What began as a concept nearly two years ago, became reality March 28 when the Cobb Chamber of Commerce officially launched Cobb’s Competitive EDGE program.
The EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) program is the county’s first public-private partnership with a five-year economic development blueprint aimed at growing Cobb’s business sector.
The initial vision for EDGE originated in December 2010, when David Connell, Cobb Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, invited 25 community leaders to a retreat to revisit the Cobb Roadmap Visioning Initiative, a project conducted in 2005.
“I asked the group what they wanted the chamber’s focus to be going forward and the answer was clear: economic development and job creation,” he said.
In 2011,Market Street, an Atlanta-based economic and workforce development consulting firm was commissioned to conduct a study. That effort expanded into a six-month project aimed at gathering information that included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and community surveys.
The end results? A list of priorities of building on what Cobb’s business community already had established in terms of businesses and infrastructure. And then a second list on what the county’s business community needed in the future and how to get there.
According to that study, the most promising job targets for Cobb currently are aerospace and advanced equipment manufacturing, information technology and software, professional and business services and wholesale trade.
Emerging growth areas include health care services, travel and tourism and bioscience.
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee recalls working with Connell to create this road map for Cobb’s future.
“The EDGE program brings specific direction to the road map with seven seeds that build on our strengths and diversity as a community,” he said. “I believe the EDGE program is our most important initiative. We all should work to ensure its success because the program delivers our vision for a very successfulCobbCounty.”
At the kick-off event, the seven “seeds” or strategies to achieve the goals and the committee chairs of each were introduced.
The strategies include retaining and expanding business; encouraging entrepreneurship and small business development; marketing Cobb County; retaining and recruiting talent; investing in transportation and traffic relief; supporting and coordinating redevelopment efforts and cultivating community identities.
“The seven seeds involve expenditures that we have historically never had,” said Connell.
The initiative also has seven benchmark goals: the creation of 7,500 new jobs throughout the next five years, the increase of payroll earnings and income by $420 million and by $7,000 per capita; reduce unemployment to 5.5 percent; a 4 percent increase in public high school graduation rates; a 7 percent increase in college enrollment; an increase of existing industry visits from 30 to 100 annually made by Cobb's economic development experts to businesses to ensure that they have what they need; and an increase in quality of life as measured by Kennesaw State University’s Quality of Life survey.
Brooks Mathis, vice president of economic development and recently-named EDGE executive director, said he expects that if the seven seeds budget meets or exceeds its funding goal, the results will surpass stated projections of a $640 million annual economic impact for the region, an increase of $512 million in personal disposable income and an increase in consumer spending of $445 million.
“EDGE starts with improving Cobb County through its focus on community development,” he said. “When we improve our communities, we improve the ‘product’ that our economic developers market to prospective businesses, including quality of life, quality communities and top-notch educational opportunities for Cobb’s citizens.”
Mathis said the retention strategy will include the funding of an Installation Sustainment Analysis for Dobbins Air Reserve Base and a plan to protect Dobbins from potential Federal base realignment closures that could result in the loss of 20,000 local jobs and $1 billion in economic impact. Additionally, staff will work with major employers in the Wholesale Trade and Aerospace and Advanced Equipment Manufacturing targets to identify potential links in the supply chain that could be viable recruitment targets.
Another strategy budgets $766,000 over five years to focus on redevelopment efforts in older areas of the county. Ideas include organizing the business community inMableton, Austell and Powder Springs to support redevelopment initiatives in south Cobb. Additional plans include transforming the area around Six Flags into a multi-destination center.
“We will start with facilitation of community identity forums, which will lead to development of a long-range vision for the area,” said Mathis. “That vision will serve as a blueprint for the future, and initiatives to make the vision a reality.”
He says the initiatives may include improving security through police or security patrols or improved outdoor lighting, and the creation of a Land Bank Authority to acquire tax delinquent and blighted properties in support of specific redevelopment efforts, in addition to strategic marketing efforts for the redeveloped area.
Connell also says that small business is an important driver of job creation and that the entrepreneurship strategy will include a partnership withKennesawStateUniversityto develop an early stage business incubator to provide low cost space for burgeoning start-ups.
Chris Cummiskey, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Economic Development, said, “You can’t overestimate the importance of implementing a comprehensive strategic plan like Cobb’s EDGE. Economic development these days is extremely competitive, and counties need to marshal all the resources at their disposal.”
EDGE is a 501(c)(3) for the purposes of public donations and governed by a board of directors. Initial board members include Shan Cooper, vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company and general manager of the company's Marietta facility; Dan Styf, vice president of regional and marketing strategy with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia; and Kim Menefee, WellStar Health System's senior vice president of public and government affairs.
A 501(c)(6) restricted entity has also been created to accept private sector funding. Mathis said it will be governed by a board of advisors appointed by the Chamber Board of Directors.
“We expect to finalize both boards by the beginning of the second quarter of 2013 as fundraising winds down,” Mathis said. He also said the Chamber’s in-kind contribution of several Chamber staff positions and overhead expenses to house the staff is estimated to be $200,000 annually.
Connell added, “We are capturing the essence of Cobb in a positive way. This is a great place to do business.”
When the program launched in March, it had raised $1.3 million of its $4 million goal.