Historically speaking, growth in Rome and Floyd County has followed economic development efforts.
Turn the clock all the way back to the old West Point Pepperell Mill and the Lindale mill village development. The same can be said for Celanese and the Riverside community or the old Klopman mill and Shannon village.
More recently, though close to 75 years ago, the arrival of Georgia Kraft, General Electric, and Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond resulted in the Garden Lakes community, which at one time was the largest planned subdivision in Georgia.
Today, Rome-Floyd County Development Authority President Missy Kendrick is wondering how the economic development efforts of today will impact the look of the community over the course of the next decade.
Three areas come to mind right away, the Highway 411 corridor east, the Georgia 53 corridor north, and the old Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property in the heart of West Rome.
Kendrick, who has led the industrial recruitment effort since August of 2019, said prospect activity in Rome and Floyd County has been strong and, in fact, increased tremendously over the last three and a half years. “We had the busiest month of my career with prospect activity in March,” Kendrick said. While some economists are talking about, even predicting, an economic slowdown, Kendrick said there is no evidence of such in-prospect activity. Rome and Floyd County hosted more than 90 site visits by prospects during 2022.
What Kendrick cannot say is where companies are in the growth/expansion process. “The decision to expand or relocate and build a new facility doesn’t happen overnight; there’s a lot that goes into making those decisions, so there is no way for us to know where they are in the process,” Kendrick said.
In fact, more often than not, Kendrick and her team don’t know specifically who a prospect is until discussions are well down the road. Most prospects are brought to the community by leadership at the state level, particularly leadership at the Department of Economic Development or through Utility (electric and gas) project managers.
In recent years, largely through the assistance of Special Purpose Sales Tax funding, the development authority has been able to acquire acres out off US 411 East, known as the Braden Farm.
Kendrick suspects that activity already taking place on US 411 in Bartow County, coupled with interest that her office is seeking from prospects come to fruition, that Romans might not recognize the US 411 corridor in less than a decade.
The authority was also able to purchase the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital Property from the state, and Kendrick said she’s continuing to look for additional property. Environmental assessment of the old buildings at the former mental hospital site has essentially been completed. Kendrick’s office has applied for a variety of grant funds to assist with any cleanup and/or demolition work that will have to take place to make the site even more attractive to a potential industry. The fact that it has full water, electric, and natural gas infrastructure, as well as an adjacent rail line, already has drawn interest from prospects.
Economic development recruiting is often likened to fishing. You’ve got to have a lure; then, when the nibbles start to take place, you have to be able to set the hook.
Though many people think the recruitment of new industries and jobs is all there is to economic development, tourism is also an economic development driver, and tourism activity in Rome and Floyd County has remained strong through the pandemic as well.
Two of the leading components of the tourism industry in Rome and Floyd County have been the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, the multitude of special events, meetings, and conferences, and the film production industry.
The tennis center has brought thousands of visitors to Rome from all over the country and around the world. The Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau can directly track more than $32 million in economic impact from the tennis center since it opened in late 2016. That’s more than double the capital expenses associated with the construction of the facility. In 2022 alone, the economic impact of tennis events topped the $6 million figure. That’s trackable, direct spending, not some sort of ripple-effect spending figure.
Special events, such as the Wings Over North Georgia Air Show, Rome River Jam, Chiaha Harvest Festival, and Going Caching, contributed more than $5.5 million.
With the city of Rome preparing to assume responsibility for operations at The Forum River Center, Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lisa Smith expects to put even more emphasis on the meeting and conference sector, specifically trying to get more people into Rome during the week as opposed to solely the weekend. Once the COVID-19-related court activity is fully freed from the Forum, Romans can expect activity in the Forum to take off.