Let me say from the beginning, I am no expert on economic development and don’t have the information that our city and county commissioners have had in formulating their decisions to remove the program from out of the umbrella of the Rome Floyd Chamber. What I do feel qualified to say is what looks impressive to visitors coming to our community with the possible prospect of investing millions in a new industry or business, and a converted small garage on the edge of a parking lot is not it.

When I spent 14 years on the Rome City Commission, I was constantly “schooled” on what a company is looking for in making their decisions to locate or relocate to Rome and Floyd County. From Georgia Power’s economic development specialist to those leading the State of Georgia’s efforts, we were told that the developers are looking for affordable land and construction costs, possibly a spec building, costs of distribution of their finished product(s), which means access to major roadways, the available labor force and the ability of our local education facilities to train workers in the specialties that the company would need and the economic concessions that local governments were willing to make to convince prospects we were their first and best choice.

I am sure my mother was like yours and pounded into you that “first impressions are lasting impressions.” From the get-go people are convinced that what they see from the beginning is what things are going to be, which brings me back around to the converted garage for the home of economic development.

Do we want prospects ushered into our community to meet in a tiny, converted garage building stuck on the back third of a parking lot off Broad Street with inadequate parking to accommodate the Chamber building at the other end of the lot already? I would think not.

My suggestion to our community leaders is to immediately enter negotiations with Southern Company for acquisition of the former Rome headquarters of the Georgia Power Company for a new “city hall building” with a suite dedicated to the new economic development program, if this is the way we are finally going to go.

This building on the corner of Broad Street and Turner McCall Boulevard has the highest traffic count of just about any intersection of our city and would be a perfect anchor for an expanded downtown business district that could easily be connected into existing streetscape landscaping. This continuation has already been suggested by consultants in a recent study.

The building itself is perfect with offices for city government including the city manager and his support staff. It has a working drive-through payment window for utility billing (Can you picture cars lined up without blocking Broad Street as they do now waiting to use the current window at the Rome City Auditorium?) and a huge counter that could be shared between our water department and our City Clerk’s office for working with the public. It has numerous offices to bring departments together to make the building a “one stop shop” for dealing with business licenses, inspections, permitting and planning. It has numerous conference rooms already existing including a large room that served the community for public meetings like the Sam King room does now. It has its own multi-level parking deck that would provide ease of access to both the public on the main entrance level and parking for employees on the lower level. Knowing Georgia Power, the infrastructure wiring in the building far surpasses anything in other buildings in town.

I haven’t the vaguest idea what the listed price tag for this building is, but I do know that Georgia Power has always been known for their support of local communities and possibly an advantageous lease/purchase agreement could be negotiated, spreading out the cost over years or until a possible SPLOST project vote could pay off the deal.

Just something to think about, commissioners. Do you want to usher prospects into a converted, small garage on the end of an already overcrowded parking lot, or do you want them to receive a most welcoming reception in an office suite in our city hall building that befits the investment from them that we are bidding for?

Remember what your mother told you folks, first impressions are lasting impressions, and we have enough perceived obstacles to overcome without starting out on the wrong foot. I am listening, Mom, and I hope others are, too.

Buzz Wachsteter is a former

Rome City commissioner.