The Rome-Floyd County Planning Office and Northwest Georgia Regional Commission are taking lead roles in getting Rome and Floyd County prepared for the 2020 Census count. Artagus Newell, the director of that office, said it’s hard to understate the importance of getting the count right.
“We only get one shot every 10 years,” Newell said.
Newell said Rome and Floyd County can expect to receive an average of $1,334 per person in state and federal grant-type funds for every resident that is included in the count.
Rome Community Development Director Bekki Fox explained that Community Development Block Grant funds are tied directly to a formula related to the Census and data regarding housing. Those “entitlement” funds are now an annual pot of money for the city of Rome, however Floyd County has to compete for CDBG money.
Rome just received its allocation for 2019, $425,407, up about 3% from the $421,000 received last year.
“When we first became an entitlement community back in 2004, our annual allocation was close to $700,000,” Fox said. “We have been as low as $380,000 but we have inched back up slowly as the economy has gotten better.”
Floyd County could qualify as an “urban county” to get annual funding from the federal program, however the county population would have to grow to at least 150,000 and that is not likely to happen anytime soon, given Floyd County’s growth rate through the years.
The 2010 Census listed the county population at 96,317, up just 6.4% from the 2000 population of 90,565.
The city of Rome registered 38,303 residents during the 2010 Census, up from 35,279 in 2000. That was an increase of 8.5%.
The latest estimate of the Floyd County population from the Census Bureau for July 1, 2018, was 97,927.
A report done in January of 2013 for the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission was extremely optimistic as it relates to population growth in Rome and Floyd County. That study projected 101,600 residents in Floyd County in 2020 and 105,454 by 2030.
Rome City Commissioner Craig McDaniel, a commercial real estate agent for Toles, Temple & Wright, said he doesn’t think Rome has been growing at the rate a lot of people would like to see.
“Having said that, I’m encouraged by the fact the Ledbetter Brothers, (with) some of the retailers that are being mentioned in association with them (new shopping center on the Kmart property), because we are not that top tier community for retail,” McDaniel said. “The fact that they’re going to put 22 or 24 stores over there is a vote of confidence.”
Many retailers won’t even look at a community unless it has a certain population base, or population within a specific driving distance of a proposed store.
McDaniel said he is having a lot of conversations with developers outside of Rome and Floyd County who are expressing interest in purchasing property in Rome.
“A lot of it is in West Rome,” McDaniel said. In fact, McDaniel said the same developer purchased both the former Burger King location on Shorter Avenue and a former tire store at the corner of Shorter Avenue and Coosawattee Avenue.
Rome Floyd Chamber interim Director Jeanne Krueger said accurate data is important for a lot reasons.
“For a small business person that is looking at starting or expanding their business, that data can help them make the case to take to a bank or financial institution to ask for a small business loan,” Krueger said.
As far as recruitment of new industry, Krueger said accurate data with respect to the number associated with the colleges in Rome and Floyd County can help lure businesses interested in that market.
“There are other businesses that are interested in the retirement population,” Krueger said. “Rome and Floyd County holds up strong in so many areas because of its diversity.”
Newell said his planning office is working with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to plan a number of public outreach projects to stress the importance of full participation in the Census.
“I’ve told city commissioners and county commissioners that they will probably hear us mention a lot about the Census over the next several months to keep it fresh in everybody’s mind,” Newell said.
Some aspects of the Census are expected to be significantly different from previous headcounts. Newell said he anticipates residents will be asked to go online to fill out the questionnaire. He said residents would probably get an initial postcard explaining what they would have to do, and if a response is not detected within a certain amount of time the Census Bureau would at that point send someone to try to make direct personal contact.
What about the people who may be concerned about going online to fill out a detailed Census questionnaire with information about housing, some demographic financial type of information?
“Part of the outreach that we will be doing with Census officials will involve answering some of those concerns. We understand some folks may have some concerns, maybe even some hesitation, and we will want to address those concerns as much as we can,” Newell said. “We want to underscore the importance of the ‘why’ and the benefits the community would gain from having an accurate count.”
Newell said that Devon Smyth with the Davies Homeless Shelter helped a couple of months ago by going to some of the areas where homeless people tend to congregate. He said the concern is that numbers offered by the state for the homeless population in Rome and Floyd County were thought to be significantly lower than the actual numbers. Newell said that when the Census count rolls around, getting all of those homeless people counted will be extremely important.
“We need to count everybody,” Newell said. “The homeless, people in group homes, people that are in assisted living, anyone, regardless of their immigration status. Anyone that is physically here in Floyd County needs to be counted.”
Newell said his office would seek to partner with faith-based organizations and community organizations throughout the county over the course of the next several months to develop contacts that will be critical to making sure that everyone participates in the Census.
“We’ll probably have different events in Rome, Cave Spring and Floyd County over the next several months,” Newell said.