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Year in business: Downtown Rome still sprinting forward

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In January, the talk was of the old furniture building being remodeled into a boutique hotel. Those plans never came together and, by the end of the year, Fred Taylor of OTR Wheel Engineering decided to purchase the building. Plans are still being developed, but his son Chad Taylor said the first floor is likely to remain retail, and a parking deck would be constructed on the back of the building, but plans for the upper two floors are still being tossed back and forth.

Ira Levy finally broke ground on his Lofts at Third and Broad, a mixed-used residential and retail project.

“It’s going a little slower than I had hoped for,” Levy said. Foundation work at the site has been extensive, and changes to the plans have resulted in the need to beef up the footings more than originally anticipated.

Jay Shell ended the year returning to his downtown roots at 333 Broad St. Shell originally started his downtown club business in that building, but ultimately moved several doors down. His microbrewery business, the Rome City Brewing Co. with business partner Dr. Trent Prault, became such a big hit that they bought the 333 building again, where Shell’s bar first opened, and are in the process of moving much of the actual brewing to that site.

“It will more than double our capacity,” Shell said.

The never-ending effort to bring new jobs to Rome got a big shot in the arm when Candor, a health care start-up, revealed plans to locate and grow in Rome. Business partners John Good and Bob Shinn announced the creation of the firm to help people all over the country gain access to the health insurance market during a news conference in October.

Shinn compared the business model to Uber or Airbnb, and said the partners hope to have more than 500 employees in less than five years. They are currently working out of space at 401 Broad St., and are looking for a permanent home in Rome.

Carlsen Precision Manufacturing became the latest international company to locate in Rome when the Canadian firm opened its first U.S. plant in the Floyd County Industrial Park off U.S. 22 South.

Balta became the second major Belgian-owned firm to locate in Floyd County when it opened a new warehouse and distribution center in HK Shannon Park, which used to be known as the Florida Tile plant. The company is consolidating facilities in Dalton and Calhoun and has enough space on the property in Shannon to ultimately add an actual production facility.

“All of them do business with small businesses,” said Rome Floyd Chamber President Al Hodge. He said a number of small businesses reinvested and expanded during the course of the past year, taking advantage of new opportunities. Mohawk Industries completed the first two phases of  retooling its plant on Lavender Drive in 2017, but revealed that it would delay the third phase of that project.

The Floyd County employment situation continued its evolution in the face of growing interest in online shopping that has cost retail jobs, and a manufacturing sector that has learned how to meet demand with new technology, which has played a factor in reducing the number of blue collar jobs across the community.

Residents of Rome and Floyd County passed a special purpose, local option sales tax package which includes $3,110,000 for real estate and infrastructure work associated with economic development projects. Collections of the tax won’t begin until the current SPLOST expires in the spring of 2019.

The current SPLOST also includes $8 million for land and infrastructure improvements for economic development. Funds were spent for the acquisition of an additional ten acres and the grading of a 100-acre tract at the intersection of Ga. 140 and Ga. 53 northeast of Rome.

Hodge said the voters’ approval of the investments to attract industry was significant from the perspective of being better prepared for new business to invest in Rome and Floyd County.

Infrastructure improvements at the North Floyd Industrial Park off Ga. 140 will continue in 2018. A road crossing a major natural gas pipeline is being engineered and work is expected to begin in the New Year to open up another 50-acre tract.

Funding from the 2013 SPLOST is expected to be freed up for construction work to get underway on a 1,000 foot extension of the runway at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport later in 2018. Airport Manager Mike Mathews said once a few relatively minor environmental issues are resolved, he believes dirt could be moving for the runway project before July 4.

Money was included in the 2017 SPLOST for a new corporate hangar/industrial building at the airport.

“I’ve got a customer already wanting to get in there,” said Mathews.

The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College has completed its first calendar year of operation on a nearly break-even operational basis. The center was actually completed in July of 2016 using an $11.4 million earmark from the 2013 SPLOST. The tennis center has brought in players from all over the country for tournaments this year, filling local hotels and restaurants for days at a time.

In addition to all of the big regional tournaments that Rome has often played host to in the past, the new tennis center hosted the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s and women’s tennis championships, several International Collegiate Tennis Association national and regional events and the United States Tennis Association Girls 14-U national championships. (Remember the name Robin Montgomery!)