DAHLONEGA — The growing shortage of workers with a commercial driver’s license was among the issues on the minds of Rome City Commissioners during their annual planning workshop.
Commissioners covered a wide range of topics during their two-day retreat at the rustic Forrest Hills Resort & Conference Center near Dahlonega. Nearly all discussions circled around to economic development and redevelopment.
“Rooftops follow jobs and retail follows rooftops,” Commissioner Craig McDaniel said during a segment focused on the shortage of affordable housing. “We’ve got to get investment from the private sector and people will build around it.”
Both the public and private sectors are finding it harder to hire workers with CDLs, the licenses required to drive buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles. The availability of skilled labor draws industry, the board agreed.
Mayor Bill Collins said the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission has identified a number of shortage areas in the workforce and wants to work with local schools on training programs.
“Welders, forklift drivers ... if there’s a need, the Regional Commission has an opportunity to apply for federal dollars to allow our colleges to get in position,” Collins said.
Officials at Georgia Highlands and Georgia Northwestern Technical College are interested, he said, and the city is working with them. Commissioners also said they want to share more information about gaps in the workforce with the Rome City and Floyd County school systems.
“We’re trying to keep our youth here,” Commissioner Sundai Stevenson said. “We need to say ‘You can stay right here and get a good-paying job.’”
There was a consensus the Floyd County College and Career Academy, and Rome’s CCA scheduled for construction, should be bigger factors in the long-range plan.
“One of the great things about the CCA is what it brings out in students,” Commissioner Randy Quick said. “They may have an interest and don’t know how to apply it.”
A CDL testing site built by Floyd County public works crews opened in 2018 at the Georgia Department of Driver Services facility on Martha Berry Highway. DDS Commissioner Spencer R. Moore said at the groundbreaking that the licenses are “a vital part” of the state’s commerce.
Commissioners also spent time delving into various business incentives such tax breaks and credits stemming from designated opportunity zones and tax allocation districts.
McDaniel said he expects the new federal opportunity zone in the city to spark interest from real estate investors as the benefits become more widely known. The new program was included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage investment in low-income or disadvantaged census tracts.
Rome has two, which essentially converge downtown and take in the whole Broad Street corridor. McDaniel noted that many Georgia counties have none.
The local opportunity zone in Floyd County also something officials should advertise more to businesses, City Manager Sammy Rich said. It provides a state tax credit of $3,500 per employee for each new job created in the district.
“This is a predictable cash flow they can take advantage of,” Rich said.