An update to the economic development strategy for the 15-county region has been approved by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission. The strategic plan was initially approved for a five-year period running through 2022.
As the name indicates, the strategy establishes a vision and series of goals shared across Northwest Georgia. The region covers Floyd, Polk, Chattooga, Bartow, Dade, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Gordon, Walker, Paulding and Haralson counties.
The vision statement indicates the region “strives to become a region where economic opportunities are available for all citizens; where our natural resources are used wisely and conserved for future generations; where community facilities and services support the needs of everyone; where cooperation among the public, private and nonprofit sectors is commonplace and where residents have opportunities to enjoy a healthy and productive life.”
The report breaks down specific goals for the region into four broad categories: human capital, community assets, essential infrastructure and business climate.
The top goal relating to the people in the region is to increase the number who are skilled in advanced manufacturing and other mid-skill level occupations, in order to meet the current and changing demands of employers.
Rome-Floyd County Development Authority President Missy Kendrick said it looks like the report is working from the same page as her office when it comes to advanced manufacturing.
“Advanced manufacturing is like robotics,” Kendrick said. “Now it’s hard to find a manufacturing prospect that does not include advanced manufacturing.”
Numerous manufacturers in the Rome area are heavily involved in robotics — companies like Pirelli, F&P Georgia, Neaton and Suzuki.
The robotics program at the Floyd County College and Career Academy is one of the more popular programs. It has 63 students registered during the spring session.
The 10 largest employers across the region are identified in the report as Engineered Floors, Floyd Healthcare, Hamilton Medical Center, Meggitt Inc., Mohawk Carpet Distribution, Redmond Regional Medical Center, Roper Corp., Shaw Industries Group, Walmart and Wellstar Health System.
The latest unemployment data indicates that the 15-county region rate in January was 4.3%. The rates ranged from a low of 2.9% in Catoosa County to 6.6% in Chattooga County.
Floyd County’s rate was 4.7%. The Georgia Department of Labor poured $539,358 in unemployment benefits to out of work Floyd County residents in January. That came on the heels of a record-breaking year when more than $11.5 million in unemployment benefits was paid out to Floyd County claimants.
Across the region, the 15 counties shared $97,006,236 in unemployment compensation for all of 2020.
Enhancing education attainment and ensuring appropriate human services are available to meet the needs of the workforce are also top priorities in the human capital category.
Tourism and the film industry are identified as major components in the community assets category that need to be taken advantage of. The report points to the fact that both sectors were hit hard by the pandemic in 2020, but it notes that they are slowly making a comeback.
Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism Executive Director Lisa Smith said film scouts are coming back to the area with more regularity.
“They are still looking for unique and unusual,” Smith said. “Our job is to find what they’re looking for and make sure that we can do more than just one of the things.”
She said that a lot of major movie scouts have been in the area, some they’ve scouted for as many as three times.
The diverse geography and architectural history of Rome and Northwest Georgia continues to make it a popular spot for both television and film producers.
Enhanced quality of life amenities are also identified as community assets to play up. They, along with ensuring adequate housing is available to meet the needs of the workforce, are key goals.
Some community leaders, such as Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel, might argue that improving the affordable workforce housing inventory should be one of the highest priorities.
“Our housing availability is an opportunity for us,” said Kendrick. “Fortunately, it is something that we are taking seriously now and moving forward on it with some ideas.”
Making sure the region has industrial property that is ready to develop is at the top of the essential infrastructure category.
Improving transportation, expanding broadband access and making sure that communities across the region have adequate basic utility infrastructure are also goals listed in that category.
The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission applied for grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission last year and received $600,000 for water and sewer improvements in Rockmart and another $600,000 for industrial sewer improvements in LaFayette.
The business climate category strongly advocates for entrepreneurial development along with identifying emerging sectors and supporting development in those areas.
Thomas Kislat is the director of membership and entrepreneurial development at the Rome Floyd Chamber. He said the chamber envisions an entrepreneurial innovation center, with business incubators and cross-industry seed accelerators, coming to fruition in the future.
“One of the chamber goals for a new start-up community is to connect innovative entrepreneurs to a rich network of support and to provide education and opportunities for growth,” Kislat said. “High-impact small companies are critical to true economic development.”
In the past 12 months since Kislat took on his role, 15 new entrepreneurial start-up businesses have joined the chamber. Five of them are minority owned.
The Regional Commission assisted with a $300,000 One Georgia EDGE grant tied to the creation of 100 new jobs in Murray County and a $1.2 million Regional Economic Business Assistance grant for a flooring manufacturing facility in Gordon County. That will aid in the creation of as many as 300 new jobs.
All of that is a good jump start for growth across the Northwest Georgia region.