A consensus among city leaders and economic development leaders in Rome and Floyd County is that the community needs to target new companies that pay in excess of $20 an hour to its workforce. Rome Floyd Chamber Director of Business and Industry Services Ken Wright said that kind of payroll is needed to attract new people willing to drive to work, or move to Rome to take a job.

Responding to a question from Rome Business Development committee Chairman Bill Irmscher about what the Chamber was doing for existing industries, Wright said the Chamber worked hard with International Paper and the Georgia Public Service Commission to bring a new 7.5 mile section of a 12-inch natural gas line to IP, enabling the company to convert from a coal-fired boiler to run the plant. Bill Edge at the Georgia PSC said the whole project is expected to cost in excess of $22 million.

Atlanta Gas Light will be the provider and anticipates extending the gas line along existing public rights of way. IP has informed the PSC that the service is needed by mid-2021.

Atlanta Light will contribute $11.7 million to the project, which is recoverable through the normal rate-making processes. The PSC will contribute $10.7 million from its Universal Service Fund while International Paper makes a $1.5 million commitment to the project.

What is unclear at this point is exactly what the major new gas line to that section of the county would mean for future industrial growth.

Chamber Interim President Jeanne Krueger explained workforce development will be a major point of emphasis for the chamber going forward.

“I’ve been so impressed with the number of (college) students we’ve talked to who want to stay in Rome to work,” Krueger said. City Commissioner Craig McDaniel said working with Georgia Northwestern Technical College, as well as the local college and career academies, needs to be stressed to so many students in the future workforce.

“I think we’ve probably lost a generation of people that ought to have been in a technical college,” McDaniel said. “We’re not going to make it training displaced workers.”

GNTC President Pete McDonald confirmed that his institution currently has more than 2,200 students involved in dual enrollment programs across the nine-county service region.

Jimmy Byars, chairman of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, told the committee that the authority hopes to hire a new chief industrial recruiter by the end of June, admitting that it was an aggressive timetable.

Byars said that he, working with City Manager Sammy Rich and County Manager Jamie McCord, hope to have a formal job description posted by the end of this week.

Byars pointed out that all three of the at-large members of the development authority are former chairmen of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors and know how important that continuing to work with the chamber will be in the industrial recruiting process.

“We’re gong to make it work,” Byars said of the transition from a chamber-oriented to an R-FCDA leadership role in the industrial recruitment effort.