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Existing industries the backbone for employment

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Yes, the community has added a significant number of jobs in recent years, close to 1,200 at the Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center, at Sykes and Transdev, a couple of large call centers that have entered the market.

Just as significant over the long haul were decisions by International Paper for a major reinvestment in Rome and upgrade of the old mill in Coosa, and the decision by Bekaert to go ahead with a significant upgrade of its Rome operation in the wake of a massive fire that caused considerable damage to the plant just as it was initiating the major upgrade of technology at the plant.

Syntec Industries, STEMCO, Kellogg’s, Mohawk, Neaton Rome and F&P Georgia have all continued to upgrade their facilities in Rome, adding jobs, not always in large numbers but significantly not abandoning the Rome market and throwing more workers into lines for unemployment benefits at the Georgia Department of Labor Career Center on Riverside Parkway.

Consider International Paper. The company announced plans to make a $125 million-$150 million investment in the Rome mill one week after the company announced it was closing a large plant in Courtland, Alabama. It was late in the summer of 2013 when the company stunned close to 1,000 employees and their families with the revelation that the mill would be shuttered as the result of declining demand for free sheet paper product used largely in magazines.  

Ken Wright, director of business and industry services for the Rome Floyd Chamber, said he’s aware of two existing industries that are currently considering expansion. Wright said the projects could add another 100 jobs to the local workforce.

Aside from jobs and taxes, existing industries also play a major role in the effort to recruit new industry. Heather Seckman, economic development director for the Rome Floyd Chamber, said the Partners in Prosperity program, funded by existing industries, has been critical to being able to spread the word about Rome and Floyd County. “I can’t even begin to explain the importance,” Seckman said.

“They allow us the resources to go to Germany, to go to New York, San Francisco to get our message of Rome and Floyd County out to the rest of the world.”

Melinda Lemmon, executive director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Office of Economic Development, said she can’t brag enough about her existing industries, “Whether it’s rolling up their sleeves at a charitable event or some contribution to the United Way or school system for a special project.”

Lemmon said she suspects there is a generation disconnect between industries of 50 years, even 10 years ago, to modern manufacturers, particularly in terms of their role in the community.

Martin Rhiner, a Swiss native who serves as chairman of the Greater Rome Existing Industries Association, said that local industries have played a critical role in the development of — and expansion of — education opportunities both at the Floyd County College and Career Academy and Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Rhiner said GREIA is currently working with the Floyd County College and Career Academy to promote European-model apprenticeship programs. Rhiner said there is a huge vacuum between college graduates and skilled manufacturing laborers.

“The apprenticeship program is filling that gap,” Rhiner said. “You need the hands-on type skills, but at the same time they need to have some theoretical background as well.”

Rhiner said as more new equipment and technology are introduced into manufacturing processes, the more the demand becomes for specialized skill sets.He explained that the existing industries, which are upgrading their technology, work not only with the CCA, but also with the Quick Start program through GNTC to make sure the workforce stays up to par with technology.

Wright said that Candor and Carlsen Precision Manufacturing, two of the newest companies in Rome, have already taken on interns from the College and Career Academy

Rich Lampkin, executive director of the Rome-Floyd United Way, said that employees of the major manufacturers across Rome and Floyd County still account for approximately 30 percent of the giving to the United Way. Some corporate matches of employee giving have slipped over the years. “But every time we lose something, somebody else, like a Southeastern Mills, steps up,” Lampkin said. “Or somebody like Kellogg’s puts a bigger push on their employees, and they are a dollar for dollar match.”

Wright said the Lowe’s Distribution Center has been involved in the community with its support of Habitat for Humanity building programs. He said International Paper has really helped with several of the cardboard boat derbies that are held each year.