than $9.7 million in direct spending to Rome and Floyd County,
♦ We cannot forget the business commitment that International Paper has made to Rome and Floyd County County during the past decade.
Twice, the company asked the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority for bond funding to assist with technological upgrades to the half-century-old mill out on Mays Bridge Road in Coosa. The nearly $300 million commitment to upgrading the mill makes it clear that those 400-plus jobs at the company are expected to continue to support families in the area for years to come.
While the number of new jobs was minimal, the importance of holding onto existing jobs is of paramount importance in a changing technological manufacturing environment.
♦ Like International Paper, Neaton Rome grew twice during the past 10 years, coming to the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority for financial assistance in 2012 and again in 2014. The expansions added more than 50 new jobs to the plant.
♦ Another major industrial development occurred when partners Phillip Hight and Hardman Knox purchased the former Florida Tile property on Ga. 53 in Shannon and completely renovated the buildings that had been vacant for close to a decade.
Not long after their renovations were complete, the announcement came that Balta, a Belgian textile firm, would relocate facilities from Whitfield and Gordon counties to the property and make it their U.S. headquarters. The company took an option on enough property for a future expansion, but that hasn’t happened yet.
♦ One of the more sensational stories of the past decade was the big fire at the Bekaert plant in November 2014. The blaze gutted about half the plant at a time when the company had already taken delivery on close to $7 million worth of new equipment for a major technological upgrade.
It took several months, but the company stayed the course on its upgrade and renovation. Since then, Bekaert has had to deal with a variety of challenges. Just this past year it opted to shut down a section of the facility, resulting in the early retirement of a significant number of longtime employees.
♦ The Floyd Medical Center and Atrium Health deal still has to be considered one of the biggest business ventures of the decade. The deal won’t be completed until sometime late this year, but its impact will be felt throughout the local healthcare community for years to come.
Atrium has a network of more than 40 facilities, mostly in the Carolinas. Part of the deal will involve the removal of Floyd County as a guarantor of millions of dollars in bonded indebtedness at the hospital.
♦ Another event that occurred in 2019, the shutdown of Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond, also has to be considered among the major business stories of the decade.
It wasn’t a surprise and Georgia Power had been easing into the shutdown over the last several years. But one has to remember that Plant Hammond was one of Rome’s big three industries that fueled the mid-century growth of the community, along with General Electric and what is now the International Paper mill.