As we prepare to turn the page on another calendar year, it’s appropriate to take a look back at some of the top business stories of 2013.
It’s hard to narrow down the events to a hard and true Top 10 list, so we grouped initiatives that carry a common thread. In retrospect, it was a very good year.
While not yet a rousing success story, we list the super high-speed telecommunications infrastructure brought to Rome by Parker FiberNet because of its potential to be a game-changer for the community.
Already a difference-maker in Rome’s medical community, it allows X-rays to be shipped from doctors’ offices to emergency rooms at warp speed, enhancing the ability of doctors to treat folks with a variety of maladies.
Believe us when we say there is no turning back when it comes to the telecommunications industry. The faster the better, and downtown Rome now has the capability to move information across the globe as fast as anyone else.
Mount Berry Square Mall
When Hull Storey Gibson Cos. LLC took over Mount Berry Square Mall in 2012, the company indicated that it would take a while to develop a specific game plan for the mall.
Right out of the gate the new owner made a bold move — though one it’s done in other properties — by covering up the large number of empty storefronts with historic old pictures of Rome and Floyd County. Simply covering the vacant storefronts gave the mall a more attractive look.
Then Dunham’s Sports, the Michigan-based sporting goods retailer, announced it would put its southernmost store in the old Proffitt’s anchor location, which had been vacant for years. The store opened the week before Thanksgiving and has been a significant draw.
Several days after Dunham’s opened, another national retailer announced it would locate a store in the mall during 2014. The clothing and accessory chain Buckle will occupy a 5,000-square-foot site that was formerly home to Lane Bryant.
Knight’s Jewelers and Christopher & Banks were among the last to leave the mall in 2013, creating another couple of significant vacancies.
The long-awaited ground breaking for a 108-room Courtyard by Marriott occurred just a couple of weeks ago, signaling the start of construction of a project that has been on leaders’ wish list almost as long as the U.S. 411 Connector to Interstate 75.
Duke Hospitality, brought to Rome by David Doss and his Samson Development Group, will build the hotel, and Doss plans to add office and retail to a mixed-use outparcel.
City leaders hope the projects will reinvigorate efforts to make West Third Street an expansion of the downtown business district.
And, just across the Oostanaula River in the downtown district, Ira Levy has a 28-room addition to the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham.
Levy decided to take the bull by the horns and convert the adjacent building that has housed numerous restaurants over the last two decades. He also won approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for yet another addition to the hotel.
Levy said he is not sure when the latter project will actually get started, but the 28-room addition will open sometime during the first quarter of 2014.
LakePoint Sporting Community
Another project bandied about for several years, the LakePoint Sporting Community and Town Center, had groundbreaking ceremonies in the summer of 2013.
Before the year was out, roads were being cut into the southern campus south of Ga. 293, and the Terminus Wake Park became the first venue at LakePoint to open.
Seven separate “districts” will be built around the themes of sports medicine, baseball and softball, lacrosse and soccer, sports training centers, outdoor adventures, golf and a marina.
On-site hotels, shops and restaurants are included in the development billed as “The premier sports vacation destination.”
When the whole project is completed, which could take five or six years, the self-contained sporting community is projected to create as many as 20,000 jobs with a multi-million-dollar annual economic impact on the region.
Publix/Charles Hight Square
The long-awaited arrival of Publix with close to 150 jobs occurred when the Florida-based grocer opened in mid-October.
Publix, near the top of the retail wish-list for residents of Rome and Floyd County, is the anchor and first tenant in the new Charles Hight Square shopping center across from Floyd Medical Center on Turner McCall Boulevard.
A high-tech AT&T store followed, along with Mattress Firm and sweetFrog Premium Frozen Yogurt.
Stuart Hornsby, the owner of sweetFrog, has already become invested in the community — sending his two mascots, Scoop and Cookie, out to the local hospitals and walking Broad Street during the Christmas parade.
La Parilla and a Chinese restaurant will open on outparcels early in 2014, leaving the developer, Madison Retail, with just a couple of vacant spots in the shopping center.
Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce President Al Hodge said the shopping center is an extension of the growth downtown, which includes FMC improvements and the new Harbin Clinic Tony E. Warren M.D. Cancer Center.
Shaw announces for Adairsville
Shaw Industries announced plans to build a 500-employee commercial carpet tile manufacturing plant in Adairsville.
The estimated $85 million facility will be located on Ga. 140, just west of the main north-south rail line that runs through Bartow County. Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2014.
The company reached capacity at its massive plant on U.S. 411 west of Cartersville but officials said the 117-acre site west of downtown Adairsville has room for future expansions.
The property will need significant grading early in 2014, and that alone will provide a good number of jobs for contractors. The whole project is expected to take 18-22 months to complete.
Lowe’s opened its mammoth regional distribution center at the intersection of Ga. 53 and Ga. 140 early in 2013 and has already exceeded the promised 600 jobs by an additional 100.
The completion of the Lowe’s site is doubly important for the Rome area because it foreshadows the start of work on yet another long-anticipated project — the widening of Ga. 140 to accommodate the massive increase in truck traffic related to the distribution center.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has acquired 124 of the 177 parcels needed for the widening, and started demolition on some of them.
Plans call for a four-lane road with a 44-foot grassed median for the majority of the 6.2-mile project, from Ga. 53 northeast of Rome to a point three-tenths of a mile west of Oothkalooga Creek at Adairsville.
Voters narrowly passed a $65 million special purpose, local option sales tax package that includes money for, among other projects, an expansion of the main runway at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. A longer runway for a larger class of planes, plus the widening of Ga. 140, play into plans for the airport as a corporate draw.
The SPLOST also will fund the Tennis Center of Georgia at Berry College. The complex has been talked about for the last four years as an economic development project but never won state bond funding to kick-start construction.
The approval of funds for industrial property also is critical to the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce efforts to land large industrial projects — most of which need larger tracts of land than the community currently has in its inventory.
Re-investments in Rome
International Paper revealed plans in mid-September for $100 million-$150 million in upgrades to the old mill on the Coosa River west of Rome. The decision saved more than 450 plant jobs.
If you don’t believe “saving” jobs is a big deal, ask the IP folks in Courtland, Ala., where the company revealed plans to close that mill less that two weeks prior to the announcement of the re-investment in Rome.
Plant Manager Devin Nix said the equipment upgrade will allow the mill to remain competitive in the linerboard industry, which is growing at an almost exponential rate thanks in large part to the growth of Internet shopping — which translates into shipping.
Mohawk Industries announced it will put $31 million into an old yarn spinning facility at 420 Lavender Drive, protecting the jobs of close to 230 employees and giving some hope for future expansion of the workforce. Mohawk will convert the plant to handle a BCF yarn heat-setting process, which involves spinning yarn from recycled plastics.
Hodge said significant corporate reviews were involved in both the IP and Mohawk decisions to re-invest in Rome.
“Fortunately we didn’t just survive, we were able to earn a re-investment, and retention of those jobs,” said Hodge. “When companies do their analyses, they factor in a lot of elements and priorities.”
Stemco Brake Products Group — the former Rome Tool and Die at 113 Hemlock St. — announced a $6 million expansion in July. The company plans an addition and 50 new jobs.
SyntecIndustries also announced in July a $7.7 million expansion that would add 20 jobs to its workforce.
Foss Manufacturing is not exactly a re-investment, but we’ve listed it with this group because the company acquired and renovated an old Mohawk facility off Huffaker Road in West Rome. Foss boasts more than 80 employees since opening early in 2013.
The New Hampshire-based company is a pioneer in manufacturing items made primarily from synthetic fibers.
Big Time Products, a work-glove marketer based in Rome, consolidated all of its distribution facilities into a little more than half of the old Mohawk warehouse on Ga. 53 at Burlington Road in Shannon.
Hodge at the Chamber of Commerce said 2013 was a busy year for local economic development officials, and he is hoping for even bigger things in 2014.